Thursday, July 24, 2014

Just Like Paul

*This has been adapted from an article that I wrote for the June 2013 Contact newsletter of the First Baptist Church of Mabank. I pray you find some encouragement in it.

24 Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. 26 I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren ; 27 I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.(NASB)

At the end of last year, I finished teaching a Bible study series about the missionary journeys of Paul.  The more I studied, the more humbled I became.  One of Jesus’ last commands before He ascended into heaven was for His followers to go into all the world and make disciples and baptize and teach.  This requires time and sacrifice. It requires the believer to think outwardly. It requires the believer to count the cost and eliminate things that might steal from the commitment that we are to have to our Lord.

Paul left everything and everyone.  He was not haphazard about his mission work; he was very intentional.  He purposefully went out of the way and often into harms way to take the gospel to both Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles).

He did not take the easy way and he did not do it on his own preferred schedule. He was sometimes prevented by the Holy Spirit from doing what HE had planned.  Every time he obeyed, the Gospel spread and the Kingdom was multiplied. Also, every time he obeyed he faced opposition and often danger to his life.

This makes me ask myself several questions: Have I really done all that I should for the cause of Christ?  Have I really demonstrated a heart of gratitude by the way I serve (or don’t serve)? What sacrifices am I making daily? What conveniences am I giving up for the sake of the lost souls that are perishing without Christ? How much DO I love God, my Savior?  Do I love Him as much as I say I do?

This isn’t a guilt trip.  This is introspection.  I am prone to exalt my desires above the Lord’s desires and the world’s desperate need.  These are questions I must ask myself regularly to keep myself in check.  I want to show my gratitude to my Savior.  I hope you do to.  

For God's Glory,
Chris S. Sweet

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Good Sorrow

Psalm 38:1-10
1 O LORD, rebuke me not in Your wrath, And chasten me not in Your burning anger. 2 For Your arrows have sunk deep into me, And Your hand has pressed down on me. 3 There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your indignation; There is no health in my bones because of my sin. 4 For my iniquities are gone over my head; As a heavy burden they weigh too much for me. 5 My wounds grow foul and fester Because of my folly. 6 I am bent over and greatly bowed down; I go mourning all day long. 7 For my loins are filled with burning, And there is no soundness in my flesh. 8 I am benumbed and badly crushed; I groan because of the agitation of my heart. 9 Lord, all my desire is before You; And my sighing is not hidden from You. 10 My heart throbs, my strength fails me; And the light of my eyes, even that has gone from me.

I recently offended a friend of mine. It wasn't intentional, but as soon as I realized that I had, I could not rest or focus on anything else until I had resolved the issue. My stomach was literally in knots and I was very upset. I had to contact my friend and ask for forgiveness and restore proper fellowship between us as soon as possible.

Really, it should be no different when we offend God. I think one thing many followers of Christ have lost is godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:9-10). We have forgotten how to mourn over our sin. We have lost the severity of the offense that our sin is to God. I'm not talking about penance: walking around beating ourselves up over our sin. I am simply talking about being sensitive to how deeply our sin hurts God because He is holy and because He has paid the ultimate price to redeem us. I am talking about repenting rather than ignoring or justifying  our sin.

I hear a lot of people offer logical sounding, but none-the-less, humanistic explanations (or justifications) for sin. These will not stand against God's measure. His measure is perfect holiness which He reveals clearly in His Word, the Bible.  And yes, we cannot be perfect and will not be perfect until He comes to take us to heaven, but we are not to allow our weakness become our excuse because we live by His strength and He can and will overcome sin in our lives (1 Corinthians 10:13). When we offer our logic in place of God's Word, we are displaying a tremendous amount of pride which hinders our fellowship with God (James 4:6-10).

I could have ignored my friend's hurt or I could have justified myself with some logical-sounding (maybe even spiritual-sounding) argument. However, the bottom line was that I was wrong and I offended my friend. Even if I had been right in part of what I had said, I was still wrong in the part which was the offense to my friend. Even if we are partially right in the midst of our sin, there is still a part that is wrong and offensive to God. We must quickly go to Him.

Another way I could have handled my situation would have been to avoid the friend out of my embarrassment or out of fear for how they might respond to me.  All that would have done is caused me more anxiety and prolonged broken fellowship rather than restoring the health and the mutual benefit of the relationship.  Often times believers who sin feel so guilty that they avoid all the things that would restore their fellowship with the Father: church, prayer, Bible study, etc.  What we must do instead is run to Him and fall at His feet and trust that He is faithful to forgive as He promises.  This leads to immediate peace rather than the turmoil that stays with us when we know we are not right (1 John 1:9)

The bottom line is that before we will deal appropriately with our sin, we must recognize it as sin and how serious it is to God. This honesty before God will lead to our hearts being broken which will compel us to resolve the issue quickly, and God in His tremendous graciousness will restore us to proper fellowship with Him. As we experience the kindness of God in this process, it will soften our hearts further to how offensive sin is to God and we will be compelled to strive even harder against sin in our own lives.

