Archive for category Encouragement
Numbers 33:4 “…also on their gods the Lord had executed judgment.”
God did more than just send random plagues on Egypt. He was accomplishing more than just trying to make the Egyptians miserable enough to release the Israelites from slavery. He could have accomplished that in one plague instead of ten.
God was executing judgment on the gods and on the pride of Egypt. He was proving their gods to be false, to be subject to His will, and to be powerless to save them. God was exposing the gods of Egypt for the false gods they were. Egypt considered the Nile River to be a god, so it turned to blood. They considered the calf to be a god, so the cattle died. He attacked the pride of their civilization and culture by sending flies, lice and frogs. He judged their fertility gods by destroying the crops with locust and fiery hail.
In Exodus 18, when they met up in the wilderness after the Red Sea crossing, Moses father-in-law said to him, “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all the gods; for in the very thing in which they behaved proudly, He was above them.” God proved to Egypt the utter futility of trusting in any god besides Himself.
This changes our view of trials.
Perhaps, when God allows plagues or hardship to come into our lives, it is not just to make us miserable. He is not just punishing us for being bad. Perhaps, like the Egyptians, God is destroying and rendering powerless those gods in which we have placed our trust.
Isaiah 26:13 says, “…masters besides You have had dominion over us…” It is these masters that God wants to destroy. Not because He is mad at us, but because He knows it is for our benefit that we have no other masters. Look at the prior verse in Isaiah 26, “Lord, You will establish peace for us…” This is His plan. This is His purpose. He wants to show us the utter powerlessness of those other gods in whom we have placed our trust.
Like Israel, God wants to deliver us from bondage.
Like Israel, God knows He must judge the gods of this world before they will release us. So instead of complaining about the plagues, let us instead turn our eyes to the God who is bringing us deliverance for that bondage. Instead of running from hardship, let us instead see the masters other than God who have had dominion over us.
And let us rejoice in the judgment of these masters, that we might live in the freedom of belonging only to our loving Father.
It’s the only way we get to the Promised Land.
In 2 Timothy 4, Paul gave Timothy a warning about the church,
You don’t have to look very far to see that happening these days. Everywhere you look there is another book, another sermon, another song or message or article. We have become a people who are addicted to encouragement. In our fast paced society of the immediate, we become quickly bored with the familiar and are in constant search for something new and different. It’s like we are constantly hitting “check mail” on our spiritual inbox, hoping for the next big thing to hit and excite us.
A recent study by the World Health Organization revealed that those from the richer countries were more likely to suffer depression. Maybe our wealth and comfort have made us depressed, so we go searching for the next bit of good news, hoping it will lift our spirits.
The promise of “more” – more stuff, more money and more comfort – has left us with less.
We have less time, less connection, less happiness than ever. One of the things that hits me hardest when I visit developing nations is their joy. In spite of extreme poverty, they overflow with joy and love and generosity. I believe this is because they know what is important.
In our pursuit of more we have forsaken our time with God. We don’t pray that much and don’t study His word that much. We have lost communication with Him and with one another. And instead of getting our priorities straight and reordering our lives, we have simply let others do the work. We let the pastor study God’s word and bring the message on Sunday. “Just give me my 3 points to a better life.” We are just like the Israelites who saw the mountain burning and felt the earth tremble at the voice of Yahweh. “Moses, you go hear from God and come back and tell us what He says,” was their response.
Look, I’m not bashing anyone. I know life is hard and we all need help. And I’m not saying we don’t need pastors and encouragement. But the answers are not just around the corner in some new teaching. The answers to life’s problems are where they have always been found. They are in a deeper connection with Jesus and with each other.
You want 3 points? Here they are:
1. Spend whatever time with God you must. Reorder your life. Give some things up. Your idols have promised you happiness and left you empty. Only He can satisfy. So take the time to drink deeply of His water and let it quench your thirst. Other things will grow strangely dissatisfying when you taste of His goodness. Like the late missionary Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
2. Live in community with others. Our modern church culture has made it possible for us to show up on Sunday morning, do our duty, and never have to make ourselves vulnerable to others. Find a small community of believers and live life together. Depression can be the only alternative when we are cut off from others and left to fend for ourselves. You must be joined with others who know you, love you, challenge you, and accept you unconditionally. It’s out there. Don’t give up until you find it.
