Thursday, March 26, 2015

How To "Get" Trust and Keep It

Joshua 14:6-15
Now the men of Judah approached Joshua at Gilgal, and Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, "You know what the LORD said to Moses the man of God at Kadesh Barnea about you and me. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadesh Barnea to explore the land. And I brought him back a report according to my convictions, but my brothers who went up with me made the hearts of the people melt with fear. I, however, followed the LORD my God wholeheartedly. So on that day Moses swore to me, 'The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the LORD my God wholeheartedly.' "Now then, just as the LORD promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the desert. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I'm just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country that the LORD promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the LORD helping me, I will drive them out just as he said." Then Joshua blessedCaleb son of Jephunneh and gave him Hebron as his inheritance. So Hebron has belonged to Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite ever since, because he followed the LORD, the God of Israel, wholeheartedly. (Hebron used to be called Kiriath Arba after Arba, who was the greatest man among the Anakites.) Then the land had rest from war.
Joshua and Caleb were the only two spies that gave a good report when Israel first came to the Promised Land, therefore they were the only two that were adults at that time that were allowed to enter the Promised Land after the forty years of wandering (Numbers 13 and 14). In the above passage, Caleb was likely referring to physical strength, however  what is notable is that the strength of his faith in God was just as strong at the age of eighty-five as it was when he was forty. He was still willing to take on the giants and their strongly fortified cities because he still believed that the victories would be won by God’s strength and not his own.

Wow! What faith! What amazing possibilities are available in learning or receiving such great and enduring faith for the remainder of this life (Mark 9:23-24)! Oh, what joy it would be to finish just as strong, if not stronger, as when we started. The key is to maintain focus on the Lord as the source of our strength (Psalm 28:7) and not on our own perceived wisdom, the wisdom of the world or our circumstances. God cannot be contained or restrained by our limited vision (2 Chronicles 2:6).

Joshua and Caleb could have whined for forty years. After all, it wasn't their fault that the Israelites were wandering in the desert. They could have adopted a "holier-than-thou" attitude toward the other Israelites. Instead, they maintained an humble spirit and continued to serve their people (Numbers 14:6, 14:24, Joshua 5:14, 7:6, 11:15). I don't know if we can grasp this concept today. Our culture says, "Every man for himself" or "Every woman for herself". We have lost the ability to walk together, win together and lose together. When we do all this together, the times of rejoicing are sweeter and the times of sorrow do not become so unbearable. We are weak and we need each other. When one is down, the other can lift up (Ecclesiastes 4:12, 1 Corinthians 12:14-27) .  However, our ultimate source of strength is in God. We must surrender to the fact of our complete dependence on Him for every breath, every thought, every feeling, and every action.

So, what you do you need to do to grow in such faith? (Matthew 21:22, James 1:5) What will your prayer be as you seek God’s strength? (Psalm 31:1-5) What needs to change in your perception of God and the magnitude of His strength and wisdom? What will help you to stop looking through the limited scope of the vision of the flesh and begin looking through the vision of the Spirit? (Ephesians 1:18-21

My son is anxious. He gets it from me. He constantly questions me and my wife regarding common daily tasks, such as picking him up from school, because he is worried that we will forget him or he is worried that we have forgotten something regarding his care.  I find that it bothers me when I tell him I will do something and then he questions me about it several more times. It pains me because I feel like he doesn't trust my commitment to take care of him. I have asked him at times: "Have we ever forgotten to do that before?" I want him to see that there is a pattern of faithfulness. Imagine the shame I felt when I realized that I do the same thing to God on a regular basis. 

