The Believer’s Hope and Joy

Have a walk worthy of the calling with which you were called (Ephesians 4:1).

Yesterday we learned of the death of Dr RC Sproul (1939-2017), a man who had a profound impact on both my beliefs and my preaching. Even at the end of his life, when he could no longer breathe, he made every effort to continue teaching the Bible. For a preacher, it’s all you can do!

The Bible says that for the believer, to be absent from this body is to be present with the Lord in Heaven (2 Cor 5:8). Upon hearing the news of Dr Sproul’s entrance into the presence of God, I thought of Jesus calling His apostles.

In Matthew 4:18-22 we’re told Jesus found brothers Peter and Andrew hard at their job as fishermen. He said, Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men. The Bible says the two immediately left their nets and followed Him (Mt 4:20). A bit further on Jesus found two more brothers, James and John in the boat with Zebedee their father … and He called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him (Mt 4:21, 22).

Imagine, in both instances, those whom Jesus called left everything to immediately be with Jesus. Without hesitation they left their employment. They abandoned their livelihood. They departed from their own families. Can you image what Zebedee said when his two sons left in the middle of the work day?

When Jesus called Dr Sproul, he didn’t linger. He didn’t say, “Lord, just give me a few more days with my family. Heal me so I can live a longer and more productive life.” No, when Jesus called, RC immediately left this world behind to be with Jesus. He lived to be worthy of the One who called him.

Suppose I was going to Disneyland. You wouldn’t be sad that I was going to California to be welcomed by Mickey Mouse into his Magic Kingdom. You would be glad. Your sadness would be that you’re not going along. So it is with God’s people whom He calls home.

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints (Ps 116:15). We should rejoice in what God rejoices. So we are reminded that in death we do not sorrow as others who have no hope (1 Thess 4:13). Death for the child of God is not a time to mourn like those with no hope, but a time for joy and personal longing to also be with Jesus.

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Strength to Resist

How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your Word (Psalm 119:9).

The daily struggle of the Christian against sin isn’t easy. The Bible prescribes a simple way of resisting temptation and sin.

In His temptation, Jesus didn’t curse the Devil, bind spirits, or beg for deliverance in prayer. In fact, Jesus didn’t pray at all. Instead He turned to the Word of God for the strength to resist (Lk 4:1-13).

Your Word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You (Psalm 119:11).

If You See a Crowd

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matthew 7:13-14).

Daniel and I were invited to a baseball game this past summer. It was a scorching 100-plus degree day, and after finding our seats, I left Daniel and went to buy 2 Cokes. I got in a line that looked like it led to the refreshments. About 10 minutes later I realized I was in a line for the bathrooms.

No one is ever born a Christian, raised a Christian, or becomes a Christian by accident. Eternal life is found and only a few ever find it.

Think a moment about 3 of Christ’s words in Matthew 7:13-14: narrow, difficult, and few. Those are stark words.

More than 8 of 10 Americans claim to be Christians. We see churches filled with people on Sunday morning, some by tens of thousands of people. I heard a pastor say he could get anyone saved in just 10 minutes. Anyone.

How does this match those 3 words of Jesus: narrow, difficult, few?

Salvation isn’t for those desiring an easy entrance into Heaven while walking their own pathway. Christianity isn’t for those looking for health, wealth, and a prosperous life here on Earth. Jesus isn’t an add-on to our lives; rather, He makes all things new. Christ Jesus is for those who are spiritually helpless, who mourn over their sin, and hunger and thirst after a righteousness only He provides (Mt 5:3, 4, 6).

God’s way of salvation is quite simple: trust in Christ alone for the forgiveness of sin.

There are many people on the broad and easy road, yet God’s way of salvation is so narrow and difficult that only a few ever find the Gate. So if you see a crowd, you’re probably on the wrong road.

Many are called; but few are chosen (Matthew 22:14).

Feelings – A Poem by Martin Luther

 

 

 

 

Feelings come and feelings go,
And feelings are deceiving;
My warrant is the Word of God –
Naught else is worth believing.

Though all my heart should feel condemned
For want of some sweet token,
There is One greater than my heart
Whose Word cannot be broken.

I’ll trust in God’s unchanging Word
‘Til soul and body sever,
For, though all things shall pass away,
His Word shall stand forever!

― Martin Luther

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper (Psalm 1:1-3).

A Shooting Star

My grandfather warned me of shooting stars in the church. Beware of shooting stars. As quickly as they appear they burn out. 

A shooting star is a small, rapidly moving meteor. As it enters Earth’s atmosphere, friction causes it to burn, leaving a blazing trail of rock, dust, and ice behind it. When there is nothing left to burn, it vanishes.

Many pastors give special recognition to new converts. They are allowed to testify, or because of their eagerness to be involved, given a part in the work of ministry. Sometimes these new converts are elevated because they are seeking attention; sometimes it’s the pride of the pastor desiring to be recognized for leading someone one Christ. Either way, the problem created is two-fold.

First, it is impossible to know that someone has been born again until that person’s faith has been tested. Anything else is a dead confession or profession. No matter what someone professes, Faith without works is dead (James 2:20).

