Growing Up Spiritually In Community

The Greatest Commandment?

We’ve often pointed out that the world generally obsesses over the “self.” But, God, in the Scriptures, directs us to be “God-focused” and “others-focused”! When Jesus was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” He responded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). Love God supremely; and love others in the same way that you love yourself! That means looking out for their best interests in the same way we look out for our best interests.

“Self-Centeredness” In Our Churches

Unfortunately, this “self-centeredness” has trickled down into our churches; so, even our spiritual growth is seen as something accomplished as an “individual.” For many modern believers, here in the West, being part of a church or a “community of faith” is seen as “supplemental”, and not “essential”, to our spiritual growth. We believe the Scriptures debunk that individualistic mindset.  God uses our local church— our faith community— to grow us at a deeper & more intimate level than can be accomplished alone.

Build Up The Body

Paul often reminded the local churches (as he did the Church of Ephesus in ch.4:11-16) that they were to function as a “body” functions; not as a group of self-centered, self-absorbed individuals! The “work of the ministry” is to “build up the BODY”, he said. The spiritual growth God intends to accomplish in us individually happens in the context of the local church body. It’s NOT that we don’t grow as “individuals”; we do! But that growth comes, in part, through our interaction with others! God uses our fellowship & even our fights to sanctify us! He teaches us humility, forgiveness, and how to resolve conflicts. When we live an isolated life outside of the church we live as though we are autonomous!

Only God Is Autonomous

Only God, however, is truly autonomous! He alone answers to no one! We must give an account of our lives to God; and, He has devised the church body to keep us accountable! It’s His plan that by holding ourselves accountable to other believers we will be stretched & matured so that we might hear a “well done good & faithful servant” when we stand before Him! We are called to “bear one another’s burdens”; and, those burdens come in different shapes and sizes. Sometimes we are burdened by sin. At other times, our burden is physical or emotional; and, God intends to use our brothers & sisters, in Christ, to help mature us!

Why Are We Here?

Since making disciples is the main reason why a church exists, everything in the corporate body of the local church needs to be aligned in a way that funnels people toward these discipleship environments, the most notable of which is the relational small group”—from the chapter titled “Rethinking Our Practices” p.171 in Jim Putnam’s excellent book,  DiscipleShift.  Depending on the English translation of the Scriptures that you use, there are between 60-65 “each other” or “one another” admonitions in the New Testament. All of them relate to the interaction of believers in the body of a local church! I would conclude that it’s not even possible to obey those “each other” or “one another” commands unless we are part of a local community of faith! God uses even our “bad experiences” in the church to sanctify & grow each member!

Parenting Adult Children

-The Sinful Nature I Passed On

All the struggles & mistakes & rebellions of my adult children can be attributed, in large part, to the sinful nature I passed on to them! Bad parenting begets bad parenting! The answer is NOT to try harder to fix them! Your adult children will resent your “meddling” in their lives! The answer is NOT to read the newest “self-help” book on the subject, either! The Old Testament book of Genesis contains the sordid story of Jacob & Rachel and their dysfunctional family. Pick it up; and, read it all over again!  Especially read chapter 37.

-A Pattern Of Sin

What you will see is a pattern of sin learned from the previous generation. When Jacob’s sons deceived him with a robe covered in goat’s blood, they convinced him that their brother,  Joseph, had been killed. They learned to lie & deceive from their father, Jacob, and their grandmother, Rebekah, who hatched up a scheme to deceive her husband, Isaac, to bless Jacob instead of his older brother, Esau! Where did Isaac & Rebekah learn to deceive? From Isaac’s parents, Abraham & Sarah, who cooked up a story that Sarah was his sister (Genesis 20) over fear that a king would kill Abraham to obtain Sarah for his wife!

-God Alone Can Fix This

You’ll also find “favoritism”, “passive parenting”, “jealousy”,  and “hate”— all being passed on from one generation to the next! “The apple never falls far from the tree!” The answer to the dysfunction in our homes— and all of our homes ARE dysfunctional— is the Gospel! The “good news” of the Gospel says, “I cannot; but, God can!” I can’t save myself; but, God can save me! I cannot overcome my hurts, habits & hangups; but, God’s Spirit can help me overcome them! I cannot fix the dysfunction in my relationships with my children; nor, can I fix the dysfunction they’ve brought into their marriages & families! But, God can— that’s the hope we have in the Gospel! God alone can help us overcome the sinful dysfunction we all bring into our homes! Jesus took all our sins, our guilt, and our shame with Him to the cross & He paid for it all! His work atones for even our bad parenting if we’ll humble ourselves & confess to Him that we’re incapable of fixing it! Extend grace to your adult kids as God did to you!

