When the Darkness Remains

I just read on Facebook that one of my friends was requesting prayer.  He just received news that his friend (a man I do not know) has just committed suicide.  Left behind are a wife and two little girls.  Please pray for them.

I hate to hear news like this.  I hate it because of the bomb of suffering that has detonated in his home, leaving every surviving member to suffer with years of their own kind of hell.  I hate it that they will miss his presence in their lives and that these children will probably never understand why their daddy had to die.

Still more, I hate it for the man who died.  I hate it because I’m confident that in the blackness of his night, he could not see a brighter day.  There was probably ONLY the fire of his mind and/or his body that consumed his days.  In suffering there really is no time.  Suffering FEELS like eternity because rarely (if ever) does the darkness lift.  It is just there, heavy and oppressive, strangling you slowly.  It does not allow you to see better times ahead.  It blinds you from seeing a brighter tomorrow.  Death seems like sweet release.

At this point you may be wondering, “how does he know what that feels like?”  The truth is that I LIVED in this dark night of the soul for about 12 years.  I hate it for this man because I very easily could have BEEN him.

No, I have never been suicidal.  But I have felt so hopeless that I did not want to live anymore.  I was afraid to die because I did not know where I stood with God, and I was terrified of finding out.  Yet, life seemed so bleak at times, so grievous, that I just wanted the pain to go away.

That is part of my testimony.

The other part of my testimony is that smack-dab in the middle of my hell was my relationship with God.  For much of those 12 years I felt like God was my Enemy and that He was a cruel taskmaster.  I saw my own sin as much too difficult for me (or God) to overcome, and I saw the grace of God through Jesus Christ as not applying to my sinful condition.  And through much of this time I was in seminary PREPARING TO BE A PASTOR!

What I could not fully realize at the time was that He was actually walking through my hell will me, and He was holding my hand the whole way.  God, by His grace, was carrying me through the fire.  Much like David in Psalm 139:7-8, this was God to me:

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in (the grave), you are there!

In spite of myself, at the bleakest of moments when I could not see a way out, God would speak to me POWERFULLY through His Word things like Isaiah 54:11-12:

“O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted,
    behold, I will set your stones in antimony,
    and lay your foundations with sapphires.
I will make your pinnacles of agate,
    your gates of carbuncles,
    and all your wall of precious stones.”

Through verses like these God spoke peace into my heart as if to say, “I see where you are right now, but you will not remain here.  I am going to make something beautiful out of your life.”

That would give me some breathing room for moments or days, but soon the darkness would return and would send me reeling in depression again.  Literally, for the better part of 12 years this was my life.  Utter despair was followed by glimpses of hope, followed by utter despair, etc., etc., ad nauseam

Throughout this entire dark night, my only hope was found in the Word of God.  Throughout the insane cycle of this time period, God would whisper HOPE to me that virtually no person could do.  I always just thought that people were just trying to be nice, but they ( I thought) could not truly see the depths of my depravity–only God could.  Yet, when I would stumble upon some Bible verse it would truly nourish my soul.

There is a verse in Matthew 10:27 that Jesus speaks to His disciples when He says:

“What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light;

and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops.”

The reason I am writing this blog today is to encourage YOU if you are in this dark night of the soul.  For those 12 years Jesus was speaking to ME in the darkness.  He was whispering into MY ear promises and comforts from His Word when I thought that I was beyond hope.  Yet, He also gives me a command from these verses, too…

He tells me to “speak in the light” and “proclaim upon the housetops.”  The truth of the matter is that God DID come and DID set me free from the utter hopelessness that my life would ever be better.  When I thought I had sinned too much and gone too far, I was wrong.

My situation and circumstances are my own.  They would take way too long to describe here and are private.  However, I am here to proclaim to YOU in the light, YOUR SITUATION IS NOT TOO DESPERATE FOR JESUS TO CHANGE.  Everyone feels that their case is different and too far gone for God to encounter.

YOU. ARE. WRONG.

