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!

Don’t Be A Fool!

-Wisdom Waits On God!

The fool is always in a fight! The fool always thinks it his responsibility to make all the wrongs right! Don’t do that, the Old Testament book of Proverbs says! Instead, wisdom waits on God to right all the wrongs! So, don’t be quick to open your mouth and speak! I used to be the one that always had to speak first! It’s still something I have to constantly work on! But, I had a friend many years ago that rebuked me. “Don’t give someone a piece of your mind,” he said, “that you can’t afford to lose.”

-The 3-Second Rule!

Someone also gave me some great advice when they shared, with me, the “3-Second Rule.” Before you speak, wait 3 seconds. You’ll be amazed what you WON’T say if you just wait and think about it for 3 seconds. That one’s kept me from saying a lot of things that would’ve got me in trouble. The best admonition of all comes from God’s word: “Be slow to speak.” Simple and direct! The book of Proverbs includes several verses that echo that refrain. “When there are many words, sin is unavoidable, but the one who controls his lips is wise” (10:19). And, “The one who guards his mouth protects his life; the one who opens his lips invites his own ruin” (13:3). Wow! Opening your mouth too quickly can mean life or death! “Even a fool is considered wise when he keeps silent” (17:28). That reminds me of the old saying:  “It’s better to be silent & be thought a fool than to open your mouth & remove all doubt.

-Be Humble & God-Directed!

Rather than being filled with pride & speaking your mind, it’s better to be humble & God-directed. Make no mistake, if you’re full of pride, it will show up in your speech & God says He’s against you! Again, wisdom from Proverbs:  “Everyone with a proud heart is detestable to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished” 16:5; “The Lord destroys the house of the proud” 15:25. Let’s talk about that a minute! Why does God hate pride? Because, ultimately, pride is taking personal credit for something that God gave you! “What do you have,” the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:7, “that you did not receive.” In other words, what do you have that you can personally take credit for?

-Self-Pride & Self-Confidence!

What do you have that you didn’t receive from God? Your looks? Intelligence? Your job & its income? Your talents & gifts? Every one of those things you received from God. Taking pride in yourself & even having self-confidence is part of the wisdom of the world! There is no wisdom in pride or self-confidence! Wisdom is found in those whose confidence is in the Lord:  “I have instructed you today—even you—so that your confidence may be in the Lord” (Proverbs 22:19). When you’re complimented for anything, you need to redirect all praise to God! And, then, the wisdom of Proverbs teaches us to be generous for the same reason it’s wise to be humble! Because all of our finances were also given to us by God.

-Be A Blessing!

And, God wants us to be a blessing to others with those things He blesses us with. “The one who oppresses the poor person insults his Maker, but one who is kind to the needy honors Him” (14:31).   Isn’t that interesting? It’s an insult to God when we’re guilty of oppressing the poor; but, we honor God when we care for the needy! “A generous person will be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor” (22:9).  This is just one of many ways that God’s word teaches us to encourage others! And, wisdom teaches us to also be an encourager. We live in a day of severe criticism & tearing down everyone that disagrees with us about something. This world is just saturated with anxiety! We need to be difference-makers in this world, church! “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, but a good word cheers it up” (12:25) “The tongue that heals is a tree of life” (15:4). Be wise! Be an encourager! Be that tree of life! Use your God-given gifts to bless others!

Freedom From Cannibalism!

-Biting One Another!

In the Apostle Paul’s letter, to the Church of Galatia, he wrote: “But if you bite and devour one another, watch out, or you will be consumed by one another” Gal. 5:15.  In the context, of this letter, Paul’s main theme is “freedom.” The genuine follower, of Jesus Christ, is set FREE from their previous bondage to the flesh! We are FREE from the slavery to capitulate to the demands of our broken and depraved natures. No longer does sin have power over us! Jesus, upon His ascension to the Father, sent the Holy Spirit to indwell us and empower us with the ability to say “no” to sin’s demands!

-Called To Be Free!

So, Paul, the Apostle, tells this church:  “Christ has liberated us to be free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery… For you were called to be free, brothers; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love.  For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself” Gal.5:1,13-14.  The essence of Paul’s words is this— the Gospel, of Jesus Christ, sets us free from Christian Cannibalism! It is only Jesus’ Gospel that empowers us to love others like this! When our love, for others, grows, in this way, it’s a powerful endorsement to the validity of our words when we share our faith! Conversely, it is a blatant & ugly contradiction, of Jesus’ Gospel, when we “…bite and devour one another…” (v.15).

