Posts Tagged ‘faith’

A Subtle Heresy

Question:  does God want you to be healthy, wealthy, and wise?  Many Christians would say that yes, this is God’s desire for our lives.

Better Question:  does God want to conform us into the image of His Son, Our Savior, Jesus Christ?  Yes, yes, and yes again.

This means that the Lord will go to great lengths to accomplish this in your life.  Including bringing suffering into your life.  Not a once of us would ask to go through the school of suffering.   But, I can attest, great growth in faith and the Gospel comes through our suffering well in Christ.  A friend of mine called it a subtle heresy that most Christians believe, when we that God wants to make us happy and comfortable.  Actually he wrecks our comfort, especially our comfort with our sin.  When we quit fighting for our sanctification.  God wrecks our apathy.  My friend and his wife had great plans for their son, until they realized that he was autistic.  All of a sudden they were on a different journey.  I think he would agree that is both a wonderful and terrifying journey.  This makes us depend all the more on God.  This dependence is the real goal of the Christian life.  I can assure you that in some way at some time, God will disrupt your will, your thinking, and your life.  And He will do so for your good.  I guarantee it, though you may not see it at the time.  It is the lie of the Prosperity Gospel (that God wants you to have your best life now) that we so desperately want to believe.  It is easier to believe that, but it is not in the Bible (read 1 Peter or Acts 7).  God has so much better for us.  Live in that truth and look to our God to do wonderful and terrifying things in our lives.  For His glory and the furtherance of the Gospel in our lives.

Cancer & Sin

I Peter 5:8 – Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls aroundlike a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
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I wish this weren’t true, but it is.  And I mistakenly thought that Satan might give me a break from temptation – at least for a little while.  After all, haven’t I suffered enough.  And aren’t I doing a good enough job on my own? (yes).  But that not the way things work.

Jesus’ Temptation is instructive at this point.  Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness.  And no, at the end of it all, Jesus didn’t catch a break from Satan.  No, instead he waited to attack and tempt Jesus at the end of that time when we would he would be at his weakest and lowest point.  He waited until Jesus would be hungry and thirsty for a way out and an end to his trials, which were only just beginning.  But thankfully for us, Jesus prevailed.

And so, I find myself still struggling with sin in my life.  Temptation comes from all sides and often when I am at my lowest point.  Of course, like Jesus, my best defense is to arm myself with the Word of God and be prepared for the attack to come.

But that’s hard isn’t it.  We don’t see it coming.  And we don’t recognize temptation for what it is.  Let me give you an example of such sin struggles in my life at this point.  I love to use Faceboook.  We use for the church.  I use it to keep up with family and friends.  And they have used to send me reminders of their prayers or other such encouragement.  So, I enjoy Facebook.  But there has been a sin that I don’t I have wrestled with as much in the past (of course, I could be very wrong about that!):  Envy and Jealousy.  These are what Jerry Bridges would call “respectable sins” in his great book by the same title.  They are subtle.  What happens is I see all the happy people on Facebook taking their wonderful vacations to the beach or the mountains.  And they are eating such scrumptious meals and having all around good time.  On one hand, I can be happy for them and glad they can delight in such things.  On the other hand, I don’t understand why they deserve such goodness and I have received such hardship.  What did I do to deserve this?  Why did all my plans get wiped off the map with the mention of one little word: cancer.    Envy and jealousy then creep in and I find myself loathing my friends and myself.  No, there is no let up in the temptation.  Sorry, I wish I could tell you otherwise. 

What is happening in my heart when I begin to entertain the sin of envy and jealousy.

  • I have forgotten God’s goodness and His Sovereignty
  • I have neglected to use a powerful weapon to combat this sin, as Jesus did:  the Word of God.
  • I have failed to realize that everything God gives is a gift of His grace and none of us is worthy.
  • I have failed to love my friends and family well.
  • I have not believed that God is sufficient for all my needs.
  • And I have not believe that my Savior has completely vanquished my enemy and I am victorious in Him.
  • And I forgotten how good God has been to me and my family.

No, there is no let up in the temptation.  Sorry, I wish I could tell you otherwise.   Thankfully, I can also tell you that there is no let up in the mercy and forgiveness of God, that covers all our sins.  Especially the ones that we so often let pass and do not recognize.  Envy and Jealousy in Him.  What subtle and respectable sins do you find yourself struggling with?