3. Stop searching for more. I think this is a big reason Christians in poverty seem to have so much joy in spite of their situation. They don’t expect more all the time. They have learned to be content, even in extreme poverty. They are thankful for what they have instead of always reaching for the “elusive next.” Be content. Be thankful. Rejoice in what God has already done in your life, and submit the rest to Him. He knows what is best, and your steps are ordered by Him.
These are just 3 points. They are not the only 3 points. They do not replace hearing directly from God about your life and your direction. I’m not bringing the stone tablets down from the mountain here. That’s your job. That’s the whole point. God wants to deal directly with you. You don’t have to go through a preacher, an author or any other middleman.
Are you willing to listen?
Most of what I have always considered to be humility is really pride, masquerading as self-hatred.
I look at my life, see my sin and my failure, and I hate myself for it. I stand before God and run myself down, telling Him how worthless I truly am, thinking I am being humble before God. True humility, however, is not self-hatred. Humility is not a self-deprecating criticism of ourselves. That is really pride, the opposite of humility.
We must look to Jesus if we are to see true humility, since He is our ultimate example.
He was God, yet He became man. He was authorita- tive, yet a servant. He was powerful, yet gentle and kind. He was glorious, yet He made Himself unassuming. His example, then, shows us that true humility is in laying aside what our position or stature deserves.
To be humble means to follow the example of Christ, laid out for us in Philippians 2, to take ourselves off the throne and serve rather than be served. Humility is laying down our rights and what is coming to us. Humility is not hating who we are; it is knowing who we are. It is choosing to serve: to serve God’s ways rather than ours, and to serve man rather than our own selfishness. To be humble means we use our authority as a means to serve. To be humble means we use our power to protect and defend. To be humble means we use our resources to provide for others instead of gratifying ourselves. In humility we see our lives as existing to serve God and others instead of ourselves.
Surely I look at my own failures and sin, and I am sorrowful over my rebellion. However it must be the Godly sorrow that leads to life instead of the earthly sorrow that leads to death. The prophet Micah worded it beautifully, “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the High God?…Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
Godly sorrow will not lead me to hate myself, for that only leads to depression and death.
That self-hatred only keeps me on the throne and at the center of my consciousness. Self-hatred and pride are twins, for they both keep “me” in the front and center. Micah continues with the answer to his question,
“He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
This is humility in its purest form: not some great penance to absolve me of my mountainous iniquity, not living in self-hatred, not flogging myself either physically or spiritually. True humility takes “me” off the throne and out of the equation altogether. I no longer focus on my sin, my failure or weakness, for I am no longer the issue. I live to serve, not to be served. I live to forgive, not to be forgiven. I live to show mercy, not to be shown mercy. I live to love, not to be loved. I live to comfort, not to be comforted. I live to give, not to be given to.
Then and only then do I cease from the selfishness of self-hatred and begin to live in the Christ- like way of true humility. Ultimately, humility results in my death, in laying down my life for others just like Jesus did for me.
This post is an excerpt from my book “The Church Must Die”, available on Amazon.com.
I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago called “What if you feel like quitting?” I wrote it after I saw someone arrive at my blog after typing these words into a search engine: “what to do when you feel like turning away from Christianity?”
Well, the other night I noticed another search that resulted in a visit to this blog. This time the search was this: “I am a failure at Christianity.”
The emotion and hopelessness of those words have haunted me for three days now. Someone, somewhere sat down at their computer in a moment of despair and typed those words, hoping to find some solace or comfort. I have tried to imagine what prompted their resignation. What failure or sin caused this sad admission? I have prayed for that person in the days following, and I feel like I must respond.
