Christian Character Part 13

The Struggle for Steadfastness in Life

Let us re-read from our Call to Worship, Psalm 95: 6-7, and continuing through v. 11

Oh come let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand. Today, if you will hear His voice: “Do not harden your hearts, as in the rebellion, as in the day of trial in the wilderness, when your fathers tested Me: they tried Me though they saw My work. For forty years I was grieved with that generation, and said, ‘it is a people who go astray in their hearts, and they do not know My ways.’ So I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter My rest.”

This passage is telling us some foundationally important aspects of the struggle for steadfastness of faith and decision in the life of every person, and particularly every man and woman of God. This passage is a foray into the sophisticated and intricate ways in which life challenges our faith, by challenging our double-mindedness. This passage explains how we achieve the stability in life that only comes from bringing ourselves into the Presence of God, into His throne room to receive His Wisdom, His Wise Counsel, believing in Him, in our single-mindedness, not double-mindedness (see James 1:5-8). That stability is a direct result of steadfastness of faith and decision, which only comes from single-mindedness about God’s word and will!

Let’s pick out these foundationally important aspects of the struggle for steadfastness of faith and decision in our lives:

  1. God is God, our God and Creator.
  2. We are His people – corporately and individually.
  3. We are directed to humble ourselves before Him.
  4. We are directed to worship Him.
  5. We see His works and miracles in our lives.
  6. We have a choice, an option, to listen to God, to hear (and read) His word.
  7. We have a choice whether to harden our hearts.
  8. If we make the choice to harden our hearts against God’s word, we are testing God and trying His patience and mercy.
  9. By hardening our hearts against God’s word, if that is the choice we make/made, God will not allow us to enter our rest. Will we be in that generation that rises up, to take its place with selfless faith?.

We know that God’s word says that God is our healer (Isaiah 53:5I Peter 2:24), and many of us have witnessed and personally experienced God’s miraculous healings of our physical wounds and diseases, of our childhood and adult woundings and guilts, or our emotional imbalances and lack of self-control. Thus, like the Israelites in Psalm 95, and in the Exodus and desert travel, we, too, have seen His work! So we ought to embrace, in faith, God for who He says He is, also, because we have seen the proof!! Yet not all do that: many are distracted (yielding to double-mindedness), by an unwillingness to walk away from bondage (our personal Exodus) and through the desert of life with its tribulations, threats and temptations. We are not alone in our distraction to unbelief and resulting disobedience and rebellion against God: in II Kings 1, we have the history of Ahaziah (I Kings 22: 51-53 tells us Ahaziah was King of Israel in Samaria, reigning for only two years, who did evil in the sight of the Lord, made Israel sin, served Baal and worshipped him and provoked the Lord God of Israel to anger). In II Kings 1:2, we learn that King Ahaziah fell through the lattice of his upper room and was injured and sent messengers to go to Baal and inquire whether he would be healed of this injury or not. The messengers returned early because they encountered the prophet Elijah, who told them, as God instructed him (verses 3-4), “Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of BaalZebub, the god of Ekron? Now therefore, thus says the Lord: ‘You shall not come down from the bed to which you have gone up and you shall surely die.’” The messengers reported this to King Ahaziah, and he sent several companies of soldiers, in sequence, to see Elijah and bring him to the king, and he called down fire from heaven to burn them up. The fire came and each of the several companies of soldiers was burned up. The last captain and company of soldiers to come to Elijah, verses 13-14, humbled himself, and acknowledged that Elijah was a ‘Man of God’ and asked that their lives be preserved. In the ensuing verses, we learn, in the history of King Ahaziah, that an angel of the Lord visited Elijah and told him to go with the captain to King Ahaziah and to speak the word of the Lord directly to him. Elijah did so, and King Ahaziah heard it and then promptly died.

You wonder what would have happened here if Ahaziah had repented and changed his life and led the people of Israel in Samaria to Jehovah God, instead of living and dying in the hardness of his heart, in rebellion to Jehovah God.

In the New Testament, in the latter part of Hebrews 3 and in Hebrews 4, we find a further explication of the message of Psalm 95, and I encourage you to review it this week, noting the congruence of the Old Testament and the New Testament.

REVIEW

Now, I am going to review with you a few related Scriptures, and then we will see how they apply to this issue and difficulty of being steadfast in our faith, as we struggle to mature our Christian Character that we may be steadfast in life:

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who have Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Speak these things, exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you.

Titus 2:11-15

[Biblical rebuking should be accompanied by Biblical exhortin/encouraging.]

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

I John 1:9

But with balance as to Romans 6:1-4

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

[“Newness of life” describes not only the change to life with the risen Christ, in our salvation, but also describes the constant changes as we struggle with our faith, and grow in steadfastness and maturity in our faith, growing in ever-newness of Christian Character!]

And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight – if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast (not double-minded) and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard.

Colossians 1:21-23

APPLICATION

We have struggles, perhaps, from time to time, with unbelief, and then with continuing in the faith, in not getting moved away from the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ as the tribulations, temptations and threats come against our flesh and souls. We must ask ourselves if we are going to have faith without works (James 2:26), if we are going to be zealous for good works (Titus 2:14), we, in order to live righteously and godly in the present age – our generation –(Titus 2:12), we will honor God with humility and worship, and hearing from him, and extending our faith in obedience. Or, Proverbs 19:3, “The foolishness of a man twists his way, and his heart frets against the Lord.” One or the other.

Each of us frequently faces tests of steadfastness in faith: Have we made a mistake of carefulness and been struggling with whether to admit it, own up to it, and accept responsibility for it? Have we made a mistake based on anger, greed, lust or arrogance – a knowing and intentional sin – and been struggling with whether to admit it, own up to it, and accept responsibility for it? Have we allowed (James 1:14-15) our own desires of flesh and soul to fester and entice us away to sin and death, without preemptively (Romans 6:1-2) denying ungodliness and worldly lusts (Titus 2:11) and taking those desires and temptations to the foot of the Cross and asking God to remove them from us, from our sight? Have we lied to cover up our mistakes of carelessness and intentional sin (Proverbs 13:5)? Have we nurtured lust in our heart that was adultery – physical, emotional, or spiritual – itself? Have we done any or all these things – or one or more of a myriad of others – without stopping them preemptively or repenting afterwards (John 1:9)? The question really asked is this: (Romans 6:4), Are we – you and me – truly walking in newness of life. Are we ourselves, and other people, and God, noticing that from day to day, from glory to glory, we are not the same today as we were yesterday, we are changed, walking each day in the certainty of our redemption, and in extended faith that we will deal with issues of sin in our lives from a place of stableness, single-mindedness as to the word and will of God, being grounded and steadfast in our faith? It is a struggle, and neither I nor you, nor other Christians are immune from the struggle. It is a struggle for steadfastness in the faith as we mature in our Christian Character into the fullness of Jesus Christ Himself . The admonition is from the song we sang today, and often sing, “trading my sorrows, shame, sickness and pain – in the Glory of the Lord!“. That admonition is also in Hebrews 6:12: Do not become sluggish but imitate those – not King Ahaziah – who through faith and patience inherit the promises of God!

Amen

All these things are examples of struggles of being steadfast, grounded, stable in our faith – which, James 1:5, is wisdom for life! This comes from drawing night unto the Lord, into His Presence, knowing He will draw nigh unto us and guide us in His Wise Counsel, His Wisdom!

Christian Character Part 11

Faith: a Tale of Three Rivers

Continuing in our series on Christian Character, we look back to the last message, on Jesus Christ, where we saw Him as the creator and exemplar of Christian Character, so demonstrated in His last earthly Passover, at the Garden of Gethsemane and his unwavering, though faltering, walk to the Cross at Golgotha. But Jesus is also the author and finisher of our faith.

Today, our focus is drawn to the issue of our faith, because it is only by faith, and in our faith, that, once saved by the Blood of Christ, we are empowered and called by God to walk out our faith, all the days of our lives, in how we live, in what we do, from minute to minute, from year to year.

So, how is this a Tale of Three Rivers? The most important of these Three Rivers is the River of Life (Revelation 22:1), which irrigates the Tree of Life (Revelation 22:2), which brings forth Fruit (Revelation 22:2) and whose leaves heal the nations (Revelation 22:2). We want to live in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2) in which the River of Life which runs in the middle of the street (Revelation 22:2). But to get there, we have to cross two rivers, if you will, and they are, in Biblical History, the Red Sea, and the Jordan River, but we have supernatural help.

To cross both the Red Sea and the Jordan River requires us to act in Faith, because in the Biblical context, both involved danger and thus provoked fleshly fears. The crossing of the Red Sea was stimulated first by obedience to God’s command, to leave Egypt, and then by fear of Pharaoh’s armies sent to bring the Israelites back into bondage. The crossing of the Jordan River was stimulated by hopeful obedience to reach God’s promises in the Promised Land, although it was accompanied by danger and fleshly fears, and the fear – the great fear – of the unknown on the other side of the Jordan River in the Promised Land, and that crossing, after 40 years of wandering in a small desert area, came at a time when the people were undoubtedly weary and discouraged from 40 years of homelessness.

Our frears, weariness and discouragement, our temptations to sin, all – none — are never new “news” to God. He knows, He knew, He understands, He understood, all of them.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him, who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.

Hebrews 12:1-3

Jesus has authored in us that sufficient “Measure of Faith”, Romans 12:3. And by His Grace, Hebrews 12:1, we can “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus”: He is the “finisher” of our faith, and as we look unto Him for inspiration and encouragement and wisdom in the Holy Spirit, He will help us finish that race, no matter how much endurance it requires to overcome our fears, no matter how much hostility from our fellow sinners we are called to endure, no matter how weary or discouraged we are in our soul realms. Jesus, Himself, ran the race set before Him, all the way to the Cross at Golgotha. He is on the other side of the finish line, encouraging those who follow to run the race with endurance, and to finish it in obedience.

Like running a race, or maybe as part of running the race, the Israelites had to cross these two rivers, the Red Sea and the Jordan River. To cross them, like in running, they had to keep moving, they had to put one foot in front of the other, even when it made no sense in the natural.

The Red Sea history is in Exodus 14. In verses 13-14, with the Israelites’ backs against the Sea and the Egyptian Army, Moses, the Leader, encouraged the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The Lord will fight for you and you shall hold your peace.” You see here their fears, and the call of encouragement to endure while God finished their faith. I notice here that “hold” is an active verb, not a passive verb, “hold your peace”. There is always a struggle, as Satan seeks to pull your peace from us, and as we struggle to pull it back and hold on to it. That is active, not passive, in life.

