Joy In Our Trials

-Consider It A Great Joy!

In James’ introduction to his epistle, by the same name, the Spirit of God prompts him to write:  “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials” (1:2). Say what? Did he just say that we ought to consider it “joy” whenever we’re facing trials?  Yup, sure did! So, what are some of our natural responses to difficulties and problems? Not very joyful are they? 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 of “joy” is counter-intuitive for us! It’s NOT natural! It’s God’s work in us!

-An Unavoidable Situation

That phrase, “…whenever you experience various trials…” is interesting.  It literally means that it’s an “unavoidable” situation! It’s not “IF” you will experience trials; but, “WHEN.” In other words, you cannot prevent it! You cannot control the various trials of life. I fear that some of you have gone through life feeling a great sense of guilt. You’ve convinced yourself that the reason you’ve had that crisis in your life is that you’ve done something wrong, and God is getting back at you for it! That He’s out to get you! That’s not the case! That’s not the loving, gracious, merciful God who eagerly forgives our sin when we confess it; and cleanses us for our unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-10). When James uses the word “consider” in that verse, he means for us to make a conscious commitment. We have to make a conscious commitment that whenever trials or tests or troubles come that we’re going to count it “joy” because it means that God is working in us! He’s using us for His purposes!

-God Puts You On Display!

If this becomes a struggle for you, let me offer you some Scripture to put to memory! When you memorize Scripture, you give God’s Holy Spirit the tools He uses to strengthen your faith and correct your walk with God! The Apostle Paul wrote to the believers in the Church of Corinth:  “But thanks be to God, who always puts us on display in Christ and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2 Cor. 2:14-15).  God uses the tests & trials in your life to put you on display! “Here’s Jesus in the flesh,” He tells the unbelieving world. He’s announcing to everyone around you! He wants to show the world, by your response to the testing, that Jesus is more valuable to you than a perfect life without struggles; that you still pursue Him despite your trials! 

-Spiritual Maturity!

James is teaching his readers to let God use the testing to produce spiritual maturity in their life. It’s “…the testing of your faith…” he says in v.3 that produces “endurance.” One of our former members, who’s moved away, runs marathons. A marathon is 26.2 miles. He didn’t just start running marathons one day. In fact, if you ask him how far he could run when he started, he’d tell you he wasn’t able to get past the 1-mile mark. But, he kept running, stretching it out to 5 miles; then 10, 15, and 20. Until he could endure 26.2 miles. That’s what the testing of our faith produces is endurance, James says. When you’re a new believer you get tripped up easily over every little test in life. But, God uses it to build spiritual endurance in us! That’s why we consider it joy! We don’t consider it joy because we enjoy the trials. Rather, we face the trials with a joyful heart because we know that God is using those things to produce spiritual endurance in us. It’s God’s work in us! So, what James is calling for here will require that we crucify our flesh!

The Testing Of Your Faith

-A Terrible Secret!

The daughter of missionaries, to the Congo Republic, told the story of her participation in the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 1st missionaries coming to that part of Africa. It was a huge celebration to commemorate the lasting impact of the work of those original missionaries. Special speakers were invited. There was lots of special worship music, festive meals, and many other planned activities.  At one point, she said that an aged native came forward & introduced himself as the last person alive who was privy to a terrible secret.

-They Tested Their Sincerity!

The old man confessed that 100 years earlier, his ancestors didn’t know whether to believe the message those 1st missionaries brought. So, to test the sincerity of the missionaries, they devised a plan. Slowly, secretly, and systematically they began poisoning the missionaries. Then, they watched intently as mothers said goodbye to children; husbands said goodbye to their wives, and friends said goodbye to one another. The old man explained that it was only as they saw how the missionaries died, that the truth of their message was confirmed. As a result, many came to believe & embrace the gospel message!

-A Faith That Remained Firm!

They observed a faith that remained as firm in death, as it was in life. It’s in James, chapter 1, where the writer— James; Jesus 1/2 brother— began his epistle like this:  “James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ: To the 12 tribes which are scattered abroad…” Let me tell you why that introduction is significant. He’s writing to Jewish followers of Jesus Christ who have been “dispersed” or scattered in persecution for their faith. James’ purpose, for writing this letter, was to encourage them & offer them a basis & a reason for their suffering! To teach them that their pain was not pointless! That God had a purpose for it!