I can't tell you how to "get" trust in God. But I can tell you that He is always faithful. He has never failed. His faithfulness has never been the result of my worry or lack of trust. His faithfulness is one of His many attributes (2 Timothy 2:13). So, go ahead and try it: trust Him and relax. Notice, I didn't say to test Him; trust Him. You'll find peace and receive blessings that are as abundant at the end of life as they were when you first surrendered to His salvation. If you have not yet surrendered and received His salvation, then let that be your first act of trust. If you need help with this, email me. I'll be glad to visit with you (

For God's Glory,
Chris S. Sweet

Thursday, March 19, 2015

That's Real Mature! (Introducing Dr. Robby Gallaty's book Firmly Planted)
Over the past six weeks I have given a summary of Dr. Robby Gallaty's book Growing Up: How To Be A Disciple Who Makes Disciples. You can view these posts at the following links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6. This week, as promised, I will introduce to you Robby's new book which is the second in a series of three. Firmly Planted: How To Cultivate A Faith Rooted In Christ was released this past Monday. I had the privilege of reading an advanced copy.
I was captivated from the beginning. The first two chapters deal with what could be the most asked questions by believers: Am I really saved? Can I lose my salvation? How can God love me after what I have done? That's right! The opening chapters deal with both the source of salvation and the security of the believer.

Let me be transparent for a moment: I remember a time in a previous church in which I served, we were having revival services. God was changing lives. As a staff member, I was part of the decision counseling team.  During the invitation one night, one of our senior adult men was assigned to me. When we got to the counseling room, he confided in me that he struggled with whether or not he was saved. I don't remember what I said to him that night. I believe I found a creative way to redirect him to our senior pastor. The reason that I did that was because I had the very same questions he had. I realized at that moment that I could not continue serving in the church without settling that most important question of whether or not I was actually saved. 

I labored for about a year in prayer, in Bible study and in sessions with our pastor until I finally affirmed my faith in the Lord. It was quite a "God thing". Every devotional and every sermon I heard for several months focused on that one topic. The proverbial nail-in-the-coffin was when I read a book called On a Hill Too Far Away  by John Fischer. He used some imagery of an old rugged cross which stood in the middle of a church sanctuary to paint a picture of the work of grace in the life of a believer. (Since I am not writing about that book, I'll let you get a copy and read it for yourself). When ever a tinge of doubt crosses my mind, I am reminded of the imagery of that cross along with the multitude of scriptures that declare our security in Christ. I believe Dr. Gallaty also offers an excellent explanation of the security of the believer in Firmly Planted.

In addition to the source and security of salvation. Firmly Planted discusses what it means to have our identity in Christ. We are reminded that in order to live according to our new identity, we have to take off our old self with it's sin, lust and rebellion. We instead are to put on Christ by learning from Him through His Word and allowing it to transform us from the inside out. This includes a transformation of both our heart and mind. Once those are transformed then our outer behavior will change as well. 

The transformation of our behavior is empowered by the Holy Spirit within us. The Spirit is the power given to us to overcome temptation. Paul makes it very clear in Romans 6 that if we are followers of Christ, we are not to continue in a life of willful sin. Our desires will change because of the Spirit living in us, teaching us and correcting us. 

The reason we need God's power in us is because we face three spiritual enemies against which our strength is no match. They are the enemies of the world, the flesh and the devil. The battle against these enemies is relentless. Apart from the power of the Holy Spirit in us, it would be a hopeless battle as well. 

The world vies for our attention and affection and since we are born into sinful flesh, the world is the home of our nature. However, the life centered in Christ is antithetical to life centered in the world (1 John 2:16). The two cannot intersect or intermingle. That's what the word "holy" means: separate, set apart. 

The flesh is the very nature in us that struggles against the spiritual blessing God has in store (Galatians 5:17). The difficult part of this battle is that you have to starve the flesh of all ungodly desires while at the same time feeding the spirit with the things of God: the things which do not occur naturally in the human heart. These godly characteristics must be cultivated, developed and disciplined through the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit.

Our most determined enemy is Satan himself. He does not stop seeking for opportunities to destroy us (1 Peter 5:8). He is constantly searching for weaknesses in our life with Christ. When he finds one, he attacks it with every resource at his disposal. He hates God and hates everything and everyone that God loves. Therefore his goal is to destroy the apple of God's eye: his people. The hope we have is the truth that no power is greater than God's. We can live securely.