Then, in verses 15-16, God instructs Moses, the Leader, “Why do you cry to Me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward (that is running the race!). But lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it. And the children of Israel shall go over on dry land through the midst of the sea.” Then, in verses 19-20, the Angel of God, and the pillar of cloud were supernaturally placed between the Egyptians and the Israelites, to protect the Israelites.

Imagine the scene, of these great, high, splashing walls of water, restrained by no visible barrier, but “only” restrained by the will of God. The confidence of the people in God’s miracles in Egypt, and the spoiling of the people with wealth in their leaving – all God’s miracles for His chosen people — had already been forgotten (in verse 12, the people were asking Moses to leave them alone, that they might go back and serve as slaves to the Egyptians again rather than die in the wilderness). In this context, God instructed Moses in yet another set of miracles, and Moses obeyed and called on the people to obey, and you can only imagine in that context their reluctance to take another risk and to walk out onto the bed of the Red Sea. Yet they did! And Hallelujah for their obedience, for their overcoming of fears, weariness and discomfort enough to act in obedience, to run the race, one foot in front of another. Yet they did!

And then at the Jordan. After 40 years of going in circles, you know they were apprehensive, and they were tired and they were discouraged. Scholars tell us that at the season of this crossing, the Jordan would most likely have been at flood stage, outside of its banks, with swift currents, deep waters, and very wide, even miles wide [see Joshua 3:15, “(for the Jordan overflows all its banks during the whole time of harvest”)].

Here is how God told them to do it, to cross the Jordan, by His instruction to Joshua, in Joshua 3, in verse 8, “You shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, saying, ‘When you have come to the edge of the water of the Jordan, you shall stand in the Jordan.'” And Joshua, understood that the people were to follow the priests and the ark of the covenant into the Jordan, and here is what Joshua told the people, in verses 9-13.

So Joshua said to the children of Israel, ‘Come here, and hear the words of the Lord your God . . . . By this you shall know that the living God is among you, and that He will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Hivites and the Periizites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Jubusites: Behold the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is crossing over before you into the Jordan. Now therefore, take for yourselves, twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one man from every tribe. And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, that the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off, the waters that come down from upstream, and they shall stand in a heap.”

Joshua 3:9-13

And then in magnificent understatement, Scripture next says, “So it was. . . .”

Verses 14-17 give us the rest of that history: All obeyed; the priests carried the ark of the covenant into the Jordan River; nature obeyed its Creator (can you believe that?!), and the upstream waters stood in a heap, causing dry land, over which the millions of Israelites crossed into the Promised Land.

Now, many of these people had not seen the parting and crossing of the Red Sea, but they had heard about it. And they were called to be obedient again to something that made no sense in the natural world of their experiences. But to exercise their faith, they had to be obedient, and God provided supernaturally for them, yet again.

There are messages aplenty here for us. If we make all the decisions of our lives based only on natural wisdom, understanding, knowledge and discernment, it is impossible for us ever to be fully obedient to God! To live in obedient faithfulness, we must extend ourselves beyond the natural into God’s supernatural realms of provision, of healing, of blessings, of favor. That always involves stepping into places where our soul realm screams , “NO, NO, NO!!!” Why, because it does not make sense, in the natural. Our natural fears well up at every such occasion. No wonder, then, why God kept telling Joshua, the Leader, and the children of Israel, “Be Strong and Courageous” (Joshua 1:6, 9, 18).

The core of the faith to disregard the natural warnings and to obey the supernatural instruction is hope. And the core and foundation of hope is truth. Example: confrontation with a poisonous snake – the truth is that if you slap it with your hand you will almost certainly be bitten. But if you back away, the truth is you will almost certainly not be bitten. Yet, if a mosquito lands on your hand, the truth is that if you slap the mosquito you will most likely kill it without harm to yourself. So you take action in each case based on the hope of the outcome, and you measure your degree of hope by the truth you know. When we are called to supernatural obedience, we are called to act in hope based on truth we cannot prove naturally or scientifically or mathematically, indeed, based on a truth we must “know” even without seeing it. So in our lives, it is real important to know where our hope is, where our truth is, because that determines who we will serve, and particularly, whether, how, and to what extent we will serve God, because he will not leave us to serve Him only in the areas of natural truth; He will call us to serve him in reliance on supernatural truth.

Now, no man can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). That is why the issue of choice has ever been before mankind, as it was before the children of Israel in the days of Moses and the days of Joshua, was before the people of the world when Jesus spoke those words of Matthew 6, and is certainly before us today.

The series of last year, on God, Man and Society, showed us that God intended that we live in Godly society, in obedience to Him in everything, including in the government of Society. The foundation of such a Godly society is Godly men. As a result we have been studying for some time Christian Character, which is the definition of Godly men. Without men (and women) of Christian Character, we cannot have and maintain a Godly Society. So, these two series are intimately and causally (not casually) related.

When the people of a society break covenant with God, He will respond. In Deuteronomy 31:16-17, God told Moses it was time for his death, and He said this to Moses, prophetically seeing into the future.

Behold, you will rest with your fathers, and this people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land, where they go to be among them, and they will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them. Then, My anger shall be aroused against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured. And many evils and troubles shall befall them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?’

Deuteronomy 31:16-17

As we are in a season of great change in our society, we must hope for a profound and pervasive return to God, that our people – grafted into the Blood of Abraham by the Blood of Jesus Christ – will realize that many evils and troubles have befallen us and threaten us , and that we are in trouble because “our God is not among us.” If we reject God, He is still available to our repentance, but we cannot, individually or as a society, a nation, play the harlot in idolatry, and expect God’s supernatural deliverance from our fears, our weariness and our discouragement.

Brothers and Sisters, as Psalm 46:4-5, encourage us, “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved.” That River is the River of Life; those waters are living waters. In Revelation 7, there is discussion of those who came out of the great tribulation, and it says, in verse 17, that the Lamb is in the midst of the throne, and will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters! Hallelujah!

Today, II Corinthians 6: 16, “(we) are the temple of the living God”. And through the Person of the Holy Spirit, He will shepherd us and lead us to living fountains of water.

How many know that we need those living fountains for salvation, yes, but also to live in obedience to God, to sustain us in His Lordship, if we will so submit, of our lives? We do need those living fountains of water. But we have to cross our own Red Seas, and our own Jordan Rivers, to live out the purposes and plans for which God created us, in the first place, and to which He has eternally called us. To make those crossings we have to put our feet in places that make no sense in the natural world, we have to take natural risks in reliance on God’s supernatural plan and salvation and Lordship. That is the essence of the faith in which Jesus chose to act, for the Joy set before Him, in His walk to the Cross at Golgotha. Only in that reliance on God and His supernatural provision can we run with endurance the race set out before us, only in that reliance can we overcome the hostility of our fellow sinners, and the weariness and discouragement of our own souls. Only in that reliance, in that shepherding and leading, will we cross our rivers of difficulty and faith-testing, and rest in the New Jerusalem at the River of Life. But, here is what we all overlook: We have the River of Life now, supernaturally, and it is to sustain us in our travels and travails, as we trust God to heap up, and hold back, the mighty earthly waters of adversity and forces against us, so we may step out to obey His call, and to put our feet where He wills that we should. When you are living like that, you are living well in Christian Character. Examine yourself and figure out where you are in your Christian Character, and choose to trust God more and more, that in all things, “Not my will, but Thine”, especially when we come to those river crossings in life where God is calling us to hope in his supernatural truth, or what we really call faith. That, brothers and sisters, is the tale of three rivers.

God bless you+

Christian Character Part 10

Jesus Christ

This is the tenth (sic, ninth) message in our series on Christian Character. It comes to us in God’s magnificent timing on Easter Sunday 2010. Today, we honor and glorify Jesus Christ in the defining process of His character, in which He set His standards for all time for all people. His standards are marked by knowledge of the will of God, by Satan’s deadly opposition to God’s will being accomplished in the life of Jesus Christ, and by Satan’s strategies of deterrence to the accomplishment of God’s will; by Jesus’ human weaknesses, by Jesus’ unwavering commitment to being an instrument of the accomplishment of God’s will, and by the accomplishment of God’ will. In Jesus’ life, His walk from the Last Supper to Gethsemane, to Golgotha, defined His fulfillment of God’s purpose and plan in Jesus’ human life, and revealed His character of making Godly choices at every point along the way, of enduring and persevering, of trusting the Father in Heaven. And what was accomplished through the Christian Character of Jesus Christ is that those – we – who were dead in sin have the promise and hope of forgivcness of our sins, of encouragement to walk out God’s will in our own lives, and of life eternal in the New Jerusalem!

Yes, we are blessed and we know it and we are thankful for it and today we especially celebrate, at what we call Easter, that period after the Passover after which the Cruxificion occurred. Professor Vines, in his study of Biblical words, tells us in Acts 12:4 appears the Greek work “pascha” has been mistranslated in several English versions as “Easter”. He explains that “pascha” is the Greek spelling of the Aramaic word for the Passover, from the Aramaic word “pa-sach”, to pass over, to spare, commemorating God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt, now also commemorating the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ at the Cross.

Just to give you context, New King James reads, however, in Acts 12:4: “So when he (Herod) had arrested him (Peter) to put him (Peter) in prison, and delivered him (Peter) to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover.” The phrase “after Passover” in more accurate translations signifies after the whole festival (the Passover) was at an end. So, Professor Vines explains, that the word “Easter” is not of Christian origin; that it is another form of “Astarte”, one of the titles of the Chaldean goddess known as the queen of heaven. Thus, the festival of Pasch – after the Passover — held by Christians in post-apostolic times was a continuation of the Jewish feast of Passover, but it was not instituted by Christ nor was it connected with Lent. And that brings us to Easter, in which we celebrate not just the anticipation of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ at the Cross, but that it actually happened, Jesus actually came, lived here, and went to the Cross and gave the blood sacrifice that enabled atonement for our sins. We have so much more to celebrate than anticipation; we celebrate accomplishment of God’s purposes in Jesus’ life and all that is available to us in and through the Blood of Christ in our lives.

Today, this Easter, I want to share with you some insights from that fateful weekend of Jesus’ life, insights that God intends will strengthen you and me.

First of all, let us look at Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Luke 22:41: “And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Your will be done.'” Jesus’ knowledge of God’s will for Him was confirmed, in verse 43, when an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him, and then in verse 44 as He accepted that strengthening – even anticipating the agony He would endure – by praying more earnestly and His physical manifestation including sweat appearing like great drops of blood, as His spirit wrestled with his human soul to discipline His body to take the steps set before Him in God’s plan and purpose for His life, and indeed for the lives of all humanity then living and to be birthed!