-On Display In An Unbelieving World!

And, part of His purpose for the pain & the suffering & the setbacks we endure, is to put us on display in an unbelieving world. The genuineness & quality of our faith is most visible & apparent during times of intense pain and testing. In other words, the gospel is seen most plainly & Jesus is seen as most valuable when we continue to pursue Him even during life’s trials & tests. Jesus’ ministry was authenticated, in part, by His response to betrayal, to false testimony & to His unlawful death. And, because He did not condemn them; but, said “Father, forgive them”, we see centurions & soldiers & many of the priests (who approved of His crucifixion) coming to believe in Him!

-Jesus In The Flesh!

There are people all around us who need to see Jesus in the flesh before they’ll believe! Like the 1st believers in the Congo, they need to see our response to pain, suffering & setbacks before they’ll come to faith and believe in the Jesus you say you believe in. James continued from his opening sentence with these words: “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) I sense a storm brewing in our land! Don’t you? We might be closing in on a day when it’s against the law to be a Christian! Church, we need to be teaching our children & our grand-children how to live in a culture & environment like the believers of James day lived. I don’t believe we’ve done a very good job of that! We haven’t prepared them! Will you pray for God’s help to do that?

Have The Attitude Of Jesus!

-Stuck In This Broken Flesh!

The Apostle Paul’s command to the Church of Philippi in the 2nd chapter of his letter to them is somewhat disturbing:  “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,…” he says. Let that sink in for a moment! How are we going to do that, Church? How can we possibly have the attitude Jesus had; and think as He did? We’re stuck in this broken flesh! He was God! Paul went on to say that Jesus existed, “…in the form of God, & He 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, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. For this reason, God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow… and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:5-11).  How can we possibly have the same attitude that Jesus had? And, yet, we are commanded to!

-Encouragement In Christ!

Does that not disturb you a little, as it does me? I hope that it does, and I hope it drives you deeper into the text because there are 2 significant details that we can’t leave out if we hope to obey this command to have the attitude of Jesus. If you’ll look back to verse 1, you’ll see that Paul says, “If there is any encouragement IN CHRIST…” If there is an encouragement! If there is any hope in doing what Paul is about to direct this Church to do, it’s because of our position “IN CHRIST.” If you’re a follower of Jesus; if you believe in Him, you are IN CHRIST! And, Christ is IN YOU by the Holy Spirit! So, Paul is telling the church that we CAN have the attitude of Christ— that He’s going to describe for us next— because we are IN CHRIST!

-Work Out Your Own Salvation!

There’s a 2nd significant detail in this text. Look at verses 12-13. Paul says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose.” Again, Paul gives us a command! You… work out your own salvation! Your Christian life is your responsibility. But, then he adds, “…it is GOD who is doing the WORK IN YOU…” It is because you are IN CHRIST that God enables you & gives you the desire! So, IN CHRIST, God enables us with a desire to think; or have the attitude of Jesus!

-An Attitude That Mirrors Jesus Christ!

I hope you’re tracking with me; because this is great stuff! And, let me show you the payoff! The idea, that we floated in our last post, that Jesus uses the transformed lives of our church to convict Sioux City (or your city!) of their need for a Savior, is why everything we do in life is significant. God uses the deep relationships— through our participation in Small Groups & Sunday School & ministry opportunities— to transform us into Gospel lights everywhere we go! In our places of work! In our neighborhoods! Even in our leisure! Let me show you why I say that! It’s found in v.15, where Paul says, “So that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world.” IN CHRIST, God enables us by giving us the desire to have the mind or attitude of Jesus! He will make us shine like stars in the world; and right here in our own city!

Just Make Disciples!

-The Church Relevant In The World!

The book of Romans is a letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to the believers in the Church of Rome. It was a church that had no political clout in the Roman empire!  It was a persecuted church; but still, an effective church, because its methods were simple— just make disciples! When the church is busy fulfilling the commission that Jesus gave her, she will become relevant in the world! Now, lest I be misunderstood, let me be clear that I’m NOT against political and government involvement! In fact, quite the opposite. For the believer, there is no “secular.” Everything is sacred!

