God promises that if we seek him with all our heart we will find him. I believe this message will encourage you to keep seeking God. God seeks us first and desires to bless us more than we desire to be blessed. So keep asking, seeking and knocking.
God promises that if we seek him with all our heart we will find him. I believe this message will encourage you to keep seeking God. God seeks us first and desires to bless us more than we desire to be blessed. So keep asking, seeking and knocking.
The Christian life is a race that requires endurance. In my previous post on Hebrews 12:2: I said that as we look to and imitate Jesus, who for the joy set before him endured the cross – we too will endure. And one particular kind of suffering we must endure is hostility from a world hostile to its Creator and Savior. Jesus said we should expect opposition:
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.” (MT 10:24-25).
We shouldn’t be surprised when unbelievers malign us. We’re to be lights shining in a dark world. People sitting in a dark room don’t like it when someone turns on the lights. Especially if they are up to something no good. “Hey turn off that light!” they shout. We shine the light of Christ, the light of the gospel, into the darkness. And often the world doesn’t like it.
In this country we don’t usually experience physical opposition. But we may encounter hostile attitudes. A friend of mine worked in a shop with a man who hated him simply because he was a Christian. Every day this man made negative comments and even threats to my friend.
Years ago a family came to our church and we spent many hours counseling them and trying to help them, even giving them money to help with needs. They wound up leaving the church, and told other pastors in town that I was a Satanist. They harassed us in other ways as well, like making negative comments when they saw us. They lived near us and one day as the wife was walking in front of our house my wife said “hi” to her. She responded by saying, “I curse you in Jesus’ name!” Another time she was walking in front of our house with her children, as I arrived home from work. When I said “hi” she held her nose and said, “Children! What stinks! See this man? He is defiled. Stay away from him.” So much for a response to my friendly greeting.
Hebrews 12:3 gives us the key to enduring the hostility of others:
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (HEB 12.3)
Jesus doesn’t ask us to endure anything he hasn’t been through. He experienced every temptation we have only to the max. Jesus suffered incredible hostility – before he was crucified the religious leaders hated him and continually plotted to kill him. People accused Jesus of having a demon and healing by the power of Satan. At his mock trial before Caiaphas they spit in his face and struck him, and said “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?” Brutal Roman soldiers mocked and scourged him. Hostile crowds yelled “Crucify him” to Pontius Pilate.
Yet Jesus never reviled, threatened or cursed in return. He took it silently. How did he do it? Peter tells us:
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 1 PE 2:21-23
When people mocked and insulted Jesus he didn’t retaliate but entrusted himself to his Father – him who judges justly. When he hung on the cross and people spit on him saying, “Hey save yourself and come down from the cross if you’re the Christ,” he didn’t yell back, “Oh yeah, you just wait till I rise from the dead –you are going to wish you’d never done this to me.” No, he entrusted himself to his heavenly Father. And he even asked his Father to forgive those who had crucified him.
That’s how we are to endure hostility. We are to keep entrusting ourselves to God who judges justly and not take revenge or revile back. To entrust ourselves to God means we keep trusting him to take care of us. That God the all-knowing, all-wise judge, will deal with our enemies. That the One who is perfectly just and will make everything right in the end. To entrust ourselves to God means we put ourselves in his hands and trust him to defend us and deal with those who attack us.
My friend that I mentioned whose co-worker harassed him didn’t curse him or threaten him, but prayed for and forgave him. God gave my wife and I grace to not retaliate against the family that called me a Satanist. The only way I could get through their harassment was to keep looking to Jesus, entrusting myself to my heavenly Father. I didn’t always do it well. I was seriously tempted to anger at times and wanted to revile back, but God helped me not to.
Are you experiencing hostility from someone? Consider Jesus and the unimaginable hostility he endured. Don’t strike back. Don’t take things into your own hands. Don’t repay cursing with cursing. Do what Jesus did and entrust yourself to him who judges justly. That’s how he will keep you from growing weary or fainthearted.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (HEB 12:1-2)
A couple of years ago I did the only athletic accomplishment in my life. I use the word “athletic” loosely. My son Stephen challenged me to run a half marathon, so I began training a couple months in advance. My only goal was to finish the race. I fully expected to come in last. Actually I came in third from last – followed by a guy with a walker, and a mom pushing her baby in a stroller. Just kidding. But the training and the race required endurance. And the last couple miles of the race were brutal for me. I got to the place where I would jog 10 steps then walk 10 steps, then repeat, gasping for air. The course passed through some woods and finally I came to a clearing where I could see the finish line in the distance. So I walked for a few minutes, then burst out of the woods and sprinted over the finish line. Stephen and a few others from the church who’d waited for me began to cheer as I pumped my fists in the air like Rocky. Since then I’m happy to report I have jogged I think a total of two times.
