Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Crisis of Truth

1 Now in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams ; and his spirit was troubled and his sleep left him. 2 Then the king gave orders to call in the magicians, the conjurers, the sorcerers and the Chaldeans to tell the king his dreams. So they came in and stood before the king. 3 The king said to them, "I had a dream and my spirit is anxious to understand the dream." 4 Then the Chaldeans spoke to the king in Aramaic : "O king, live forever ! Tell the dream to your servants, and we will declare the interpretation." 5 The king replied to the Chaldeans, "The command from me is firm : if you do not make known to me the dream and its interpretation, you will be torn limb from limb and your houses will be made a rubbish heap. 6 "But if you declare the dream and its interpretation, you will receive from me gifts and a reward and great honor ; therefore declare to me the dream and its interpretation." 7 They answered a second time and said, "Let the king tell the dream to his servants, and we will declare the interpretation." 8 The king replied, "I know for certain that you are bargaining for time, inasmuch as you have seen that the command from me is firm, 9 that if you do not make the dream known to me, there is only one decree for you. For you have agreed together to speak lying and corrupt words before me until the situation is changed ; therefore tell me the dream, that I may know that you can declare to me its interpretation." (Daniel 2:1-9, NASB)

 In this passage King Nebuchadnezzar was experiencing a crisis of truth. The dream troubled him so much that he HAD to know what it meant. The dream terrified him and the request he made of his wise men testified to the fact that he was aware that they usually told him what he WANTED to hear. However, this time the truth and terror of the Holy God tormented him and compelled him to abandon vain pursuits for the only thing that would give him peace: THE TRUTH.

The world will knowingly believe what is false until it is confronted with and alarmed by the truth of God’s final judgment. We can no longer afford to beat around the bush or sugar-coat the message of the gospel or compromise the testimony of God by compromising in our walk with Him. If we do, we may be sealing the eternal damnation of those who have not heard or accepted the message of the gospel.

May we constantly pray FOR and go IN the passion of the Apostle Paul: “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion ; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 9:16, NASB)

The world needs to know THE TRUTH. Let’s tell it AND live it!

For God's Glory,
Chris S. Sweet

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Keeping Your Eyes on the Why

For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospelFor if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me.(1 Corinthians 6:16-17)
I just got to share the gospel with someone. It is truly a privilege to do so. However, unfortunately, when you hear me say that, it is hard to tell when the last time was before that. I know that I don't share as often as I should. Apparently I am not alone, look at the results of one study:
"The study conducted by LifeWay Research found 80 percent of those who attend church one or more times a month, believe they have a personal responsibility to share their faith, but 61 percent have not told another person about how to become a Christian in the previous six months." ("Churchgoers Believe in Sharing Faith, Most Never Do"by Jon D. Wilke on Monday, August 13, 2012)
For me it's not a matter of not wanting to share. It's fear. When I speak with my friends they typically give the same reason. I don't think I have known any believer who has just blatantly said that they don't want to share Christ or don't think they are supposed to. It's just fear.

I have shared in a previous post that one of my favorite go-to passages when I am fearful is Acts 4:29-31. After being threatened, Peter and John went back to their friends and had a prayer meeting. In it they asked for boldness to continue in the face of their dangerous opposition and God granted them boldness. First, this gives me courage because I have hardly ever met antagonistic opposition. When I did they were not threatening toward me. Secondly, I must gather courage and consider the fearful hell that the lost will face if they do not hear and accept the gospel.

What I have found is that I cannot wait until I feel confident or capable. Sometimes I just have to make myself do it. I have to admit, today's opportunity was pretty easy. The man came to the church for help. I had to go assist him with filling up his tank with gas and spiritual things came up naturally. It was a great opportunity. However, for me, most encounters do not move naturally. I have to create the opportunity.

In the passage I quoted at the beginning Paul speaks of being compelled to preach and that it was a woeful thing if he did not.  Indeed, it is more woeful for the lost person dying without Christ if I do not preach the gospel.

The important thing to keep in perspective is the "Why?" of it all. Why do we do this? Why are we commanded to share the gospel? Why do we want to share the gospel? Why should we do something that makes us so uncomfortable? "For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more...I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save someI do all things for the sake of the gospel..." (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). 

We do it so the lost might be saved and we do it for the glory of God. The One who has given us this great salvation!  "For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God." (2 Corinthians 4:15)

You and I are faced with the two options that Paul offers: 1. preach voluntarily or 2. force yourself. God's grace is magnificent and sufficient enough to share with others and He expects you to do so (steward = "a person who manages another's property or financial affairs; one who administers anything as the agent of another or others" - see 1 Cor. 6:17 above). Either way the gospel must be preached. For without it, you and I would have no hope.  I wouldn't be typing this and you wouldn't be reading it because we would have no interest in spiritual things. We most certainly would have nothing for which to be thankful. Pray with me for boldness for the sake of the lost and for the glory of God!