However, to live securely, we are called to prepare. Any good commander of a battle will prepare two ways: First, he will prepare intellectually and then he will prepare materially. To prepare intellectually, he studies his enemy and his tactics just enough to know how to defend against attacks and to know how to wage his own attack against the enemy. This information helps the commander know what kind of resources, or materials, he needs and he promptly begins his preparations by collecting and appropriately distributing those resources.

 For the believer, this means studying the Word of God because God already knows the enemy and has revealed the strategy for fighting Satan in His Word. Next, to prepare materially, we must put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-20). As we "suit up" we will notice that all but one piece of the armor is defensive. We are mostly to protect ourselves. The one weapon we are given is not even wielded in our strength. Rather, it is empowered by the Holy Spirit (The Sword of the Spirit = the Word of God).

Finally, we plug into the power source through prayer. For some reason this is one of the most neglected resources of the follower of Christ, yet it is the one activity that will assure victory. The concept of prayer is contrary to the world's concept of power. When the believer prays, he declares total dependence upon God. It is a declaration of absolute weakness! How backward is that?!  Remember when Israel approached the Promised Land the first time? God denied their entrance because they did not submit their weakness to His power. After forty years of wandering, the Israelites were ready to trust God. This time they saw mighty things happen. They submitted in total dependence on God for things they could never have imagined on their own. They were firmly planted!

That's what this book is about. It is about recognizing our total dependence on God to overcome every obstacle we face. It's about declaring our total trust in God because this life is too big for us to handle. It's about denying ourselves praise so that we might point others to praise the Father and God of all creation! It's about being firmly planted in Christ so that we will see the blessings that God intends to give us if we will just endure to the end!

Buy a copy of Firmly Planted and ground yourself further in the disciplines of a Christ follower. If you have not already read Dr. Gallaty's first book Growing Up, I highly recommend beginning there first. It's time to begin becoming disciples that make disciples as Christ commanded. We must begin to mature ourselves and others so we can effectively be part of the multiplication of God's kingdom. What a tremendous privilege!

For God's Glory,
Chris S. Sweet

Thursday, March 12, 2015

It's Time to Grow Up! (Part 6 of 6)

(Click the following links to read the previous weeks' installments: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5)

This is the last week of my six week series introducing the book Growing Up: How To Be A Disciple Who Makes Disciples. I have been using this opportunity to encourage believers to begin the process of intentionally discipling others. I am also leading up to this coming Monday's (March 16th) launch of Robby Gallaty's next book in the series: Firmly Planted. Today I will highlight the final two chapters of Growing Up which discuss the E (Evangelize) and the R (Renew) of the acronym C.L.O.S.E.R.

Chapter 9
What is the first thought that enters your mind when you hear the word "evangelism"? Is it one of joy? Indifference? Apprehension? Terror? We all react or respond to the idea of evangelism in different ways. Sometimes our response is a product of our personality type: You might be shy or bold, you might be introverted or outgoing, or you might be socially awkward or a social giant.

Sometimes our response is a product of our attitude: You may be passionate because you are overwhelmed by the magnitude of God's love for you. You may be indifferent because you just don't see how it is your responsibility to share the gospel...and besides evangelism just isn't your "spiritual gift" (evangelism isn't a spiritual gift, an evangelist is a spiritual gift).

Sometimes our response is birthed out of the spiritual environment in which we were "raised". Many of those who are passionate about evangelism had a mentor that was passionate. Many who are indifferent had mentors that were indifferent. Some who are fearful and/or reserved in their approach to evangelism had a mentor that was the same way.

Regardless of how you feel about evangelism, Dr. Gallaty assures the reader of two things in this chapter: 1. sharing the gospel is the responsibility of every follower of Christ. 2. making converts is not the responsibility of any follower of Christ. Read what he has to say: "Many people misunderstand our Christ-given responsibility in evangelism, thinking that success is determined by how many people we personally win to Christ. This is not the teaching of Scripture. Success in evangelism is in the sharing, not the saving" (emphasis his).

We hinder our witness by placing too much emphasis on performing well. We feel like we have to "close the deal".  We are called to be messengers, not motivational speakers. We do not have the power by our own abilities to change the hearts of people, only God can do that through His Holy Spirit. It's His work, He's just letting us in on the excitement of being a part of what He is doing while we watch Him work.