I am here to “proclaim from the rooftops” to tell you to RUN TO JESUS for assistance.  He will help you.  It may take time, but whoever puts their hope in Him will never be put to shame (Psalm 25:3).  I can tell you that this is TRUE, as someone who has been bogged down in the miry clay of life.

I hate that this depressed man saw no way out for himself.  Still, I wanted to take this opportunity today to share with you if you are struggling with despair, there IS hope.

“There is no pit so deep that Christ is not deeper still.” (Corrie ten Boom)

 

Who Wants to Be a Billionaire?

Matt White is a former minor league baseball pitcher who played in the Los Angeles Dodgers minor league system. During his time in the minor leagues, he was a struggling pitcher, trying to better himself and make it up to the big leagues.

Matt had an elderly aunt who needed money to pay for her nursing home, and Matt bought her property (about 50 acres) for $50,000. Soon, he decided to build a home on the property, and while clearing a couple of acres to build a home, he discovered stone ledges in the ground, prompting him to have the property surveyed. A geologist discovered that there was about $2 billion worth of stone on Matt’s land that could be used for sidewalks, patios, etc.

Now let me ask you this: AFTER Matt discovered that he was a billionaire, how much pressure do you think he was under to “perform” as a pitcher? (The answer would be “zero”) :). Matt didn’t have to perform at all because he possesses untold riches. He is financially FREE to do whatever he wants! Financially, he is secure for the rest of his life!

This is no less true of the Christian. You have been given untold riches because of Jesus. The apostle Paul in the book of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11states the following: Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

The word “justified” is an interesting word. A lot of Christians use this word to say that it means, “Just if I’d” never sinned. This is TRUE, but there is more to it than that. Biblical justification does not only mean that your sin record has been wiped clean, it also means, “Just if I’d” ALWAYS OBEYED. Marcus Sloan once said, “to speak of forgiveness means to say, ‘you may go; you have been let off of your penalty’; but to speak of justification is to say, ‘you may come.’”

Justification, Dr. Tim Keller states, “is a status with all of the rights, privileges, and benefits” given to you. In other words, because of Jesus’ PERFECT life, death, and resurrection, you have had $2 Billion of righteousness (or perfect performance by Jesus) deposited into your spiritual bank account! You have been FREELY welcomed by God because of Jesus! You will NEVER exhaust or out-spend the grace and mercy of God given to you in Jesus Christ.

This understanding is not meant to drive you into bigger and deeper holes of sin. It is meant to drive you FREELY to God (who completely accepts you in Christ)—to not hide from Him (or perform before Him & others), but to run to Him for cleansing and change.

Now let me ask you this: if this is true (and the Bible states that it is), how much pressure are YOU under to perform for God’s acceptance of you? (The answer would be “zero”) ;).

The Way Out of the Wilderness

Do you feel trapped? Do you feel like you are bound up by things of which you are ashamed? Do you feel like particular sins have taken you by the throat and will not let you go?

The reason we wind up feeling this way (especially Christians) is because, as Paul Tripp states, we have literally “worshiped our way into bondage.” Something has grabbed our attention more than God. Something has promised us life and fulfillment, and we have given our hearts to it. What results is that this thing (or things) that we thought would give us fulfillment is now producing death, despair, and regret in our lives. Even good things when they become ultimate things can become enslaving things—things of which we are embarrassed to let others know.

Guess what? “Gutting it out” will not liberate you from the grasp of sin. It was said that Bill W., the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, truly overcame his alcoholism after he created his 12-step program. That is wonderful. The only problem is that he became a notorious womanizer. He wasn’t free from the grasp of sin; he just traded sins.

No, gutting it out will not help you. If you have worshiped your way into sin, there is only one way for lasting change. You must worship your way out of sin.

Here is a truth from Scripture—if you have been born again by the Spirit of God, no matter what sin you find yourself trapped by this very moment, your sins are gone. You have been united with Christ, and all of His righteousness has been deposited into your spiritual bank account. Therefore, every time you sin now, it is as if your sins are like flash paper. Flash paper burns instantaneously when it is ignited and vanishes. In Christ, your sins are gone. He has paid your penalty. While it is true that you feel guilty when you sin, the truth of Scripture states that Jesus never sinned but He became a sin offering for us on the Cross so that when we believe, all of his perfect sinlessness and perfect obedience to God is deposited into our spiritual bank accounts (2 Corinthians 5:21). That is why the gospel is good news!