God does not intend that we would reach all of humanity, in our few human steps but He has intended, and does intend, that we would reach others, and that is vitally important to God’s plans being accomplished – no one left behind, that all men should come to a saving knowledge of the truth which is Jesus Christ.

So, we start in this picture from history by understanding that Jesus knew God’s plan and purpose for His life, and, in Jesus’ flesh, He was resistant to it and fearful of it, but He still chose obedience to God’s will, plan and purpose. That is foundational to Christian Character.

Next, let’s look at Jesus, after the lashings and beatings, bearing His Cross up to Golgotha’s Hill, where (Matthew 27:33) He was crucified. Scripture suggests (Luke 23:26) that Jesus faltered and was unable to bear the Cross by Himself, physically, and so Simon, a man from Cyrene, Africa, was enlisted by the soldiers to help Jesus carry the Cross. What we see here confirms Ruthie’s Scripture and prayer: Proverbs 4:27, “Do not turn to the right or the left; remove your foot from evil”. Jesus kept on going straight up the path of that Hill, even when He faltered, physically, He didn’t quit, He didn’t give up, He didn’t try to run away, He didn’t try to fight the soldiers. He just kept plodding up that hill, carrying that Cross and dragging it along to a certain death that was God’s will for Him.

Look at the context of Proverbs 4:27, back to verse 20, and following: “My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your eyes; keep them in the midst of your heart; for they are life to those who find them, and health to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life. Put away from you a deceitful mouth, and put perverse lips far from you. Let your eyes look straight ahead, and your eyelids look right before you. Ponder the path of your feet, and let all your ways be established, do not turn to the right or the left; remove your foot from evil.” See, Jesus understood the context of that Proverb, that instruction of God’s will and kept it and measured it in His heart with all diligence, putting away the mental deceits the enemy surely brought into Jesus’ mind, and the voices from the crowd, and simply establishing His way by keeping His vision on the path God set before Him, and never deviating to either side. This discipline to obey is foundational to Christian Character, and that discipline to obey is under our control, because it is within our choice realm: As Jesus said, Matthew 20:28, “. . . just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

You would think, if this was happening in our day and age, that one might think, even Jesus in His mind and soul realm, might be led to think, “this is not fair!” God’s will is not always based on fairness – indeed, the whole concept of service, of sacrifice, of obedience, is to disregard concepts of fairness when in conflict with God’s will. But is you are ever so tempted, remember that we have been bought with the blood of Jesus – He saved our lives – and we are obligated to be His bondservants – nothing else – and, through those same choices, that same discipline, we ought to take joy and find peace in that obedience, that service, and whatever sacrifice He calls us to.

Conclusion

In Jesus, as one might expect, we find the greatest exposition of Christian Character that has ever existed. He created and defined Christian Character that night in the Garden of Gethsemane, in the travail of those beatings and lashings, in that painful and fearful walk up to Golgotha’s Hill, in the agony of the Cross. Yet, on the third day He arose, and His obedient service and sufferings raised Him up with a glad heart, a heart of joy as He knew His mission was accomplished, and that God’s will had been done through Him, yes, through Jesus as man, as human, who made decisions through discipline, and that God’s will was accomplished in heaven and on earth. The veil of the temple was now torn from top to bottom, and the sins of mankind, for all time, had been atoned. Hallelejuh!!

As we honor and celebrate the events after that Passover, as we honor Jesus and His Christian Character, let us examine our selves, and our Christian Character. I know you have decisions looming out there in your lives that will define your Christian Character – How will you discipline yourselves to obey God’s will, plan and purpose in your lives? Will you make God’s decisions in your life? Will you, Proverbs 4, give attention to His words and keep them in the midst of your heart; will you keep your heart with all diligence; will you put away a deceitful mouth; will you ponder the path before your feet; will you keep your eyes (and your heart) in focus on God’s will, purpose and plan; will you keep straight to the narrow highway, neither turning to the right or the left?

Many questions, but one answer: God’s will, through Christ, because I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. And to live is Christ, to die is gain (Phillipians 1:21). Hallelujah! Christ is risen!

The Service of Holy Communion

BIBLE FAITH FELLOWSHIP: AN ORDER AND PRACTICE OF HOLY COMMUNION

Holy and gracious Father: In your infinite love you made us for yourself; and, when we had fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death, you, in your mercy, sent Jesus Christ, your only and eternal Son, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all.

He stretched out his arms upon the cross, and offered himself, in obedience to your will, a perfect sacrifice for the whole world. At the following words concerning the bread, the Celebrant is to hold it, or lay a hand upon it; and at the words concerning the cup, to hold or place a hand upon the cup and any other vessel containing wine to be consecrated.

For in the night in which he was betrayed, he took bread; and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take, eat, this is my Body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

Likewise, after supper, he took the cup; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink ye all of this; for this is my Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you, and for many, for the remission of sins. Do this, as oft as ye shall drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Wherefore, O Lord and heavenly Father, according to the institution of your dearly beloved Son our Savior Jesus Christ, we, your humble servants, do celebrate and make here before your divine Majesty, with these your holy gifts, which we now offer to you, the memorial your Son commanded us to make; remembering His blessed passion and precious death, His mighty resurrection and glorious ascension; offering up to You our deepest thanksgiving for the innumerable benefits procured unto us by Your mercy.

And we most humbly ask You, O merciful Father, to hear us; and, by Your almighty goodness, to bless and sanctify, with thy Word and Holy Spirit, these Your gifts of bread and wine; that we, receiving them according to thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion. And here we offer and present unto You, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto You; humbly praying that we, and all others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may worthily receive this most precious remembrance of the Body and Blood of Your Son Jesus Christ, be filled with Your grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with Him, that He may dwell in us, and we in Him.

And although we are unworthy, through our manifold sins, to offer unto You any sacrifice, yet we pray You to accept our offerings and service, not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offenses, through Jesus Christ our Lord;

By whom, and with whom, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, all honor and glory be unto thee, O Father Almighty, world without end. AMEN.

And now, as our Savior Christ hath taught us, we are bold to say this the Prayer that Jesus ordained, People and Celebrant

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

Matthew 6:9-13

SERVICE OF THE MINISTERS

SERVICE OF THE BODY

[The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven. [Amen.]

[The Blood of Christ, the cup of salvation. [Amen.]

After Communion, the Celebrant says, Let us pray.

Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank You that You feed us, in these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ; and assure us thereby of Your favor and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporated in the supernatural body of Your Son, and into the blessed company of all faithful people; and are also heirs, through hope, of Your everlasting kingdom. And we humbly pray You, O heavenly Father, so to assist us with Your grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as You have prepared for us to walk in; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with You and the Holy Ghost, be all honor and glory, world without end. Amen.

Christian Character Part 9

A Prayer for America and God’s People

Lord, we pray in Jesus’ Name, His Holy Name, for America and for God’s people, that You will have mercy on us all.

We live today in a time in Your dialectic of history in which nations conspire against the Godly, when, even in our nation, our leaders conspire against You.  Psalm 2 shows us how You see all this and how You loathe the arrogance of nations, as we know You loathe the arrogance of individual men. Official prayer in school has been declared unconstitutional, and now unofficial prayers and pray-ers are illegal. All across the land, murder of the unborn has been legalized, and by school policies and government policies in the name of “privacy,” parents are prevented notice and decisional control over the reproductive decisions of their children.

The United Nations bullies all nations into Godlessness and other sin and weaknesses. Our Government maliciously would join the United Nations in its manipulations and power grabs.

We cry out to you in hope for your mercy as we consider the fears generated by the pending collapse of the American Experiment: the collapse of democracy, into the coming economic crises of American’s fiscal and monetary policies, the tyranny of socialism in the mask of progressivism, creeping in drip by drip, wave by wave, causing the leveling of our society into one where freedom of assembly is challenged (Arizona and California, last week), where freedom of speech is muzzled (hate speech), where the right of self-defense is given by utopian socialists to international bullies and dictators (Hillary Clinton, Sec. of State, agrees to the UN “Small Arms Treaty”), and the government would claim dominion over our very bodies (Health Care Decisions by the Government), as well as our labor and income, and money and resources (tax policy to redistribute wealth).

This is not the time or place to go into the politics of all of this, but what is noted above are facts of our times, and facts that cause us to cry out, not just as Americans, but as Christians, and say, “Lord, have mercy on us, please, please, have mercy on us.”

We know that our people, Your people here, and all around the world, and even so much as in Israel, your chosen and beloved people into whom we are grafted by the Blood of Christ, have sinned, and do sin, and fall short of Your glory. We all are guilty of self-centeredness and all that it brings (disobedience of You and Your commands, covetousness, idolatry, pride, arrogance, the breakdown of the church as the source, instead of the government, of charity), we are all guilty of traipsing off into our wicked ways, falling into the ditches on the left and right of the narrow, and straight, highway.

Lord, today we know that many of us, many of Your people, have confessed their sins, repented and turned from their wicked ways, and that You have forgiven us and them. Yet, we know that many have not confessed their sins, repented and turned from their wicked ways. We know that many remain double-minded and tainted in their hearts, unstable in all their ways. And Lord, we know that it is that instability, that double-mindedness, has produced not only the fleshly sins of self-centeredness, like adultery and idolatry, but that same instability from double-mindedness has produced spiritual adultery. Many of our people, many of Your people, think that if they merely keep a toe-hold in the Church, if they just nod and bow at the Name of Jesus, their fire insurance for Heaven is assured, and so they can continue to consort with the great Harlot you describe in Revelation 17. This double-mindedness has had two effects on Your people: they are comfortable in their sin, and they have authorized and embraced the government of this land, and the governments of the nations, to be comfortable in national ungodliness and sin. Lord, we know that there is no greater recipe for instability than this.

So, we know that in this time of instability, this time in which tectonic plates are sliding around and causing earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis, that the governmental and spiritual foundations are also being shaken and destroyed. Here is the question: Psalm 11: 3, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” And Psalm 11 (read it) gives us the answer: Be righteous!!!! And He will test us, but uphold us!

Okay, how do we do that? The answer is two-fold: (1) the Blood of Jesus leading to salvation (John 3:16) (Only through Jesus, by God’s Grace, can we receive the forgiveness of God that enables us to be righteous.); and (2) because we, the righteous, have His promises, God’s promises, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit – all forms of adultery, covetousness and pride – and perfect holiness in the fear of God (II Corinthians 7:1). (We need to live in righteousness being restored by God’s Grace, and our hearts striving for purity and holiness; Hebrews 12:23, “. . . the spirits of righteous men made perfect.”)