There are two emotions that hit me as I think about that sentence, “I am a failure at Christianity.”
The first is compassion on the precious person who wrote it. I pray you will find hope and forgiveness. I hope you will find a way through Christ to get back up and keep going.
The second emotion I feel is anger. I am angry at a church culture that has made it possible for someone to feel like a failure at Christianity. I am angry that we have reduced the incredible grace of God, his undeserved favor, into a set of rules to keep and sins to avoid. I am angry that we have created an atmosphere where those who have trouble keeping our rules feel less than worthy of Christ and less than deserving of His grace.
You see, it’s actually impossible to fail at Christianity. If it were possible to fail, that would mean we have something to do with our own redemption. If it were possible to fail, that would mean there is something more than the cross that is necessary for salvation. If it were possible to fail, that would mean my salvation has more to do with me than it does with God.
None of those things are true. We are saved by grace alone, through faith in Jesus Christ. We most definitely do not deserve it. God has acted completely out of His own love for us. He has offered us forgiveness completely apart from anything we can do to earn or deserve it. The Bible tells us in Romans 5 that Christ died for us “while we were yet sinners.” That’s the good news, plain and simple. And the love and grace that saved you once is the same love and grace that continues to save you every minute of every day.
The only way we could ever fail at Christianity would be to not accept it. It’s a free gift, and the only way to fail with a gift is if we will not take it.
So to the person who wrote those words, I encourage you to believe. You are actually at the very place God wants you to be. We are all failures, and it’s only when we are finally able to admit that fact that we are able to receive His mercy. When you confess your failure and cry out to God, that’s when forgiveness starts to flow.
And to the rest of us, I encourage us to evaluate what we believe. Do we really believe in grace? Do we really believe salvation is a free gift from God, and that there is nothing we can do to earn it? I think many of us in the church see the sin and degradation around us and feel like we need to take a stand against it. But look at how Jesus treated sinners. It was always with love, mercy and compassion.
Unfortunately those things seem to be in short supply to far too many “sinners” today.
For further reading, check out this post as well: Being disillusioned is a good thing
Lately I have been reading Exodus. In particular, I have been reading the beginning of Exodus and the plagues God sent on Egypt as punishment for Pharaoh’s refusal to let His people go.
Have you ever wondered what Pharaoh was thinking? How could he not have gotten a clue? If I were Pharaoh, I would have given in after the first two or three plagues. I never would have made it through the lice, let alone fiery hail falling from the sky. How could he have stubbornly held on so long and lost so much? Even Pharaoh’s own advisors came to him and urged him to let the Israelites leave. “Our whole country is destroyed,” they pleaded.
In his own pride, Pharaoh thought he could outlast God. In his own fear of losing his slaves he was willing to hold on at all costs. In his own stubbornness he was willing to hang on to the destructive status quo, even when it was obvious things were about to change.
I’m thinking there’s a little Pharaoh in all of us.
How many times have I clung to that which God has told me to release? How much pain and suffering must I bear until I am ready to let go? I stubbornly hold on to those secret sins. I refuse to let go of the fears that have held me back. I run in the other direction from His call when it threatens my status quo. He tells me to take care of the poor, yet I spend far too much on myself. He tells me to be holy just like Him, yet I keep messing around with the world. He tells me to walk by faith, yet I continue to hold on to my security for dear life.
I don’t want to be like Pharaoh. I don’t want to foolishly hold on at the expense of my own destruction. I want to let go and become who God wants me to be. Sure, releasing those things to which I have clung so tightly is scary. Giving up my preconceptions, my comfort zone and my convenient excuses requires dying to myself, and death is frightening. But it’s something I must do if I’m going to be obedient to God and really follow Him.
Some might think God’s grace releases me from this responsibility. I believe His grace is what makes it possible.
One of the things I check regularly is the section that tells me what search terms are referring readers to my blog. In other words, if someone types “idolatry” or “grace” into Google, I want to know that they made it to my blog.