I Peter 5:6-11:  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. Andafter 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.

Fighting for the Truth

LiesSpiritual life is a fight for truth.  For a greater reality.  Why must we fight for truth?

Because we have an adversary who has been lying since the beginning.  Satan started his attack on truth in the Garden (Genesis 3) and it has been one of his choice weapons since then.  He is called the father of lies in Scripture (John 8:44).  On the other hand, it is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:18).  But we are so perceptible to the subtle mistruths and misdirections.  Have you ever heard these whispers in you ear?

  • How could God love you?
  • God won’t forgive you again.
  • Did God really say that?
  • God won’t keep his promises
  • How can you trust God?
  • Jesus was just a good teacher.
  • Jesus didn’t really rise from the grave
  • You are unloveable
  • You will never amount to anything
  • You are to far past redemption
  • Trust yourself – it’s the best way
  • You can not depend upon God to see you through this trial
  • God is punishing you

And the lies go on and on.  Sometimes they are close to the truth.  Sometimes they appeal to our sinful flesh.  Our pride.  Our wounds.  Sometimes we believe the lie, because the truth of God’s grace seems to good to be real.  Or just for other folks, but not for me.   

Brothers and Sisters, do not believe these lies.  See them for what they are.  Shine the Light of God’s Word upon them and reveal the mistruths.  Pray for the Spirit to help you discern between truth and error.  Fight for the truth of God’s Word.  There is life and freedom in God’s Word.  Help one another in this battle.   One of the best things you can do for a brother or sister in Christ is to pray for them and to share Scripture with them.  May we be a church that does that for one another.  

John 8:32-38 (ESV) So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave[b] to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

The Gospel Well

I, along with others, was asked this question by a good friend teaching a seminar at General Assembly this year:

What characteristics (in anyway you want to explain them) would you list that describe a man being animated and enjoying the Gospel in contrast to a man who is living out of a religiously-moralistic understanding of Christianity?”

I share this with you because I talked yesterday in the sermon about the need to regularly focus on the Gospel – the good news of our salvation.  A great treasure we have in jars of clay.

Here was my answer, which applies to men and women equally:

            I got this as I was going into or just starting chemotherapy.  So, take that into account, but here is the mental image that came to mind.  And I don’t exactly claim originality, but other than Scripture, I don’t have a source for this imagination of mine.   Here goes:
           Imagine, if you will, a well in the center of an area, surrounded by a hundred other wells.  That center well is the Gospel Well and it is fed by “living waters” that Christ provide.  That means, when we dip and drink from the Gospel Well we find life.  We also find that the water is always fresh to our need and there is never a moment when we dip into that well and find it empty.  Never is there a gate-keeper saying that we have had too much or that the Owner of the well has given enough, but no more.  Always, and each day, we have a need to run to that well.  We find life, animation, hope, mercy, redemption, forgiveness, love, and on and on.  There we have a precious foretaste of the full satisfaction that we find in Christ.  As Peter said,  “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”  (John 6:68-69).   And so we must turn to Christ and come to know again Who He is.  Isn’t this what the Woman at the Well learned? (John 4)  She’d been drinking from the wrong wells.  
            But what of those other wells?  You and I know them too well, unfortunately.  They are the well of performance, the well of pleasure, the well of reputation, the well of self-righteousness, the well of judgment of others, the well of despair, the well of guilt, the well of addiction, the well of lies, the well of greed…and a hundred others by similar names.  This is our problem:  we run to those wells days after day, looking for what only the Gospel well can provide us.  And yet, we continue to dip our buckets into these wells looking for life. What do we find?  Stagnant pools that don’t bring us life, but instead lead us away from Christ.  They effectively empty.  And we pay the price – emotionally, spiritually, financially, relationally, physically – for such empty drink.  We drink and still parched.  We drink and are still empty inside.  And why do we do this?  Because we continue to drink from the Well of Lies – crafted by the father of Lies himself.  We’ve drunk too deeply of the kook-aid and been pointed from one well to another.  
            But the Gospel Well is rich and free – all the time, anytime.  There is no lie or false advertising in the Gospel, only our ever growing realization of what we need to drink.  And drink deeply.  
Isaiah 55 (all of it, because there is no good place to stop!)
“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know,
and a nation that did not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.
 
