Discouraged or Encouraged?

Discouraged or Encouraged?

There is a lot that can discourage us while we are isolated because of the coronavirus. We can’t do a lot of the things we are accustomed to doing, especially gathering together as members of the Lord’s body to worship and study together. It has been a little over a week and I can feel the difference. I miss each and every one of you. You all are in my thoughts and prayers daily. In addition, every day that we turn on the news, we are bombarded with doom and gloom (I will give a little credit here – some news outlets are trying to find a silver lining and give some positive reports as well). It can be very easy to be discouraged!

Make no mistake that our adversary, the devil, is using this time to weaken your faith, erode your will, and convince you to give in to temptations to doubt and sin. This is one of those occasions, like Jesus after fasting in the wilderness, when Satan thinks it is the perfect opportunity to tempt you. Heed the words of Peter:

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:6–11)

We need to recognize several important points Peter is making:

  1. If you will humble yourselves before God (which includes submitting to His will), you will find comfort. You will be able to cast your anxieties on Him. He does not get tired of hearing our troubles. He cares for us and wants us to rely on Him.
  2. We need to recognize that Satan is always watching. He is looking for an opening in your spiritual armor so he can attack you (Ephesians 6:16). If you are not equipping yourself with the help from God that He offers, then you are opening yourself up to attack. Without the full armor of God equipped, that attack will get through.
  3. We must be on our guard, fully equipped with that armor of God, but we must also provide resistance. No soldier puts on their equipment for battle and then sits down on the battlefield to do nothing or merely to watch! A soldier is expected to resist the enemy and follow the lead of their generals. Fight back! We are at war every single day, coronavirus or not!
  4. If you will resist, Satan will flee (James 4:7). Satan is patient. When he encounters resistance, then he will retreat and wait for another opportunity to present itself. This emphasizes that we need to always be on guard, but also that we cannot rest (spiritually) just because the current battle is over. If we do this, then we merely hasten the next attack.
  5. You aren’t the only person experiencing these issues, whether it be the isolation or it is some temptation or situation that you endure. Every one of us is in a battle for their souls. That means there is strength we can gain from each other but it also means that it is extremely likely that whatever you face today, one of your brethren has already faced in their past. Seek wise counsel (Proverbs 11:14).
  6. God’s grace is all we need. He will take care of us. The goal of every Christian is to go home.

It is your choice how you react to the present distress. You can be discouraged or you can find encouragement through the scriptures and the promises God has made to us. He cannot lie, and He has proven Himself faithful. Let us choose to be encouraged!

God’s Spiritual House

God’s Spiritual House

Psalm 118:22 prophesies, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” A cornerstone of a large building gives it a reliable and firm foundation, leading to the cohesion and stability of the whole building. It was an essential part of the building process. Before such a stone was used, it would be inspected to determine if it was suitable for the project. It was then either accepted or rejected. The Psalmist prophesies that Jesus would be rejected, yet He is still the cornerstone of the most important building project ever — a spiritual house accepted by God.

In 2 Peter 2, Peter builds on this same theme in describing the Christian’s place in this spiritual house. The Christians are the living stones of that house! He points out in verse 7 that those who reject this cornerstone see Him as a stone of stumbling, a rock of offense. Where this illustration stops paralleling reality is that rejection of the cornerstone does not mean that you choose a different one to build the house. It means that you reject being a part of God’s house altogether! If you want to be part of this spiritual building project, accepted by God, you have to allow yourself to be built up on the cornerstone that is Jesus the Christ!

Peter draws a contrast there in chapter 2 between those who believe and accept this cornerstone and those who do not. The conclusion is that if you believe, you become part of that royal priesthood and are a living stone in the house of God. If you do not, for any reason, accept this cornerstone as He is, then you are not part of that house at all. In other words, even if you “like” the idea of Jesus but don’t want to accept all of His teachings, you aren’t really accepting Him. You do not inspect the cornerstone and decide you like the look or the color of the stone, but you don’t like the shape. No, if you don’t like the stone in its entirety, then you are rejecting it. If you reject it or try to change it, then it isn’t the same stone any longer. Building on that cornerstone in its new form results in a different building. A different spiritual building is no longer God’s house – it is something else.

In Acts 4, Peter is standing before the council, who were rejectors of Jesus and trying to stop the apostles from teaching the gospel. He told them in verses 11-12, “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Any other foundation than Christ is not a saving foundation!

The religious world is full of division today. The numbers are astounding, listing over 40,000 denominations of Christianity. That is 40,000 houses that are not really what they seem to be. They have many similarities, but any house built on a different foundation is a different house. Which house would you rather be a part of? Do you want the fake imitation or the real thing? Do you want salvation in the house of God or a comforting imitation that is part of the wide path leading to destruction (Matthew 7:13)?

God is not an author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). He is not the source of all those imitations. He has revealed Christ, the cornerstone, through His word. It is available for us to inspect and to accept or reject. Accept Christ and be a part of God’s spiritual house!

Up From the Grave, He Arose!

Up From the Grave, He Arose!

One of my favorite hymns is “Christ Arose”. I am thankful for those who have so wonderfully put into words the awe that we feel when we understand the truth God has revealed to us. With this particular song, the music and the words capture the emotion and joy at the knowledge of having a savior that died for us, but that He gained victory over death through that resurrection.

While Jesus was on the cross, many mocked Him. They thought that if Jesus was going to triumph over His enemies, it would be before death – that triumph would mean He wouldn’t have to die! In Mark 15:29-30 it says, “And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” This was not the triumph that was planned. That would come in 3 days. When Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome came to the tomb to finish the burial process with spices, they were told, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples.” (Mark 16:6–7). Paul said in 1 Corinthians 5:14, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” Without His resurrection, we cannot have hope of being raised in the end!