So last night I was looking at the incoming search terms, and one of them stood out. Someone did a Google search for “what to do when you feel like turning away from Christianity.” I have mixed emotions about that search. I’m both happy and sad that person is thinking those thoughts, asking questions, wondering if what they’ve been told about God is all there really is.
That’s the purpose of this blog. It’s the purpose of my book “The Church Must Die.” I want people to think about what they believe, and why. I want to speak to those who are fed up with what they feel is a bloated, ineffective, irrelevant modern church. I want them to realize there is so much more to Jesus Christ than what we’ve made Him out to be.
I want the disillusioned, the discouraged, the downtrodden to realize there is something more. I hope they can read these words and begin to grasp the enormity of God’s grace, a grace that goes beyond rules and regulations and dogma. I hope they will understand there is a place of safety and love within the true body of Christ, the remnant of those who are willing to love like Jesus loves. I hope they will find true meaning in giving their lives for a God who gave His life for them.
It’s okay if you feel like “quitting Christianity.” The religion we’ve built on the name of Jesus is something He never intended. It’s okay if what you see today seems like a sad reflection of the majesty of Almighty God. Look away from man and look to Him. Don’t judge Jesus by how I act, how Christians act, or even how you act. Judge Him on His own merits, they are more than sufficient.
Come to think of it, maybe it’s time we all quit Christianity and just started following Jesus.
1 Samuel 15:9 ~ But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them. But everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.
“Destroy the despised and worthless” was not the command that God had given Saul. The command was, “Destroy everything. Kill all that breathes Totally wipe out the Amalekites.” Why? Because the Amalekites had ambushed Israel on their way out of Egypt. God had promised to punish them for this act, and Saul had been commanded to carry out that punishment.
But Saul did not obey God. As Samuel arrived at the camp, Saul announced that he had carried out the Lord’s instructions. “Then what is that sound I hear? The bleating of sheep?” asked Samuel. Instead of destroying everything, Saul and the people kept some of the best of the land, supposedly as a sacrifice to God. The despised and worthless they destroyed, but the best of the flocks they did not. And for this disobedience, the kingdom was taken from Saul.
God also says those words to me: “Destroy everything. Destroy every work of darkness, every temptation that can ambush you along your way out of Egypt.” And, like Saul, I’m okay with destroying the despised and worthless things. I don’t have a problem getting rid of what I perceive as the “big stuff.”
But what about those things that are attractive to me? What about the things I enjoy? What about the seemingly harmless things that, if allowed to live, may someday ambush me? The “big sins” are no problem. But what about how I spend my time or money? Have I crucified those desires? What about my thoughts? Have I allowed those to live? What about unhealthy relationships, unprofitable habits or secret fears?
In verse 15 of this chapter it is clear that Saul thought he was doing God a favor, sparing sheep he had been commanded to kill, saving them as a sacrifice to God. But God made it clear, He demands obedience, not sacrifice.
How many have had the kingdom of God die in their hearts because they hold on to things that should have died? For how many as the love of God grown cold because of divided attention, divided love, and a divided heart?
Do you dare to let it all die? Do you dare to hold nothing back, to cut ties with all that has ambushed you along the way? God has chosen us by His overwhelming grace. It is now up to us to be obedient to His will, to carry out His commands. Until that happens, giving up the “big sins” is just window dressing.
In 1945 a batch of ancient documents was discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt. Contained was a manuscript called “The Gospel of Thomas,” a collection of several books of sayings attributed to Jesus. While this gospel is not widely accepted as authentic, it contains some interesting sayings of Jesus that ring true with what we read in the accepted gospels.
One of these is a two-word admonishment from Jesus that is changing my perspective on life. Two words, and they are making me rethink my whole world view. It is a command from Jesus to “become passersby.” Passers by…a visitor, a tourist, a temporary resident. This powerful phrase calls to mind the many warnings of Jesus to not hold too tightly to earthly treasures, to not cling to the temporary at the expense of the eternal.