“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
 
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
 
“For you shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

Fighting for the Greater Reality

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The longer I live, the more and more I am convinced that a large part of the Christian life is a fighting for the greater reality of God at work in our lives.  A fighting for perspective that see beyond the moment we live in at the present, for the reality that is both our present and our future.  We are a myopic bunch – we can only see what is right in front of us.  Meanwhile, God is ordering our days and nights, is present with us in real ways – especially through His Spirit, and is keeping His promises.

This fighting has been much of what my last week has been about – at least in my mind and in the quiet moments when I consider “what in the world are you doing, God?!”  As you may have read in my last blog post, I didn’t fair well during, but especially after the last chemotherapy cycle.  I was emotionally, physically, and spiritually spent – and not in a good way.

One of the reasons this was true, I have come to believe, is that I lost the mental/emotional/spiritual fight for perspective before I ever started.  This time, two weeks ago, I began to feel a sense of dread and foreboding.  I knew what was coming and I hated it.  I was defeated going in and I came out defeated coming out.  I did not fight for the greater reality of God’s goodness and His faithfulness.  It wasn’t that I was actively doubting those, but I wasn’t fighting to see them either.  If your honest, you do the same thing in your life and in the struggles you face.  And don’t diminish those struggles, just because you are not struggling like I am.  This is a common Christian experience – I think.  We forget that “God has not given us a spirit of timidity (or fear), but of power and love and discipline.” (1 Timothy 1:7).

Another verse that has been much on my mind, is 2 Corinthians 5:7:  “we walk by faith, not by sight.”  I am learning in new ways what that means.  For me, right now, it means that I have to trust that God will be faithful to the promises He has made in His Word (to comfort the afflicted, to come near to those who are low, to hear & even answer prayers, etc).  And to trust especially when I cannot see where His answer are coming from.  That is the faith that sees, despite not seeing.  That is the way the Christian fights for perspective and for the greater reality, even when what is seen out of my two eyeballs seems to scream that God has left me, doesn’t care, or isn’t there.  Those of the lies of the evil one, who does not give me a pass on his evil attack on me or God’s reputation, just because I’m going through chemotherapy.  No, that’s actually makes me ripe.  All the more reason to engage in this battle.

And how do we engage in this fight?  It’s both simple and profound.  Pray, read Scripture, seek encouragement from the Body, worship & rejoice in the goodness and faithfulness that can be seen (if we open our eyes there is much), reflect on how God has come near in past circumstances, journal/write/blog your thoughts, have coffee with a friend who will speak truth into your life.  To name a few.  Thank you for joining me in this fight where you can ad for learning to fight your own battles.   This moment is real, but it is not the only reality.  Fight for the greater reality.

This Moment is Real, but it is not the Only Reality

Like my dinner that ended up on the living room floor – a side effect of the constipation, which is a side effect of the nausea meds, that are used to control the nausea, which is a side effect of the chemotherapy, of course – I feel the need to work through some of my emotions and thoughts.  You have been warned.  It has not been pretty the past few days.

Days that end in Y are hard, much of the time.  The Monday after a chemotherapy are the hardest.   Here’s why:  I’m ready to feel better and return to some activity at home and in the office.  And Lydia is ready to be done with being a single parent (for all practical purposes).  And yet, the transition is stilted and fraught with landmines – physical and emotional.  In that way, that Monday can be very hard for all involved.

Tonight through tears, I cried out to God.  I told Him I was mad, but that I needed Him to meet me there.  It’s the first time that I have been able to express that emotion in prayer.  I don’t tend towards outward anger, in general.  I am much more prone to depression, which I remember somebody calling “anger toward inward.”  I suppose this is progress through the emotional side of this suffering.  I think I have a long ways to go.

I hate that my children have to come to me with their small, sweet voices to ask if I am okay, if they see me writhing in pain, or after I have lost the contents of my stomach.

I hate what this is doing to my wife, who has been a rock, but can only withstand so much.  Our marriage is as strong as ever, but this tests our endurance and patience, as we suffer together

Speaking of patience, I hate that I have so little when my children are just being children.  Never a strong suit before this, but a real test.

