Fearful, Foolish and Flawed

“And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets” (Hebrews 11:32)

The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is often referred to as the “Hall of Fame of Faith”. It is the account of some of the Old Testament saints who demonstrated great faith, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). They are the “cloud of witnesses” meant to inspire us as we live out our own faith. In this chapter, with varying degrees of detail, you will find the stories of people who were commended for their faith. In verse 32 you will find several people who are mentioned only by name ─ Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel. Naturally, we know more about some of them than we do others. I suspect most of us would be more familiar with Samuel and David as their stories are told more broadly in Scripture. Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah are perhaps a little less familiar. Their stories can be found in the book of Judges. If you were to study the text in which these people’s stories are told you would find that each of these men had their own shortcomings. In a general sense, you would find that they largely fall into one of three categories: Some of them were fearful (Gideon, Barak). Some were foolish (Samson, Jephthah). And some were flawed (David, Samuel). The most likely case is that, at least at some point in their lives, they were each all three.

In God’s Word we find clear examples of people whose stories warn us about the dangers and consequences of sin. Yet at the same time we find teaching that encourages us as to how God uses imperfect people to bring about His will. All these men were sinners. They all had their own “issues”. But in a moment, they exhibited faith that God used to achieve His purpose. Their stories aren’t an endorsement of a sinful lifestyle. Nowhere does Scripture endorse that. Their stories instead teach us that there is no amount of evil that can thwart God’s will, that in the end, all power belongs to Him. The encouragement for us is that as we trust Him, no matter how far short we may fall, no matter what our “issues” may be, as we step forward in faith, there is a sovereign God to guide us. Be encouraged by that. God is the faithful one.

We can all be fearful, foolish and flawed at times, even at the same time, but God can still use you. Let His love, His grace and His mercy be motivation for your faithfulness. We will always be a work in progress. Fortunately for us, our God is, has always been, and will always be, both powerful and perfect. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).  

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As Christ Loved the Church

 

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25)

Today, Karen and I celebrate 26 years of marriage. I first met Karen in high school. She was a junior and I was a senior. We dated for a few months before going our separate ways. Who would’ve known that 10 years later we would be married? I can say with certainty that at the point in which we were married, both personally and in marriage, I had a different set of priorities than I do now. It’s not that those priorities were necessarily bad. They just weren’t the best because they weren’t centered on a relationship with Christ. In fact, I didn’t have a saving relationship with Christ and for a long time my priorities remained elsewhere. It is impossible for a man to lead his family in the way God would have him when his life is not centered on Jesus Christ. Thankfully, in God’s perfect timing and only by His grace, our marriage has a different center. My prayer is that it will always remain that way.

            There’s no human covenant more important than the covenant of marriage. It is also a covenant in need of an extra measure of God’s grace. Outside of grace that comes in salvation, I don’t know where it’s needed more. This is the case for a couple of reasons: First, marriage is constantly under Satan’s attack because of what it pictures. The apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:32 that marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. Secondly, marriage is made more difficult due to the closeness of the relationship. Is there anyone more uniquely qualified to point out your faults than your spouse? I doubt it! No matter where any of us may be in our walk with Christ, marriage is tough. It’s tough because it involves two imperfect people prone to sin. Too often, we take God’s Word and remind others what they should be doing while at the same time ignoring what God may be trying to say to us. I believe this tendency is even greater when it comes to our spouses. For husbands, God’s command is clear. Our wives needs, as He defines them are to be our goal. We are to love her sacrificially, just as Christ loved the church. This command is not conditional on her response.

            I know it’s impossible to love Karen, my bride, as Christ loves His. But that doesn’t lessen His desire or expectation that I do so. Therefore, it shouldn’t lessen mine. This means I’m left to rely on God’s strength instead of my own, because in my own I will fail. I have failed. For any marriage to be as God designed it to be requires that our relationship with Him be the one we treasure most. A relationship with Christ has the power to change all other relationships.

            I thank God for His grace for my past failures in loving Karen as He would have me love her. I’m sure I’ll need more grace along the way. I thank God for Karen. The years have gone fast. Like all marriages, ours has been far from perfect, but I am so thankful she’s my wife. After 26 years, she’s more beautiful than ever. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for our future. Happy anniversary sweetie! I love you!