I look around at Democrats, Republicans, Tea Partiers, Progressives, and all the subdivisions of American politics and I know that I can change nothing on a national level. So, I am not here to talk about politics, but about how we live and cope with the politics of our times.

I am reminded of Alexis de Tocqueville, who wrote, in about 1830, that America was great because it was good, that America was good because it was Christian. He also said that the American Experiment, great as it was, would probably last only a couple of hundred years or so, that it would last only as long as it took for the politicians to figure out that they could get votes by promising payment of taxpayer dollars, public money, to different interest groups and individuals. So, now we have reached a place where in the year since he took our office, our President has not been photographed setting foot in a church, not even on National Prayer Day last year. He had to have his arm twisted and to be talked into allowing a Nativity scene in the White House at “Holiday” or what we call “Christmas”, despite that the White House was full of displays of pagan religions at that time. That is our leadership. Can God use him for God’s purposes? Of course God can use Mr. Obama. God even used Pharaoh, as you remember. We have also, quite obviously reached the place where politicians, from the White House on down, use public money to buy political support in the form of votes and private campaign contributions.

Lord, we and our country are in mess today, and we cry out for your mercy. Please, uphold us, Your righteous all over the world, and please uphold this country, America, in spite of itself, that you given to Your righteous who live here.

We don’t know where our country, our nation, is going, but it doesn’t look good from here. We don’t know the outcome of the political promises of public money leading up to the votes on Mr. Obama’s health care plan today, and we don’t know the outcome of giving away – just printing paper – all this money to businesses that are said to be too big to fail (which started while George W. Bush was President), while small businesses that normally supply about 90% of the jobs in America have been left floundering. We don’t know the outcome of the Government taking control of our bodies through healthcare decision-making, such as cutting Medicare for seniors by half a trillion dollars, and taking even more control over our income (remember 50% of Americans pay no income tax; 40% of Americans pay 10% of the income tax, and 10% of Americans pay 90% of the income tax) and therefore over our labor (again, in effect, over our bodies).

What has really gotten lost in the shuffle of American politics, government and economics, is this: Lord, You are Creator. Not only did you create the earth and the heavens and life itself, but in creating all that, in creating life, you gave people certain inalienable – non-transferable – rights. Lord, forgive our nation, please, forgive America, our nation, that our government, following in the footsteps of Rome, and Russia and China and North Korea, and many other nations, proclaims that rights come from the government, not from You, God, and that therefore our nation, America, has denied You before men; has dishonored and rejected You, the Creator; has corporately, like is said of individuals in II Tim. 3: 2-5, become a lover of itself, of Big Government, a lover of money (because it buys power), a boaster (of what it can do for us that God has not or cannot do), proud, a blasphemer of the Holy Spirit, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, a slanderer of the Truth, with no self-control, brutal, a despiser of Christian goodness, a traitor to You, and the foundations You had established, haughty, a lover of pleasure rather than of You — Yes, our government claiming its own form of godliness, as the source of rights that You gave. But Lord, we know that that our government denies the power of Your Godliness. Still, Lord, we cry out for Your mercy and forgiveness of this nation and its people.

But Lord we know that this American government – just like Rome did to the Jews in Israel and to much of the rest of the then-known world – can actually take control over our bodies and our labor and our money and resources. But Lord we know that the government can only take control of our minds and hearts if we let them do it, and if we do, Lord, then we know we are fully given over to sin, that our double-mindedness will give way to single-minded secularism and sin. And we pray and stand against this slavery of heart and mind with all that we are and have in You.

So, Lord we, Your righteous through the Blood of Christ, know that we are being tested, and so we repent on behalf of America today, we humble ourselves and seek your face, and we, at least, turn from our personal wicked ways and strive to be the fullness of the stature of Christ, living in us, and pray that our fellow Americans and our government will do so, and that you will forgive us, individually and nationally, and heal us and our land.

Lord, we understand that America has been lost to the enemy one family, one heart, one soul, at a time, and it can be rescued only in the same way, one family, one heart, one soul, at a time. So, meanwhile, we ask you to withhold Your wrath promised in Psalm 2, withhold it from America. And we ask you to so fill our hearts, even in these circumstances, with the excitement, the hope, the joy, and the peace, of knowing You, of receiving Your Grace, of living in and with the power of the Holy Spirit, that we continue to spread the Gospel of the Good News of Jesus, preaching it in season and out of season, all across this land, like Jesus did (Luke 8), going to “every city and village” to share Your Truth, Jesus. Lord, please forgive us that we haven’t done it yet, but show us how to do it. Show us, Lord, how to be Your hands and feet and mouths, but most especially how to have the mind and heart of Christ, without double-mindedness and instability, as we stand against the forces of darkness in the earth and its nations, including our own.

God, please show us what all we are to do, other than to go on just eating, and drinking, and marrying and giving in marriage (like before the Flood). And, then, Father God, when we have done all we can do, we pray for your strength that we can, and will, and do, stand in faith, still crying out to You. It is You who laughs at the raging conspiracies against you by the nations of the earth, You who hold them in derision, You who shall speak to them in Your wrath, You who shall break them with Your rod of iron, You who shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel. It is You Who says, Haggai 2: 6-9, “For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all nations and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,’ says the Lord of hosts. (And by the way) The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine, says the Lord of hosts.”

So, God, today, we seek Your instruction, Your wisdom, Your prophecy, Your blessings, as we seek to trust You and to serve You with fear, even as we rejoice with trembling, knowing that the shaking of all nations and of the desires of all the nations, is coming in Your divine power and in Your divine timing and in Your divine perfection.

This is our Prayer today, in Jesus’ Name, a prayer for our nation and for us, a part of Your chosen people. Amen.

Christian Character Part 8

Not Ashamed of the Gospel of Christ

The title of the message comes from Romans 1:16, another true measure of Christian Character is whether or not we are ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let’s read Paul’s words, beginning in Verse 15, “So, as much as it is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith : as it is written (Hab. 2:4), ‘The just shall live by faith.'”

Let’s break this passage into its moving parts: (i) “as much as it is in me”; (ii) ready to preach the gospel; (iii) not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; (iv) the gospel of Christ is the power of God to salvation for he who believes, and in it the righteousness of God is revealed , bringing forth lives of faith and justice. What more could you ask for?

The first question is what is the gospel of Christ? Professor Vines, in his Expository Dictionary, gives us the Greek word “EUANGELION” for gospel. In English, we translate this word to gospel, meaning “good news”, as the equivalent of “EUANGELION”. In the New Testament, it denotes the good news of the Kingdom of God and of salvation through Jesus Christ, to be received by faith. Thus, according to Professor Vines, an evangelist is a messenger of good news, a preacher or missionary of the Gospel of Christ. As we just read in Romans 1, Paul explained this Gospel of Christ as being the power of God to salvation for those who believe, as being the place in which the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. Implicitly, Paul is here acknowledging that Jesus Christ is the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), as we who believe go and live “from faith to faith”.

Now, the first part of our focal passage, Romans 1:16, says, “as much as it (the gospel of Christ) is in me”: How does the gospel of Christ get into you: Paul has an explanation of this too: First, in his case, he had a special revelation from Jesus Christ himself, who put that gospel into Paul (Acts, Chapter 9, and elsewhere). But, also, in Romans 1, Paul wants us to know that God is visible to us, all around us, in the created world: Romans 1: 20, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.” The proof of the truth of God is all around us, but many refuse to believe it, (verse 22), refuse to let that good news get into them, professing to be wise but becoming fools. In addition, the Holy Spirit (John 16:1I Corinthians 12: 7-11 ) provides us with guidance in the way of all truth, conviction in regards to sin, righteousness and judgment, as well as words of knowledge, wisdom, prophecy, etc.)

All this brings us to the Great Commission, Matthew 28: 19-20, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you. . . .” This passage, this call to “Go” is a call to evangelize, to preach, a call to discipleship and teaching for the purpose of bringing the power of God to salvation to those who professed to be wise, but had become, or were becoming, fools, because they do not recognize or glorify God, nor are they thankful to Him and for Him. In other words, the people that don’t get it, that don’t get the Gospel of Christ, by direct revelation from Jesus (like Paul), nor from the creation around them, are only going to get it by evangelism, and that requires two things: readiness to preach the Gospel, and not to be ashamed of the Gospel and its preaching.

So, how do we get ready to preach? In Acts 9, Paul was ready to preach within a few days of his personal, transforming experience with Jesus on the road to Damascus. In Acts 9: 9, 19 and 20, we get the timeline: Jesus confronted and blinded Paul and he was three days without sight; then, he spent some days in Damascus with the disciples he had come, and them there is this great word for a timeline, verse 20, “Immediately, he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.” That was pretty quick; he preached what he knew and what he had experienced and that was enough to share the Gospel of Christ, and he was ready and not ashamed.

Paul explained this issue of readiness in two other places for us: in II Corinthians 3: 6, he explains that God has made us “sufficient as ministers of the new covenant” and in II Timothy 4:2, he says, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” So, how do you get ready: First, you know Jesus Christ, and Him crucified; second you know what that means to you (forgiveness, salvation and eternal life); third, you embark on a life of obedience and repentance in all humility; fourth, start preaching without shame; fifth, continue to learn as much of God’s word as you can. That’s it!

Now, we finally come to the meat of the matter for today: shame. Why is that such a big deal? It is because it is that one human frailty, shame, which keeps us from being fully obedient to God, from following His commands, including the commandments of Jesus, to evangelize to spread the Gospel. Shame comes from a fear of lack of ability, or from a fear of offending someone or breaking some law, or from fear of suffering and/or dying as Christ and so many others, including Paul, did. That’s it, so we have to overcome shame. Paul did it – once he met Jesus as Savior and Lord of his life, he never looked back and was never ashamed.

On the other hand, we can learn from the lesson of the dear Apostle Peter, after the Crucifixion: At first he was ashamed to preach the Gospel of Christ, even to acknowledge that he was acquainted with Jesus. In all four of the Gospels is recorded the story of Peter denying Christ three times before morning when the rooster crowed. Those denials were from shame, and we can understand, because we are under those same pressures, those same fears of unreadiness, of embarrassment, of reprisal and consequences of pain, suffering and death.

