Abraham’s Faith Crisis!

-Caution: God At Work!

If you follow Jesus by faith & trust Him for your eternal salvation, than “sanctification” is the work God is presently doing in your life. We all want to be “SANCTIFIED”; but, rarely do we enjoy the process God uses to get us there. On a number of levels, Abraham presents us with a picture of a sanctified life. In Genesis ch. 11, v.30 it reads:  “…Sarah was unable to conceive; she did not have a child...” So, Abraham loved a woman that could not conceive a child! That presented Abraham with a crisis of faith because God had promised to make of Abraham a great nation, through his offspring, with Sarah!

-God Uses Life’s Hardships!

After reading the entire account, we come away with this—God uses the hardships in our life to sanctify us! This crisis of faith would provide God the perfect opportunity to stretch Abraham’s faith & trust in Him; and, it’s in the stretching, of our faith, that we grow! Jesus taught His disciples:  “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world” John 16:33. Jesus already overcame all the suffering that this world had to dish out! And, He conquered it! Notice, “…you will have suffering in this world,” Jesus said, “in part, so we find peace in Him!”

-Let Go Of Your Stuff!

God uses pain, trouble & suffering to loosen our grip on the stuff in this world! That’s part of our sanctification—part of the spiritual growth process! We only grab hold of our future “GLORIFICATION” as we let go of this life! Let go of your dreams & aspirations! Let go of your attempts to control your circumstances & your environment! And, give it all over to Jesus! That’s NOT what the world tells you! The world tells you to live out your dreams! To do whatever you want! To go after it with gusto & determination! Jesus says, “If you hold onto your life you’ll lose it! But, if you lose your life for my sake & the Gospel you will find it” Matthew 10:39.  We grow, in our sanctification, as we desire to live out God’s “dreams” & “plans” for our life; and, relinquish our own! The sanctified life grabs hold of Paul’s words:  “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose” Romans 8:28.  He doesn’t promise to make all things good! He promises to work them together for our good—for our sanctification!

-Trusting A God Who’s Not In A Hurry!

Abraham is a picture of the sanctified life because he trusted a God who does not hurry! God wasn’t in a hurry to fulfill His promise to Abraham about moving to Canaan land. He wasn’t in a hurry to follow through on His promise of a son, to Abraham, through Sarah. Abraham waited 25 years for Isaac—the son of promise! In His perfect time, God came through! Because God is never in a hurry, we can become impatient with Him & try to provide our own fulfillment to His promises. Abraham tried to make Ishmael acceptable to God—the product of his liaison with Sarah’s handmaid; but, God refused him. Abraham would learn to trust in a God who was never in a hurry! Ask God to make you willing to wait on Him!

 

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What Does Spiritual Growth Look Like?

-It’s Not Hobby Gardening!

My parents were not “hobby” gardeners! A lot of gardening today tends to be more “recreational” than essential to life, doesn’t it? That was not the way it was for me growing up! It really was “life or death” for us! If we didn’t grow our food, we wouldn’t have had anything to eat. We had 2 huge gardens & it seemed like we grew every kind of vegetable known to man. My mom canned everything; and, by the end of the harvest season the cellar was stacked full of canned food. But, let me tell you the most vivid memory I have, about my parents garden, growing up—it was the daily battle we waged against undesirable and troublesome plant life that grew profusely where it was not wanted…WEEDS! According to the dictionary, weeds are:  “a valueless plant growing wild, especially one that grows on cultivated ground to the exclusion or injury of the desired crop.”

-Kill Those Weeds!

Every summer my dad preached the same sermon to us—”We have to kill the weeds; or, the weeds will kill our crops.” So, every morning—early, before it got too hot—my sisters & I made our way to the garden, with garden hoe in hand, to kill the weeds before they killed our crops! The parallels to our spiritual life are obvious, aren’t’ they? Our sins are like weeds in the gardens of our lives; and, just like weeds harm & injure the desired garden crops we’re growing, so, the remaining sin, in us, will stunt our spiritual growth & development! Sin, like weeds, have to be rooted out of our lives and killed!

-We’ve Got To Kill Sin!

The old Puritan, John Owen, warned that, “We’ve got to be killing sin; or, sin will be killing us.” That is what Biblical, spiritual growth is all about! Paul taught the Church of Rome: “If you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” Romans 8:13.  And, that’s what we call “SANCTIFICATION.” It should resonate with you that SANCTIFICATION = SPIRITUAL GROWTH! Just adding more Bible knowledge is NOT sanctification or spiritual growth if we’re still entertaining sin in our lives! The goal of our salvation is NOT HEAVEN! The goal of our salvation is JESUS! By faith, in Him, we are remade in His image!

