Bible, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus

Focus When Suffering

(14) And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, (15) that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.“ (John 3:14-15)

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John 3:14-15 helps us gain focus and perspective when suffering. Some have been abused and want the Bible to give hope that their abuser will go to jail for his crimes. Some have been deeply and painfully betrayed and want the Bible to give hope that their friend will repent and seek reconciliation and all will be made right again. Some have lost fortunes and want the Bible to give hope that they will be prosperous again. Some are dying and want the Bible to give hope that they have years left on this earth.

But the truth is we are hoping in the wrong things. I can’t promise he will face jail time. I can’t promise your spouse or friend will repent and return. I can’t promise faithfulness leads to riches. I can’t promise you healthy years. But, if those are your ultimate hopes, you are hoping in the wrong things.

But, what I can promise you is that Jesus will be exalted. If you are a Christian, that is enough. The pathway to peace and happiness is not through finding justice, reconciliation, wealth, and health on this earth. Rather, joy is found in the depths of your soul not in your outer circumstances. Might sound odd, but God-the-Father and God-the-Spirit found happiness in God-the-Son. Their pleasure was found in lifting Jesus up?!

John Pitman was committed to get Jesus up, even when suffering. Pitman was a Revolutionary War hero who got converted and became a Reformed Baptist pastor in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Pitman’s life was marked by many forms of suffering. He survived a violent war. He buried his wife and young daughter on the same day. He faced financial ruin, losing his business and livelihood. He longed to be in ministry but the door really didn’t open for him till late in life.

At the end of his life he became very ill and knew the end was near. Jesus was Pitman’s desire, and as he neared the end he wrote:

“Let us adore the rich grace of God in calling us in early life, in keeping us by his power through faith unto the present time, in still making us his care, in enabling us to bear testimony to the truth and its glorious effects in old age, and in all circumstances…Should we have a hard battle with the last enemy that is to be destroyed, it will be very short, and then we shall be more than conquerors through him that loved us, and enjoyed his presence forever…It is a blessing to be tried, a blessing to be delivered, a blessing to have a grateful heart for both.”

Then, on the day he died, he wrote:

“In a short time our glass will be out, and the sands run low; not far distant is the change to which all other changes were directed, and the afflicting portion of them will add an eternal weight of glory to the soul.  Let these things animate us to run with patience the race set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of God, whose intercession is prevalent for all that love and obey him.”

Friends, we don’t need earthly justice, we don’t need need all things to be made right here and now, we don’t need wealth, and we don’t need long healthy years. But, what we do need is to see Jesus exalted. Today, as you pray, confess to Jesus areas of your life where you are not seeking to exalt Jesus. Confess if he is not your greatest desire. Believe again that there is nothing, and I mean nothing, greater than him. Believe again that your greatest joys will be found as you lift him up in your heart and life.

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Bible, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus, Missional Living

Using the Gospel, Preserve Your Decaying City

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” (Matthew 5:13)

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We need to begin by pointing out that Jesus says  ”you” are the salt! Jesus is our hope and the truth, but individual Christians, as well as the institution of the Church, have missionary calls.

But, what does salt represent? There is a debate about the meaning of salt and Christians have interpreted the meaning differently. First, some say that salt brings a satisfying taste to bland food; thus, Christians are to bring taste to the world. Second, some have lumped all the interpretations together and tried to interpret a broad category. All the interpretations benefit the world in some way therefore they simply interpret this image to mean Christians are simply to benefit the world…sort of like the United Way. These interpretations could be right, but we can only be sure about one usage of salt in Jesus’ day. Salt was used to preserve decaying food. The heart of this illustration is Christians are to be a preserving force in their decaying city.

But this preserving salt metaphor means something regarding the nature of Christians as well as the nature of the city. The biblical view of the world is that it is decaying. This does not mean it is decaying as fast as it possibly can or that every aspect of our world is constantly decaying. However, the general and basic trajectory of our world is one of decay. It also means that the Church, individual Christians as well as the institution, are to be the preserving element for this decay.  You and I are called to fix this problem! You and I are the medicine for this disease!

But, what does losing saltiness represent? Some have tried to say losing your saltiness and being trampled upon means that you lose your salvation. We did not earn our salvation…Jesus did. Thus, so we can not lose our salvation and this can not be the meaning. We can not lose our salvation, but we can lose our missionary effectiveness and become useless missionaries. Salt really can not lose its saltiness but it can lose its taste or effectiveness if it is mixed with too much other stuff. If you mix in a bunch of sand into a bowl of salt, it is going to become useless to prevent the decay in the meat. Here is what this means for us; we can love the world in the flesh and be like the world rather than distinct from it, thus losing our missionary effectiveness. You can mix so much of the world into your life that the distinctiveness of the salt loses its effectiveness. If we lose our distinction we lose our purpose. If the salt gets diluted, the mission is lost. We are to be missionaries, not monks, striving to preserve our decaying world.

What area of your life is getting diluted? What worldliness do you need to repent of today? Pray that God would take you out of the monastery and use you as a missionary today!

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Bible, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus

Head Home to Your Father

Luke 15:17-19 reads, “(17) But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! (18) I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. (19) I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.

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Luke 15:11-32 is the story about a wild son whose selfish loveless heart produces reckless living. He shockingly asks his father to cash out his property in order to get his inheritance early! He would rather his father be dead so he can get his stuff! He took that money and lived like a brute with no regard for virtue.  He lives opposite of John 8:42 which says, “If God were your Father, you would love me.” He rejects the idea of John 14:15 which says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” This animal-like kid does not love his earthly father and does not keep his earthly father’s commandments. This is a heart issue that points back to his love for his heavenly Father. This selfish, loveless, animal-like behavior is the result of not loving his heavenly Father.

But, by God’s grace, “he came to himself.” The brokenness in his heart doesn’t lead to depression, but to repentance. Broken repentance should mark our lives. We don’t use the word “repentance” in our everyday lives, it is sort of a hard-core Bible term. It is the idea of saying, “I’m wrong here.” God’s way is one path, but I am going down another path. Repentance is honestly (and even emotionally) hating the condition of your heart about something, then believing that Jesus’ way is better, then resolving to walk down his path. He resolves to confess his sin to his father, and heads for home.

Is there an area of your life that you need to repent and return home to your Heavenly Father? Maybe this area has manifested itself in reckless brutish behaviors. Maybe this area is still hiding itself in a dark corner of your heart. Whatever it is, don’t slip into depression, rather repent and head home to your heavenly Father.

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