Consider It Joy To Be Tested!

-Are We Prepared For Persecution?

It seems it’s time to ask ourselves if we’ve prepared our children and our grandchildren for a time when it might be against the law to be a Christian in this country! It doesn’t seem like the church, in general, has done a very good job of that! We have “Americanized” what it means to be a follower of Jesus! Christianity was birthed in a world that crucified its Founder! Jesus said, “If they crucify Me, they will crucify you!” The 1st-century follower of Jesus was considered a revolutionary! Do you know what the Roman government did with revolutionaries? They killed them!

-We’ve Sanitized The Faith!

All but one of Jesus’ disciples were killed or martyred for their faith! American Christianity knows nothing about that kinds of tests and trials. We’ve sanitized the faith! Somehow, we’ve accepted the lie that all you have to do is ask Jesus to be your Savior and you’ll never have another problem! Many believers have learned to look down on an individual who struggles in life like they’re just not very spiritual! We’ve accepted the lie that we’re entitled to live in a Christian, God-fearing, Bible-honoring America! But, God never made that promise! Quite the opposite!

-Called To Be Jesus To The World!

God calls us to be revolutionaries; He calls us to be Jesus to the world that crucified Him! He calls us to love them as Jesus loved them; even if it means dying to see them saved! God’s revolutionary looks a whole lot different than the world. Our revolutionary warfare is fought by the Spirit; not like Peter attempted in the Garden. Jesus told him to put away his sword. This war is fought on our knees in prayer! Our sword is the Word of God! He intends we take the Gospel to everyone around us! That’s Christ’s commission! The book of James is a dynamic declaration of what real discipleship looks like; how it’s fleshed out even as we go through testing.

-Responding To Trials & Tests!

You need James’ message because all of us are either coming out of a testing, we’re in the middle of a trial or test right now, or we’re heading into one! No one leaves this world unscathed. So, let me point out how James, under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells us to respond to the trials & the tests & the disappointments of life! “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing” James 1:2-4. What? Consider it a joy to be tested by God? That’s what he said!

-Committed To Facing Trials!

We need God’s supernatural help if we’re going to be committed to facing our trials with a joyful heart as James says! We need God’s help because “joy” is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-26). That means that your flesh cannot produce a joyful heart! It’s incapable! Let me add that he’s not talking about “temptations” to sin here. We’re not supposed to be filled with “joy” when we face temptations to sin! We’re supposed to FLEE those kinds of temptations the Apostle Paul told Timothy (2 Tim. 2:22-24). James, here, is referring to the trials, tests, and difficulties of life! And, our flesh will never respond with “joy” when those things enter our lives! Because of our sinful flesh, our natural response is never going to please God, is it? Our flesh always wants to please our flesh! A spiritual response is counter-intuitive for us. It’s not natural! It’s God’s work in us! So, what James is calling for here will require that we crucify our flesh!

How God Makes Us Useful!

-Looking For The Blessed Life!

Jesus has commissioned us to make disciples! All of us!  When we refuse to be obedient to that calling we find ourselves in the unhappy position that Jonah found himself in when he refused to warn the Ninevites of God’s judgment if they failed to repent! We’re all looking for the blessed life! But it’s not nearly as elusive as we think it is! The blessed life, that we’re all looking for, is realized, in part, in the obedient investing of our lives in God’s work in other people! God would make Jonah useful in His big kingdom plans; and, there’s some real application here for us. He will do what He needs to do to make us useful.

-God Makes Us Uncomfortable!

There are several examples in Jonah’s life story. First, to make us useful, God makes us uncomfortable. If you take a look at a Bible map from around that time, you’ll see Assyria to the north of Israel. And, there’s a city on the Tigris River named Ninevah. It’s the very city that God told Jonah to go preach to. Ninevah was the nation’s capital of Assyria; and, the thought of going to Ninevah made Jonah very uncomfortable. These were dangerous times! Assyria hated Israel; and, they had slowly been occupying their land to the north. In fact, in less than 70 years, from Jonah’s time, Assyria will become such a power in the region that it will overrun the northern kingdom of Israel; and, take most of the people still alive into captivity. And, it’s into that environment that God says to Jonah:  “Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it because their wickedness has confronted Me” (Jonah 1:2).