-Preying Like Cannibals!

When we prey on one another, like Cannibals, we sabotage the Glory of Jesus’ cross! We cover up the beauty of Christ, Who gave Himself up in payment for our self-centeredness! I saw the ugliness of Christian Cannibalism played out, as a Bible college student; when half the church, I was attending, walked out, on the other half, over the color choice of the ladies restroom during a building program! Their testimony, in that rural community, was ruined! I saw it happen! Oh, how we need the Spirit’s help to learn how to deal with conflict in a way that’s redemptive; rather, than destructive! A church that does not serve each other, in love like Jesus, will cannibalize itself! We can only love, like Jesus, if we’ve been set FREE by the Power of His Gospel! God can & does deliver churches from Christian Cannibalism!

-Overcoming The Past!

Only the Gospel of Christ can deliver our churches from such ungodly behavior! Some of you have experienced a church that devoured itself! You still struggle with the pain! It’s still raw! And, you are broken at the thought that some unbelievers will never come to faith, in Jesus Christ, because of the relational damage they’ve seen inflicted on others by so-called Christians! And, don’t forget to praise God if you’re part of a community of faith that truly loves, honors, and respects one other! That is truly a work of God! Be encouraged & pray regularly for a continuing peace & harmony in your church! Pray daily for spiritual renewal & revival! And, remember that it’s the Gospel of Christ that frees us to be Jesus to everyone we meet!

 

Sustaining Spiritual Momentum Part III

-Why The Church Is Declining!

“The number one reason for the decline in church attendance is that members attend with less frequency than they did just a few years ago”—quote from author & church consultant Thom S. Rainer on his website http://www.thomrainer.com. So, it would seem—if that statement is true—that much of the blame for declining attendance, in 9 out of 10 churches in America, must be laid at the feet of the Church itself! Mr. Rainer explained it like this: “If the frequency of attendance changes, then attendance will respond accordingly. For example, if 200 members attend every week the average attendance is, obviously, 200. But if 1/2 of those members miss only 1 out of 4 weeks, the attendance drops to 175. ..attendance declined over 12% because half the members changed their attendance behavior slightly.”

-Finding Reasons To Miss!

Believers are finding reasons to “miss” the Sunday gatherings! And, unfortunately, this isn’t the first time, in the history of the Church, that this has happened! The last couple posts we’ve looked at Hebrews 10:24-25, which reads: “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.” Previously, we considered what the author said about “love” and “good works.” And, in context, it seems quite clear that the writer is calling out some “absent” believers; and, challenging them to be concerned about one another by being present whenever the Church gathers!

-Show Concern By Being Present!

That word translated “gatherings” is a specific word—in the original language—that’s used only here & 2 Thessalonians 2:1 which refers to “…the GATHERING together of the elect to Christ at His coming…” Nothing too subtle about that! The writer likens our “gatherings” as a local Church body with the “gathering” of ALL the saints in Christ! None of us want to miss that! So, the message seems quite clear—“don’t just ‘blow off’ your regular Church meetings either.” Let me also suggest that the text doesn’t limit the meaning to Sunday services! A specific day of the week is not even mentioned! Rather, it carries the idea that “whenever” your church gathers, be there!

-The Early Church Met Daily!

In the context of the early Church in Acts, they met DAILY! The writer says that some were staying away from the gatherings; and, he REBUKES them for it! That rebuke falls on the Church today; and, confession & repentance must follow if we hope to sustain any kind of spiritual momentum! How will new believers learn to obey God’s Word, about “gatherings”, if the believers discipling them are disobedient? The writer says to do this all the more, “…as you see THE DAY approaching.” “THE DAY” is a Biblical term that refers to Jesus’ 2nd Coming & the Judgment Seat of Christ.  He’s saying that he wants us all to stand approved before Jesus! This is REAL! He wants his readers to hear Jesus say: “WELL done, GOOD & FAITHFUL servant.” So, Church—let us “make disciples” who “make disciples” who come to the “gatherings”!

 

 

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)

 

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!