Psalm 32:3-5
3 When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. Selah. 5 I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD "; And You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah.

I pray that your heart is broken over any unconfessed sin in your life and that you will quickly run to God to drink from His fountain of grace and mercy and be restored to proper fellowship with Him.

For God's Glory,
Chris S. Sweet

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Saltine Christians

  "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men."  Matthew 5:13
If you are a follower of Christ, you have likely heard this passage more than once. We know it is our responsibility to influence the world for Christ. Notice carefully, the word "influence". That is not the same as "manipulate", "convince" or "force".  Those words don't fit into the description of what we are to do as believers.  We are to influence. We are to bring flavor to our world. 

There is a big difference between saltine crackers and unsalted crackers or salted peanuts and unsalted peanuts or even salted pretzels and unsalted pretzels.  The difference is taste.  To me the salted are much more desirable. I am prone to pick those up than the ones without salt. However, I can "stomach" the unsalted ones if there is nothing else.

Lately it seems that secular society is "stomaching" Christians and Christianity. However, it also seems like they are beginning to grow weary of what we offer.  When you watch the news, the defiant rejection of Christians and our ideology and morality is more and more prevalent on a daily basis. Why is that?   

The verse above speaks of salt becoming tasteless. It says that when that happens it is good for nothing than to be trampled under foot. Perhaps Christianity is being trampled by secular society because we have become tasteless. We have ceased to "season" our world. If you read the twelve verses before the one above, you will see a description of a blessed life. The description very clearly demonstrates a life that stands out. The things listed are not the norm: poor in spirit which means humble, mourning, gentleness, hunger and thirst for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers and persecuted.

One thing I know without a doubt is whether the food I am eating has salt or is lacking salt. One thing those without Christ know without a doubt is whether a Christian is living what they believe or not. It is just obvious. Sometimes those without Christ know more about how a Christian should live than many Christians do. We Christians are on display and our testimony is effected as much by what we don't do that is right as what we do that is wrong.

Many Christian values are being challenged by society and they are watching to see how we respond. More Christians, more churches and more denominations are compromising on issues because they believe that is the path to drawing more to Christ. When we compromise, we are saying that what we have proclaimed from God's word is either not true or it is negotiable.  God's word does not change  (1 Peter 1:23-25) and He doesn't need our help to draw people. Christ said he will draw all men to Himself (John 12:32).

Our responsibility is to reflect the glory of God in Christ and be His mouth piece to uncompromisingly speak His truth.  This means that the first thing we need to do is die to ourselves. We must stop pursuing what pleases us. We must stop looking for ways to skirt around what God has told us not to do. His word is clear regarding how we are to live.  His standards have not changed nor are they negotiable. Whether the lost admit it or not, they are looking for a firm foundation. This world we live in is ever shifting and changing and it is hard to get a stable footing on life.  There is One Constant and that is found in the love of God in Christ. When we compromise His word, then the world loses hope and turns back to what they know and God's testimony is damaged.

Here is what we believers need to do: MAKE time for God. Make studying His word a priority. Dig deep. Look for resources to help you through those troubled spots. Ask your pastor or staff member for resources if you are not sure where to look. If you don't have a pastor, then it is very important that you get established in a solid, Bible-believing/living church. 

It is also extremely important for you to get involved in a small group to study the Bible. That might take the form of a Sunday School class or a men's or ladies' Bible study group or a small group of believing friends. It is important to make these connections so you can grow, so you have others to pray with and pray for, so you can be held accountable for those areas of sin with which you struggle and you can be their accountability for their struggles too. The Christian life is difficult. Jesus said it would be tough and that people WILL ridicule you if you are living it the way He commands. However, the end result is worth it: that moment when you hear "well done my good and faithful servant" (Matthew 25:14-30).

I pray for your strength and for your growth so that your life will accurately reflect God's glory!

For God's Glory,

Chris S. Sweet

Friday, July 4, 2014

Hey Christian! Yeah, I'm Talkin' To You

It is late on the night of July 3rd. We are about to begin another Independence Day celebration. I am most certainly grateful for the freedoms provided first by God the Father and secondly by our men and women who have served  and those who are still serving in our military as well as those who gave their lives in service.

It is during this time of year that we hear one particular passage of scripture over and over again. Most of us know it by heart, but I wonder how many of us have taken the time to consider, in detail what the passage means. I am referring to 2 Chronicles 7:14, "If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land." (NKJV)

As I listened to the news this week about the fight for religious freedom being won by Hobby Lobby in court as well as the usual litany of  crimes in the cities and reports of politicians breaking laws from the top down, the state of our nation is a concern. The media definitely projects an image of a culture that is largely rejecting Christianity. Whether that image is true or not on the large scale is not certain, but the media at least makes a good play to establish that perception.