-God Sovereign Over All!

God owns it all & is Sovereign over all! It is part of our responsibility, as stewards, to be informed. To know the issues & to vote our conscience as we view everything through the grid of Scripture. But, politics and government cannot be where we place our hope! Or, you will be sorely disappointed; as many believers are here in the West! Nowhere, in Scripture, are we called to create a “Christian nation.” Nowhere in Scripture are we given such a mandate. Neither are we called to legislate righteousness! We are called to preach the Gospel & to make disciples. That is our mandate! If we’ll trust God & His plan, rather than the political process, we’ll see our nation & our local communities change 1 disciple at a time.

-The Power Of The Gospel!

That’s what we see in the book of Acts; and, history bears it out—that the power of the Gospel changed entire cultures over time. Rome was no exception. The Church may have endured great persecution at the time that Paul wrote this book; but within 300 years of Jesus’ crucifixion, the Gospel had done such a powerful spiritual work in the Roman Empire, that many historians claim that more than half the population had become followers of Jesus. The 1st chapter of Romans is one of the more significant texts in the Bible. I encourage you to read it often & become familiar with its content.

-Singled Out To Proclaim The Gospel!

From the start, Paul focuses on the Gospel: “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle and singled out for God’s good news— which He promised long ago through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures— concerning His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord…” Paul says he was “singled out” to proclaim “…God’s GOOD NEWS…” The word is εὐαγγέλιον (in the original Greek) or “GOSPEL.” So, he’s sharing the Good News of the Gospel, which he says “…CONCERNS God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord…” And in v.8 he says, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you because the news of your faith is being reported in all the world …” Their faith in the Gospel, Paul says, was having an impact on the whole world!

-Turned The World Upside Down!

When Paul & his entourage went to Thessalonica with the Gospel, it created such a stir that Acts 17 says, “…these men have turned the whole world upside down…” The power of the Gospel outperforms the power of the people every time! Be faithful, church! If you truly have a heart for change in our nation; then, first ask God for a bigger heart for Him; and, second, ask Him for a bigger heart for people! Ask Him for a heart big enough to love hard-to-love people, and to share the Gospel with them. Only His Gospel will change the culture & course of our land. Only when the Church returns to the mission Jesus gave her, will she become relevant in the world once again!  Nothing is happening in our nation that a revival couldn’t change! A revival of the Church! “Judgment must first begin at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17). We have to love the lost! We need to establish relationships with them! Have them in our homes!

A Relevant Church!

-The Times We Live In!

I find the times we live in, right now, to be incredibly curious times for the church. The numbers are staggering! Between 6,000 and 10,000 churches, in the United States, are closing every year. That means that between 100-200 churches will close this week alone! So, who’s to blame? Many church leaders are trying to convince us that the secular culture & the liberal politics are to blame. But, I don’t believe that! Not for 1 minute do I believe that; and I base that belief on what we see in the book of Acts.

-Outside Forces & Culture!

If outside forces & culture are to blame for the church’s decline, there would be no churches anywhere! The church would have died in the Book of Acts! Yet, the greatest period of church growth began 50 days after Jesus’ Resurrection on the Day of Pentecost & it’s recorded, in detail, in the Book of Acts for us! If you read through the Book of Acts, you can’t help but notice how adversarial the culture & the government were toward the church; and, yet, it prospered! Despite persecution that scattered the church; and even the killing of its leaders, the church just blew up with growth!

-New Believers “Multiplied”!

At first, adding new believers to the church by the thousands, but then the number of new followers of Jesus “multiplied” the book of Acts records! Isn’t the contrast interesting? That at a time when the government & culture were antagonistic toward the church, the church just went about her commission to make disciples & grew in unprecedented fashion; but today, many in the evangelical church have become hostile toward politics & the culture, and, we’re shrinking in size and relevance. Just an observation! Not a statement! I’ve mentioned in the past that the only good thing about growing older is the perspective it gives me. I mean no disrespect toward those of you that might be half my age, but I’ve simply had more time to observe how our country & the church have trended!

-The Days Of The “Moral Majority”!