But here’s the problem—you may be a Christian, but you don’t believe this. You believe your experience RIGHT NOW is your identity. You have “worshiped” your way into this belief. Therefore, you languish in your Christian life. You avoid worship, other Christians, and transparency about your struggles with sin because you believe your identity is your sin problem. As a result, you despair more and more and cling to your sins more and more because at least they bring some temporary relief.

Nevertheless, if you want to be free from sin’s grip on your life, you have to worship your way out of sin. That may mean that you need to come to church to WORSHIP even when you don’t FEEL like it. The Bible tells us that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

Pastor J.D. Greear states, “God’s acceptance of you in Christ is the POWER that liberates you from sin. God’s acceptance is not the REWARD for having liberated ourselves.” If you wait to get free from specific sins before you seek the Lord in worship, will never get free. You need to worship your way out of sin, knowing that RIGHT THIS VERY MOMENT you are justified by the blood of Jesus. He is your righteousness before a holy God. Your sins are like flashpaper; they are instantaneously burned up in the holy righteousness of Jesus. Yet, if you constantly BELIEVE that your sins define you, you will rarely go to God for help. You will virtually stop coming to church because your life is a mess. You don’t worship because you don’t feel worthy.

Newsflash—you are NOT worthy. Billy Graham is not worthy in and of himself, but he would be quick to tell you that CHRIST is his righteousness. Christ is big in his life because he has worshiped his way to see that Christ is greater than the fleeting pleasures of sin. If you want to be liberated from the sins that plague you, you must worship your way out, too.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Meditations from the LIBERATE 2014

Last week I was in Ft. Lauderdale, FL at the Liberate Conference. You can find out about this annual conference online at liberate.org. It was a refreshing time for me personally, and I am grateful to God that my church affords me the opportunity to get away for conferences like this to recharge my spiritual batteries!

A couple of things struck me at the conference that I wanted to pass along. The first was a verse of Scripture that pastor Matt Chandler shared, and it comes from Galatians 1:15-16. It states:

“God, who set me apart even at my mother’s womb & called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son to me…”

Question: Do you know when God was pleased to reveal Jesus to Paul (formerly Saul)? He did this while Paul was on his way to Damascus to persecute and kill Christians! God revealed Jesus to Paul while Paul was up to his neck in sin and hatred toward Jesus. THAT is grace! God did not wait for Paul to get his act together before He bestowed His grace upon him. God did it IN THE MIDDLE OF PAUL’S REBELLION! And He was PLEASED to do it!

That makes us shake our heads because we don’t operate that way. We operate (with ourselves and others) by saying, “once you meet my expectations THEN I will forgive you.” Yet God FREELY forgave Paul smack dab in the middle of his rebellion. That is amazing grace!

The second statement that struck me powerfully was Matt Chandler’s statement which was:

We buy into the thought that “a better version of me” will satisfy us & God. AND IT WON’T. It is not some future version of you that God rejoices in. It is you NOW, as your life is hidden with Christ in God.

We typically believe (myself included) that God is merely tolerating who we are right now but that He is going to be much happier with us down the road when we FINALLY get our act together. We believe that we will be much happier and content with ourselves when we get our lives FULLY together…

That day will NEVER come on this side of eternity! There will always be broken pieces in your life on this side of heaven. God ALLOWS those broken pieces to remain so that we will come to HIM for healing and change. He has no intention of ever allowing us to FULLY ARRIVE in this life. He has every intention of allowing us to remain DEPENDENT upon Him because He is your heavenly Father. This is why God has called us into a RELATIONSHIP with Him. It is so that He can show us just how powerful He is to overcome the brokenness in our lives–things we tend to think we could never be delivered from. He is concerned about your remaining indwelling sin, but He is JUST as concerned with the fact that you are His through Jesus.