The chapter continues with many encouraging and challenging words to help us and nudge us toward our God-given privilege and responsibility.  Lives are counting on this message. It's not that God needs us, but He has chosen to include us and has commanded us to carry this message. If the message has changed us to the degree we often claim, then it should be a natural outflow of our lives. The most empowering key to evangelism is prayer. If you have trouble sharing the gospel, pray often and pray in faith. God wants to empower you, but He wants you to recognize your dependence on Him (Acts 4:24-31).

Chapter 10
"Why do people make such a big deal about reading the Bible every day? I'm busy and the Bible is hard to understand!" Have you ever heard something like the above question or statement? Have you ever asked above question or said the statement? The final chapter focuses on the R (Renew) of C.L.O.S.E.R.  Its focus is on reading the Bible and creating a journal.

Reading the Bible for the believer is like taking in physical nourishment for the body. Most of us eat at least three meals a day. We also often add in snacks between meals and before bedtime. For the believer, the reading the Bible fills your mind with the things that are necessary to live the Christian life. It helps make a Christian more mature in his or her life with Christ. The Bible is God's revelation of Himself. That means we get to know who God is and what He expects from us by reading the Bible and we do this because of our love for Him which is our response to His love for us.

In chapter 10, Dr. Gallaty not only tells the reader the "why's" for reading and studying the Bible, but he outlines some "how's". He offers suggestions about how to read, how to study and dig deeper, and how to journal so you can more easily recall what you learned by looking back at what you wrote. He also outlines the benefits of the spiritual nourishment provided through reading the Bible. The key is to make sure to designate a specific time of the day, every day, for reading and studying the Bible and for journaling.  If you don't plan for this intentionally, you will not follow through.

My son loves to eat. We have to monitor his intake because he will often not stop himself if the food supply is abundant.  He also is a very scheduled young man. Therefore, he has specific times of the day that he expects to be fed. That includes 3:00pm every day. You can set your watch to 3:00pm if you hear him say, "Can I have a snack?"  That is his snack time and woe to the world if you don't let him have a snack right at that moment! He will remind you that it is 3:00pm and THAT is his snack time.  It is THAT important for us to set aside at least one specific time each day for Bible reading/study and prayer. You don't have to begin with a large amount of time, you just have to begin. The time may increase as you gain more passion about the God you love and serve.

Finally, I believe this chapter offers very good practical advise regarding what translation or version of the Bible you should read. Dr. Gallaty simply puts it this way: "Ultimately, the best translation is the one that gets read." However, reading chapter 10 for yourself will help by revealing to you the difference between formal equivalence, dynamic equivalence and paraphrase.  Defining those three terms might assist you in making the choice that would best meet your needs for personal study.

I have deeply appreciated Growing Up: How To Be A Disciple Who Makes DisciplesI have always known it was my responsibility to make disciples, but I was never sure where to start. Dr. Gallaty concludes the book with a short section of suggestions of how to continue after reading this book. You see, the Growing Up book is not intended to be a cookie cutter approach or a discipleship program. It is simply designed to get you started doing what you and I are commanded to do. I hope you will buy a copy of Growing Up: How To Be A Disciple Who Makes Disciples soon and begin your discipleship journey with a small group of others and begin to change the world through the process of multiplication.

Don't forget to watch next week for my summary of Dr. Gallaty's new book Firmly Planted.

For God's Glory,

Chris S. Sweet

Thursday, March 5, 2015

It's Time to Grow Up! (Part 5 of 6)
Last week we began to look at Dr. Gallaty's description of the elements of discipleship using the acronym C.L.O.S.E.R.   We examined C (Communication) and L (Learn). This week we will encounter O (Obey) and S (Store). I am presenting this information in anticipation of the launch date for Dr. Gallaty's next book Firmly Planted which will be March 16, 2015. I will post a brief summary of Firmly Planted on March 19th.
(If you would like to review the previous blogs in this series you can click these links
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4)

Chapter 7
A key to being a disciple of Christ is obedience. Christ's example was always established on obedience (the O in C.L.O.S.E.R.) to the Father (John 5:30, 8:28-29, 12:49-50, 14:10). This is the topic of chapter 7. The author begins by saying, "Unfortunately, many people attend church, sing the songs, hear a biblical message, leave the service, and return home the same way they left, with no apparent change in their lives." Christ didn't come to leave us the way we were, He came to transform us into His image (Romans 8:29, 1 Corinthians 3:18, Colossians 3:9-10).