You can read the history, but I lived it! I clearly remember the rise of Jerry Falwell & the Moral Majority in the 1970s. I was a card-carrying member; and I firmly believed that we— the church & the Moral Majority— could change the spiritual trajectory of our nation by voting the right people into office & changing legislation. Like many of my fellow believers, I became politically active. More than once, someone asked me if I would consider running for political office; and I almost did. I watched the church impact the political landscape during the 1980s and much of the 1990,; and we rode that wave into the early 2000s. But if you haven’t noticed, the last 20+ years have not been kind. All that momentum from the 1970s is gone & as the dust continues to settle, here’s what we see— a church that has mostly become irrelevant & a nation that’s become increasingly secular!

-We Quit Making Disciples!

The church in America has mostly become irrelevant because it quit doing what Jesus created it to do! Our sole purpose; our only reason for existence, is for the making of disciples. That’s what we were commissioned to do! If Jesus was about political clout, He had every opportunity to act on it! Israel was ready to make Him king IF He would only throw off the restraints of Rome & lead a rebellion against their occupation. But, that was not the way of His Kingdom! He told His disciples to “…render to Caesar the things that were Caesar’s & to God the things that were God’s…” So, when the church quit making disciples her mission in the 1970s & made politics her Savior, she began to shrink in size & lost whatever “Moral Majority” she might have had. Simply put, we’re in a bad place! There’s only one thing to do! It’s what we always must do when we’re guilty of disobedience! Repent! Judgment must begin at the house of God!

A Favored People!

-The Holy Spirit’s Indwelling!

We are a favored people to live in the age of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of believers. We should be incredibly thankful that we live in a day when the fullness of God’s Triune nature has been revealed; and, because the Spirit is God’s Gift to us, we can have a deeper & fuller relationship with God than did our brothers & sisters who loved God during Old Testament times. It was back in the 1st chapter, v.32, of John’s Gospel when John the Baptizer testified: “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him (Jesus).” Jesus also had many things to say, about the Spirit, in His conversation with Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” John 3:5.

-The Spirit Gives Life!

In John, ch.6, Jesus also said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing ….” But, there’s a major shift in the way that Jesus speaks about the Holy Spirit when you turn the page of Scripture to John, chapter 14. God, the Father, seems the most prominent in His Old Testament work with Israel. God, the Son, takes the spotlight in the New Testament as He comes to make atonement for the sin of mankind. But, in some of Jesus’ final words to His disciples, as He prepares to return to the Father after the cross, He elevates the Holy Spirit to front & center by His work in us! The Holy Spirit is truly God’s gift to us!

-It Was More Profitable!

And, though difficult for His disciples to understand at the time, Jesus told them that it was more profitable, for them, that He would return to the Father so the Holy Spirit could come to indwell them. It was more profitable because Jesus, in His human body, could only be in 1 place at a time; and, have an influence limited to a few people at a time. But, the Spirit would be available to minister to every believer in every place in the world at any time! And, from Jesus’ words, in John chapter 14, we come to understand that the Holy Spirit is a Person just like Jesus is a Person.

-He’s Not A Mystical Force!

There are many misconceptions about the Holy Spirit. He’s not some mystical force like Star Wars; nor, is He an impersonal power that God offers to Jesus’ followers. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is God; that, just like Jesus, He is a being with a mind, emotions & will. When Jesus says, “…I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever” (14:16), He uses the word “allos” (ἄλλος) which is a descriptive word that means: “another of the same kind.” In other words, Jesus is saying that “…the Holy Spirit will be a counselor/helper just like Me.” During Jesus’ ministry with His disciples, He had guided them; He had guarded them, and He had been their Teacher.

-God: The Holy Spirit!

Now, after His death & resurrection, the Father would send the Holy Spirit to do the same thing for them that Jesus had done when He was present. In Acts, chapter 5, after Ananias had lied about the amount of money he had received from the sale of a piece of property, Peter asked him:  “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” So, he lied, Peter said, to the Holy Spirit, right? And, in the very next verse, he says, “You have not lied to men but to God.” He used the Holy Spirit interchangeably with God. So, he lied to the Holy Spirit, who is God, Peter said. That makes Him a person; because you can’t lie to an impersonal force. Then, Jesus finishes His statement to the disciples:  “I will ask the Father,” He says, “and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever” (14:16). In other words, God’s gift of the Holy Spirit will never be taken from us! God, the Father, has given us the Holy Spirit to enjoy forever!