The author of Hebrews compares our Christian life to a race that requires endurance. He uses the metaphor of a race, not a journey. A journey may be leisurely. We can take breaks, pull over to a rest stop, get a hotel room. But a race is all-out effort from start to finish. But do we do this? By looking to Jesus, and imitating his example.
How did Jesus endure the horrific pain of the cross? By focusing on the JOY set before him – the joy he’d experience when he rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the throne of God. The joy he’d experience when the Father received him and gave him the Name above every names. The joy he’ll have when he celebrates the marriage supper of the lamb with the multitudes of those he redeemed from every tribe and tongue. Jesus didn’t focus on his pain or the injustice he experienced. He didn’t feel sorry for himself. We often tend to focus on our suffering. I’m not saying we should ignore our pain or put on a fake smile and say it doesn’t hurt. But sometimes we focus too much on our pain – why is this happening to me? Why do I have to go through this? Paul tells us where to look:
We need to keep resetting our gaze on the joy set before us. My dad used to tell long circuitous stories. You would mention something and it would trigger a memory for him. For example once I said something about a candy bar. He launched into a story about traveling across the country and meeting this guy who had a truck and on and on and on and I’d wonder, “Dad, where are you going with this?” until finally he came to the place where the guy discovered a whole truckload of Kit Kat Bars. I got distracted by the details but dad kept his eye on the goal.
So keep setting your heart on the joy of seeing Jesus face to face and gazing on his splendor. The joy of Jesus wiping every tear from your eyes. The joy of Jesus rewarding you for every single act of obedience, every secret good deed you did, every glass of water you gave to a thirsty one, every dollar you ever gave to the poor, every hour you served in children’s ministry. Keep your eyes on the joy of hearing God say well done good and faithful servant. Keep your eyes on the joy of fellowshipping with Jesus at the marriage supper of the lamb. Remember the joy of having an imperishable body that will never get sick or suffer any pain. Keep your eyes on the joy of ruling and reigning with Jesus and the joy you’ll know when you’re reunited to loved ones who believed in Jesus.
On May 10, 1940, at age 65, the age most Americans are thinking about retiring, Winston Churchhill took the job of Prime Minister of the UK when there appeared to be little hope for Great Britain.
Two weeks later France would be crushed by the Germans and they would have complete control over all of Europe. There seemed to be little hope that Britain would not fall before their onslaught as well.
In one of his first speeches as Prime Minister Churchhill said, ?. . . we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.?
On October 29,1941 to the boys at Harrow School, Churchill said, “Never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
Great Britain faced a powerful, evil earthly enemy. Believers in Jesus face much more formidable spiritual powers, as well as living in a fallen world. And we are promised we will encounter trials of various kinds and warned to not be surprised when we suffer. Yet we are exhorted again and again to endure, as in Hebrews 10:36:
For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.
Great Britain had no guarantee their endurance would pay off. But believers are guaranteed a great reward for their perseverance. We will be welcomed into heaven by our Master with “Well done, good and faithful servant.” We will be rewarded with the vision of the face of Jesus Christ and comforted as Jesus himself wipes away every tear from our eyes. We will sit down at the wedding feast of the Lamb and enjoy fellowship with our God and our family forever. We will be completely conformed to the likeness of Christ, and we’ll hear and join the heavenly multitudes in the song of the Lamb forever.
So don’t give up. Don’t give in. If you have fallen, confess your sin and Jesus will forgive and cleanse you of all unrighteousness. Then ask him for grace to get back up again and keep plowing ahead.
Imitate the endurance of Jesus, who endured the hostility of men and the agonly of cross by looking to the joy set before him (Heb 12:1-3).
Never give up. Never give in. Take up the full armor of God and stand. Don?t stop praying. Don?t quit serving. Don?t stop hoping. Our God is greater than any circumstance and any enemy and any failure. Nothing is too hard for our God. His arm is not too short to save. And the reward for endurance is greater than we can imagine.
My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline
or be weary of his reproof,
for the LORD reproves him whom he loves,
as a father the son in whom he delights. (PR 3:11-12)
When my kids were little I spanked them. I tried to do it with gentleness and love, but it did smart. And each of my kids had a different response to it. One would fight it all the way, twisting and screaming and begging, ?NO, NO, NO!? all the way to the bathroom, thrusting his hands down to protect his little butt. Sometimes he?d resist so much I couldn?t give him his little spanking and I?d have to wait till later.