-An Uncomfortable Comparison!

Let me try & paint a picture for you of how that would look for us. Let’s say it was September 2001; and, some bad guys from Iraq or Iran just took down the twin towers in New York City. Our nation was preparing to go to war! Everyone’s gotten all patriotic, in America; because, another people dared to attack us. And, let’s say that out of nowhere, it seems, God delivers YOU a message:  “Get up! Go to the lands of Iraq & Iran and preach against it.” How would you feel about that? You would feel a lot like Jonah did when God told him to go preach God’s word to Ninevah.

-It’s Easy To Cast Judgment!

God totally rocked Jonah’s world! He had a successful ministry going on at home; and, he was comfortable with that! He was ministering to his people; and, now God was telling him to get up & go to an unfamiliar land occupied by his enemies! It’s easy for the average Christian, in America, to read about Jonah & cast judgment, isn’t it? But, if we take into consideration all that background information, let’s be honest—doing what God told us to do would make us pretty uncomfortable! God makes us useful, first, by putting us in uncomfortable situations. But, He also intends to expose our idols! Until we denounce our idols we’re not useful to Him!

-Denounce All Idols!

Most of us aren’t even aware that we have idols, in our life. And, it appears that Jonah was unaware of his own idols until God shook him up & made him uncomfortable! He was faithful! He poured his heart into his ministry; and, into his family! But, when God’s word pointed him in a different direction; and, he was unwilling to go, God exposed his idols! What were his idols? His home, his family; and, his ministry! All great things! All blessings from God! But, when they became more important to him than obedience to God’s will, they became idols! Whenever you section off any part of your life; and, tell God He can’t touch that; or, He can’t have that, your idol has just been exposed! Are your job, your home, your kids, or your grandkids “off-limits” to God? Are you willing to let God take you; or, them, to a foreign field to serve Him & a foreign people? If you’re unwilling, then, God’s gifts, to you, have become your idols! Confess it & repent!

Give Up Your Life!

-Great In God’s Kingdom!

In my last post we talked about the kind of life that Jesus called great! We picked up on His conversation, with the disciples, after two of them— James & John— asked if they could sit in the seat of power, next to Jesus, in His Kingdom.  “Jesus called them over and said to them, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them.  But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many” Mark 10:42-45.  In so many words, Jesus was teaching them that if you’re great in God’s Kingdom, that this world probably won’t even notice you!

-Slave Or Servant?

Jesus calls you great when you reject the world’s leadership style (v.42). He also calls you great when your ministry is measured by the people you serve (v.43).  But, there are 2 more points I’d like to draw out, from this text, related to what Jesus calls great.  He also calls you great when you humble yourself & become the world’s slave (v.44).  We touched briefly, on this point, in our last post.  The word is “doulos” in the original Greek language; and, it can only be translated accurately as “slave” in the English. So, while the Holman version actually translates it “slave”, many translations choose to use the word “servant.” And, while they can be credited with sensitivity for choosing to translate the word as “servant” because the history of slavery, in America, is so repulsive & offensive, we probably ought not change the word Jesus used.

-The Humility Of A Slave!

He meant for us to take on the humility, of a “slave,” when it comes to our ministry & service. In this way, we actually serve like Jesus did:  “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,” the Apostle Paul wrote, “who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave” Philippians 2:5-11.  In other words, Jesus didn’t use His title— GOD— as a BIG STICK! In His incarnation, He took the form of a SLAVE!

-Suffering For Others!

Finally, from Jesus’ words here, we discern that He calls you great when you give up your life to suffer for others (v.45). Even Jesus suffered for others, willingly, all the way to the cross! He served ‘til it hurt! ‘Til it killed Him! And, you image Jesus when you live your life similarly! That’s probably not going to get you a fancy TITLE; or, the corner office in the big corporation! But, it will get you a “Well done, good & faithful servant” from Jesus! You may have noticed that the focus, in this post, was not on spiritual gifts, the reason being, that, the greater emphasis, in Scripture, is on the heart attitude toward ministry rather than giftedness or knowledge! Jesus emphasis humility over giftedness; and, the power is never said to be in our GIFTS; but, in the Holy Spirit! So, how will you respond to needs around you? I hope like Jesus did!