The chorus of the song says, “Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o’er HIs foes.” The resurrection was the true triumph, but it was a different triumph than those mocking Him at the cross were thinking of. His triumph was over death itself. He brought victory for all that are His! 1 Corinthians 15:57 states, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” My response? Amen!

Where do you want to go?

Where do you want to go?

There is a story about a Finnish atheist who stated in his will that he wanted to leave his farm to the devil. Finally, after weeks of deliberation, the court decided that the best way to carry out the farmers wishes was to permit the weeds and briars to take over the farm land, to allow the house and barn to remain unpainted and eventually rot, and to let the soil erode and wash away. The court declared in its ruling, “the best way to let the devil have possession of anything is to do nothing.”[1]

Do you have a clear sense of where you want to go? The best way that to allow Satan to destroy your goals and dreams, is to do nothing. If we have no action plan, you will never achieve those goals. The same is true of “upkeep”. Just like that farm that would become dilapidated and begin to fall apart, our faith and love toward God will diminish if we stop tending to it. Such is the nature of this world — if something isn’t growing, it’s dying.

There are some common objections people make in regard to working toward their goals. First of these is a fear of failure. They begin to think of the negative possibilities. What if I fail? What if I make a fool of myself? Where do those thoughts come from? They didn’t come from God! They didn’t come from your brethren! God and your brethren want you to succeed in your spiritual goals! Support in working toward those goals is available to all who will ask, and who will share what their goals are. You could have a cheering section beside you the whole way! The second is, “I don’t have enough time.” Well, we have time for what we choose to have time for. Yes, there are some things beyond our control, but for the most part, we make the choices about how to spend our time. Throw that excuse out the window.

There are four questions that we need to ask:

  1. What do I want? (identify your goals). Proverbs 16:3 says, “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” If your goals line up with God’s will, then they are not out of reach.
  2. How badly do you want it? (set priorities) Stephen Covey has written many times on priorities and has rightly observed, “Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.”
  3. How do I get there? We have to put together a plan of action. Setting the goals is not enough — we have to decide what actions will take us toward the fulfillment of that goal. We have to be engaged in prayer concerning this plan. “In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.” (Proverbs 14:23) If you are not certain how to achieve the goals you are setting, it is time to sit down with someone of maturity and ask for assistance.
  4. Develop the discipline to accomplish the goals. Just like the resolutions people make at the new year, plans fail because they do not exercise the discipline necessary in order to succeed. “The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor.” (Proverbs 12:24) Make the tough choices and don’t give up!

Set your goals on the fruit of the Christian life, as Paul once said, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:22-24) It will take goals, priorities, following God’s plan, and discipline.

[1] The Solomon Secrets: 10 Keys to Extraordinary Success from Proverbs by Robert Jeffries

God’s Spiritual House

Abide In The Word

In John 8:31-32, Jesus gave a simple statement (or I would also call it a requirement), “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus was issuing a challenge in this statement: If you want to be my disciple, and if you want to be free, you will have to abide in my word. Now this statement seems simple and straight forward, but there are many who will agree with this verse on the surface and yet reject the challenge contained therein.

Not everyone is going to accept the truth. We can issue the most passionate plea, the most logical argument from the word, and do so with the greatest outpouring of love, and there will still be many that will reject the truth. That is the painful truth about loving our neighbor as ourself. We genuinely seek their salvation — but they have to seek it, too!

In addition to the lost soul that may not be ready and willing to accept and obey the truth, there are also those that claim to desire salvation but will not accept all of the truth. One might confess a belief in Christ, claim a wholehearted commitment to Him, and yet still reject part of the word. You might hear someone make the statement: “I just can’t accept….” In other words, confronted with plain teaching from the word, and even though they claim belief and commitment, they will not yield themselves to some part of it.

Consider again Jesus’ statement, “if you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.” Whether we accept the truth determines whether we really are a disciple of Christ! Remember that the definition of disciple is one who not only learns from the teacher but puts that knowledge into action. It’s not just an intellectual exercise. We have to live it from then on.

Next time you open your New Testament and start reading, think on these verses. Are you willing to accept and abide in the word? That means all of it — there’s no discipleship in picking and choosing! Our motivation in seeking truth must be to seek it all. We can’t say we seek the truth but avoid the more challenging teachings from it.

“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” (2 Corinthians 13:5)

Personal Responsibility

Personal Responsibility

Personal responsibility. Those are viewed as dirty words by some today. Why? They don’t want to be accountable to anyone! In their minds, it is always someone else’s fault, someone else’s responsibility, and they feel justified as long as they have someone else to point to in order to blame. Of course, if it is something good, they will be happy to take the “blame” for that!

If there is one thing God teaches us through His word, it is that we are personally accountable for all the we do. “The soul who sins shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:20) If that isn’t a statement of personal accountability, I don’t know what is!

Jeremiah dealt with false prophets who would lie to the people. They would assuage the people’s conscience by telling that, “You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place.” (Jeremiah 14:13) In other words, go ahead and do as you will, God isn’t going to punish you. This same lie is still being told today. God is just and justice demands a standard be set and be the measurement by which all are compared. That standard was set in the word of God and we will be measured by it (John 12:48). “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:12).

God’s judgment of us is not limited to just doing wrong. In fact, He will also judge us for not doing what is right! “Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (James 4:17). We must pursue righteousness, meaning we remove sinful actions and add holiness to our lives! (Hebrews 12:14). We can’t do one without the other. They go hand in hand.

We must accept responsibility for our own actions and inactions. We must understand that judgment will come and we will have to give account of ourselves (Romans 14:12, Hebrews 4:13). All that we do today will come to light (1 Corinthians 4:5) at judgment.