Another child had a completely different response. His was more like ?Give me your best shot.? He would bend over, hands on the wall, and take it like a man. He might wince a bit, but as soon as it was over, would straighten up and look at me as if to say, ?Is that all you got??
We can react in various ways when the Lord disciplines us. We can ?despise the Lord?s discipline? and say ?This stinks. Why is God doing this to me?? We grumble and complain or go about downcast and miserable, sliding into the pit of self-pity. We resent others who seem to have no pain in their lives.
We can become ?weary of his reproof.” ?We give up. ?I quit.? We quit reading our Bible, quit asking God for his help, quit going to church.
Sometimes we interpret God?s discipline as if he is punishing us. But for believers, there is no more punishment for sins because Christ took our punishment on the cross.
But though God never punishes his children, he does discipline us because he LOVES and DELIGHTS in us – ?for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights (12).
We must TRUST God when he takes us through painful hardships, and be careful not to DESPISE his discipline or BE WEARY of his reproof.
Hebrews 12, expanding on Proverbs 3, says that God?s discipline is proof we?re legitimate sons and daughters (8). Our loving Father disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness (10), that is, become more and more like Jesus.
God does so much for our good when he disciplines us. He steers us away from sin and temptation, like a shepherd giving a sheep a thwack with his rod on its side to keep it from the edge of a cliff. God humbles us, makes us dependent on him, and comforts us so we can comfort others who suffer. He strengthens our faith and makes us more merciful to others. He displays his power in us and proves his faithfulness. He does a thousand things for our good when he disciplines us. And though discipline hurts now, later it will yield good fruit.
But we must respond to God?s loving discipline correctly. We must trust our God completely. ?We must lift our drooping hands and strengthen our weak knees (HE 12:12) – in other words, persevere. We must make straight paths for our feet (13), or turn away from any sin and get back on track with Jesus. When the Lord disciplines us, we?re tempted to bail out, or turn to other things for relief and comfort rather than him. But we must keep trusting him.
How do we do that?
Keep praying, seeking the Lord, and asking for help and strength. Ask him for anything you desire. Ask him to heal, provide, move you, change you. Ask him for joy.
Keep thanking him and praising him. Thank him for his steadfast love and his mercies that are new every morning. Thank him for his promise to never turn away from doing good to you. Thank him for his discipline – that he loves you and is forming Christ in you and making you holy. When we?re in heaven, we?ll thank our Father for disciplining us, because we?ll see the fruit. So why not get a jump start and start thanking him now.
Keep reading his word. Make sure you are not turning to your own understanding and being wise in your own eyes. God?s word is our lighthouse in the storm. His word keeps us trusting him and following him.
So if God is taking you through a painful season, don?t squirm and twist and cry and yell, ?NO, NO, NO!? under God?s loving rod. Don?t grumble. Don?t faint. Don?t quit. And don?t interpret God?s discipline as punishment. It?s proof of his love.
There is a word in the Bible that I’m so glad is there. I’ve come back to it again and again over the years. I have said many times, “Yeah! That’s the word for it. That’s what I’m feeling right now.”
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. ?We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; ?always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. ?2 Corinthians 4:7-10
Perplexed, but not driven to despair!
Paul, the author of most of the New Testament, was perplexed at times. ?The brilliant theologian Paul didn’t know what the heck was going on at times. He didn’t understand why certain things were happening to him. There were things in his life that didn’t make sense. Outcomes that shouldn’t have happened. Friends that shouldn’t have betrayed him. ?Unexpected twists and turns. ?And he was perplexed.
Like when he was being a servant, gathering sticks for a fire and a poisonous viper latched on to him. ?Ever had that experience? ?You were just trying to serve and you wind up getting bit.
So many things in our lives are perplexing. We try to do the right thing and someone gets angry at us. We do all we know to do as parents and a child rebels. We help someone financially and they go around slandering us. We give someone godly counsel then they blame us for the problems their sins have caused. Perplexing. Confusing. Mind-boggling. Head-scratching.
Why does God allow us to be perplexed? To display his power. To remind us that we are jars of clay and all our strength is from God.
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed” – When life beats us down and we rise up out of the ashes praising God, it displays his incredible power.
“Perplexed, but not driven to despair” – When we go through confusing circumstances that would drive others to despair yet we continue to hope in God, that displays his might.