We usually find that the fundamental expression of our fears that stops us from obedience is found in nervousness. When we are nervous, we know that we know that we have gotten out of our comfort zone, or that we are being called out of it, and guess what, our flesh does not want to go, does not want to get out of comfort. It is because we are trained to be prudent, to avoid risk, and to stay comfort. Although I don’t think it takes a lot of training to prefer to stay comfortable. On a camping trip we like to rough it, but we also like comforts of home, so we try to pick the right season to go – not too hot, not too cold, not too wet, not too dry: a dry shelter, a warm sleeping bag, a fire, good food, nice weather, freedom from mosquitos and gnats, and from snakes and bears, and even from two-legged villains, as well. Yeah, we like those comforts, and we can often obtain them, because we manage the risks with equipment and planning, leaving as little left over for God to manage as we can.

Yet, the call on our lives is to preach the Gospel, in season and out of season (i.e., all the time), and for this we must let God manage all of the risks, being prudent as and when the Holy Spirit dictates, but otherwise throwing all risk-management on God, because we are merely His bondservants, bid to do His calling, when, where and how He calls. So, in His calling, we give up risk-management and in faith, trust God to use us so that, in Heaven and on Earth, His will – not ours – shall be done, by us and through us as He directs.

But we know, now, to be of good cheer, no matter what the circumstances, no matter what the challenges and opportunities, no matter what He directs and calls us to, no matter what risks we see, because we who are saved do know the Gospel of Christ, and we are ready to preach it, and all we need is the faith to have the will to preach it, to share it with the person next to us that we don’t know, with our friend or family member who resists. Each of us has been given that measure of faith (Romans 12:3) and it is sufficient for all of God’s purposes in us. That readiness, that faith and its sufficiency, that commitment to be obedient to God and His call to evangelize, to share the good news of Christ, all the days of our lives, are the things that empower us to break through the barrier of shame, of being ashamed.

As always in matters of Christian Character, we have choices to make. We can choose to be like Peter the night after Jesus’ crucifixion, or like Paul after his conversion. God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, our failures, our shortcomings, when we confess we gave in to shame over the Gospel, when we let our nervousness control us instead of our faith. Like Peter, we can pick up the pieces, pick up our cross again, and follow Jesus through death because that is the road to life, to eternal life. Remember, It does not matter what happens in consequence of our obedience, just that we obey, for as Paul said, “I die daily.” (I Corinthians 15: 31) and “For to live is Christ, to die is gain!” (Philippians 1: 21). In such a life is a life well –lived, well-spent, one not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, the power of God to salvation for all who believe. Don’t’ be bashful; help out your neighbor today – share the Gospel of Christ, without shame.

God bless you+

Christian Character Part 7

Be of Good Cheer

Be of Good Cheer!! Even though the Swine Flu H1N1 has backed way off its epidemic threats, the times and seasons around us are no less tough this week than last week: earthquakes, tsunamis, wars and rumors of wars, financial and economic weakness, marriages and families under stress, illness and aging, deception and dishonesty and distrust.

There is a whole lot going on to shrink our courage in fear, immobilize us in uncertainty, fill us with doubt and dismantle our faith. Satan has a plan and so does God. Our mettle is being tested, the depth of our faith is being measured, the reality of our love of God is being seasoned.

We are salt and light. We understand the light of Christ, and the fact that darkness is defined by light, but do we understand salt? What happens when something is seasoned, especially with salt? Two things: taste changes and that something is preserved. Scripture challenges us to ask ourselves whether we have lost our saltiness (Mark 9:50), and so we must ask whether we the light of Christ is growing dim in us, whether the light of Christ is stagnant and not growing brighter in us. These are self-examination questions. Scripture admonishes us to examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5) as to whether we are in the faith, whether Jesus Christ is us.

Despite the ominous command of EXAMINE YOURSELVES and TEST YOURSELVES, from 2 Corinthians 13:5, we have reasons not to fear our circumstances, not to fear the natural disasters ever present in our world, not to fear the temptations of the flesh nor the deceptions and attacks of Satan. We have reason to be of good cheer.

Listen to what Jesus told the paralyzed man brought to Jesus in His own city of Nazareth (Matthew 9:1-2): “So He got into a boat, crossed over and came to His own city. Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith ” (not necessarily just the paralyzed man’s faith), “He said to the paralytic, ‘Son, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven.'”

There you have the foundation of our attitude towards the troubles of life: we can be and are called to be of good cheer. Our sins are forgiven, and though we have not escaped the temptations and attacks of Satan, and we have not yet escaped the confines of earth with its persistent natural disasters, we have gained forgiveness of sin, through Christ, and we have the assurance of eternal life in Heaven with Christ, God, the Holy Spirit and all the saints and heavenly hosts! Hallelujah!!

But then, Jesus explains that we have another reason to be of good cheer. Matthew 14, after the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand from only five loaves and two fish, Jesus made His disciples get into a boat to cross a large body of water. Let’s read, beginning at verse 21, through verse 32. In verse 27, in response to the fear that gripped the disciples, Jesus said, in the midst of the disciples’ fear, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” And Jesus accepted Peter’s test in verse 28, and commanded Peter to come to Jesus, to walk on the water. How did that work for Peter? Well, you know Peter had just seen and been a part of the miracle of feeding all those five thousand people, so you would think Peter would believe anything Jesus said. And so, this walking on the water at Jesus’ command, worked well for Peter as long as he focused on Jesus. But when Peter focused on the circumstances of boisterous seas, under and all around him, he saw that there was a whole lot going on around him that threatened his life. What was happening to Peter’s faith? He feared and the fear shrank his courage, as he realized the physical limits of his ability to survive in that circumstance. But here is what differentiates Peter, in that situation, from some many, and so many Christians, in difficult situations: Peter knew that Jesus was with him and Peter called out for Jesus to save him. So, in his fear, yes, Peter was immobilized in uncertainty, he was filled with doubt, and the circumstances challenged his faith. But these circumstances did not dismantle his faith: he knew Jesus was with him, and he knew that Jesus could hear him, and Peter had enough left faith left to call out to Jesus to save him, and Jesus did save him. And this became a teachable moment for Peter, because, even as Jesus grasped Peter’s hand (verse 31), Jesus brought a teaching correction into Peter’s life, yet again: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt”. [Seque: as you mature in the Lord, you will learn that God/Jesus/Holy Spirit do not usually speak to us with accusations about our sin, but with questions that engage us in an introspection and a responsive dialogue with them. Satan usually confines himself to accusations of our unworthiness about our sin, which he lead us into!] Peter asked for this test. Not many of us really ask to be tested, but Peter did. And so, Peter’s mettle was tested, the depth of his faith was measured. But here is what really happened: Peter chose to get beyond his comfort zone, to get out of the boat, and to try to rely on Jesus, and when he reached the end of himself he called out again to Jesus and found Jesus there, ready to save, and ready to teach. Peter’s faith was stretched all out of proportion. In Mary’s word shared with us in the Ministry of the Holy Spirit+ today, she described athletic conditioning, and we can analogize that to “spiritual conditioning” That stretching of faith is like physical exercise: Peter went to the point of “muscle fatigue” in his faith, to the point where he doubted and therefore feared and at the end of his muscles, of his faith, he found out, again, that Jesus answered the call for help. So his faith muscles were strengthened against weakness, and he was preserved for another day when he could and would extend further in his faith. Thus, the reality of Peter’s love of God, through Christ, was seasoned, and (because we love God by obedience to his commands (2 John 6), Peter would in the future be able to be more obedient than merely, or even, walking on water!! Peter had reason to be of good cheer, just like Jesus said to comfort the disciples that it was no ghost walking upon the sea, but just their friend, Jesus, doing one of His normal supernatural things!

Even though Peter’s faith was measured and seasoned by his experience on the sea, that experience of walking on the water was not unlike that of Daniel and his friends walking in the fire pit that killed the soldiers who put them in it (Daniel 3: 25, “‘Look!’ he (King Nebuchadnezzar) answered (his counselors), ‘I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is that of the Son of God.'”

Mark 9:49, just before verse 50 (about salt), says this, “For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt.” And verse 50 goes on and says, “Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor (its saltiness, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves and have peace with one another.”

These experiences in life, the ones like Peter that we asked for, and the ones like Daniel that we don’t exactly ask for, these experiences that extend and test our faith, are experiences of fire (like Will Barnes led us to today, in the Ministry of the Holy Spirit+, in Psalm 29: 7, for God divided the fire around Daniel and his friends, and God/Jesus overcame the laws of physics to allow Peter to walk on the water. These experiences of fire are what season us and increase the flavor of the salt in us, and that is good!

Now, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, in Matthew 5:1-11, gives the Beatitudes, and their explanation (Read them), and then gives us an encourage, and it is an encouragement to be of good cheer, verses 12-16: “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Paul received from Jesus Himself this encouragement to be of good cheer. There is the passage in Acts 23, when Paul was in custody of the Roman soldiers and was in debate with the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the debate produced what verse 9 calls a “loud outcry”, so much so says that (verse 12) the Jews wanted to kill Paul immediately, and here we find that the commander of the soldiers, fearing what he called a “great dissension”, took action. Verses 10-11, “Now when there arose a great dissension, the commander, fearing lest Paul might be pulled to pieces by them (the Jews), commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them, and bring him into the barracks (not the jail, as such). But the following night the Lord stood by (Paul) and said, ‘Be of good cheer, Paul, for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.'”

At the Last Supper (John 13-17), after Judas, the traitor, had left, Jesus poured out His heart, and His final encouragements and admonitions to His disciples. In response His disciples said this, John 16: 29-30, “His disciples said to Him, ‘See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech! Now we are sure that You know all things and have no need that anyone should question You. By this we believe that You came from God.'” And in verses 31-33, Jesus answered them with these words of encouragement, words we need if we have the faith of the apostles, in the generation and season for which we were created and in which we live: “Jesus answered them, ‘Do you now believe? Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

In a world of tribulations of all sorts – sin, flesh, natural disaster – Jesus offers us reason to be of good cheer: faith without fear, forgiveness of sin, eternal life, resurrection bodies, constant teaching, peace, and per Mark 9:50, salt to season and preserve us, and to share in our good works with others, and peace to have with everyone.

Examine yourselves, and if you are lacking in any of these, then, like Peter, ask God to command you out of your comfort zone, let God take you to the point of the spiritual – and maybe the physical – limit of muscle fatigue, faith fatigue. Thus, like Jesus, Luke 2:52, you will grow in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

So, no matter what, be of good cheer!!