The point remains, if God has saved you, He is happy with you TODAY, not tomorrow! Allowing this awareness to seep into your spiritual bloodstream—that you are FOUND IN CHRIST—will liberate you from feeling like you have to always be performing for God’s acceptance… and it will change the way you view and treat other people.

Think on these things!!

Bullies Drool… Underdogs Rule

Isn’t it just like God to buck the system?

The first people to find out about the coming and resurrected Messiah were women!  God told Mary that she was going to conceive (Luke 1:26-ff) BEFORE He told Joseph that Mary had already conceived by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18-ff).  Later, the gospel accounts reveal that the first people to the tomb of Jesus on Resurrection Sunday were the women.  In fact, the women after seeing the empty tomb went to the apostles to tell them that Jesus had risen from the dead, and the apostles did not believe them!

In those days, in that part of the world, women did not carry much clout.  They couldn’t be trusted. They weren’t typically educated like the men; therefore, they were not viewed as intelligent.  Women were viewed as private property and little else.

Still, at two of the most crucial moments in history God the Father chose to encounter women first.  When Mary discovered that she would be the mother of Jesus she exclaimed the following in Luke 1:46-55:

My soul magnifies the LORD, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked on the humble estate of His servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His Name.

And His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation.  He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.

He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.

In plain view of God’s mercy and impending plan, worship effervesced from deep within Mary’s heart.  This was no scripted worship.  It was soul-deep.

Mary’s praise quite simply stated that God has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate;  He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.

To this point, Jesus Christ has not even been delivered as a baby, but Mary is already exclaiming that God has delivered His people.  Mary is speaking in terms of “already/not yet.”  This is a biblical/theological view that God’s deliverance has already occurred in His mind before it has actually occurred in time.

That’s why Bullies Drool & Underdogs Rule.  And God’s deliverance is not limited to women.  It is for ANYONE who sees themselves as weak and in need of salvation.

God’s spiritual enemies have already been vanquished in His mind.  The victory is won.  It is certain.  His mercy is for those who fear Him (reverence/trust) from generation to generation.  Though it may seem that the spiritual enemies of God have gained the ascendancy in our day, it is not so in the mind of God.  They ARE defeated.

And God will make that plain in His own time and in His own way.  William Cowper puts it best in his hymn “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” (Stanzas 3,4, & 6):

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

Trust Him today.

 

 

Splash-Overs of Heaven

ocean

Everyone suffers.  If you live long enough, even if you haven’t known great trouble in your life, you will at some point.

Since the beginning of time, people have tried to make sense out of suffering.  Some people discredit the existence of God (or at least the goodness of God) by propagating the belief that a good God would not allow “bad things to happen to good people.”  They say things like, “surely God cannot exist or if he does then he must not be good because of all of the unfettered suffering that runs throughout this planet.”

Others have tried to destroy the impact of suffering by re-framing it in life.  Gautama Buddha (the Buddha) did this by determining that “all of life is suffering” and the best way to deal with suffering is to follow the “eight-fold path.”  In it, the Buddha believed that one could eradicate suffering by working through this path to achieve wholesomeness or perfection in life.

Christianity, however, does not try to destroy suffering in this life.  Rather, the Scriptures are very clear about the reality of tribulation, but they promise that suffering can be shot-through with hope.  Jesus Himself stated:

“In this world you WILL have tribulation, but take heart. I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

In the letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul prays for Christians in order that they might SEE GOD smack dab in the heart of their lives–not just in suffering but certainly not divorced from it either.  He prays in chapter 1, verses 16-21:

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ… may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe according to the working of His great might that He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule & authority & power & dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.

This is not boot-strap theology.  This is not Paul saying, “come on, Christians, get it together!  Follow the path; then you’ll find good in everything.  You’ll eradicate all the bad in your life.”

No, Paul is praying to God that God would give Christians (followers of Christ) the Spirit of wisdom & revelation in the knowledge of Him–having the eyes of your hearts enlightened.   He is praying that God would do a work IN THEM that they could not do themselves.