-Don’t Become Their Judges

I’ve known of Christian parents who have “disowned” their children because they’re caught up in some sinful lifestyle! But, let’s think that through! Is that how God responds to us? I don’t think so! God is always extending a loving, merciful, gracious hand! He’s always there to forgive when we humble ourselves before Him and confess our sins! If we’re going to be faithful “image bearers” we need to represent God in our relationships with our adult children! It’s easy to become judgmental when it seems they don’t want to hear our opinions anymore. Maybe we need to listen more & talk less! If we don’t change the way we parent, as they become adults, relational tension will develop between us. If you desire to be a blessing to your adult children, begin by confessing your brokenness to them & God. Then, pray relentlessly for the Spirit to work on you & your adult children! Trust God to do the Spirit’s work that you cannot do. When you act like the Holy Spirit in their life, all they’ll hear is nagging! Give them over to God! They are His!

Does God Get Disappointed With Us?

-A Big Disappointment To God?

I know of a Youth Pastor who handed his students a 3-inch nail & told them to keep it in their pockets. Whenever they had a sinful thought, sassed their parents, or mistreated a classmate, they needed to reach in their pocket & poke that nail into their finger ‘til it hurt. “Draw a little blood,” he told them, “that way you’ll remember the pain those actions are causing God. You’ll know how disappointed He is with you right now!” Maybe that’s the picture of God that someone painted for you when you were growing up! Maybe you live every day thinking that you’re nothing but a big disappointment to God! Maybe you’ve messed up so badly & so many times that you think you could never make God happy with you!

-God Is Never Surprised or Frustrated

Well, here’s a statement that’ll rock your world—  “If Jesus is your Savior, God will never be disappointed with you!” Disappointment is comprised of 2 elements: surprise & frustration! People disappoint us when we’re surprised by something unexpected that they did; and, we’re frustrated by it! If Jesus is your Savior, God will never be disappointed with you because He is “omniscient”; or, “all-knowing.” Because He’s omniscient, He’s never surprised or frustrated! He’ll never say, “Wow! I never saw that coming!” The psalmist said, “Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I stand up; You understand my thoughts from far away…You are aware of all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, You know all about it, Lord” Psalm 139:1-6 

-God Knows Everything About Us

God knows everything about us! So, we never surprise Him! Not once is the word translated “disappoint” ever used, in the Bible, about God! An All-Knowing God can never have His hopes or expectations fail! Now, I understand that concept of “hurting God” or “disappointing” Him by our sin! It just doesn’t seem to be a sentiment that can be supported by Scripture! God is omnipotent, or all-powerful! How can an all-powerful being ever be hurt? God is also omniscient, or all-knowing! So, He would know, in advance, if something would hurt Him— assuming anything could— and He would avoid it, right? The only hurt or pain ever inflicted on God was when Jesus went to the cross voluntarily; and suffered for the sin of the world! That was planned from eternity! God planned to endure pain & suffering so that the repentant might be redeemed & relationships with God restored!

–God’s Theology Of Forgiveness

Ultimately, He’s never disappointed with us because all our sin has already been paid for by Jesus on the cross! It’s been replaced with the “righteousness of Christ”! So, grab hold of God’s forgiveness! God’s forgiveness, through Christ, is total! What God offers, through Jesus’ substitutionary work on the cross, is a radical, sweeping removal of every sin you’ve already committed & every sin you will ever commit for the rest of your life! Review Colossians 2:13-14 and Psalm 103:12—He’s “removed our sins from us as far as the east is from the west”! So thorough is God’s forgiveness that we were forgiven before we ever sinned—our names were written in God’s book before the “foundation of the world” Revelation 13:8. He no longer holds our sin against us—“…God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them…” 2 Cor. 5:19. So, does God get disappointed with us? No! How could He when He no longer holds our sins & our missteps against us? He’s canceled our debt of sin!

What If Persecution Comes To America?

-Can It Happen Here?