 

Stealing God’s Glory!

-That’s What Pride Does!

At the top of God’s “hate” list is PRIDE— “These six things the LORD hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him…” Proverbs 6:16-19.  Care to guess what’s #1 on the LIST? It’s “…A PROUD LOOK…” God hates pride because it’s man’s attempt to steal glory that belongs only to Him!  Only God is due glory; because, all glory was His from the beginning of Creation.  Remember that! All that exists is “GOD” & “everything He has created”! That’s it! There is nothing else! So, when we speak about the “glory of a sunset”, the sun didn’t create that glory! God created it! The sun is just borrowing it until God wants it back! The “glory” of the 28 Olympic Medals that Michael Phelps won is NOT his glory! It’s God’s! Creator God gave him those abilities! He’s just borrowing a glory—that belongs to God—until God decides He wants it back!

-American Pride Is Deadly!

In Isaiah 42:8 God says: “I am Yahweh, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another or My praise to idols.” And, the Apostle Paul ends the book of Romans with these words:  “To the only wise God, through Jesus Christ—TO HIM be the GLORY FOREVER! AMEN!” Romans 16:27. We face deadly consequences when we lift ourselves up, in pride, and steal God’s glory! That’s a hard message to preach here in the good old U.S. of A. We talk about being “PROUD Americans”! We’re proud of our rugged individualism! We put up billboards & sing songs about it! But, if you’re a child of God, don’t go there! Don’t wear your “American Patriotism” first! This place is NOT where you hold your citizenship Scripture says (Philippians 3:20).

-Aliens & Temporary Residents!

We’re called, of God, to live our lives here as aliens & temporary residents (1 Peter 1:17; 2:11-12).  So, when we lift ourselves up in pride & deny God the glory due His name, it actually has a negative impact on the way we think!  The Apostle Paul speaks of certain men & women, that “…though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools…” Rom 1:21-22.  Pride can really mess you up badly!

-Thinking Nonsense!

We lose our ability to look at the world & draw accurate conclusions when we reject the glory of God! Our reasoning ability becomes skewed when we fail to acknowledge the “finger prints” of God on everything! Claiming to be wise, they become fools, Paul adds. And, we actually see this when we look at the people of the world! Normally intelligent people—but; denying God’s existence & denying that the glory of creation belongs to Him—come up with some of the most bizarre theories for our existence! Even, believing it more plausible that aliens, from another solar system, brought humanity here! That’s some of the foolish stuff scientists will offer when they deny & dismiss God the glory He is due for creation! We exchange the GLORY of an Immortal Creator for the “glory” of created things! We accept cheap substitutes!

 

Avoiding An Insignificant Life!

Next Post July 5th!

A Little Vacation Time

-A Culture Of Consumption!

Let me share something, with you, that you may not know about the average 5-year old in America—the average 5-year old, in America, has 250 toys! Yes! I said 250 toys! Now, let’s apply some math to that. A 5-year old has only lived on planet Earth roughly 250 weeks. So, that 5-year old has grown up getting 1 new toy every week—on average—for their entire life! That’s just the AVERAGE! Some have 500 toys! Others have 1000! And, why are we surprised that they are rarely satisfied? That they are always wanting more? We’ve trained them to be “consumers”, haven’t we? We’re a culture that’s consumed by a desire for more stuff!

-The Stuff We Don’t Have!

We’re constantly exposed to commercials that advertise all the stuff we don’t have; and, telling us that we need it! “Our friends went to Best Buy, on Black Friday, and, got a new 70” Smart TV & our puny 55” TV just doesn’t cut it anymore”—that’s the general mindset of the average American! You take a ride in your friends new car & you love that new car smell! You get back in your old car and it smells like french fries & damp, moldy soccer cleats! You walk through SAMS or Target or COSTCO and you see all this new stuff that you NEED! You didn’t know you need it until you got there & saw what you were missing! Now, I may be exaggerating a bit; but, not by much!