We Observed His Glory!

-That “Ah-Hah”” Moment!

One of my favorite movies is M. Night Shyamalan’s psychological thriller, “The Sixth Sense” because it got me! If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean. I won’t spoil it for those of you who haven’t watched it yet; but, the story is about a troubled boy who believes he sees & speaks with dead people; and, an equally troubled child psychologist, played by Bruce Willis, who tries to help the boy even as he struggles to save his dying marriage. The movie takes several twists & turns; but, the biggest twist takes place at the very end when the truth is revealed to the child psychologist; and, you realize that the whole movie was not at all what it seemed. With that one vital piece of information, every scene, in the movie, is altered! It blew me away! It was that “ah-ha” moment!

-One Vital Piece Of Information!

In so many ways, that illustrates, to me, the way the majority of people, on this planet, live their lives— with one vital piece of information missing! And, that is that the most unique person to ever walk this planet was Jesus Christ; and, that the purpose for His arrival will alter the way you view everything about your life once the truth has been revealed & believed! It’ll be your “ah-ha” moment! Once you understand the implications of who Jesus is, it’ll change how you interpret & understand every event in your life. You’ll even begin to find meaning & purpose in the failures, the pain; and, the suffering in life.

-A Significant Scripture Text!

Chapter 1, of John’s Gospel, is one of the most significant texts of Scripture in the entire Bible. Inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, the Apostle John puts the entire world in its proper perspective in the person of Jesus Christ. If you start reading the Bible from the book of Genesis; and, continue reading through the entire Old Testament, you’re left with the feeling that the story is incomplete. You’re left waiting for the arrival of someone who would set the world right; like, a reboot! God’s Old Testament prophets wrote that a Messiah was coming; and, John’s Gospel announces that He’s here—His name is Jesus!

-So That You May Believe!

And, if you’ll flip ahead to chapter 20, of John’s Gospel, he announces his purpose for writing his Gospel:  “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name” (vs.30-31). John wrote his Gospel by divine inspiration to help people believe in Jesus so that they might have eternal life; so, God intended to use John’s Gospel to awaken faith in you! In essence, Jesus concealed the glory of His fame (that He was, in fact, God!) in the form of an earthly frame— He was a man! Jesus was the God-man!

-A Stunning Revelation!

What John says about Jesus is stunning; and, if it wasn’t factual; if it wasn’t verifiable by hundreds & thousands of witnesses, we would think it was the stuff of science fiction! That it was just a great story! But, when John confronts us with the description of Jesus, we cannot remain ambivalent toward Him. We’re forced to make a decision; because He reveals that Jesus was divine! He was deity! He was God incarnate; which means He was made flesh! John opens his Gospel with these words:  “In the beginning was the Word…” (v.1). Right from the start, we understand that this is no ordinary “Word.” It becomes obvious that the Word is a person; and, “…the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as of the One and Only Son from the Father…” (v.14).  And, even though he doesn’t mention Jesus by name until v.17, it’s clear that the “Word” is Jesus! Come back for more next week!

Sound Asleep!

-A Disturbing Prejudicial Response!

For anyone claiming to follow Jesus, the Old Testament story of Jonah is a disturbing one! Our posts the last few weeks have focused on Jonah’s story. And, while it’s startling to observe Jonah’s prejudicial response to the revival of the people of Ninevah, we may be more like Jonah than we know; or, than we care to admit! The church cannot hold prejudice against any other people group, nation, or religion; and, remain true to Jesus’ commission to make disciples of every tribe, nation & people group. To make us useful, in His kingdom purposes, God must awaken us to souls nearby!

-Wake Up! Call To Your God!

Just turn back to Jonah, chapter 1, with me, and pay close attention to the words of the ship’s captain. Remember, this is the ship that Jonah chose to take passage on as he ran away from God’s calling to share the gospel message with the city of Ninevah. Starting at v.4, “Then the Lord hurled a violent wind on the sea & such a violent storm arose on the sea that the ship threatened to break apart. The sailors were afraid, and each cried out to his god. They threw the ship’s cargo into the sea to lighten the load. Meanwhile, Jonah had gone down to the lowest part of the vessel & had stretched out & fallen into a deep sleep. The captain approached him & said, ‘What are you doing sound asleep? Get up! Call to your god. Maybe this god will consider us & we won’t perish’” (1:4-6).