We sit in our offices & our homes watching the stories of persecuted Christians play out, from afar, on our monitors & our TVs! Christian persecution happens in other nations; but, not ours! We may not say it out loud; but, the unprecedented freedoms that Christians have enjoyed in this country, through the years, have led us to some unrealistic— even UNBIBLICAL— expectations. I’ve seen it in political rhetoric! Many American believers have a sort of entitlement mentality; like, persecution just can’t happen here!

-What If That’s Not God’s Way?

Now let me be clear—I do not have a death wish! I pray that the persecution of Christians will not spill over our borders & into our land! I pray for God to send revival to His Church; that, the Church will fall deeply in love with God again & out of love with the created things of this world; that, God will open the gates of heaven to the spiritual refugees all around us & awaken them to faith in Christ; and, that God will do all that without a loss of freedom & without persecution here. But…. what if that’s not God’s way for us? What if it’s part of His Sovereign plan to bring judgment to our sinful nation; and, as He often did with Israel in the Old Testament, use nations even more sinful than our own to bring about His judgment?

-No “Land Contract” With God

The Apostle Peter talks about this: “For it brings favor if, mindful of God’s will, someone endures grief from suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if you sin and are punished, and you endure it? But when you do what is good and suffer, if you endure it, this brings favor with God. For you were called to this, because Christ also suffered for you…” 1 Peter 2:19-23. God uses persecution to make us look more like Jesus! That’s what Peter says here! Many Christians feel justified to be angry & lash out at those who persecute or harm them! We desperately need the Holy Spirit’s help to understand how we’re supposed to respond to suffering, persecution & mistreatment in a way that makes us look more like Jesus; and, we need His grace to live it out!  There is nothing in Scripture that would lead us to believe that we, here in America, have some type of “land contract” with God! Only one nation, in the history of the world, has benefited from a “land contract” with God; and that was Israel!  We may love this land that we live on called America, but God has not promised us that we have any right to keep it! To hold onto it!

-When Death Is Gain

When Paul wrote the Church of Philippi, “For me, living is Christ and dying is gain”; He was saying that he loved Jesus so much that to lose everything in this life in order to be with Him was “gain.” Jesus was worth more than anything he might have or experience in this life. Death was a “GAIN” to him! If it should be God’s will to bring persecution to America, I pray God’s grace to ask my tormentor’s this question: “In Jesus I have my sins forgiven; He has restored my relationship with God my Father; I have an eternal home in heaven that’s being prepared for me right now; what can you offer me that’s better than that?” Let us live, above all else, as “citizens” of heaven! We are “strangers” here in this world! This is our “temporary residence” according to the Apostle Peter (1 Peter 2:11-12). Let us check our patriotism at the foot of the cross! If we belong to Jesus, our longing is for a better place than anything America can give us!

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!

We Are Gospel Lights!

-Forgiveness Or Plotting Revenge?

So, what were fights like growing up in your home? When my sisters and I got into a fight, as long as there was no blood & everyone still had all their appendages attached, we were usually just made to hug each other and say we were sorry! That was pretty much what negotiating peace looked like in our family. But, as I meditate on it, that method had some pretty serious flaws because it never got to the heart of the issue behind the conflict. We were usually saying “I’m sorry” through gritted teeth at the same time we were plotting our revenge. We hadn’t truly forgiven each other. We just went through the motions so we could get our parents off our backs.

-What A Church Family Ought To Look Like!

If you’ll open your Bibles with me to Philippians chapter 2, let me remind you that it’s imperative to always consider the context of every Scripture in order to come to a correct interpretation. This is a letter, written by the Apostle Paul, to the Church of Philippi. So, his audience is a specific local church community. Just flip back to chapter 1, verse 1, where it says Paul was writing “…to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the Elders and the Deacons…” So, we need to keep in mind that all his references to “you” are meant to include the church family of Philippi as a whole. This is what a church family should look like, Paul says. This is how you work through conflicts.

-The Way You Do Church Matters!

Here’s why the way you do church matters both inside the church and outside. Because it impacts & affects our ability to make disciples in our city.  Let’s remember that the New Testament begins with the announcement that the Messiah had come! That Jesus was His name; and, for 33 1/2 years He lived a perfect, sinless life; and then willingly died as God’s sacrificial lamb to pay for the sin of the world. On the 3rd day He rose from the dead; and, before ascending back to the Father, He commissioned His followers to make disciples & to establish local churches everywhere they went. And, for the most part, the rest of the New Testament is all about life and community within the local church body.