-Here’s What Life Is All About!

It’s absolutely imperative that you understand what this life is all about! It’s NOT ultimately about your family, your job, or your retirement! It’s NOT about you or the “American Dream”!  It’s about your SANCTIFICATION! That’s why you’re still here! If you’re a genuine believer in Jesus Christ, a follower & disciple of His—then you were JUSTIFIED when you humbled yourself & accepted His payment, for your sin, on the cross! At the moment you believed, God JUSTIFIED you! He pardoned you; and, set you free from the penalty of your sin; which, is death! And, one day you will be GLORIFIED! You’ll be given a new GLORIFIED body like Jesus; and, you’ll be set free from the very presence of sin! Hallelujah!

 

More Like Jesus & Less Like You!

-So, How Are You Doing Spiritually?

At a recent Small Group meeting I asked this series of questions: “How are you doing Spiritually? And, on what criteria do you base your answer? How are you measuring your walk with Christ?” I’ve found when I just ask the 1st question—“How are you doing spiritually?”—that everyone says, “Good! Good!” Have you noticed that? I mean, that’s MY typical response to that question! It’s a question that needs qualifying! It needs those follow-up questions. On what basis can I say, “Good! Good!” when someone asks me how I’m doing spiritually?

-Is It About What We Do?

Do we measure our spiritual progress by the things we DO? Be careful! Don’t quickly dismiss the things we DO & say that, “…it’s only what’s in the HEART that matters.” If our HEART is right with God it WILL impact the things we DO, right? Jesus said: “If you love Me, you WILL KEEP my commandments.” At the same time, we can DO all the RIGHT things for the WRONG reasons, can’t we? We can do things to be SEEN of men; and, Jesus called that hypocrisy!

-Practicing The Spiritual Disciplines

Several months back I received a call from a young man who got saved in my youth group, in Colorado, several years ago. He asked if he could interview me for a seminary class he was taking. The interview included a line of questions based on how I lived my life according to the so-called “Spiritual Disciplines”—or, practices found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth. They’re habits of devotion—like prayer, fasting, public & private worship, meditation, making disciples—and, they’re all activities that Jesus’ followers are commanded to do! In fact, Jesus practiced most of them Himself! In answering the question, for the interview, I prefaced my answer with this caution—we are NOT godly just because we practice certain spiritual disciplines!

-The Error Of The Pharisees

That was the great error of the Pharisees, wasn’t it? They believed that they were godly BECAUSE they practiced certain things!  You cannot separate what you’re doing on the OUTSIDE by who you ARE on the INSIDE. What you DO matters! But, who you ARE matters even more! Here’s what I’m trying to say—Spiritual growth happens, in your life, as you become MORE like Jesus & LESS like you! That’s what’s expected if you’re truly His disciple!

-Where Spiritual Growth Happens

Based on several NT passages, I believe that our spiritual development occurs BEST in the context of a “faith community”; or, a church! Being a disciple of Christ does not begin with something WE do; but, with something that Christ DID! That’s the Gospel! He redeemed our broken relationship with the Father by His substitutionary atonement on the cross! He took away our sin! He paid the penalty we should have paid so that the Father might grant us forgiveness, grace, mercy & love! He adopts us into His “family”; and, it’s His family that makes up the church!  That becomes our new identity! We’re no longer citizens of this world; rather, Scripture says we’re “temporary residents” here! And, it’s within the “family” atmosphere, of the “church”, that God prunes us so that He might accomplish our sanctification!

 

Sustaining Spiritual Momentum Part II

-It’s Not By Human Effort!

Let’s say you’re part of a church that’s bucking that trend we’re seeing, in America, where 9 out of 10 churches are experiencing decline! God has blessed you with a core of leaders who are faithful disciple makers! How do you sustain that spiritual momentum? This post is “Part II” in my attempt to answer that question! And, let me be clear that it’s NOT something that can be sustained by human effort! The salvation of souls is a work that is exclusively God’s work—“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him…” Jesus said. I concede that regeneration is a supernatural act of God on a human life!

-We’re God’s Ambassadors!

But, I also understand that God enables us to be His ambassadors in reconciling unconverted individuals to Himself! So, what’s our part in sustaining spiritual momentum? In my last post, we opened up our Bibles to Hebrews 10:24,25—“And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” The 1st thing that stands out, to me, is the writers admonition, as inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, to “…be CONCERNED about ONE ANOTHER…” This is one of the most attractive; but, often overlooked behaviors of a sanctified local church community of faith! Do not underestimate how enticing that kind of behavior appears when set side by side with the rest of our narcissistic, self-absorbed world. Any group or community that shows genuine concern, for others, will stand out!