I hate that I can’t be the pastor I want to be, though my congregation and fellow elders make no demands on me, other than to focus on my health as needed.

I wonder what they will remember about this time in their childhood.  I hope and pray that it is moments of joy, punctuated with moments of pain.  But not pain without a purpose.  May it increase their faith and understanding of need for the Lord.  I’m not sure I could stand otherwise.

I wrenched my knee, which remains painful, but I think is getting better (I hope).  I hate that it’s an added physical impediment, but I have never regretted being a dad to my son, chasing and playing tag on a scooter.  I’d do it again for the moment of joy with him, in the midst of so many joyless days.

This last cycle I lost the mental battle.  I am learning how much of this is mental, even when the physical side is the most visible.  I went into the last chemo cycle already defeated.  I can’t be sure, but I am fairly certain that that had an impact on my experience this past weekend.  I am trying to figure out how I can keep a positive spirit and attitude, but not make it about my will and ego.  I need to be strengthened by God, not self.  And yet, I am entirely sure what that looks like.  I’ve lost my way a bit in this regard.

I don’t want your sympathy (and yet, I am thankful for it) and I wish I didn’t need your prayers.  Though I do want and need them.   I’m also bad at taking advice and being cared for.  I’m just not good at it.  Typical man, I suppose.

One of my biggest laments is that I cannot go (or should not, for fear of infection with a diminished immune system) to the hospital.  Last week, during chemo, someone connected to our church was in the hospital, and I couldn’t go.

I’m tired of vomiting.  I think my esophagus may agree.

Last night, one of our children had a meltdown.  The end of the school year is always hard.  The end of  the school year when you dad has been diagnosed with cancer and is undergoing chemo – well, that’s a different kind of hard.  One of the thing that I told this child, I realized I needed to hear too.  We talked about how our emotions (whether good or bad) in a moment  are real – very real.  But they are not the only true reality.  This moment is real, but it is not the only reality.  This – this is what I need to fight for emotionally and mentally.  There will be an end to this.  There will be a return to health, Lord willing.  And we are still a family that is clinging to God and Who, more importantly, will not let us go.  This moment is real, but it is not the only reality.

Help My Unbelief: Mark 9:14-29

This is a sermon manuscript, which is written for the ear, not the eye.  So, it’s full of grammatical errors and incomplete sentences, I imagine.  Also, I try to attribute thoughts to others, but my sermon is the product of much reading of others, to whom I am indebted.

 Help My Unbelief  (Mark 9:14-29);  One of my favorite passages and verses (I know I have a lot):  “I believe, help my unbelief”.  After two sermons on miracles in the Gospel of John, I want to turn our attention to one more desperate father and one more healing from Christ.  This is a story that we will find ourselves somewhere in, but I hope that we also find our Savior in this story.   

[Introduction]: 

Do you ever think of your life as a story?  Or maybe you picture yourself in a movie, complete with a soundtrack.  And in general, we love a good story.  And some of us love to tell a good story.  Part of the fun of our Wednesday night gatherings is the opportunity to fellowship over a meal and tell the stories of our week.  Sometimes, they are of our foibles or our frustrations, but in those moments we understand ourselves as living in a story.  Obviously, you know that my use of the term “story” does not imply fiction, but the truth of our lives as we experience them.  Aren’t you glad that the Bible gives us stories?  Yes, we get lots of other things we need:  teaching, prophecy, poetry, included.  But we also get stories.  And here we have another story from the Gospels.

What are the five elements of story (you may have learned slightly different terms): the plot, the characters, the theme, the conflict, and the resolution.  Well, we definitely have that today in this story from the Gospel of Mark.  And we have those in our lives.  Do you know conflict in your life and your heart?  Aren’t our lives full of characters, especially here in the Deep South – we have some real characters here.  And whether we know it not,

Let me tell you the theme of this story that were going to explore, and thus the theme of this sermon:

Theme:   You can have an imperfect faith, if you have a perfect Savior. 

 Your faith can falter & fail, if you know Jesus.  You can struggle with unbelief, when you also believe that God is bigger than it.  Isn’t that who we are?  And where we live most days?

BB:  We’re going to take a slightly different approach this morning.  We’ll get the outline of the story and then we’ll look at the details as we consider the characters in this story.    So, my main points our The Story, The (Usual) Suspects, and The Savior.

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