-Silencing The Call Of God!

As I studied my way through this passage, the words of the ship’s captain arrested my attention. As I read it, I just let it play out in my mind like a TV drama; except, I saw it from Jonah’s vantage point— a believer;  a prophet of God; commissioned by God to take His word to another people group! But, he ran from that call! Getting on that ship; and, finding a place deep in its belly, he was determined to silence the call of God by just “sleeping it off.” He’d just wake up in a new place where, hopefully, God would just give up on him. But, as he slept— a deep sleep it says— a violent wind & storm arose on the sea; and, all the crewmen feared for their lives! So much so, that it says they, “…each CRIED OUT to their god…”

-What Are You Doing Sound Asleep?

Then, while beginning to throw the cargo overboard to keep the ship from breaking apart, the captain stumbles onto Jonah, wakes him; and, asks him:  “What are you doing sound asleep?” And, then he rebukes him, “Get up! Call to your god. Maybe this god will consider us, and we won’t perish.” What an embarrassing role reversal this was for Jonah! Who was the spiritually motivated one? The more I meditated on that picture the more it kind of morphed into an image of OUR day! Have you noticed that there’s a major storm brewing all around us with wars & rumors of wars with the constant threat of nuclear weapons? There’s fear of a worldwide economic collapse!

-Down In The Belly Of The Ship!

There’s political unrest; and, a huge racism problem. And, to personalize the drama of Jonah’s story, WE are down in the belly of the ship! Many of us, who claim to be followers of Jesus, are running away from our calling! And, just like Jonah, we’re sound asleep! Even the unbelievers around us are recognizing the grave danger we’re in. All the cargo— the stuff of this world— isn’t worth keeping. Many of the lost all around us are crying out for help; and, in my mind I see the lost discovering me down in the ship; and, they’re angry! Angry at my non-loving, non-caring attitude toward them. Why wasn’t I helping them? They cry out the same words as the ship’s captain, “What are you doing sound asleep?” If you’ve been asleep; and, God’s Spirit is rousing you, let me remind you that He is the God of 2nd chances! Even as He gave Jonah a chance, He offers you a chance to repent & jump into God’s work?

We Are Accountable!

-Spiritual Watchmen To Unbelievers!

In the last couple of posts, we’ve talked about Israel’s “watchmen” as described by the Old Testament prophet, Ezekiel. We talked about how the “spiritual overtones” of the watchmen remind us of our responsibility to be spiritual watchmen to the unbelieving world! We’re called to warn the world that their sin has separated them from God; and, they’re in grave danger unless they repent & turn to Jesus! The parallels between being a watchman; and, being a disciple-maker, are unmistakable! God gave Old Testament Israel’s watchmen a precise message; and, as Jesus’ disciple-makers, we’ve also been given a precise message.

-A Precise Message!

To the watchmen, God said: “When you hear a word from My mouth, give them a warning from Me. If I say to the wicked, ‘Wicked one, you will surely die,’ but you do not speak out to warn him about his way, that wicked person will die for his iniquity, yet I will hold you responsible for his blood. But if you warn a wicked person to turn from his way and he doesn’t turn from it, he will die for his iniquity, but you will have saved your life. Now as for you, son of man, say to the house of Israel: You have said this, ‘Our transgressions and our sins are heavy on us, and we are wasting away because of them! How then can we survive?’ Tell them: As I live”—the declaration of the Lord God—“I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked person should turn from his way and live. Repent, repent of your evil ways! Why will you die, house of Israel?” Ezekiel 33:7-11.

-The Good News!

What’s the watchman’s message? It’s “grace,” isn’t it? It’s the message of the Gospel; the Good News that God, “…takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked…”  If only Israel would “…repent of their evil ways…” God asks them, “Why will you die, house of Israel?” We’ve been given the same message to deliver everywhere we go, church! “The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance” 2 Peter 3:9.  “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” John 3:16. That’s our message!