-Church Behavior Impacts The World!

There is a consistent sub-theme that weaves its way through all the Epistles & letters of the New Testament. And, this is it— how the church lives, on the inside, has a direct bearing on how many people, on the outside, come to know Jesus! We are not an island; nor do we live our lives in a vacuum. If our city rejects Jesus, we are part of the problem. Sioux City, Iowa has been my home for the last 19 years & Jesus uses the transformed lives of our church to convict Sioux City of their need for a Savior. That’s the message that Paul shares in Philippians, and it’s the persistent message in the New Testament.

-An Attitude That Mirrors Jesus Christ!

As we look into this small; but dynamic book, that’s what we see. Paul is challenging this Church to live their lives in a way that adorns the Gospel. And, that happens only as we take on the mind of Christ, Paul says. “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, 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, 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). It’s a command; an imperative to the church to have the attitude Jesus had!

Let’s Be Thankful!

-Thankful Or Critical?

Most of us are pretty consistent in the way that we look at life. Generally speaking, we are either a thankful person; or, a critical person. We’re either positive or negative. We tend to see the glass as either “half-full”; or, “half-empty” as the saying goes. Either way, we’re what we are because we’ve practiced it. We are creatures of habit. If you’re critical it’s because you’ve practiced being critical. If you’re thankful it’s because you’ve developed a habit of being thankful. You are NOT the way you are because of your circumstances! You ARE the way you are because of your reaction to your circumstances.

-Do Your Circumstances Rule You?

We’ve all known people who whine about everything; and others, with far worse life circumstances, who are thankful & a blessing to be around. If you’re a critical person it’s because you’ve permitted the circumstances to rule over you; you’ve narrowed your focus so that all you see is the negative & the painful in life. It’s kind of like getting too zoomed in on Google maps! Have you ever done that? You’re looking at the map, but you can’t get your bearings because you’ve over-focused or you’ve over-analyzed it. If you’ll just zoom out a little bit, and, get a bigger picture, then you can see! You just needed a broader perspective.

-A Broader Perspective Of Life!

If you tend to be overly critical, you need to zoom out & get a broader perspective of life by intentionally paying attention to God’s provisions, even in the tough circumstances. Thank Him for His faithfulness! Look at your circumstances in the big picture context of all His blessings. But, it has to be intentional! Forming that habit of thankfulness may require that you pray for God’s Holy Spirit to help you; to remind you to see the big picture in life; to zoom out from all the annoyances in life. Thankful people pay attention to God’s blessings; and, they pay attention because they are thankful people!

-Viewing Our Life Through The Cross!

Our greatest need, as people, is forgiveness for our sin against a Holy God! The Apostle John describes the way that Jesus provided forgiveness through His substitutionary atonement for sin on the cross: “Therefore they took Jesus away. Carrying His own cross, He went out to what is called Skull Place, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified Him and two others with Him, one on either side, with Jesus in the middle” (John 19:16-18). When we view our lives through the cross, we can’t help but become more thankful! Jesus’ disciples were repulsed when He first began talking with His disciples about His impending death on a cross! The cross was perhaps the cruelest instrument of torture and death that the world has ever known. And, that was their focus! They were too zoomed in on the pain and the suffering of the cross!

-Seeing The Cross Differently!

They needed to zoom out & get a broader focus of the cross. Jesus lived a sinless life and willingly gave up His life to give new meaning to the cross. The cross became the place where God’s love intersected with His justice. It symbolizes the atonement that Jesus Christ made on our behalf. He became God’s substitutionary atonement for us. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church of Corinth, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus, who had no sin, became sin! He was the substitute for us, so that we could become righteous before God. Oh, let us learn to always be thankful for Christ’s atonement! The atonement is the reason we can be thankful for the cross. To atone means to appease. Jesus endured the full wrath of God, against sin, to appease God’s righteousness; so that God could be just & righteous to save us! The sin debt has been paid!

The Gospel Of Jesus Christ!

-Introducing The New King!

In the ancient world, new kings were introduced by a forerunner; or, a herald. Perhaps you remember, from the Old Testament, that Samuel first introduced; and, then anointed King Saul; and, later King David. Every culture & country has its traditions for heralding in a new leader. In our country, where the baton of leadership is usually passed peacefully from one president to another, it’s typical for 2 men to reside over the swearing-in of the new president— one is the Chief Justice; and, the other is the outgoing president. Together, they testify that the man being sworn in is the legitimate successor. It’s our country’s way of heralding a new leader.