“Persecuted, but not forsaken” – Others hurt us yet we find again and again that God is with us.
“Struck down, but not destroyed” ? We just keep getting back up again. Why? ?Why don’t we just stay down? Why don’t we we just give up? Why do we keep coming back to God’s word, and to church? ?Why do we lift up our hands in praise when we should just quit? ?Because of God’s power!
“Always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” ?When we “die” in any way – ?when we’re disappointed, betrayed, confused, perplexed, hurt, persecuted, disrespected, abused – it’s then that the life of Jesus shines most brightly through us. All our afflictions are intended to reveal the power and glory of God in our lives.
Are you perplexed? ?Are you down? ?Get back up. Keep going. Keep seeking Jesus for strength. Keep asking him for answers. Don’t despair. Jesus is about to display his glorious power through you.
Paul called the Christian life a race. But it?s not a short race. It’s a marathon. ?It’s a long haul.
And it?s not a sprint. ?It’s more like a plod. Or a hike. Paul could have said I have hiked the good hike, I?ve slogged the good slog. ?I have plodded the good plod.
Our problem is we want things now. We want it in a 4-hour work week. ?We don?t like having to wait 2 weeks for our new iPad to be shipped. ?We want to get everything at the drive through. ??Can I have a double character with a side of patience and a super-sized endurance – like, NOW!?
But God is looking for plodders. ?He?s not looking for comets who make a big flash in the sky then burn out.
God is looking for faithfulness. Most of us will never do anything sensational. But we can be faithful. We can plod. ?Don?t be discouraged if most of your life seems to be plodding.
Parenting is a form of plodding. ?Day after day, little by little, faithfully serving our kids. Faithfully telling them about Jesus. ?Faithfully correcting and loving in the midst of chaos. ?Changing hundreds of diapers and saying no thousands of times and praising your children over and over. Saying thousands of prayers for your children. Working through lots of stuff with them when they’re teens. Long talks at night when they’re in college. Plodding.
The Christian life is plodding. It’s slow growth. It’s changing little by little. Sometimes it’s three steps forward and two steps back. ?Sometimes?change is undetectable for days or weeks or months at a time. Why? Because it takes time to build relationships. ?It takes time grow in your marriage. ?Christ doesn’t form his character in us like making a glass of instant tea. ?He doesn’t produce the fruit of the Spirit overnight. ?Developing spiritual gifts is a slow process.
The plodding life is trusting God day by day. ?It?s asking him to fulfill his promises over and over again. It’s thanking God him in good times and bad. ?It takes faith to plod. ?To believe in God today when you can?t see an answer, then do it all over again tomorrow. ?Then the next day. ?And next week. ?And next month. ?To keep sowing seeds and watering them and waiting then watering waiting weeding watching.
But plodding eventually bears fruit. ?Faithful in little leads to faithful in much. ?Insignificant seeds sprout and grow and produce a harvest. ?Children get saved eventually. ?You see answers to prayer. ?New people venture through the front doors of your church. ?People get baptized. ?You form friendships. ?You use your gifts. ?Saints are strengthened. And God is glorified through your faithful plodding.
So don’t be discouraged if you feel like you’re plodding along. ?Eventually you’ll hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful plodder. ?Enter into the joy of your master!”
??I feel sort of thin, like butter scraped over too much toast,? Bilbo Baggins tells Gandalf in Tolkien?s The Fellowship of the Ring. I love the word picture in that sentence, partly because it?s such good writing but mostly because I can relate to the experience. Can you?
There?s not enough of me to go around.
I can?t manage all of these responsibilities.
I feel pulled in every direction.
I?m exhausted and ready to give up.
Weakness. It?s not a pleasant thing. To feel overwhelmed, out of your league, unable to cope, or stretched too thin is something every one of us can relate to ? and yet that doesn?t make it any less painful! ?And the things that come out along the way can be excruciating as well.? When butter gets spread too thin, holes emerge. Sin comes out. You yell at your five-year old because you?re stressed from trying to chauffeur your teens to all the places they?re supposed to be. Or inadequacies get exposed. You forget all about the promise you made to pray for a friend, or that you were supposed to teach children?s ministry this week, or that the car needs servicing again. Things you know you shouldn?t be doing are multiplying. Things you know you should be doing are falling through the cracks.