Jesus warned of the deceptiveness of counterfeit converts in a parable. He said, He hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. Others hear the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he become unfruitful (Matthew 13:20-22). Salvation is marked by the growth and increase of Christian virtues (Mt 13:23; 2 Pet 1:3-11).

Second, being recognized so quickly creates a false assurance in that person. He believes he’s saved, after all the pastor said so. When faith proves to be counterfeit after being paraded in the church, it causes other believers to stumble.

How do you know true regeneration? Not because you repeated a prayer, joined a church, were baptized in water, or accepted Jesus in your heart. You know you are born again because the Holy Spirit is actively producing and increasing the fruits of Christ-likeness in you. That is something proven only by the dual tests of time and trials.

Don’t create shooting stars which are here today but burn up and disappear tomorrow.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:7).

Enduring Hardship

We are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:5).

Nothing reveals the heart of a person faster or more accurately than trouble. People are often willing to follow an idea or a leader as long as it’s made easy and doesn’t cost anything personally. Trouble and temptation weed out those who are only emotional or mere intellectual followers (Mt 13:20-22).

Even today there are many false followers of Jesus. They appear by all outward scrutiny to be Christians, but in reality are Christian in name only and not from a changed, born-again heart. These people are along for the ride because it’s culturally popular, it satisfies a personal longing, or it fulfills a tradition. Trouble or temptation strikes and they abandon their drummed up faith.

Christian faith, however, doesn’t fail when trouble rises. Saving faith is a gift from God (Eph 2:8-9). The Christian doesn’t endure hardship because he is strong, but because he is held and kept by a strong Saviour.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-7).

Don’t Run Like Rosie

Everyone who competes for the prize is self-controlled in all things. They do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown (1 Corinthians 9:25)

Rosie Ruiz was the female winner of the Boston Marathon, finishing in 2 hours, 31 minutes and 56 seconds. It was the 3rd fastest marathon time in history.

Eight days later, on April 29, 1980, her title and reward were stripped from her. It was found that though she began the race with the other athletes, Rosie took a subway through the city and re-entered the race only half-a mile from the finish line. Officials also learned that she’d done the same in the New York Marathon a few month before.

A long-distance runner knows the importance of planning and running his race according to the rules. Before he even takes the first step, he’s planned out how to cross the finish line.

If a marathon runner gives up or gives out before the last mile, what good have the previous 25 miles been? Anyone can start a race, but only training and planning prepare him to finish. Neither cheaters nor those who almost cross the finish line win a prize. Any impostor can start a race, but only a true athlete will finish it.

As a Christian, you are already running the race of life, and I trust you are running in such a way that you will be victorious. Scripture encourages us: Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it (1 Corinthians 9:24).

To win the prize, you need to run to the very end. You have to plan your race today for when your breath becomes short, the path becomes difficult, pain rips through your lungs and legs, and you’re tempted to cheat. No runner regrets finishing too strong, but you will regret finishing weak.

It’s good to remember that you’re not competing against anyone else, but against the world, the flesh, and the devil which are attempting to thwart your progress.

Don’t Despair Over Trials and Difficulties

A few years ago my wife took up crocheting. Each night after dinner we talk or watch a movie and she spends those 3 or 4 hours before bedtime making hats, blankets, and scarves. She gives these away to friends and family, asking in return only a donation for our Bible school in Kenya.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that she can be working feverishly on a project, stop and look back through her stitches and notice a flaw either in the yarn or in her work. The only way to fix the problem is to undue everything made after that stitch. Sometimes it means pulling apart most of the blanket to get at the problem spot.

Often God has to work something out of us through trials before He can work something new into us.

The Apostle Peter wrote in the Bible:

For this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, and to virtue add knowledge, to knowledge add self-control, to self-control add perseverance, to perseverance add godliness, to godliness add brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness add love. For if these things are yours and abound in you, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:5-9).

Don’t despair over trials and difficulties God brings into your day. Consider instead what He may be working out of your life so that He may work in the virtues of Christlikeness.

God’s Great Adventure

When we got married, I asked my wife if she was ready for going with me on God’s great adventure. Over and over we watched with thrilling expectation the video of Steven Curtis Chapman singing about such a journey.

Today my wife and I are facing an enormous and frightening life and ministry challenge. There are quiet times when she asks, How will we do this? It’s not doubt, but a sea of overwhelming questions and impossible odds that leave her feeling she hasn’t a saddle to sit on, stirrups for her feet, or reins to grasp.

My answer is always the same: I don’t know, but when God calls He always provides.

We so often act as if Satan is in control. We talk about Satan blocking this program and needing to bind him from that ministry goal, but God is God; Satan is not. And if Satan is stronger and greater than your god, you don’t have the God of the Bible.

God graciously and powerfully works and provides for everything He is in. He doesn’t fail. Change demands courage, which He amply provides. If something is His will, it comes to pass in His way and perfect time. You can’t faith it or declare and decree it into being. You’re not God either! All you can do is trust Him and obey.

This is the journey of God’s Great Adventure because We walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).