-I Am Sending My Messenger!

And, that’s how Mark is inspired, by God’s Holy Spirit, to open his Gospel:  “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘Look, I am sending My messenger ahead of You, who will prepare Your way. A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make His paths straight!’ John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were  flocking to him, and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins” (Mark 1:1-5). Unlike Matthew & Luke, who begin their Gospels with the family roots & genealogies of Jesus, Mark picks it up at the actual beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.

-That’s Good News!

Now, most of you probably know the definition of the “Gospel”, right? What does it mean? It means “good news” right? So, Mark is writing about the “good news” of Jesus Christ from, “The beginning…” he says. And, Mark says the Good News begins in the Old Testament:  “As it is written IN ISAIAH the prophet…” v.2. And, then he quotes from Isaiah, chapter 40, which is similarly recorded in the last book of the Old Testament, “‘See, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to His temple, the Messenger of the covenant you desire—see, He is coming,’ says the Lord of Hosts” (Malachi 3:1). 

-Waiting For The Messiah!

And, from Malachi’s prophecy ‘til the arrival of Jesus Christ, Israel had waited 400 years for Messiah’s coming! They had waited, I want to point out, for God’s “messenger” (little “m”) to herald; or, announce the coming of the LORD; or, the King, the “Messenger” (capital “M”) of the covenant! So, Mark’s focus, at least at the start of his gospel, was more on the forerunner; or, the herald, than the King; and, there’s a good reason for that because Mark is writing to Gentiles. Specifically, he is writing to the Romans, who occupied the land of Israel at that time.

-The Need For A Credible Herald!

Mark knew that if he was writing a gospel about the arrival of a new king, to the Romans, that there would need to be some kind of authoritative, credible herald to announce his arrival. That’s the way it was in the culture of the Roman world. No Roman King or Caesar ever just showed up and said:  “Hello! Attention everyone! I’m the new King here!” No, he always had a forerunner; and, an entourage who went before him; and, prepared the way so all the people would be ready for his coming. So, Mark, to be consistent with the Gentile approach, goes to the Old Testament to find the prophecies that gave authenticity to King Jesus’ herald; and, then he informs his readers that John the Baptizer is that forerunner; and, that’s why John heralds or proclaims these words: “Someone more powerful than I will come after me. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of his sandals” (1:7). He was preparing the way for King Jesus!

Our Blindness To Spiritual Drift!

-Drifting Away!

Every so often I see a story, in the news, about someone who had inadvertently drifted out to sea; or, someone wasn’t paying attention as their canoe just drifted downriver toward a falls; and, they barely escaped, with their lives, once they realized that the current was rapidly putting them toward the falls. I remember getting on a blowup raft, on a camping trip, when I was probably in about 5th grade; and, just basking in the warm sun. I was not even aware that I was drifting farther away from the campsite until I came to my senses; and, realized I had drifted too far from shore! I hadn’t yet learned to swim; so, I remember being scared, for my life, as I quickly paddled back to shore.

-How Spiritual Drift Occurs!

By definition, to drift means: “A continuous slow movement from one place to another.” Spiritual drift occurs similarly in our lives! It happens when we slowly move from a place where we’re walking with God; on fire for him; passionate about prayer & reading His word; faithful to the church gatherings & Small Group, to slowly checking out; and, pulling away from the godly influences, of the faith community; and, losing our heart for worship & prayer & God’s word! We become a casualty of spiritual drift!  It never happens overnight! You won’t just wake up one morning; and, suddenly decide to forsake your faith Jesus; or, say, “Hey! I think today would be a great day to start a meth addiction”; or, “Ya know what? I think I’m going to commit adultery with someone today.”

-Where Sin Will Take You!

Big sins are always the sum of many tiny little bad choices! Someone said it like this:  “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay; and, cost you more than you want to pay.” That pretty much says it all. In Scripture, God’s people— the children of Israel— provide a consistent visual of what spiritual drift looks like. In Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, we find the Israelites returning from their Babylonian exile with great enthusiasm & praise for the Lord God. Jerusalem was rebuilt; and, the temple was restored. But, despite the fact they started well, a spiritual drift began to set in. The world’s thinking began to determine their behavior.