When life gets impossible, we ALL have the tendency to become atheists–living through our pain as if God doesn’t exist.  But Paul is praying that God would give us eyes to see GOD THROUGHOUT ALL OF LIFE.

Joni Eareckson Tada has referred to this as seeing “splash-overs of heaven.”

In the verses above, Paul states that believers have an inheritance of glorious riches and that there is an immeasurable limit to the greatness of God’s power toward us.  Paul even says that this power is the same that God used when He raised Jesus from the dead!

And Paul prays that God would open our eyes NOW so that we might see evidence of our inheritance NOW!!  Paul is not talking about money; he is talking about spiritual blessing–true riches.  Joy in the midst of heartache.  Hope in the midst of darkness.  Flourishing in the midst of famine.

Interestingly, in verses 13-14 Paul refers to the Holy Spirit in our lives as “the guarantee of our inheritance until we take possession of it.” The word guarantee is a financial term which means “earnest money, a down payment, given in advance as a security that the whole will be paid afterwards.”

The Holy Spirit, who dwells in the lives of Christians IS a “splash-over of heaven” in the life of every Christian.  And His job is to enable you to see evidence of your eternal inheritance right now in your life!

Just like the ocean (which is limitless in its scope–we can’t see the end of it) crashes into the rocks and some of its spray lands on the rocks, the Holy Spirit helps the Christian to see RIGHT NOW evidences of his/her eternal inheritance that has already spilled over into life.  Evidence of eternal inheritance has already landed on the rocks of your life, Christian!

And Paul prays (my paraphrase), “O God, open their eyes that they may see proof of their inheritance NOW.  God, if they see splash-overs from heaven in their lives they can flourish in hope no matter what situations they find themselves in.”

This week is Thanksgiving.  My prayer for everyone is that God would open your eyes to see clear-cut evidence of your eternal inheritance spilling over into your life today.

If you are not a Christian, my prayer is that God would open your spiritual eyes to see your need for Him and that Jesus would satisfy the spiritual thirst you may be longing for…

Happy Thanksgiving,

Bo

Jesus > Banana Hands

Jesus probably didn’t look like much.

Those from His hometown certainly did not accept Him as the Messiah. They said of Him in Mark 6:2-4– “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.”

In fact, Isaiah 53:2 which describes the coming Messiah says: “There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him” (NLT).

It is kind of easy to understand why the Pharisees would not recognize Jesus as the Son of God. They (and we) had in their minds that the Messiah would arrive in a great display of power.

They were expecting Tony Robbins.  Robbins is nicknamed “Banana Hands” because of his HUGE hands.  He is 6’7″ and weighs 265 lbs.  He walks on hot coals; he works crowds into a frenzy with his energetic, motivational speeches.  He seeks to help people reach their full potential in life and to access their own “Personal Power.”

Jesus, simply was not that.  Jesus, was “just” a Man from Galilee who couldn’t possibly be the long-expected Messiah of the Jews.

Consequently, the Pharisees frequently tried to antagonize Jesus. They would seek to catch Him in some theological inconsistency. They accused Him of errors in interpreting the Law. However, Jesus was always wise. He always out-smarted His opponents. He always corrected their error and caused the truth of God’s Word to shine more brightly.

Consider Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees in Luke 17…

 Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’
for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you (within you).”
Luke 17:20-21

The Pharisees asked Jesus about the time of the Kingdom’s arrival.  Jesus emphatically said, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed… the kingdom of God is in the midst of you…”  In other words, the Kingdom is not coming with tanks rolling down the street.  It is not coming with Stealth bombers flying overhead.  It is not coming with troops marching lockstep down the street.

It is coming silently but discernibly within PEOPLE.  Yes, it is true that Christ WILL return in a magnificent display of power at His Second Coming, but His kingdom IS coming through the power of the Holy Spirit.

(Not as the Pharisees expected)…

The apostle Paul talks about the effect of the Spirit’s work in the lives of Christians as fruit.  He says the following in Galatians 5:22-23:”the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”

Dr. Timothy Keller says the following about the above passage:

“Christian change is as gradual as a potato or a flower growing. Botanical growth you can never really see happen.  You can know it is happening.  Even with a child you can say, “I think you have grown.”  You can’t actually see them growing. It can only be measured.