-Focus On Others!

So, if we are to sustain the spiritual momentum necessary to make disciples who make disciples we have to continue to focus on others more than ourselves. God calls us to look after one another; to, think about one another; to, be occupied with one another! But, notice that the writer says to “…be concerned about one another in order to promote love…” The command here is NOT to love one another—although there are plenty of Scriptures that tell us to love one another—but, to PROMOTE love! Some translations say, “…to stimulate one another to love…”; or, to “…stir up one another to love…” In other words, we’re accountable—NOT just to love each other—but, to promote love within the body!

-That’s Not Natural!

That implies that THAT kind of love doesn’t come natural to us! We have to work at it with the Spirit’s help. Notice, also, that the writer is concerned that the church promote “…good works…” Just like his command to promote love, the writer is not telling the church to DO good works—though Scripture commands us many times to do good works—but, to PROMOTE good works! To stimulate each other; and, to stir up one another to good works! Again, it’s about keeping each other accountable; to, look for every opportunity to do good works wherever you find yourself! For others! For relationships! Get the focus off of ourselves! That’s, in part, how we sustain the spiritual momentum to make disciples who make disciples! (NEXT Week… Part III)

 

Sustaining Spiritual Momentum Part I

-The Old Way Isn’t Working!

There’s a saying; and, I’m sure most of you have heard it—that, “Insanity Is Doing The Same Thing Over & Over And Expecting Different Results.” In other words, if you’re looking for different results, you’ve got to change the way you’re doing things! The American church is desperately in need of a “paradigm shift” in the way we do things! The old way isn’t working! It’s broken! You’ve heard the statistics—9 out of 10 churches, in America, are in decline! And, of that 1 in 10 experiencing growth (many are “Mega Churches”), 9 out of 10 have grown—NOT by adding new converts—but, by TRANSFER growth; or, people leaving the 9 out of 10 churches in decline!

-No More Sorry Excuses!

As for me, I’m unwilling to accept some sorry excuse that people just aren’t seeking God these days! The same God, who worked the sweeping revivals in the book of Acts, is alive and well today! The Bible offers us hope! And, there is a grass roots movement that is effecting change in the Church across our land. God is raising up modern day “prophets” who refuse to preach the pragmatic “self-help gospel” with it’s self-absorbed, man-centered appeal to consumerism—that false gospel will not endure the coming persecution! It’s a movement that’s slowly building, gaining momentum, and, returning to “ground zero”—to where Jesus said, “I will build My church.”

-Empowered By His Spirit!

He would build His Church—NOT by appealing to the fleshly lusts of the world & the unregenerate heart; but—on the WEAKNESS of man & the POWER of God! “Not by man’s might or power; but, by MY Spirit, says the Lord” (Zech. 4:6).  Jesus built that early church, in the book of Acts, out of broken men who were empowered by HIS Holy Spirit to simply obey His “commission” to make disciples! This post is about sustaining the spiritual momentum necessary to continue making new disciples.  In Hebrews 10:24-25, the writer is addressing a falling away of some of the believers. Somehow, the momentum of the early church, in Acts, had stalled! Earlier, in the letter, the writer had warned them that they needed to learn, all over again, some of the elementary truths of faith—so, this is basic stuff! If it was a class it would be “Basic Discipleship 101.”

-Don’t Do Life Without It!

The text says, “And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our gatherings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”  If you had only 2 words to summarize those verses, they would be “relationships” & “gatherings”; and, that’s Church!  The writer is saying, “Church: Don’t try to do the Christian life without it!” And, his 1st point is to “be concerned about one another.” If the Church is to sustain the momentum necessary to make disciples who make disciples we have to quit making Church about ourselves! God calls us to look after one another! That Church is attractive to unbelievers! Can you  point me to one like that?

 

Handling Conflict In The Church!

-Tolerance Advocates Not Very Tolerant!

It amazes me how quickly the advocates of “tolerance” sound off & run off everyone who disagrees with them. Not very tolerant, are they? The Apostle Paul tells the Church of Rome to knock off that kind of behavior. He says that God intends to grow you spiritually as you learn to willingly put up with one another—“Each one of us must please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” (Rom. 15:2). We don’t join a faith community to please ourselves! The purpose, for becoming a church member, is to please our neighbor “…for his good, to build him up.” Or, to “edify” if you prefer to use the theological term!