For God's Glory,
Chris S. Sweet

Friday, August 15, 2014

I'm Depressed

I embark on this post with great caution. Caution because I don't like bandwagons.  With this being the week that the news and comments about Robin Williams' suicide plastered everywhere it may appear that way. Caution because this is a sensitive subject to many. Caution because this is an uncomfortable subject for so many. And, caution because I am going to take a little risk in being transparent.

Honestly, I have not ever had a problem with depression. I have not understood what people are speaking of when they tell of their struggles. I have been flippant at times when I have heard others talk of their struggles, or I have offered cheap platitudes when people have shared with me personally.

That is until the past year. I have grown to understand a little more and been slower to assume or to attempt to resolve others' difficulty with this troubling condition.  As a disclaimer, I don't have anything figured out, nor have I experienced all that someone who struggles with depression has felt. However, I now have a little better feel for it.

About a year ago, I was having my quiet time with the Lord. I was being very contemplative, or so I thought, when all of a sudden I began to weep and could not control myself. This went on for at least a day. I could sense something was wrong, something was out of the ordinary. It scared me because I didn't understand it.

For ME, it was a fairly simple fix. I was able to make some dietary changes that corrected my troubles. However, I am grateful to have had the experience for the sake of others that I will encounter in my ministry. I can no longer respond,  whether in my own mind or out loud, the way I had previously. I now find that I am more attentive to people who share their struggles with depression. I was even recently able to listen more attentively to and pray with a church member who shared the struggles they were experiencing on a very severe level.

Does this mean I understand depression? No. Does this mean I have answers I can give to those who come to me? Not easy ones. Each person is different. Each one struggles differently with different thoughts and different symptoms. I would not even begin to risk to give advice. There is no cookie cutter approach.

However, I can give thoughtful encouragement to them on a personal level and encourage them to seek professional help without being condescending or simplistic. I can be armed with a list professional resources to guide someone who needs to know where to go. I can stop and immediately pray with them. I can call and check on them regularly. I can listen for any warning signs that may result in them being a danger to themselves or others.

What I cannot do is treat them differently or avoid them or toss scripture at them or tell them their faith should be stronger or shrug them off as if they "just need to get over it".I can tell you first hand: I know now that you can't "just get over it". Just knowing or speaking or reading scripture doesn't fix it. I can tell you, I know what the scriptures say about joy, faith, trials and anxieties, etc. I have repeated them over and over. When I had the episode I described above I could logically think of what was right, but I could not make the feelings of despair go away. I could not make sense of WHY I felt the way I did.

Often, what we don't understand is what scares us the most. I hope and pray that you will not allow your fear or disregard for the unknown effect the way you respond to those who are suffering with depression. I hope you don't have to experience what I have and certainly not what others have experienced far worse than my own. I do hope you will be slow to respond so you can pray and inquire from God as to the best response you can give. When part of the body is injured and hurting, the rest of the body feels it and is part of the process of seeking and receiving proper attention. May we do our part in helping our depressed brothers and sisters in their time of need that it may result in the furthering of the gospel to the glory of God!

1 Corinthians 12:20-26
20 But now there are many members, but one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; or again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." 22 On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; 23 and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, 24 whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, 25 so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. (NASB)
For God's Glory,
Chris S. Sweet

Monday, August 11, 2014

Have It Your Way...

Like many others, I worked in some fast food restaurants in my lifetime. It was a pretty common occurrence  for someone to request a breakfast item during lunch or dinner or to request a lunch or dinner item at breakfast. However, fast food restaurants just didn't do that then. In recent weeks I have noticed several burger companies in my area advertising that you can order anything from any menu at any time of the day. I wondered to myself, "After all these years, why?" This is a consumer-driven market. People want what people want when they want it or else they will take their money to a place that will give them what they want. But, that didn't matter before. What has changed?

Now, before I begin to make my point, do not think that I am creating a theology of burger chains or that I believe that morality hinges on when you can order a burger or a breakfast sandwich. However, I believe the reasons for the above-mentioned change are symptomatic of a greater issue in society: we have become more permissive and more personal "rights" driven. In the past, if a business had a policy guiding its practices, we accepted it as that company's right to choose what they wanted to do with their business. We might not have liked it, but we accepted it. Now, we have the idea that we ought to get whatever we want when we want it because that is our right. 

So, we come to church and hear what the Bible has to say, but often we pick the parts that agree with our line of thinking or the parts that make us comfortable with the way we are living and disregard the rest. However, this is not God's desire for us. He didn't send Christ to die so we could have it our way.  He didn't send Christ so we could continue to fill our minds with the filth of television, movies or the internet. He didn't send Him so we could live in immoral relationships. He didn't send Christ so we could work day and night to make tons of money. He didn't send Him for our comfort or preferences.