-God’s Ambassadors!

Paul wrote the Church of Corinth, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, ‘Be reconciled to God’” 2 Corinthians 5:20. We’re God’s ambassadors, church! We’re His watchmen to the world! We’re commanded to plead with the world to come to Christ! To share the message that God loves them & welcomes them to repent and be saved! What a great message we have to share with loved ones, neighbors; and, co-workers! He is a good God! “He has not dealt with us as our sins deserve or repaid us according to our offenses” Psalm 103:10 .

-A Notice Of Accountability!

Let me make one final point! In the same way that God made Israel’s watchmen accountable, He has made us accountable! In v.17 of Ezekiel’s 33rd chapter, God confronts Israel over their claim that God wasn’t “fair”! In v.20 He says, “You say, ‘The Lord’s way isn’t fair.’ I will judge each of you according to his ways, house of Israel.”  I cringe inside every time I hear someone judging God for the way He does things! What arrogance that a puny little man— one of 7 billion on this planet— would dare to call out God for anything! We don’t even know what we don’t know! “The Lord is righteous in all His ways and gracious in all His acts” Psalm 145:17. God is even willing to extend grace to us when we make rash claims against Him— “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” God says, “Why will you die?”  If you’re a follower of Christ then you have been served notice! You are accountable for making disciples! Are you doing it?

Hope In Suffering!

-We’re Permitted To Grieve!

We opened our Bible to the O.T. book of Lamentations, in our last post; and, discovered that the Prophet Jeremiah & the nation of Israel were in a world of hurt! Jeremiah feels it personally; and, for his people! And, God’s word tells us that there is a place for that. The N.T. book of Romans tells us to, “weep with those who weep.” We’re permitted to grieve! But, we’re also told not to grieve in the same way that unbelievers do; like, those with no hope! Lamenting is appropriate in times of pain & struggle. But, we’re also instructed that the pain & struggle should give way to repentance & hope!

-God’s Faithful Love Offers Hope!

Because of God’s faithful love, there is hope in suffering! “I call this to mind,” Jeremiah writes, “and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness! I say: The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him” (Lamentations 3:21-24). And, let me remind you that “hope” in Scripture is completely different than the cross-your-fingers kind of “hope” that the word means in today’s culture. The “hope” in God’s Word is a “confident expectation.”

-A Confident Expectation!

Jeremiah— inspired by God’s Holy Spirit to write this— has “hope”; or, a confident expectation despite his suffering and pain; because, of God’s faithful love. He chooses to focus on God’s character rather than the circumstances of his pain & suffering. “I call this to mind,” he says; that, “God’s love is faithful.” He refuses to live under the circumstances! To neither dwell on the past or the current suffering; but, to be forward in his thinking; that, God’s love is faithful! Whatever our current state of life, God’s love is not negated! The ESV translation says, “…the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases…” The MESSAGE paraphrases it, “God’s loyal love.” God is loyal to us!

-Don’t Doubt God’s Loyalty!

Don’t let the undesirable events in your life give you any cause to doubt God’s loyalty! If you’ve believed in Jesus you’ve been adopted into God’s family. And, while the enemy hopes to crush you under the struggles of life, God is acting like a loving Father & He’s acting on the junk in your life, intending to grow your faith & give you “HOPE”—a “confident expectation” that He will continue to come through for you! The Apostle Paul wrote the Church of Rome that “hope” is produced through our suffering:  “…we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit…” Romans 5:2-5.

-Rejoice In Afflictions!

God is showing us His faithful love toward us by choreographing the painful struggles into our lives, Paul says; because they are for our good! He uses them to help us grow spiritually; so, rejoice in the “affliction” because it produces “endurance” which produces “character” which produces “hope”—that “confident expectation” in God’s ability to use the struggles to strengthen our faith! So, don’t fight Him! Enduring the struggles will always eventually produce hope if we’re submitted to God’s Spirit because that’s what the Spirit produces in us; and, He uses the painful stuff in life to generate it. But, then, Jeremiah says that there is hope; or, a confident expectation, even in suffering, because God’s mercy never ends (v.22). Some translations say, “…through the LORD’S mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not…” This is what Jeremiah called to mind! We need God’s help to call these same truths to mind.