-Managing God’s Estate!

If we’re followers, of Jesus, we can’t tolerate that selfish, consumerism controlling our lives! We must see ourselves—as Scripture tells us—as faithful “stewards” of God’s resources! We “manage” a portion of God’s “estate” that He’s entrusted to our care! How are we doing with that? If you live your life like you think you “own” your stuff, you’ll waste it all on building your own “little kingdom”—you’ll live an insignificant life! For the one, claiming to follow Jesus, we should not fear failure as much as we should fear success at something that really doesn’t matter in light of eternity! We need a constant reminder, from God’s Holy Spirit, that NOTHING we have is truly our own! It all belongs to God! And, whatever He’s given us, He’s trusting us to manage it well for Him; or, to leverage it in a way that builds His “big kingdom”! That’s how we avoid an insignificant life!

-How To Beat Consumerism!

In the Apostle Paul’s 1st letter, to Timothy, he instructed him to: “Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do what is good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good reserve for the age to come, so that they may take hold of life that is real” 1 Timothy 6:17-19. Here’s how I would paraphrase Paul’s challenge—You beat consumerism by denying your flesh & by chasing a new passion! It’s not just enough to deny your flesh! You need to live for a new passion! To the rich, he says, don’t be arrogant (v.17). So, a key, to avoiding the insignificant life, is to renounce the financial pride that can over take us! Remember, it’s not ours!

 

What Are Your Attachments?

-Do You Identify With Jesus?

My sinful life was the OLD me! But, that’s no longer who I am. Sin has no power to rule over me anymore than it had power over Jesus. In His resurrection, Jesus left the tomb! And, so should we! We’re no longer “dead” if we’re “in Christ.” We’ve been made “new”; or, ALIVE in Him. We’re no longer a dweller among the tombs! Do you know who you are? Do you identify with Jesus? Is He your Lord & Master as well as your Savior? The Apostle Paul says, “…if you have been raised with the Messiah, seek what is above, where the Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God” Colossians 3:1. “Seek what is above,” he says! That’s an imperative! He’s commanding the Colossian believers to be SEEKERS of something—this has everything to do with your “heart” or your “affections.”

-To What Are You Attached To Here?

Your ability to live, in your identity, in Christ—and, to defeat sin—has to do with your “ATTACHMENTS”! What are you ATTACHED to here? Where are you focused? If your heart & your affections & your attachments are in this world, you won’t be very effective purging sin from your life. Your spiritual growth & sanctification will be stunted; and, the weeds, of SIN, will grow out of control in your life. Look at Paul’s words again: “…if (or SINCE) you’ve been raised with the MESSIAH, SEEK WHAT is ABOVE, where the MESSIAH is…” Set your heart & your affections on Jesus! He’s the TREASURE! None of the created stuff, that so easily turn into idols, will last—one day it’ll all burn up & pass away!

-What Spurs Us Toward Growth?

Your spiritual growth has a direct correlation to how highly & how often you think of God; and, how little you think of yourself! “Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth,” Paul says in the next verse (Col. 3:2). Your spiritual growth & sanctification depends on what you “…set your minds…” Your ability to be killing the weeds, of sin, is dependent on your thought life—the things you dwell on; and, think about. To mature spiritually, you have to see everything against the backdrop of ETERNITY; not, this mortal world. We can no longer think like we did when we were still “dead in sin”; when, we lived like this world was the only thing that mattered! He specifically tells us not to set our mind on EARTH!

-Where Is Your Citizenship?

It’s so easy to get swept up in the nationalism & the politics & the drama of our nation! It’s so easy to “set our mind” & our conversation on those things, isn’t it? But, that’s not who we are! We can no longer self-identify as an “American Christian”—that moniker says we are an “American” 1st and a “Christian” 2nd. NO! “Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul wrote the Church of Philippi. The Apostle Peter agreed! He called life, on planet earth, a “temporary residence.” Don’t make country an IDOL! We belong to HEAVEN—we’re heaven’s AMBASSADORS! As God’s ambassadors, our sole purpose for remaining on this planet is to “reconcile” the lost with the Father!