In much the same way, a trial comes or a test comes suddenly into your life and you see how you respond to it and you think to yourself, “my goodness—a couple of years ago I could have never (been that patient) (or responded in that way)…”

Growth in the various fruit of the Spirit is gradual.  You can’t talk to a friend and say, “I discernibly feel more loving than I did 5 minutes ago.”  However, your friend might say to you, “you know, when I first met you 10 years ago you used to freak out about EVERYTHING, but you know what?  You are really exhibiting much more patience now.”

Much like we can’t visibly see fruit grow, we often have to wait several years to see the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.  Therefore, as Keller states, “we have to be patient.”

However, Keller also states that Christian change is not only gradual, it is also inevitable.  True spiritual change is GOING to happen if the Holy Spirit indwells in your heart. 1 Peter 1:23 states: “you have been born again not of perishable seed but of imperishable–through the living and abiding word of God.”

Christian change is certain to happen because the seed of the word of God has made us alive.  God’s word will never die, but it will produce that for which He sends it our to do–bring gradual, inevitable growth in the life of every child of God.

On the surface of things, much like Jesus’ physical appearance, Christianity may not look like much.  There may be great struggles; there may be years when we will be tempted to “despise the day of small things”–very little noticeable change (Zechariah 4:10).  However, the Christian can be supremely confident that God will produce spiritual growth in his or her life.

Believing Is Seeing…

Tags

Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
John 8:12

For we do not want you to be ignorant of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death…
2 Corinthians 1:8-9a

These two passages above appear to contradict one another, don’t they? Jesus says that those who follow Him will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life. Yet the apostle Paul, who is probably the greatest example in history of someone who followed Jesus, stated that when he was in Asia carrying the gospel into unreached places he felt burdened beyond strength, as if he had received a death sentence.

Paul mentions in another place that he was at times “perplexed.” This word in the Greek language means: 1) to be without resources, to be in doubt, not to know which way to turn, to be at a loss with one’s self, not to know how to decide or what to do. There were times in Paul’s life & ministry when he didn’t know what to do and felt like he was going to die.

But didn’t Jesus say that if we follow Him we would not walk in darkness but would have the light of life??? If He is the light of the world, why do we sometimes feel like He has led us out in the middle of a hopeless desert and it is pitch black all around us?

Look at Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 1:9b-10: But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. Here, Paul clearly states that there was a purpose behind his perplexity– to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

What you need to realize today is that though things do sometimes appear to be dark for us, Jesus truly IS the light of the world. All darkness in our lives is as the light of day to Him. Psalm 139:12 states:

Even the darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You.

Jesus did not lie, and these Scriptures do not contradict one another. He IS the Light of the world. He sees EVERYTHING the same way, dark or light. Nothing is hidden from His sight, though sometimes He ALLOWS things to be hidden from ours—so that we will learn not to rely upon ourselves but upon GOD who raises the dead!

If you find yourself today in the midst of a dark perplexity, you’re following Jesus but you have no idea what He is up to in your life, hear the word of God from Isaiah 50:10:

Who among you fears the LORD,
Who obeys the voice of His Servant,
Who walks in darkness and has NO LIGHT?
Let him trust in the Name of the LORD
and RELY upon his GOD.

Faith is not a sight, nor sense, nor reason.  It is simply taking God at His Word. (Christmas Evans)

Aside

Hold Your Horses

We are a nation of quitters.  Nowadays, when the going gets tough, the tough are hard to find.  Our society is “so advanced” that we no longer know what it means to delay gratification.  We literally have all of our desires “at our fingertips.”  Yet, while we glut our desires with ease, our souls are shriveling away.

Still, God remains determined to bring His people to maturity.  A few weeks ago, I preached a Sunday evening message entitled “Hold Your Horses” from Isaiah 30:15-18 and Isaiah 36:1-20. 