-Motives Underlying Religious Activity!

So, God delivers a message, through the Prophet Malachi, to take a fresh approach to the way they were thinking about God; and, to consider the motives underlying their religious activities. And, there’s an application here for us, as well. Our sinful brokenness will always keep us in desperate need of God’s word to confront our spiritual drift. And, it’s God’s word that is our spiritual lifeline. We simply cannot do the spiritual life without it. So, as we consider Israel’s spiritual failure, in the book of Malachi, over the next few posts, we’ll discover that our tendencies are no different! But, there’s hope here; for Israel & us.

-The Hope Of A New Covenant!

The hope that Malachi speaks of is a “new covenant” with God. A covenant that points to God’s great mercy & grace. There is always “good news” with God! Even if you’ve drifted spiritually, He is quick to forgive & restore you to fellowship, with Him, if you humble yourself & confess your sin to Him. But, make no mistake, if you’re a child of His; and, you’ve guilty of spiritual drift, He will confront you over it, as He did Israel, through the Prophet Malachi. God confronts us when we’re skeptical of His love. Israel had become skeptical of God’s love. They had allowed life’s circumstances to jade their thoughts about God’s love for them. How could God love them; and, allow them to be exiled from the land of promise? How could God love them; and, allow Jerusalem to be destroyed; and, the temple to be leveled? They had allowed their circumstances to blind them to God’s faithful love. We’ll look at God’s answer in our next post.

Trip Hazard!

-We’re Our Own Biggest Problem!

There are several verses, in the Old Testament book of Psalms, that bring “trip hazards” to mind as I read them! This wisdom literature points us to ourselves! We, ourselves, are probably the most problematic “trip hazard” that we face as we attempt to walk with God. For example, Israel’s King David says that any unconfessed sin we hold onto will harm our health! “When I kept silent, (about my sin),” he says, “my bones became brittle from my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy on me; my strength was drained as in the summer’s heat” (Psalm 32:3).  Even our bones become brittle when we hold onto our sin! Our strength is sapped like every day is a 100-degree day!

-God’s Heavy Hand Against Us!

God’s hand is heavy against us as long as we refuse to confess our sin to Him! “But,” he says, “Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not conceal my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and You took away the guilt of my sin” (v.5).  I vividly remember carrying the burden of my sin as a 13-year old boy. But, when I confessed my sin & accepted Jesus’ payment for my sin, by His death on the cross, I remember how my guilt vanished! What a great Psalm! Mark it in your Bibles! You’ll need it when Satan comes to accuse you of your sin— ”You say you’re a follower of Jesus? And, look at you! You’re nothing but a sinner!”  Rebuke the devil! Remind him that you’ve been forgiven for every sin you’ve ever committed! Once & for all they were nailed to Christ’s tree of crucifixion. Your sins are forgiven by the blood of Jesus! God promises never to count them against you again! He makes you righteous in Christ!

-You Really Aren’t Strong Enough!

But, there’s another way that we are our own worst “trip hazard.” We get in the way when we think that we can do life in our strength! One of the clearest signs we have a problem, in this area, is our lack of prayer & our lack of time spent in Scripture! When we fail to pray & when we fail to read His Word, we’re telling God—by our actions—that, “I Got This! I don’t need your help, God!” We erroneously think we’re strong enough! We’re wise enough! We trust our resources! The nation of Israel’s failure, in this area, should serve as a warning to us:  “A king is not saved by a large army; a warrior will not be delivered by great strength. The horse is a false hope for safety; it provides no escape by its great power” Psalm 33:16. Large armies won’t save us!

-Fear God!

The great strength of a warrior will not deliver him! A horse’s great power offers false hope! Our strength & intelligence & ingenuity is a curse when we depend on it to save us! Rather, “The eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him—those who depend on His faithful love to deliver them from death and to keep them alive in famine. We wait for Yahweh; He is our help and shield” Psalm 33:18. We need to fear God for His great power! Depend on His faithful love to deliver you! He alone should be our help & shield! Though it’s never fun when our world is crashing around us, it proves to be a blessing when we see God turn things around! And, He’ll only do that after we’ve come to the end of ourselves! When all our resources & all our strength & all our wisdom just isn’t enough! It’s incredibly freeing to stop trying to be your own Savior; and, everyone else’s Savior too! To let God be God; and, admit you don’t know what to do next!