All of this can make us wonder: What have I done to get myself in this position? How did I end up so overwhelmed, so stressed, so?weak? Is something wrong with me? Listen to these words from Richard Bauckham:
Anyone who knows only his strength, not his weakness, has never given himself to a task which demands all he can give. There is no avoiding…weakness, and we should learn to suspect those models of human life which try to avoid it?.To be controlled by the love of Christ means inevitably to reach the limits of one’s abilities and experience weakness. ?(?Weakness, Paul?s and Ours,? Themelios, 1982)
I don?t want to imply that every experience of weakness or insufficiency is part of God?s call on our lives. It?s possible to unwisely attempt more than God would have us do. Sometimes we need to say ?no.? But having said that, we must recognize that for the Christian weakness is not something to be avoided at all costs. On the road of gospel obedience, whether in ministry or parenting or vocational work or anything else, a sense of weakness is a gift from God. It is a painful mercy that drives us to the power of our Lord and away from our delusions of self-sufficiency. And the fact that you experience weakness is often the indicator that you are exactly where the Lord wants you, giving yourself wholly to the work he has called you to do.
Do you feel weak? Do you feel spread too thin? Take heart, child of God. Faithful Christians are weak Christians. God doesn?t call or use supermen or women. He uses weak believers, and he calls believers to weakness, and through it to dependence on him. ?Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me? (1 Cor. 12:9).
+photo by?Photo by Rennett Stowe
I recently finished the book The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins? novel-soon-to-be-major-motion-picture. It was quite an enjoyable read, and I?m looking forward to seeing the movie. I won?t give away any of the plot, but the basic storyline follows a girl who is forced by a cruel government to participate in a kind of gladiator games where twenty-four teens are thrown into an arena and forced to battle to the death. ?Most of the book takes place in the arena where Katniss, the main character, attempts to survive in a hostile landscape where literally everyone and everything is out to get her. And that got me thinking?the Christian life feels like that sometimes, doesn?t it?
Our inward sins and weaknesses war against our souls. 1 Peter 2:11: ?Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.?
The world in rebellion against God seeks either to seduce or destroy us. John 15:18: ?If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.?
If that?s not enough, we have a great Enemy of our souls, Satan himself, who has no greater desire than to destroy each one of God?s people. 1 Peter 5:8: ?Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.?
The Bible and our own experience are clear: we have much set against us. What can give courage and hope to a pilgrim passing through such a war zone? Jonathon Edwards? sermons on 1 Corinthians 13 have been feeding my soul for months, and once again in reading I came across another wonderful insight. In the midst of all our foes, Edwards says, God Himself is our defense and salvation itself is our fortress.
[God?s] mighty power, by which he is able to subdue all things to himself, is on our side, and pledged for our protection, so that none of our enemies shall be able to destroy us. We may rejoice that we have a strong city, unto which God has appointed salvation for walls and bulwarks?The everlasting arms are underneath us. Jehovah, who rides upon the heavens, is our help. And all our foes He will subdue under his feet; so that we may well rejoice in the Lord, and joy in the rock of our salvation. (Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits, p. 302).
Do all things seem against you today? Are you tempted to raise the white flag in your battle against sin, Satan, and the world? Remember this, and stand firm. ?If God is for us, who can be against us??
We share the gospel with someone for months and they don?t receive Christ. ?We try our best to bring up a child in the fear and instruction of the Lord and he rejects Christ as a teenager. ?A pastor faithfully preaches the gospel only to find his church doesn?t grow much. ?A small group leader encourages his fellow Christians week after week and they don?t seem to change.
We can ask ?Is it worth it?? ?Paul says:
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. ?(1 Corinthians 15:58)
Christians are never finished. ?It?s not like building a house where you finish, step back, and see the work of your hands. ?God?s work in us is never done in this life. ?Fruit takes a long time. ?God often lets us experience the joy of reaping and lets us see the fruit of our labor, but it usually takes a long time. ?And sometimes we don?t see it at all.
Paul could have been tempted to feel like his labor was pointless. ?Near the end of his life he wrote Timothy:
You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes. (2 Timothy 1:15)
For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. (2 Timothy 4:10).
Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! ?(2 Timothy 4:14-16)
Here’s the point: our labor in Jesus is not in vain. ?None of it. ?God promises our work for him will be rewarded in the end. He’ll use it somehow. ?He won?t waste a single bit of it.
It?s knowing this that stirs us to ?be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.?
It?s knowing this, DESPITE appearances, that keeps us sharing the gospel, training our children, and serving God?s people.
So be steadfast. ?Immovable. ?Keep praying. ?Keep hoping. ?Keep loving. ?Someday you?ll hear Jesus say, ?Well done, good and faithful servant. ?Enter into the joy of your Master.?