God’s people were in trouble (again) because they refused to allow God to solve their problems.  He told them in verses 15-16:

 For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:

“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.”
But you would not, And you said, “No, for we will flee on horses”—
Therefore you shall flee!
And, “We will ride on swift horses”—
Therefore, those who pursue you shall be swift!

 God told Israel to trust Him and not in what they could see.  We typically think we can solve all of our problems without the Lord’s help, and He is frequently willing to let us try in order to show us the futility of our actions. “In quietness and confidence (in God) shall be our strength,” trusting in His time & His plan.  Yet, because we refuse God sometimes gives us over to futility to show us the error of our ways.  He sometimes allows our spiritual enemies to overtake us so that we will learn a lesson. God wants you to trust Him with your problems.  As a result, when you do not know what to do, the BEST thing you can do is DO NOT DO ANYTHING.  Sometimes you just have to “Stand still (wait) and let God move” (as the Isaacs sing).  The worst thing you can do is to run off looking for help in people, places, or things rather than God.

Of course, our pride, our fleshly minds, and the devil himself will seek to get you to look anywhere else but in God for your deliverance.  In Isaiah 36 the king of Assyria sent his messenger to tell Israel to not trust in God.  He said:

“Hear the words of the great king, the king of Assyria (king of Israel)! Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord by saying, “The Lord will surely deliver us. This city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” Do not listen to Hezekiah… Beware lest Hezekiah mislead you by saying, “The Lord will deliver us.” Has any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria?

In the same way, Satan loves to scare people to death.  He always tries to rob God of His glory in the lives of His people by telling us, “don’t wait on the Lord; He can’t fix what you are going through.  You’ve got to get relief from this NOW; your problems are so great that the WORST thing you can do is to wait on God.”  However, that is exactly the BEST thing you can do!  You need to hand all of your problems to God. Isaiah 30:18 states:

 Therefore the Lord will wait, that He may be gracious to you;
And therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
Blessed are all those who wait for Him.

In America we rarely have to wait for ANYTHING.  If we’re lost, we can just consult our smart phones (cell phones) to tell us how to get back on the right road.  If we want to purchase something, the internet makes it possible for us to never leave the comforts of home.  Yet, God does not work that way, and He is trying to develop in His people a maturity level that most of us really don’t want.  Therefore, sometimes God waits on us to realize that it is really a blessing for us to wait for Him.  

Pastor Chuck Swindoll states: “God never forgets anything He promises–Never. God’s agenda continues to unfold right on schedule, even when there is not a shred of evidence that He remembers. Even when the most extreme events transpire and ‘life just doesn’t seem fair,’ God is there, carrying out His providential plan exactly as He pre-arranged it. He keeps His word.”

Sometimes you need to “Hold Your Horses” in order to see Him move powerfully in your life.  What is He asking you to wait for? 

Maybe a better question is what are you running from?

You will be blessed if you will wait!

Guilty As Charged?

Leading by example–a concept that sounds good on paper but is often difficult in execution. It is difficult because leading, especially in the Christian faith, requires the leader to follow someone else–namely Jesus.

Paul the apostle wrote a couple of swan song letters to his disciple Timothy as Paul was nearing his own death, and in these letters (1 & 2 Timothy) Paul instructs Timothy on many issues regarding church government and also Timothy’s own leadership as a pastor.

In 1Timothy 6:6-10 Paul instructs Timothy to keep himself from the “love of money,” saying that the love of money brings a snare and has the potential to destroy the lives of people. Consequently, Paul tells his young disciple to be content with having food and clothing, which are necessities. Notice that Paul does not say “money is the root of all evil” but “the LOVE of money is the root of all evil.” Timothy’s instruction is to watch out for this trap.

Then Paul (in verses 10-11) makes the following statement:

11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

A quick survey of some key words in these verses reveal the following definitions:

Flee: — (to shun or avoid by flight) something abhorrent, esp. vices…

Pursue: — to run swiftly in order to catch a person or thing

Righteousness: –the state of him who is as he ought to be (before sin entered the world at the Fall—Genesis 3)

Godliness: — piety towards God, living all of life Coram Deo—“before the face of God.”