Christian Character Part 6

Hypocrisy and Judgmentalism

In this series of studies on Christian Character, we need to realize that we have looked at a number of issues, but we have not really focused yet on the foundational concept that what defines Christian Character is the commitment one makes, in humility, repentance and love, to live out the admonition of Jesus to the woman accused of adultery, “Go and sin no more.” But whenever we are making a foundation for something, we have to dig out the trash, dig out the unstable, to get down to hard compaction, to enough density, that we can place our foundation there.

So many Christians have a great deal of trouble with this process, the process of dealing with the artifacts of sin in their lives: the memories of the sins of themselves and of others, the trigger points, the flash points, the woundings and scarrings in themselves and others. And so many Christians can’t get over those things, those chapters of history in their lives, those things that give psychologists and psychiatrists and counselors a job.

When we have a flesh wound, it hurts, it bleeds, it itches as it heals, but even as a young child, we learn that once the wound is cleaned out, and the antibiotic ointment placed, and the bandage pressed in place over the wound, we are okay and our wound will soon be a thing of the past. Young children usually lose their tears as the bandage is removed from its sanitary wrapper, and the backing removed, and the adhesive surfaces of the bandage are pressed into place.

It is not always so, however, with the residue of sin. The country singer of our generation, Randy Travis, in his deep voice, sings with much melancholy the song about “Digging Up Bones”. What he describes is a person who is unable to deal with the losses and woundings and scarrings of the past, a person who keeps the present fully occupied with the pains of the past, a person who can’t leave those old bones buried and done with, but who must take them out and rage and cry over them, a person whose life can’t get to its future because it is a life lived in the person’s past.

In the evolution to maturity of our Christian Character, we must overcome our past or we will stop evolving to maturity. When we stop that evolving, we are stuck in the mud, digging up bones that need to stay buried, and so we stop moving forward in and with our lives. Then we miss out on something vitally important to our fulfillment in life, that which we are encouraged in Ephesians 4:13-15, “. . . til we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and from and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ– . . . .”

The defining essence of the Christian is love of God and of neighbor, as required by the Great Commandment. Without forgiveness there is no human love, and without God we cannot even learn what forgiveness is. Let’s analyze this a bit: we are all imperfect: it takes little living in life to know that because we usually first figure that out about ourselves, and rather quickly we figure that out about those who are role models, usually those in our very family! And, in a Christian family, we learn that our family is trying to teach us by word and example about Christ, to introduce us to him that we might make Christ our real role model. But what so often gets lost in the translation is that we decide that our difficulties in emulating Christ, in following him as our role model, are because are human role models are hypocrites, not perfect in all their past or present, and certainly, therefore, not likely to be perfect in all their future. And when we see that sin of the past, even that sin of the present, we are tempted by the deceiver to hold our human role models in contempt, to judge them as unworthy, as failures, and then not to forgive them. The conclusion so often reached is that those human role models are unloveable, once we have discovered their clay feet.

We see that conclusion so often reached in the fall from favor of public figures, of politicians, of athletes, of the Jim Bakers, and the Jimmy Swaggarts, of ordinary mothers and fathers, and brothers and sisters all across the land.

If you get stuck in this place, your progression to Christian Character, to the fullness of Christ, to maturity in Christ, is just that, it is stuck, and stuck in the mud, and may even be going backwards if you are not soon rescued from it.

If you are in that place, if there is anyone in your life against whom you hold any grudge, any speck of unforgiveness, anyone from whom you have chosen to withhold love because of how they treated you, or treated someone else you love, or treated God, then today is a day for you to dig out of the mud, to dig out of the ditch and move on with Christ at the center of your life, from glory to glory! Hallelujah, today is the day for you!

In Matthew 7: 1-5, we are admonished to examine our own state of perfection, our own state of sinlessness or sinfulness, applying the measure of Christ to evaluate our personal maturity. This passage reads, as Jesus explains to us, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

What Jesus is telling us that whenever we judge the hypocirisy in another’s life, we are judging ourselves to be the same, also a hypocrite, unless we have removed the plank from our own eye. Jesus is saying that we should not condemn our brother before we have measured ourselves against the fullness of Christ, and found ourselves perfect, complete and mature. Then, the underlying message in this passage is that we will see our brother, the one (all of them) with the speck in his eye, differently than when we had a plank in our own eye: when – if (a huge “if”) we ever get the planks out of our own eyes, then we will truly see our brother as Christ seems him: not willing to condemn our brother in judgment for his hypocrisy, but loving our brother enough, even in his sin, to die for him that his sins might be forgiven. That is how much God loves us, and how much Jesus loves us, and how obedient Jesus was — to die for us. It was in that act, in that process, that God’s grace was extended to us even though in his omniscience, he know of our specks and planks and loved us enough anyway to die for us and to forgive us. We are called to do nothing less for our brothers and sisters, our fathers and mothers, and our other imperfect human role models. This calling is the true measure of our maturity in Christ, the calling to love each other in spite of themselves and in spite of ourselves. And how we measure up to this calling, in our actual lives, is a measure of whether we will continue in our sin of not loving others in spite of themselves and in spite of ourselves, and that is how we can get out of the trap of Romans 6:1-2.

But here is the problem: most of us can’t dig the trash out of our own lives and bury it at the Cross, completely enough to get all those planks out of our own eyes, and so we remain conflicted with all those we love, with all those who have tried to be our human role models, and in that conflict we wallow in a pollution of love, a love where forgiveness is incompletes and where, as a result, love is incomplete.

Now, do you see why Dr. Dobson’s research shows that Christian families are about as likely as non-Christian families to suffer divorce. Divorce is devastating in all aspects of family, of human life: emotional, financial, spiritual and even in physical health. So why wouldn’t Christians do better in our marriages and families? It is because we won’t let go of the old bones of sin and hurt, the old bones of hypocrisy we see in our loved ones, and so our anger rages, and the grass looks so much greener on the other side of someone else’s fence, and the eyes wander to evil things, even as the heart beats in bitter un-forgiveness and broken love. How do I know this? I know it, as many of you know, because in my immaturity in Christ, I was there, I have been through that, and suffered others to go through that, and I have received God’s forgiveness and thus been empowered to move on with His calling on my life. David took Uriah’s wife and killed Urriah so he could keep Bathsheba, and, then in repentance, David received God’s forgiveness and moved on with God’s calling on his life. However, in my case, and in David’s case, indeed in all cases of sin, there are consequences and impacts, personally and generationally that still have to be dealt with. In God and Christ you will learn and be empowered to deal with sin, and sin repented, and sin forgiven, and not live your lives stuck in the sin of the past, but, in spite of yourself, moving on with God’s calling on your life.

Now, for sure, there is a place where God allows divorce in marriage, and that is for cause of adultery (Matthew 5:32) just as there is a place where He, with great regret, allows people, in free will, to be separated from Him in spiritual adultery (Rev. 2:22). God knows well that love is based on free will, on choices made, and He honors choices of fidelity and rejects choices of infidelity.

So, what do we do about this, what do we do about ourselves and our brothers and sisters? God’s instruction is for us not to let our brother’s sin (his speck in the eye) be an obstacle to our repentance (our plank in the eye). There is only one way to avoid making hypocrites of our selves as we judge others to be, or to have been, hypocrites: that is to see others as God and Christ see us, in grace extended in unmerited favor. Small wonder that C.S. Lewis always said, when asked how he was doing, how things were going for him, in honest humility, “better than I deserve.” God, in Christ, applies grace to our lives, and when we accept Christ, God is willing to apply all of his strength, all of his knowledge, all of his presence, all of his love to his call on our lives and to our perfection in Christ. We are called to do no less with our human loved ones, indeed to humans God calls us to in ministry. God does not plan for us to live in arrogance and pride, but in humility, not in the assurance of our personal greatness or talents or goodness, but in the assurance of His love for us, not in the hope and record of our own success, but in the knowledge of our own failure, our own failures, our own planks, not in judgment of others, but with the grace and compassion of God and Christ given to others, not as a hypocrite viewing the hypocrisy of others, but as a sinner viewing the sin of others, in love, with the hope of forgiveness and salvation, with the hope of the development in us and our loved ones, and others – even our enemies – of maturity (completion, perfection) to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Figuring all this out, and adopting it into how we live is a major marker of growth of our Christian Character: it is the marker that empowers us in humility and love to live outside of, and beyond, the anger, the rage, the confusion, the fear, the distrust, of the sins in our past, those sins of our own and those of which we were victims. Everyone has a past, none are perfect. Everyone has been harmed in their past, even – maybe even especially – by loved ones, human role models who failed. For your own sake, for the sake of God’s love of you, of Christ’s death for you, forgive yourselves for the sins of your past, forgive those who you think have hurt you in their own sins, and in humility keep those planks coming out of your own eyes, forgiving others instead of judging them for faults, sins, that you share with them.

God is good and gracious and His mercy is eternal. Jesus made it freely available to you. Take, eat and drink, it is the Bread of Heaven and the Cup of Salvation! Love others, and yourselves, as Christ loves you!!

Christian Character Part 5

Marriage (Valentine’s Day)

Yes, today is Valentine’s Day. A day to celebrate love, especially the love we share in marriage, and so today, at the risk of some meddling, I am led to share with you about marriage. And while Valentine’s Day is a good day to celebrate marriage and family, it is also a good day to study marriage and family and see how to make them stronger and stronger. Marriage is strengthened by the yieldedness of both spouses to the Cross of Christ, but also by the principles of Cross-sowing and Cross-reaping.

God gives us the principles of marriage, and puts them in context, in Genesis 1: 26-28; Genesis 2; 7-8, 18, 21-25; Genesis 3: 12-18:

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps in the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created them male and female He created them. … 

“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. The Lord God planted (principle of sowing and reaping) a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man He had formed. … 

“And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper companion to him.… 

“And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. And Adam said, ‘this is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called Woman because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.… 

“Then the man said, ‘The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.’ And the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’ So the Lord God said to the serpent: ‘Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field, on your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life, and I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.’ To the woman He said: I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children; your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.’ And to Adam He said, ‘Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’; Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life, both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field, in the sweat of your face you shall eat bread til you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken, for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.'”

Thus we are now charged with knowledge of the Scriptural history, foundations, and operating principles of marriage, and these operating principles of marriage are the following:

  1. Man was created in God’s image, the image of the Trinity, and for God’s purposes.
  2. And God knew man’s loneliness, and so created Eve from Adam’s rib, and presented him to Adam in the first marriage we have recorded: Man and Wife.
  3. And we know that God ordained that in marriage priorities changed from those of child to natural parents, to those of husband and wife.
  4. And we know that God ordained marriage as the vehicle for procreation, for making more people to populate the earth, to replace those dying and to increase those here.
  5. And with the fall, we see that God ordained the work and pain and warfare consequences of that original sin, and explained them in part as a life of hard work, and with women to be submitted to their husbands.