“Become passersby.” In two simple words, Jesus lays out a worldview that is diametrically opposed to our modern, selfish, consumer-driven culture. “Become passersby” challenges me to radically evaluate my focus, my treasure, and my heart.
It’s like the person who just found out he has terminal cancer. In a moment he has become a passerby. He has suddenly realized the temporary nature of life, and all his priorities change.
I’m thinking of some broad topics, some foundations upon which we can build this new way of looking at the world.
- Material treasure In the same Gospel of Thomas there is another saying attributed to Jesus. It goes like this, “Life is a bridge. We pass over it, but build no houses on it.” What sense is there in investing so much of our time and attention in acquiring what is only temporary? What sense does it make to build permanent structures in a temporary environment?
- Forgiveness When we see ourselves as a passerby, wrongs done to us don’t have the same sting. Forgiveness is possible when we no longer see this life as permanent. Those hurtful acts and hateful words are only temporary setbacks.
- Compassion Care for the weak takes precedence when we let go of our own self-interest. When my possessions are seen as temporary, it makes sense to use them in a way that brings the maximum benefit. Permanent investment into others becomes more meaningful than temporary investment in myself when I am a passerby.
- Humility When we are a passerby we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Meekness becomes second nature to those who see themselves as part of a bigger picture. When I experience the grace of God, my own status and accomplishment take a back seat to God’s glory.
- Peace The passerby doesn’t worry. The passerby doesn’t cling too tightly to possessions, relationships, status, or any other crutch we have used in the past to find meaning and significance. Loss of those things doesn’t have the same impact when we realize how temporary they really are. Passersby seek to find meaning and purpose in what is eternal.
To be a passerby means looking at my life and the world around me in a different way. It means I can no longer be a passive participant in the culture in which I live, instead finding my wholeness in the kingdom of God. I’m no longer a victim, no longer a co-conspirator, no longer a permanent resident.
Share some thoughts in the comments section on what it would mean to you to become a “passerby.”
I am convinced we live in a church culture today that largely doesn’t have a clue about the real meaning of grace.
Most of us are either so burdened by guilt or consumed by worldliness that we cannot conceive of a life that is not only free from the guilt of our sin, but totally free from sin itself.
I ave written on several occasions on the freedom of God’s grace and how we can be totally free from guilt. The blood of Christ that forgave my sins yesterday is the same blood that covers them today as well.
But I want to talk about the freedom from sin that is promised to believers. Yeah, we can be free from sin. Not just the guilt of our sin, but from sin itself. This is almost a foreign concept in today’s postmodern, cynical, sin-drenched church.
How is it possible, you ask? I believe Psalm 141 gives us a blueprint, a five-step formula for that freedom from sin. Check it out:
Verse 2 “Let my prayer be set before You as incense, The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” Prayer is a first step in this freedom from sin. When I pray, my heart and mind are refocused from me to God. Getting the focus off of me is a good first step. Prayer also is an admission that I don’t have the answers, that I need God. It’s in this humility that sin starts to lose it’s grip. And finally, prayer unleashes the supernatural power of God to free me from my limitations.
Verse 3 “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips.” James tells us that if a man can control his tongue, he can control his whole body. Many Christians are so numb to what comes out of their mouths, they don’t even realize how it’s dragging them down. Complaining, gossip, cursing, off-color jokes, foolishness…it’s all there for most of us. I’ve personally found just reigning in my tongue did wonders in making me more sensitive to the sin in my life and in my environment.
Verse 4 “Do not incline my heart to any evil thing, to practice wicked works with men who work iniquity; and do not let me eat of their delicacies.” The environment in which we place ourselves is vitally important to overcoming sin, maybe the most important factor of all. We cannot overcome lust when we constantly ingest media that feeds it. We cannot overcome materialism when we are constantly going shopping or focusing on television and magazines that cause us to crave the latest and best. Focus is absolutely key. We cannot overcome the world when we have immersed ourselves in it, eating of it’s delicacies.