Faith: –conviction of the truth, belief w/ the included idea of trust & holy fervour born of faith.

Love (‘agape’ love): — unconditional love, love that is purely a choice, not based upon anything meritorious in the receiving the love.

Steadfastness: — (in the Greek, literally to “endure under”) –endurance; especially as God enables the believer to “remain (endure) under” the challenges He allots in life.

Gentleness: — “gentle strength” It is a divinely-balanced virtue that can only operate through faith.

Paul tells Timothy to “run away” from evil temptations and to “run towards (as to overtake)”: righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness.

These six words all defined Jesus’ earthly life, but they were especially on full display when He was dying on the Cross. Here is the ultimate righteous man (the state of Adam in his perfection as before the Fall)—Jesus, the second Adam, who has His face set like a flint toward the glory of God. He was the greatest example of living godliness Coram Deo—before the face of God and embracing suffering, not shrinking back—FULLY drinking the cup of the wrath of God against sin. Jesus was the greatest example of living faith ever seen. He was FULLY CONVICTED of the TRUTH to the point that He was willing to trust God all the way to death. He would say in another place, “Zeal for God’s house will literally consume Me” (John 2:17). It consumed Him to the point of death on the Cross. Yet, Jesus was not merely enduring the Cross; He was looking BEYOND it. In faith, Jesus knew what was said of Him in Psalm 16 which states:

10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Jesus, in full assurance of faith and for the JOY that was set before Him, endured the Cross. He KNEW that His heavenly Father would not abandon Him to the grave but would raise Him from the dead on the 3rd day.

And out of unconditional love (He became PERFECT through what He suffered-Hebrews 2:10) as He was on the Cross He was pure love, “agape” love, blessing those who cursed Him, forgiving those who railed against Him. Even for the Pharisees who smugly stood by ((finally getting what their hearts’ desired (the ones whom Jesus boldly refuted & constantly took to the theological woodshed) Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.” There was no more debating, no more correcting or castigating–only love. On the Cross Jesus exuded pristine, life-giving, holy, unconditional love for His enemies.

Under this heavy weight of suffering Jesus was steadfast. He literally “endured under” the stress of the Cross, not only physically, & emotionally but also spiritually—suffering the abandonment of God’s smile and feeling FULLY the hammer blows of wrath in His heart for sin.

He BECAME sin; more specifically, He became a sin offering (2 Corinthians 5:21). Every ounce of His being wreaked before the nose of His heavenly Father–not b/c of His sin but because of yours & mine. Still, He endured under this impossible weight—when EVERYONE was telling Him to save Himself & to save others….

As He repeatedly resisted the temptation to call down “legions of angels” to come to His aid & rescue, He did not become bitter. As He constantly, moment-by-moment KILLED sinful temptations that nipped at His heals and His soul, He became more & more gentle, even to the greatest of sinners, exercising His sovereign prerogative to forgive a terrorist—one who was a major threat—they would not merely crucify a common criminal. The forgiven thief on the cross was most likely an insurrectionist to the government. To this man Jesus unconscionably stated: “Today, you will be with Me in paradise.”

Here, the glory of God—the heaviness or weightiness of God’s love is most expressed. This is the kind of glory that when seen it causes us to shake our heads in wonder—AMAZED at its vastness and its grace-giving power.

And this is exactly what Paul is telling Timothy to run after.

Better yet, this is what God is telling each one of us to chase down with all of our hearts. He tells us to FIGHT for it (to fight our FLESH) AND TO TAKE HOLD OF THAT WHICH JESUS IN HIS FULLNESS TOOK HOLD OF AS WELL.

If you want to lead people to Jesus, you need to follow Jesus’ lead. No, we will never be perfect on this side of Heaven. However, if unbelievers and even rebels to the Cross are going to behold the power of the gospel to change them, they need to see that power lived out in the lives of those who profess to know Him.

Here’s a question for you to ponder:

If Christianity was made illegal tomorrow and you were brought before a court for the crime of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to find you guilty of being a Christian?