However, it is without question that things are not like they used to be. Christian ideals are not as widely accepted as they used to be. Without lodging a scathing rebuke, I pose that the body of Christ worldwide is largely at fault. We have ceased to be flavor-full salt and have become not much more than a dim bulb in the darkness of the world. Now, don't stop reading, because my purpose is not to discourage or convey a sense of hopelessness. Rather, I want to us 2 Chronicles 7:14 to offer hope. I want to take a look at the profound message that is packed into this single verse of scripture.

First, notice to whom it is addressed: "My people..." It is address to those who already belong to God through Christ. It is addressed to Christians. The nation of Israel rose and fell based on their obedience to God. When they obeyed and honored Him, they prospered. When they turned away from Him they suffered and struggled. I believe God is still responding the same way to our sin.

Second, notice to whom we are attributed: "called by My name". The first question we need to ask is: "Are we just borrowing His name or are we living in it?" Is "Christian" just what we are called or  is it who we are? Also, the name belongs to God and when you mention His name you also refer to His character. When we are called by His name, we have a great image to maintain...not ours, but His (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Third, notice for whom we are answerable: "humble themselves". You and I are not in charge of humbling anyone but ourselves. We must major on that and serve others in our humility. We must be the first example of humility rather than waiting on someone else to lead the way. (James 4:6-10).

 Fourth, notice to whom we are to appeal: "pray". Our prayers TO God demonstrate our dependence ON God. Our prayers are not a "gimme list". They are communion. Communion is two-way communication. That means that sometimes we have to sit still and listen as well as speak. The good news is that God's mention of the need for prayer means He is waiting intently to hear from you, just like the father of the prodigal son watched intently for the return of his son (Luke 15:11-24).

Fifth, notice to whom we are to appear. "seek". We are to actively pursue God and the things of God rather than our interests which is what got us into trouble in the first place. It's not that God is lost, but we turned away and lost sight of him (Jeremiah 29:13).

I grew up in South Florida. We lived within five miles of the beach and so we got to visit quite often. It didn't take long to learn that when you get in the water, you need to pay attention to where you laid your belongings. If we got to playing, we might very soon find that the current had swept us down the beach a quarter mile or more in a very short time. If we kept our eyes on our belongings, we could easily correct. Our belongings were our mark. For the believer, the Bible shows us God's mark for where we ought to be in our relationship with Him. We must keep our eyes on the mark (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Sixth, notice whom we are to adore: "My face". When you look into someone's face it is an intimate encounter. Generally, we will not sustain a look with someone with whom we are not close. Moses had a very intimate relationship with God (Exodus 33:11). We need to have a daily, intimate encounter with God. This means looking deep into His word to know more of who He is. It also means when you find something you don't understand in His word, you take the time to dig or to ask until you find the answer so you can more fully know Him.

Seventh, notice to what we are to attain: "turn". This is the same as the word "repent". We must turn away from sinfulness and selfishness and turn back to God (Revelation 2:5).

Eighth, notice our natural affinity: "their wicked ways". Notice they are your wicked ways (Jeremiah 17:9). The devil doesn't make you do it. Your wicked heart (and mine) comes up with this stuff on its very own. It is called "sin nature". We are all born with it, yet God doesn't allow us to excuse it. He dealt with it through Christ's death on the cross. This is how He offers grace to us. He has paid the penalty out of His love for you and me.

Up to this point we have been called to action by God. Once we have given attention to these things, God is the one who acts from this point on. The word "then" is the turning point that gives us the hope we need when we realize we have blown it.

First, notice God's action: "I will...". God is always active but we don't always see His action. Sometimes He waits until we are in the right spiritual place to learn from Him.

Second, notice God's attention: "I will hear". Once we allow God's grace to do its restoring work, our fellowship with Him will be restored (1 Peter 3:12).

Third, notice our prayers' aptitude: "from heaven". Once we are right with God, our prayers know no boundaries too high or distances too great. God hears our prayers wherever we are even though He is more awesome than we can imagine.

Fourth, notice God's absolution: "forgive their sin". God's grace is always sufficient. It has no end, yet we should not take it for granted. Rather, we should treasure it and honor God out of our gratitude.

Finally, notice what repentance achieves: "heal their land". Many say that their sins are okay as long as they don't hurt anyone else. All sin hurts others. When believers sin, not only do we lose fellowship with God, we forfeit the power of God and hinder the influence of God's grace on others. When we bear the name Christian, we are a reflection on God's character. When we are a bad reflection,we mar His name. When we sin we spread the influence of selfishness and pride rather than total surrender and dependence on God.

As you can see in the news daily, our nation has been infected with this sickness and is in need of healing. God is sufficient for that healing, but you and I need to be the first step in the process. We must humble ourselves, repent and surrender to God once again starting today.

For God's Glory,
Chris S. Sweet