Getting Our Priorities Right

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33)

Francis Chan once said, “Our greatest fear should not be failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter”. Whatever we do, we should do it well. A commitment to excellence is a good thing. However, too often is the case that we take this advice more seriously in the less meaningful matters in life than we do in the things that are most important.

The teaching of the Sermon on the Mount was directed at the disciples and subsequently through them to the whole church. In this sermon, Jesus taught on various topics that dealt with outward actions as well as inward motivations. He set forth important principles throughout the sermon. In this specific section of the sermon, Jesus set forth principles for everyday life (Matthew 6:19-34).

God’s purposes are perfect, and His promises true. He will attend to our every need. If we focus on the things of this world as opposed to prioritizing our commitment to and relationship with Christ, ultimately it will bring not only dissatisfaction, but also anxiety and worry. This is a distraction from what our goal as believers should be, to keep Christ at the center of our lives. It is also inconsistent with what God would have for us.

We need to constantly take stock of what is keeping us from a deepening relationship with the Lord and a life that is committed to Him. What is keeping you from strengthening your relationship with the Lord and living out His will for your life? It may be something important or it may be trivial, but if it’s keeping you from time with Him, it’s an idol and needs to be put in its proper place. Ultimately, it’s God alone who can meet our needs. Sometimes, we just need to peel away other things for Him to do so.

So, what are you succeeding at that really doesn’t matter? What do you have too much of that if you looked closely you know you could do without? Or what is it that takes so much of your time that it leaves little time for Jesus? What are you willing to put aside so your priorities might be put in order? Search your heart and ask yourself, what am I willing to give up for the One who gave up everything for me?

Detours

“The mind of a man plans his way. But the LORD directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9)

A detour is a longer, less direct way to get where we’re going. Sometimes the detour is intentional, perhaps to visit something or someone. At other times, they’re unintentional, taken to help us avoid a problem and get us back on track as soon as possible. This is the sort of detour that frustrates us. It’s the kind that gets in the way of our plans and the course we’ve set for ourselves, the one where we lose control over things. And for many of us, that’s a problem.

I think most of us probably like to be in control. We make our plans fully intending they be carried out just as we devised them. But that doesn’t always happen. Providence is defined as God’s ongoing relationship whereby He is actively involved in His creation, though distinct from it. Providence denies things happen by chance but are instead divinely planned. Though a weighty and somewhat controversial doctrine, God’s providence is clearly affirmed in Scripture. One such passage is Proverbs 16:9, which simply teaches that all our actions are under God’s providential care.

Sometimes, God allows detours in our lives, some alternative route we never saw coming. The detour may be for no apparent reason at all, or it may be because we’ve strayed off course. Whatever the reason, they can be painful. I read a great quote that says, “God has His own way of getting His own way”. It’s true. Overlaying every choice we make is God’s hand. His providence often encroaches into our lives for reasons that He alone knows. John MacArthur says that as Christians, “rather than being content in the success of our plans, we need to find contentment in God’s sovereign, providential control. We need to remember that even when things don’t go our way, God is still on His throne, orchestrating events for His glory and our good”.

God has a plan for each of us. It might not be the plan we would have set for ourselves, but we can rest assured it’s a perfect plan. God knows what’s best and He often uses these detours as a way of rerouting us back into His will. The writer of Hebrews tells us these “detours”, these times of training serve an important purpose and are meant for our good (Hebrews 12:11). The choice we must make is whether or not we will be trained by them. Will we become better, or will we become bitter? God allows these challenging moments in our lives to teach us that we really don’t have control of things. He uses them to teach us that ultimately, all we have is Jesus. And the truth is, He really is all we need.

Old to New

“…seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9-10)

Paul’s letters always contained both theological and practical components to them. After correcting their misplaced theology about Christ, Paul dealt in a very practical manner with those in the church at Colossae. For some, the practices of their lives before they were saved were still present. Paul challenged them to bring these practices in line with their new identity in Christ.

As we prepare for the New Year and look forward to what lies ahead, I guess it’s only natural to think back on the one that’s ending. Doing so may bring joy, perhaps sadness, or maybe a little bit of both. I imagine it also comes with a certain amount of regret. There are always things we wish we had done and said that we didn’t, and things we did and said that we wish we hadn’t. The truth is, we are all sinners and from year to year, sin will be a constant companion. But in His grace and mercy, through Jesus, God has dealt with our sin.