The disciple's purpose is to imitate the master. If we are to be a reflection of the glory of God in Christ, then we must obey. We must remember that the way we were going before submitting our lives to Christ was not doing us any good. To receive the best benefit of our relationship with the Lord, we must be obedient to the Lord.  When we are not obedient then our fellowship with Father is at worst broken and at best hindered.

This process of discipleship that you will learn through reading Growing Up will give you the tools to spend effective time alone with God in prayer and in His Word so that you will know Him more. This increased knowledge will result in increased love for Him which will in turn increase your desire to be obedient to Him. Once this cycle makes its full turn, it begins again and builds on the previous cycle of knowledge, love and obedience. The author states that discipleship "involves more than reading the Bible, memorizing Scripture, and praying. It is intimately walking in communion with the Father through living, loving, and spending time with God."

Some believers have spent a lifetime learning about God, but have spent little time getting to know God. We attend endless Bible studies and sermons and worship services which are all good things to do, but Dr. Gallaty reminds us that "Most Christians do not need to attend another Bible study to grow in their relationship with the Lord. They need to start living what they have already learned."  As we are obedient to God's Word, then we find an abundance of blessings from God. He demonstrates this time and time again the the history of Israel in the Old Testament. The believer must make obedience a priority in order to grow in a proper relationship with the Father.

Chapter 8
The most tangible way God reveals Himself to His people is through His Word, the Bible. Scripture declares of itself that it is a living organism (Hebrews 4:12). We know that life begets life. Therefore, by "storing" God's Word in our memory, we are infusing God's life-giving power into our weak flesh-driven lives. The Bible, called the Sword of the Spirit in Ephesians 6, is the only weapon in our arsenal. It is a very effective one at that.

Psalm 119:11 says, "Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You." And since we know that "...your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8) then we ought to be armed and ready all the time. The devil is stealthy and he knows your weaknesses. He studies his enemies well and has a definite strategy for his attack. It then behooves believers to be prepared and to study well. The good news is that we don't have to study the devil's tactics. That's because God already knows all about him. God has given us His plan of attack and it's in His Word.

Dr. Gallaty teaches the difference between memorization and meditation and how both will help make the Word of God a part of who you are rather than an "attachment" that is put on and taken off in a troubled time. It helps the Word saturate your life which also will alter your mind. This is part of the transforming work of the Word of God. The more of God's thoughts you put in you, the more you begin to think like Him. At that point it becomes much easier to discern that ever-elusive question, "What is the will of God?" (Romans 12:2).

The benefits of studying and storing God's Word are endless. I encourage you to get a copy of the book Growing Up: How To Be A Disciple Who Makes Disciples so you can learn some tips for reaping the benefits of obedience and scripture memory and mediation.  God desires a C.L.O.S.E.R. relationship with you. 

Remember: this is not about fulfilling some religious obligation in order to appease an angry God. His wrath was appeased through the blood that Jesus shed on the cross. God paid the price for sin out of His own resources. To receive His gift of forgiveness, you simply need to accept it. Confess your sins against Him and believe that Jesus died on the cross to pay for your sins. Submit and commit your life to Him. Let Him be your "boss" (Savior) for the rest of your life. 

What Dr. Gallaty is talking about in this book is what we do out of gratitude for all that God has done for us. Yes, it is expected of every believer, but it does not earn us salvation.  The question you need to ask yourself is: "If I am unwilling to do the things asked of me as a disciple of Jesus Christ, then have I really received the gift of salvation that He offered to me?" If you have not surrendered fully to Him, then do so today. Contact me by leaving a message below. I will be excited to help you in anyway I can.

For God's Glory,
Chris S. Sweet