In this passage from Genesis, we discern several important things about how marriage should be formed and how it needs to operate:

  1. Let God choose your spouse for you (the odds of God making a mistake are considerably less than the odds of you making mistakes).
  2. It takes maturity to sustain a marriage, but not to start one, because you have to grown up, be grown up enough, to stand away from your parents emotionally, in provision of food and other material essentials of life, and in the commitment of love. A three year-old should not marry in part because a toddler cannot meet its own needs, and must await sufficient maturity. Immaturity is selfishness, not service. It is “I want, I want; Mine, mine, mine.”
  3. Intimacy with one’s spouse fills up that emptiness that is the result of loneliness; the intimacy that overcomes loneliness by definition promotes fidelity, which stabilizes marriages and the future of children and grandchildren. Hiddenness of honesty (which is a polite reference to dishonesty) and hiddenness of pure, deep communications prevents intimacy, without which trust is never fully built or is weakened and, from time to time, destroyed.
  4. Marriage is the intended source and home for children, so that they may be trained up in the way they should go.
  5. Marriage requires a work ethic, a serious one!
  6. Marriage, to be most effective, requires Christian Character, with the planting of the seeds of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and the harvesting of the fruit of those seeds planted by one spouse, each in the other, and in their children and grandchildren.

In our culture, like all those past us, people are busy working, eating, drinking, making merry, marrying and giving in marriage. And we say, “What is the problem?” The problem is that marriage and the family is under such great attack. Statistically, according to Jim Dobson’s Focus on the Family, the divorce rate among Christians is about the same as among non-Christians in America. That is one effective measure of how well Christian marriages are not doing, and a measure of the failure of the church to teach of the church and the family in holding loved ones accountable in their marriages.

There are only three things that really threaten a marriage: Satan, the flesh of the man and the flesh of the woman. Satan uses our flesh, in marriage, as in everything else, to tempt us to violate the Ten Commandments, and every other structure of obedience God has ordained for our lives. That disobedience is sin, and creates more sin. And sin is the cancer of life, spiritually and emotionally, and is the cancer that attacks marriage. At the root of almost every divorce is some combination of too much me and not enough you, too much Satan and not enough God, and the resulting destruction of intimacy, honesty and commitment.

In marriage, there is the Godly principle of agriculture, of sowing and reaping: A farmer keeps on planting his crops year after year, because the fruit of those plantings brings forth a harvest of nourishing fruit, and few farmers prefer starvation, but rather prefer nourishment. And so with marriage, the more we sow, the more we reap, in both earthly and heavenly treasure, though not measured in money or stocks or land or gold. In marriage, as Sripture says, it is more blessed to give than to receive, but it is also blessed to receive that nourishment from your spouse!

I think the most insightful thing in the Genesis passage about marriage is the revelation of the future of spiritual warfare, and its direct impact on families: Genesis 3: 15 (God speaking to the Serpent): “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed” (referring to her lineage through Jesus the man); “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” We don’t get through life without dealing with Satan, and no marriage gets through live without spiritual warfare with Satan either. In fact, in areas where a spouse is weak in some aspect of spiritual warfare, some area of sin or temptation to sin, the marriage is weakened in that aspect and intimacy is impaired. Whenever intimacy is impaired, loneliness is increased, and infidelity abounds in a sinful and futile attempt to overcome loneliness.

So, to strengthen marriage, we, as husbands and wives, need to strengthen personal Christian Character, need to walk about fully protected in the armor of God, and we need to use our defensive shield of faith, and the offensive weapon of the Sword of the Spirit, til we have done all we can do, and then we need to stand in faith, trusting God, beseeching Him in prayer, praying in the Spirit that God’s perfect will be accomplished. The battle in each spouse, each child, each marriage is all the Lord’s.

There can be, like the song says, seasons in a marriage, even rarely whole marriages, where “it is Summer time and the living is easy,” but that is not the normal, and I figure you can handle that pretty well. Where you need help and guidance is when the living together ain’t so easy, and for you who are unmarried, you need to know how to handle the rough times, the times when it may seem your spouse is part of the problem instead of being part of the solution.

Sometimes, a spouse is in a difficult place in his or her personal walk with the Lord Jesus, maybe in a season of questioning the foundations of faith, maybe in dealing with unresolved generational curses or stubborn strongholds of sin, embarrassment of sin, maybe in withholding honesty; maybe in fighting addictions, maybe even in a season of offense-taking and un-forgiveness. These are the most difficult times in which to continue to plant the seeds of love, the seeds of the fruit of the Holy Spirit+.

But like the farmer who continues to sow, to plant, to weed, to water, to nourish, so it is in a Christian marriage: it takes Christian Character to walk out the hard times, to sow, to plant, to weed, to water, to nourish. And it takes patience: when the soil is bad, the growing is slower. And it takes intercession, and it takes a full administration of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, in favor of the spouse who is in a rocky place, while the Holy Spirit battles for the Lord’s victory over sin.

But the burden is not just on the one spouse to pour into the life of the spouse in a rocky or mean or dangerous space. God is insistent that even the spouse in a difficult place must bear up against the temptation to sin, must continue to sow, weed, water, nuture the seeds of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in the other spouse. Weaknesses, trials, temptations, addictions, confusions, double-mindedness – all may explain, but none really confuse: We have this insight into God’s view, from Malachi 2: 13-16, “And this is the second thing” (after spiritual adultery, Malachi 2: 10-12) “you do: You cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and crying; So He does not regard the offering anymore, nor receive it with goodwill from your hands. Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’ Because the Lord has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks Godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. For the Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one’s garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. Therefore take heed of your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”

Conclusion: On this Valentine’s Day, take heed that you do not deal treacherously with your spouse. Invest (that is what “Cross-sowing is) the fruit of the Holy Spirit in your spouse at all times, in all circumstances, do what you can do, and fight for your marriage, your children, your family, for obedience to God and for the keeping of the covenant of marriage. Keep yourself in repentance at the foot of the Cross of Christ, and continue to Cross-sow into your spouse, so you may Cross-reap the fruit of your Cross-sowing and your marriage strengthened and strengthened and strengthened!! If you are not married, take heed, and wise counsel, and be prepared for the day of marriage, should God present you a spouse, that your eyes will be wide open, and so will your heart, not to deal treacherously with each other, but to deal graciously with each other, in love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-discipline! (Galations 5: 22-23) By this, they will know that we are His, because we love one another, and we together can resist the enemy’s attack on Christian marriages and families!

Christian Character Part 4

Serving God and Others

At a wedding we attended yesterday, we were struck by the gravity of the minister’s admonition to the couple: “Your happiness will be found in your spouse’s well-being.” The quest for marriage, and the right marriage partner is often defined in the question of who makes me happy. This admonition challenged that definition, by, instead, asking the question, “Who can you make happy?” This admonition challenges and encourages all of us, and will challenge and encourage this fine couple, to live lives of love, which is measured by service, starting in the home.

I am very particular about the use of the words and concepts of happiness and joy. Our popular culture would have us think that these two words really mean the same thing, but they don’t. Popular culture has long taught, in an ungodly manner, that parents should want their children to be happy, to do whatever makes them happy. This popular cultural mantra would legitimate a life of self-indulgence, a life without responsibility, a life without service, a life without love, a life without Christian Character.

The English word, “happiness” appears far more sparingly in Scripture than does the English word, “joy.” In Professor Vine’s Expository Dictionary, he helps us with the translations: In the New Testament, the Greek word for happy is makarios, an adjective, and in the Greek it signifies “blessed” and in the verb form, makarizo, it signifies “to call blessed”. On the other hand, a different Greek word, chara or (in its verb form, chairo) is the word we translate as joy, wherein it is understood to connote exultation, in contrast with weeping and sorrow, to signify the circumstances attending co-operation in the authority of the Lord Jesus and His work.

I take from this word study, that being blessed, being made happy, is what may happen to us; on the big other hand, joy is our response to what happens to us. Hence, neither Romans 5 nor James 1 tell us to be “happy” in our troubles and trials and tribulations, but rather to “take” joy. Taking joy takes, if you will pardon the pun, a little work, and sometimes a lot of work: it is the labor of co-operation in the authority of our Lord and His work.

The Gospel of John speaks clearly from God about the source of joy: John 15: 9-11, “As the father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

When we abide in our Lord, we are co-operating in the authority of the Lord Jesus and His work, and it is that circumstance of co-operation, an act of taking our place with Jesus, in His work, and in His sufferings, that produces our joy.

In the application of this to marriage, and family, we find our joy in serving, as Christ served. Ephesians 5: 25, 28, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her. . . . so Husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.”

This passage also speaks of the respect of a wife for her husband. Professor Vine explains to us that the Greek word, Apoblepo, means to “look away from all else but one object”. And of course, so should a husband confine the object of his gaze.

As is so clear, our harvest fields begin at home, and it is there where we are first called in Christ to serve. In I Timothy 3: 1-13 and in Titus 1: 5-9, the qualifications of leadership in the church include knowing how to rule one’s own house, setting into place the credentials of service and its always accompanying humility and selflessness.

Paul described himself as a bondservant of Christ (Romans 1: 1), and Jesus Himself said He came as our servant, Matthew 20: 26-28, “. . . but whoever desires to be great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you let him be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

In II Corinthians 11; 23-30, Paul gave us a summary of the sufferings of Christ in which he shared, because of His love for Christ, his abiding in Christ, and in Romans 5, Paul told us to glory in those tribulations, which is to rejoice in them, or to take and re-take joy in them! Paul knew and learned that joy is not necessarily fun, and that the blessings of spiritual happiness are not necessarily fun.

The foundation of Jesus’ and God’s service to us is their love for us (see John 3:16), and if we accept their love for us, we must find conviction of sin, and through that conviction, then we would find repentance and forgiveness, and in that we are set to serve in a godly manner, beginning in our homes. Love conquers all and keeps no account of wrong-doing (I Corinthians 13, the Love Chapter). Thus are the headwaters of the Sea of Forgetfulness and every marriage needs those headwaters so they have a Sea into which to leave behind the things forgiven.

The issue is not the indulgence of your selfishness, but the surrendering of yourselves to God, through Christ, so that in serving others, starting by treating your spouse and children and parents as your first “neighbors”, you are obedient to God by loving Him and your neighbors!