The Christian life is a process, not a process in the sense that we are progressively being saved over time. We are saved the moment we place our faith in Jesus Christ. The Christian life is a process in the sense that over time, we become more and more like Christ. This is known as progressive sanctification.

In this life we will always be less than perfect, but we have a Savior who is perfect. And although our conformity to the image of Christ will not end until we go to be with the Lord, our guilt does. This doesn’t mean we are to make light of sin. Paul didn’t in writing to the Colossians or anyone else. All sin matters to God. He is a holy God and He calls us to be holy as well (1 Peter 1:15). But often is the case that instead of letting our failures of the past instruct us moving forward, we end up consumed with guilt. This is not God’s intention as it denies the perfect sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. Though we live the consequences of our sin, its penalty was paid in full at the cross.

So, when you look to this upcoming year, look to Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Thank Him for His forgiveness. Thank Him for His faithfulness. Thank Him for His grace. Thank Him for His mercy. Embrace everything He has for your life. Know that He is more interested in your present and future than He is your past. But most of all, remember, there is no one who loves you like He loves you.

When You’re Down, Look Up-Our God Is Faithful

“…for I know whom I have believed” (2 Timothy 1:12)

How are we to “count it all joy” (James 1:2) when we’re going through trials, “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) even when those circumstances are bad, and how are we to believe that just because we love God “all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28)? I believe those are pretty good questions, but I also believe God has even better answers.

It is in the context of some sort of suffering that each of the passages above exist. Suffering is always a potential barrier to worship and to living out one’s faith. Ultimately, as Christians, we manage through these times by drawing strength from the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit.

The reality of our lives lived in the flesh makes it easy see all that happens, whether good or bad, from only a human perspective. God’s perspective must be our goal. It’s easy to thank God for the good times just to turn around and blame Him for the bad times. Our perspective must be centered on His promises. God never promised difficult times wouldn’t come, but He absolutely promised to be with us when they do. We must trust and seek to know Him more each day.

In his devotion Morning and Evening, Charles Spurgeon likens the knowledge of Christ to climbing a mountain. He says at its base, because we can see only a little bit, the mountain appears to be only half as high as it really is. However, as we move up the mountain, we are able see more and more. Spurgeon concludes by talking about how at the end of his life, the Apostle Paul was able to say, “for I know whom I have believed” (2 Timothy 1:12) and that “each experience had been like climbing a hill, each trial had been like ascending another summit, and his death seemed like gaining the top of the mountain from which he could see the whole panorama of the faithfulness and love of Him to whom he had committed his soul”.

We live in a fallen world and our view is sometimes cloudy. This makes it easy for the circumstances of life to bring us down. But when they do, look up and keep climbing, because our God is faithful.

Do Not Be Moved

“[Let no one] be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this” (1 Thessalonians 3:3)

In his book Desiring God, John Piper uses an analogy of a camera to help explain the idea in which God sees our suffering. He says that on one hand, God uses a narrow lens in which He looks and grieves with us as we undergo suffering. This is often the only lens you and I see through. But according to Piper, God also uses another lens, a wide-angle lens in which He sees beyond the immediate situation. This is the lens that sees what has occurred before and what will result from this moment, ultimately working for our good and God’s glory. This “good” may be realized in our lives as God works out the circumstances, or it may only be realized in death.

Paul knew about suffering. It was a topic he wrote about in almost all of his letters. He knew its purpose and the importance of teaching that purpose to others. He also demonstrated the proper response to it. Through his suffering, Paul knew his strength came from the Lord. Jesus was Paul’s reason for living. To see Him magnified was his passion. But Paul also knew that to die was gain (Philippians 1:21). As he wrote his final words in 2 Timothy 4:6-8, he was comforted knowing he had fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith. He also knew what awaited him—a crown of righteousness. That was worth everything Paul had endured in his life and it will be worth everything suffering may cost you in your life as well.

So how do we respond in times of suffering? We trust God. He is sovereign. We allow His Word and His Spirit to penetrate our shaken and shattered lives. We live each day in view of eternity knowing that no amount of suffering can compare to glory (Romans 8:18). And we trust that His grace is sufficient to see us through (2 Corinthians 12:9).