-Be Other’s Focused!

It’s a matter of focus—our interaction, in the body, should be “other’s focused”, not “self-focused.” Like Jesus, we’re here to serve others; not, to be served! Only when we put up with each other; and, bear with the weaknesses of others, will God use us to help construct the spiritual lives of others! It’s having the mindset of a “discipler”—someone who helps others grow as a disciple of Jesus. There’s no better motivator than Jesus Himself. God will give us grace to put up with each other; and, to build up each other, as we look up to Jesus for our motivation!

-Fix Our Eyes On Jesus!

As we fix our eyes on Christ, we remember that He did not come to please Himself; but, He made Himself a servant (See Philippians 2:5-11).  Paul said:  “For even the Messiah did not please Himself. On the contrary, as it is written, The insults of those who insult You have fallen on Me” (Rom. 15:3).  He’s quoting Psalm 69:9 and referring to Jesus. He embraced the insults of mean-spirited, hateful people; and, on the cross He bore the reproach that we should have bore!

-How Jesus Loved!

We love like Jesus loved when we willingly endure each other’s “heat-of-the-moment” hasty words; and, rather than returning evil for evil, we seek to resolve the conflict & make peace! We extend grace! So, look again at the progression of Paul’s words in Romans 15—if we’re going to be strong enough, in our faith, to “put up” with weak or prickly people (v.1); and, “build them up” (v.2) when we’re tempted to smack them, we have to “look up” to Jesus (v.3); and, “grow up” in our faith (v.4).  We won’t get that kind of counsel from the world!

-Understand The Scriptures!

Paul tells the Church of Rome that we can only have that Christ-like mindset as we understand the Scriptures—or, those things which were “written in the past” (v.4). It’s only through the “instruction” and “encouragement” of the Word, he says, that we have any hope of enduring those difficult relationships in life. And, we will never “grow up” in our faith if we run away from every uncomfortable or difficult relationship in our faith community. We need to remain faithful to one another as a testimony to those outside the Church. In a band there are all kinds of different instruments & a variety of musicians playing them. But, bring them all together under the direction of a capable conductor & they can produce beautiful music together. That beautifully illustrates the Church when Jesus is doing the conducting!

 

God Uses Us To Grow Each Other!

-It’s A Spiritual Obligation!

God intends that the church of Christ would do the work of Christ! But, NOT in the strength of our flesh! Jesus said He would send the Holy Spirit, to indwell us, when He completed His work on the cross & returned to the Father after His resurrection! He indwells us in order to empower us as God’s ambassadors; so, that He might reconcile the spiritually dead with the Savior; and, to disciple them into the faith! Paul, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, showed the Church of Rome what that looks like:  “We who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves. Each one of us must please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even the Messiah did not please Himself. On the contrary, as it is written, The insults of those who insult You have fallen on Me.  For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures. Now may the God who gives endurance and encouragement allow you to live in harmony with one another, according to the command of Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with a united mind and voice” (Romans 15:1-6).

-Are You Helping Each Other?

I can’t really think of a better summary statement for that Scripture than something like this—never look down on anyone else unless you are reaching down to help them up! Paul’s charge, here, is to humble yourselves & to defer to the needs of others in the body; and, he uses Jesus as THE example! No one has ever humbled Himself more than Jesus! So, here’s the bottom line: God intends to use us—as local church faith communities—to help produce spiritual growth & maturity in the rest of the body! So, when we’re disinterested or disengaged, from one another, we actually become a hindrance to the spiritual work—in others—that Jesus intends to do through us. To begin with, the process is really just as simple as willingly putting up with each other— “…bear with the weaknesses of those without strength…” (v.1) In other words, we’re not just here to please ourselves!

-Be Tolerant Of Each Other!

If we can’t tolerate the different personalities; or, the different stages of spiritual growth that we’re all at; then, we’re not useable for God’s purposes. Paul’s use of the terms “strong” & “weak” is relative—I am “strong” in comparison to my 4 grandchildren; but, I am “weak” in comparison to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, right? So it is spiritually! We can all find someone, in our faith community, who is stronger than we are spiritually; and, someone else who is weaker. Notice, when considering that, that Paul doesn’t command the weak to “SHAPE UP”; but, he does command the strong to “PUT UP.” To “BEAR” with the weaknesses of others means “to endure patiently; to indulge.” We need Holy Spirit help to be longsuffering & patient with each other!  That’s how God intends to grow YOU & those He expects you to tolerate!