In John 15: 7-8 it is explained to us that if we abide in Christ, and if His word abides in us, then what we desire will be done for us, and we will bear much fruit, which will glorify the Father, and we will be Jesus’ disciples.

In Part III of this study in Christian Character we focused on the Ten Most Wanted individuals in our lives, and we learned that only by depositing in each of them the 9 fruits of the spirit, could we hope to harvest similar fruit from their lives to enrich our lives.

When we pour out our love and service for another person’s, our spouse’s, our children’s, our parents’, well-being, we are cooperating in the authority of Jesus Christ and His works, and with Christ, even as we suffer, we are defeating the works of the Devil, and so we are abiding in Christ and His word, and by that abiding and co-operating, we are taking joy. Taking joy may not always bring us happiness in the popular cultural sense, but it will bring us blessings, even if not always fun, in the spiritual sense of happiness: It is more blessed to give than to receive. This is a mantra for family relationships, it is a description of the results of service. Be like Paul, be like the other old and current disciples of Christ, be like Christ: SERVE, especially those to whom you have committed love!

Christian Character Part 3

The Ten Most Wanted List

We have started off this year, 2010, in a study of Christian Character, of which this message is the third in the series. We have considered that, as with a New Year and with New Year’s resolutions, a commitment or rededication to Christ is a place and season of New Beginnings, as we are new creatures in Christ, and in repentance and work and reverent awe of God, we seek to bury the old self and put on the new self, wearing Christ on the outside even as He is, in the Holy Spirit, on the inside, of us. Our New Beginning is to be His holy temple. And last week, we studied the need to examine ourselves anew, to determine how we are doing in the construction of Christian Character in ourselves. Today, we address the fundamental characteristic, “character” if you will, of the Christian: Grace, and what that has to do with who we are, how we live, and the people who have to put up with how we live, that is, at the primary level, the people with whom we are in the closest, most intimate relationships.

What I like about the study of character, is that it is a study of how that which is on the inside of you comes out of you: character is not to be hidden under a bushel basket, but to be opened and shared with others. As our character is exposed, it is revealed for what it is, and measures from the outside that which is on the inside of us. Character is the relative light and dark in us. It is where we, others, and God find out what we are made of , who we really are. Character is the grading scale of testing, and it measures that light and darkness in us, and – guess what – everything is a test!

We don’t even get to a discussion of Christian Character lest we have Christ. And, in the first place, we don’t get to be Christians except because of God’s Grace, Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

I take from this passage the foundational principle that we don’t get to be Christians by anything by God’s Grace – not by birth station or status, or race or gender or economic class, or morality or one’s personal goodness in works or in heart. Because of our inherited sin nature, and our sin choices, God, in His holiness abhors acceptance of each one of us, even as He loves each one of us enough to extend His Grace that through faith we may be saved and reconciled to Him! How marvelous – meaning how much we must marvel and wonder at the surprise of that principle, as we grasp its meaning, and truly understand that we can’t get there on our own, but only through God’s Grace. He provided a way, the only way, for us, in His Grace, still keeping true to His nature and character, in the atoning Blood of Jesus.

And we see a second foundational principle at work in Ephesians2:8: Grace is a gift to us. We can’t buy it, we can’t earn it, and we don’t deserve it.

In this I am reminded of the passage (Acts 20:35) where Paul quotes Jesus in assuring us that it is both blessed to give and to receive. And if the gift we receive is such a blessing, how do we respond to such a blessing? Like a birthday, anniversary, or other love gift, do we receive it gladly; does not that gift bind us ever more deeply to the one we love, the one who loved us enough to bless us with a gift?

Now, we ask ourselves, why did, and why does, God want to give us such a marvelous thing, this thing that we can’t get on our own, that thing being salvation from sin? God explained this in Ephesians 2:4-5, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).”

You see that the foundation of the Character of Grace is Love. It is because of love, because He chose, even beforehand, to love us in spite of who we were, who we are, and who, in our struggle to perfection in Christ, we will be or fail to be. In it all, God chose and has chosen, and will choose, to love us, and out of that love He is Rich, Rich, Rich, in mercy, and out of the riches of that mercy comes forth Grace! And it is through Grace that He rescued us, saved us, changes us, transforms us.

Grace is the sum of the nine fruits of the Spirit listed in Galations 5:22-23. Those nine elements are a description of the ways in which God is gracious to us: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (self-discipline).

Now, any time you see the use of the word, the concept, of fruit, you are into the principles of sowing and reaping, the principles of planting, nurturing, protecting, and harvesting. And there is something cyclical about all of that: with a seed we plant, then we harvest, then we have more seed, which are replanted, but we also have fruit which feeds us. The concept of fruit, or bearing fruit, is not just a concept of being, it is a concept of doing.

The fruit of the Spirit in us does three things:

  1. It is evidence that we have been transformed by God’s Grace and the birth by Christ of the new creature in us;
  2. it shows that our character has been changed from flesh to spirit, so deeply that we express that transformation by extending, in those nine fruitful ways, God’s Grace to others, and, therein, blessing them;
  3. that we are fed by that fruit of being a tree of blessings to others whom our lives touch, and those with whom we live.

There is that simple principle, so simple and so important that it is often taught to the very young: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, the so-called Golden Rule. This is a paraphrase of the Great Commandment, of loving our neighbors as ourself.

The Golden Rule, indicates that we can expect to reap what we sow, the most direct application of the principle of planting.

The Apostle Paul clearly understood this principle, for not only did he sow, and plant and nurture, all over His part of the world and elsewhere, but he knew and explained how it worked. In Philippians 2:3- 5, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” And in Philippians 2:14-16, which we reviewed, I think, last week: “Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life . . . .” And in Philippians 1:27 (which is our family’s support verse for Hilton Head Christian Academy), “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ. . . .”

So, when you examined yourself (“What’s up, Dude?”), like I asked you to do during the week since we last met, what did you learn about yourself? What did you find out about yourself? Is your conduct worthy of the gospel of Christ, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us?”

Now, I ask you to look around yourself, at your closest, most intimate, most wanted relationships, and I ask you to be brutally honest with yourself, even at the risk of visiting places of the scarred past in your life, places of current turmoil, and places of fears, hopes and dreams for the future. I ask you to look at each one of your personal relationships. List the top ten relationships you are in with people – if you have even that many! I would call it the “Ten Most Wanted List”, but it could be more, it could be the “Sixteen Most Wanted List” – you will know for yourself. If you are married, you must start with your wife or husband, then go to your children, and the spouses of your children, and reach back to your parents and your siblings, and then to your non-family friends.

When you live in Grace, it is a gift back, your inside coming to your outside, the measure of your Christian Character, to God of the gift He gave you; then, it is God’s and your gift to those on your List, and to all others.

As you look at each one of these relationships, examine and test yourselves, by deciding how the Fruit of the Spirit in you is doing, how you are producing and receiving fruit:

  • is there clear and convincing evidence that you have been transformed by God’s Grace and the birth by Christ of the new creature in us? You can figure this out by asking two other questions: Has sin lost its power over me, and has death – even death of my pride and flesh – lost its sting to me? That’s how you know if you are transformed by God’s Grace through Christ and the Holy Spirit!
  • is there clear and convincing evidence that your character has been changed from flesh to spirit, so deeply that you , in your heart attitudes and the choices you make in your life, express that transformation by extending, in those nine fruitful ways, God’s Grace to others, and, therein, blessing them?
  • is there clear and convincing evidence that you are fed by that fruit from being a tree of blessings to others whom your life touches, and those with whom you live?

This morning, God wants to be up close and personal with you! He cares, in His love and the Rich, Rich, Rich mercy that comes from His love for you, about you and your life. He cares how you must, in truth, answer these three questions; in fact, He already knows the answers, but His knowledge about that does you no good, unless you appropriate His knowledge of that truth into your life. And that same Holy Spirit is here to guide you in the way of all truth (John 16:13), so you can honestly answer those questions and gain the freedom of truth, so you can have in our heart the Fruit of the Spirit, and so you can share it with those top ten people in your personal relationships, and be seed to them, as they are fruit to you. If you are not planting those nine seeds in those top ten people, you will not be harvesting those nine fruits back from those top ten people! That is tough, and requires patience, as sometimes, it takes a while for those seeds to take root in one of those ten people, or several of them, for those seeds to germinate, to heal from the scarrings of an untimely cold snap, or drought, or flooding, or the nibbles of a hungry animal, to be nourished and to grow enough in his/her/their own Christian Character to produce that fruit and feed you. This, in part, is what Romans 5:3-5 and James 1:2-4 are all about: as James there wrote, ” My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience, but let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”

God knows, it takes patience to put up with growth in people, even His own children, and you may find that at times true with one or more on your “Ten Most Wanted List”. Measure your character and get right with God and those on your Ten Most Wanted List!

If you have undertaken the responsibility of those ten relationships, and all relationships are responsibilities, or whatever the number is on your list, and you are troubled or unhappy, or not joyful, or not at peace, or not dealing with any one or more of those relationships our of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-discipline, then you are in trouble, and you need to ask the Holy Spirit for guidance into the way of truth, all truth, and to bring you conviction, that you may repent to God for your sins, and ask Him to help you cleanse yourself from all unrigheousness of flesh and spirit, that you may live in reverent awe of God, and in right relationship with those top ten people on your personal relationship list. He is just and faithful to do so, if you, by an honest faith, are faithful to do so, and to mean it.

As God’s love, mercy, grace and forgiveness have been freely given to us, only as we freely give them to others are we conducting ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, only then are we of Christian Character, only then is God’s Grace, and His graciousness, alive and well within us; only then will we position ourselves to want to harvest what we have sown! In it all, through it all, will you choose to love those Top Ten Most Wanted in your life, as much as God loved, and loves you, that while you were yet a sinner God sent His only begotten Son to die for us that we might not perish, but have everlasting life. Are you willing to lay down your life; to delay, amend or delete your hopes and dreams; to patiently exercise your self-discipline in faith to overcome your fears, all so that you can love these others in your life, these Top Ten Most Wanted ones, because God first loved you? What is the true and honest state of your own Christian Character? If you have examined yourself, and found some shortcomings, don’t be alarmed, but be thankful for the truth of that knowledge, for God’s Grace abounds! You don’t have to keep on in the sins of your flesh, but you need to make a choices, some choices. God explained so clearly through Paul in Romans 6:1-2, when he asked rhetorically, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died in sin live any longer in it?” Dig deep and repent and let God heal you and those around you. Oh, and join Moveon.God! Amen!