Verse 5 “Let the righteous strike me; It shall be a kindness. And let him rebuke me; It shall be as excellent oil; Let my head not refuse it. For still my prayer is against the deeds of the wicked.” If we are to overcome sin and live the guilt-free life God desires for us, we cannot do it alone. I AM A SIN ADDICT. I can’t help myself. I’ve been sinning since birth. And just like a drug addict needs accountability and community to over come his dependence on drugs, I likewise need others to help me overcome my addiction to myself. The first step to overcoming a porn addiction, or other compulsive behavior is to let someone else into my secret world. The beginning of controlling my tongue is placing myself in a context of those who are equally committed.
Verses 8-10 “But my eyes are upon You, O God the Lord; in You I take refuge; do not leave my soul destitute. Keep me from the snares they have laid for me, and from the traps of the workers of iniquity. Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I escape safely.” Ultimately, our hope is in God. He wants me to live a sinless life even more than I want to. He is able to empower me to this new life that is free from the constant “up and down” cycle. The world is a dangerous place for those committed to being like Christ. Only His power can help me successfully navigate it’s traps and dangers, finding my way to my desired destination.
Don’t get me wrong. I am committed to helping you find freedom in God’s grace. But not just freedom from guilt. Ultimately, freedom from sin is possible.
The question really comes down to this: what do I want? Do I want to live comfortably, or to be like the Savior who died for me? Am I willing to go through the hard work of separation from the world in order to find the life He has for me, or will I continue being a victim to the world and its delicacies.
It won’t happen instantly, but it will happen if I’m willing to give everything for Him. If you’re like me, until now you have just been too lazy to go there.
My neighbor, Gracie Rosenberger, is an incredible lady. She fell asleep at the wheel when she was 17 and barely survived the horrific crash. In the years since, she has had both her legs amputated, undergone over 70 surgeries, and pretty much lives her life in excruciating pain. Yet she is truly one of the most inspiring people I have ever met. She refuses to let her disability become a handicap.
Gracie recently released a book called “Gracie (Standing with Hope)” with her husband Peter, and together they chronicle their journey of grace, doubt, and God’s faithfulness through it all. It’s an amazing story. There is a quote from Gracie in the book that just about knocked me over. Keep in mind, this is a woman who lives her life in a constant state of pain. Here’s the quote,
“Pain relief is not a worthy life goal.”
Now, Gracie would be the first person to say, “I’m no hero,” but that quote, spoken by a woman who has suffered so much, is heroic.
And it made me think. I’m thinking about all the people who have made pain relief their life’s goal. Maybe not physical pain, but emotional and spiritual pain. I’m thinking of all the people who medicate themselves with alcohol, drugs, and other substances, all in pursuit of pain relief. I’m thinking of the young people who cut themselves to relieve their pain, the affairs and broken marriages, the sexual addictions. We have tried many medicines, but found no cure.
I’m also thinking of myself. Is that the extent of my life’s goal, to not hurt? I might not turn to something as obvious as alcohol or drugs, but I’m avoiding pain in every way I can. I’ve been afraid to try new things and take risks because I fear the pain of failure. Pain relief has driven me to waste countless hours in mindless entertainment and frivolity. Pain relief has caused me to hold back in my relationships out of fear of intimacy. Pain relief has caused me to disobey God, because His calling requires opening myself up to ridicule and rejection.
How about you? Is your life an elaborate web of pain relief? Has it become your life’s goal just to avoid pain? What might happen if you took that risk and opened yourself up to what God really has for you? Paul faced the same dilemma in Philippians 3,
But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
There is no “power of His resurrection” without the “fellowship of His sufferings.” There is no gaining Christ without the loss of everything else. There is no resurrection without being conformed to His death. Paul understood the pain that might be involved, but found the reward worth the risk, the gain worth the loss, the life worth the dying.
Maybe it’s time we come up with a life goal greater than pain relief.
Peter and Gracie Rosenberger have a foundation called “Standing with Hope.” It helps to provide prosthetic limbs to amputees in Africa. If you’d like to help with their great work or find out more about it, go to www.standingwithhope.com