God, the Father sent His only Son to the cross because our way is against His way. Our way is faulty. Our life is sinful. Our life is offensive to God. Our way is the wide path that leads to destruction. God's way is the narrow way that leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14).  God is holy which means He is completely separate from us and more pure than our minds can imagine or even comprehend.  That is why Christ had to come. That is why the sacrifice had to be perfect. That is why Christ poured out His blood. That is why Christ gave up His rightful glory for a season (Philippians 2:5-8). Christ came to make us holy not to make us happy.

We must follow His example. All great leaders lead by doing, not just telling. Jesus showed and told us that we must deny ourselves (Matthew 16:24). Paul showed and told that us we must die to the flesh (Romans 8:13). So, how do we deny ourselves and die to the flesh? We must live for God according to His desires. How do we know His desires? By reading and studying His Word, the Bible, and by believing that what it says is one hundred percent from God and is one hundred percent true and not leave out the parts that make us uncomfortable. We must also trust that His Spirit will make His Word clear.

"All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness..." (2 Timothy 3:16)
"But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." (2 Peter 1:20-21)
I pray that you and I will examine ourselves and see clearly what are our perspectives of who God is and align them properly with His desires for our life and our service for Him. I pray that we will see that we are not here for ourselves, but for His Glory and that the world will see an accurate reflection of Him in us. I pray that our daily prayer will be, "God, please...Have it your way!"

For God's Glory,
Chris S. Sweet

Friday, August 1, 2014

Three Keys to Perseverance

Today I would like to share some thoughts from my wife. She delivered the following devotion to her coworkers recently and I thought it was worth passing it on to you. I pray you are blessed and encouraged by it.

Perseverance- Merriam Webster dictionary defines it as the quality that allows someone to continue trying to do something even when it is difficult.

Throughout the Bible we read the accounts of flawed men and women who persevered in their faith, their prayers, their patience, their obedience, their calling, etc.

Just to name a few we read about …

Job lost everything but his nagging wife and accusing friends. However, his trust in God endured even in the face of unanswered questions of why he was suffering. Through the example of Job’s life we learn that it is more important to know God than to know answers.

Moses, left the prestige of a palace and became God’s humble servant. Moses enjoyed an intimate relationship with God throughout 40 years of leading 2 million bickering and quarreling people. None of that generation was allowed to enter the promise land, but their children were.

Noah, whose 120 year commitment to a building project and obedience to God, resulted in the salvation of his family

Joseph encountered betrayal, false accusations, and imprisonment, but in every set back, his belief in God’s promises enabled him to prosper and to eventually save a nation

Elijah remained faithful to God even though he believed no one else had. His commitment to worship the one true God and to oppose the wicked prompted the Israelites to declare- “The Lord- He IS GOD!”

Daniel held to his convictions to honor God in every area of his life. He persisted in prayer even in the face of dire consequences. In light of this he gained respect in a foreign kingdom. Everyone who knew Daniel, knew that God was with him.

Nehemiah left the security of his home and a prominent job with the king of Persia to rebuild the broken down walls of Jerusalem. He relied on God and prayed for God’s help. He led God’s people to rebuild the walls despite great resistance from their enemies. And because of Nehemiah’s perseverance, God was able to use him to bring about spiritual awakening among the people of Judah.

Paul incurred many hardships and suffering but remained obedient in proclaiming the gospel. As a result many gentiles accepted Jesus as their Savior and Lord.

And there are many others that we read about who persevered in one way or another and accomplished great things for God. And in their perseverance, others were benefited as well.

What is it that God wants to accomplish through you? Ask Him. What are you willing to persevere through to accomplish His will? Jesus persevered through the cross for us! God has called each of us and has uniquely gifted each of us to accomplish His will.

So when you start feeling like giving up, refocus your attention using the following three keys to perseverance:
  1. Remember His Purpose
Philippians 2:13 declares to you that " is GOD who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose." (NIV) His good purpose is that all be saved. So are you willing to persevere when that close friend hurts you deeply, or your coworker deceives you to get ahead on that promotion you wanted, or things just generally don’t go the way you expected them to and seemingly never do?
  1. Remember His Prominence
1 Corinthians 15:58 tells us, "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” (NAS) There is no wasted effort when the aim is to glorify the Lord by making Him known.
  1. Remember His Promises
Galatians 6:9 affirms, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (NIV) We must not let daily circumstances, pressures and disappointments cloud the truth of God's promises of the reward that awaits those who endure to the end.
When we live a defeated life that is focused on the troubles we face, it is then that we have taken our eyes off Christ and put them on ourselves. It is then that we have forgotten that all we do is for God's glory. Let's remember that the One who endured the cross for us is the One who will help us endure the hardships and abuses of this life while we look forward to the greater reward:
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  (Hebrews 12:1-3)

 For God's Glory,
Sara Sweet and Chris S. Sweet