The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Protection in the War of Words

“Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord!” - Psalm 27:14

Have you ever been in a word war? A “war of words,” like a nuclear blast, can cause massive damage and continuing fallout contamination. Just as there is stealth and secret maneuverings in an actual war the same is true in wars where words are the weapons. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). We are jolted by the brutality of mixed martial arts  and cage fighting, but the strikes and choke holds found there are nothing in comparison to a tongue that can break a bone (Proverbs 25:15). Words as weapons can have potentially devastating effect.

When some people speak they fire for explosive effect. They want to bomb you into obliteration with words. Leaders are especially in their cross hairs. To them leaders have a bulls-eye on their back and they take aim. A leader needs to defend against direct assaults as well as rear ambushes. Really anyone who crosses those who war with words is in danger of a banzai attack of words. “The mouth of the righteous is a well of life, but violence covers the mouth of the wicked” (Proverbs 10:11). “A lying tongue hates those who are crushed by it, and a flattering mouth works ruin” (Proverbs 26:28). “The hypocrite with his mouth destroys his neighbor, but through knowledge the righteous will be delivered” (Proverbs 11:9). Violence, hate, crushing, destruction are words that describe what is left in the rubble of wars of words. But God has provided “knowledge” in His word that where and how we can be protected in the war of words. 

What protection does God offer from this war of words? In the Wisdom literature of the Bible God exhorts, “Put away from you a deceitful mouth, and put perverse lips far from you” (Proverbs 4:24). The words “deceitful” and “perverse” mean to distort or bend to make crooked that which is straight. Ever bend the truth or present an account in a slanted way to favor your position? We may be especially tempted to do that when the fiery war arrows are flying at us. But God says to put that kind of talking away. Such use of words may be found in politics and back room scheming but should not be among the persons seeking wisdom and righteousness. Just think of what the world would be like if politicians, lawyers and everyone spoke words of life and truth. “A man has joy by the answer of his mouth, and a word spoken in due season, how good it is!” (Proverbs 15:23). How good it would be!

The person who bends the truth, devises evil against others, and acts deceitfully is a person God describes as “wicked” and “worthless” (Proverbs 6:12-14). “Worthless” and “wicked” mean to be headed for destruction, having no profit, evil, ungodly, and wicked. “the LORD hates, . . .  a lying tongue . . . a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren” (Proverbs 6:17, 19). The LORD exhorts, “My son, keep my words, and treasure my commands within you. Keep my commands and live” (Proverbs 7:1-2a). The war where words are the weapons is in reality a war about whether or not a person will keep God’s words. It’s a choice between wicked words and God’s Holy Word. “He who despises the word will be destroyed, but he who fears the commandment will be rewarded” (Proverbs 13:13). The choice is ours.

“Under attack” is an interesting phrase. It speaks of being under, being besieged, beaten down, covered over, being on the bottom with an assailant on top pummeling away. I’m older now and I have come to the conclusion that the old rhyme “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names [or words] will never hurt me,” is a bunch of bologna. A knife can pierce skin and hit an organ, but words can pierce much deeper depths of your heart. Words can inflict a much deeper and more painful hurt than any stone ever could.

Words can be potent weapons or a perfect scalpel used in healing surgery. “There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise promotes health” (Proverbs 12:18). “An evildoer gives heed to false lips; a liar listens eagerly to a spiteful tongue” (Proverbs 17:4). There is a choice before us. Will we listen to and learn the cutting ways of adversarial combat in a war of words? Will we return evil for evil or rely on God’s good. Wisdom teaches, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

What makes a war of words so devastating is that you can be in such a war and not even know it. What do I mean? Attacks come by surprise like a nuclear submarine prowling beneath the surface of the sea and then, whoosh! The torpedo or missile is fired. A salvo of gossip can be fired from far away. You only hear the whistling missile as it fast approaches. There’s little time to duck and shout “incoming!” so you and others can run for cover. A war of words can occur in a whisper. In fact, the most devastating war words are spoken out of earshot of the target.

All of this makes for a devastating blow. You may see signs of the effect. Your friends are no longer so friendly. People look at you with scornful looks that denounce you as well as communicate they know something you don’t. We begin to wonder things like, why was so-and-so so short with me? Why are they walking away shaking their heads? Why are they so distant? Where are they? I haven’t seen them around for some time? Maybe there are those “you ought to be ashamed of yourself,” or “how could you,” looks that befuddle the unsuspecting victim. By the time the hidden scheme is exposed the campaign of deceit has usually been so thoroughly laid that no matter what the unsuspecting victim responds it doesn’t matter; a character has been assassinated and reputation destroyed. And even if a correction or apology follows, it usually winds up on the back pages. The damage has been done.

A war of words or a campaign of gossip and deceit are ruthless and effective instruments of the enemy. Satan is the father or author of lies; “there is no truth in him” (John 8:44). When people lie and gossip they cross the line into the devil’s territory. That’s not a safe place for anyone. Do you really want to follow a strategy that is authored by Satan? Do you really want to murder and destroy like Him. Has your heart been so deceived and darkened that Satan is more your father that God is?

But all is not lost for the innocent or the targeted. God has a way of bringing truth to light. “You have set our iniquities before You, our secret sins in the light of Your countenance” (Psalm 90:8). God never approves deceit. “You give your mouth to evil, and your tongue frames deceit. You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’ son. These things you have done, and I kept silent; you thought that I was altogether like you; but I will rebuke you, and set them in order before your eyes” (Psalm 50:20-21).  Just because God hasn’t stopped you doesn’t mean He approves of your war of words. “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account” (Hebrews 4:13). The slanderer should be very uneasy and nervous given these words from the Lord. Jesus is “the truth” (John 14:6). Jesus is not lies.

So what is a proper response to wars of words? What protection has God provided? In His Word God tells us to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). God’s word tells us very clearly, “Therefore, putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,’ for we are members of one another” (Ephesians 4:25). We need to realize we are “members of one another.” Jesus died to unite people in Him (Ephesians 2-3). The church of Jesus Christ is God’s instrument to unite people under the banner of His love and in the name of Jesus. Evil speaking, gossip, deceit and manipulating facts to win an argument or outright attack another, especially a fellow believer and follower of Jesus Christ, THAT IS OFENSIVE TO GOD AND A SERIOUS SIN. If you are involved in that sinful activity you need to repent, seek God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of the one or ones you have been attacking with your words. Do that and there is opportunity for reconciliation and restored unity (cf. Ephesians 4:32).

Our part is to speak God’s truth in the love of the Spirit. Ultimately the fight is the Lord’s. He has promised to fight for us. He has promised to defend His people. He alone is the proper Arbitrator between offended parties. He alone is qualified to preside in a court marshal concerning a war of words. His word is the plumb-line separating right from wrong; the Spirit from the flesh. You may respond, “So are we to do nothing? Are we to just let people assassinate our character?” Well I’m sure the Spirit will direct you about what to say and when to say it. But if we simply entrust our circumstances to the Lord we are in good company. “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opened not His mouth” (Acts 8:32; Isaiah 53:7). Walk as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6; 1 Peter 2:21).

Psalm 27 is a source of promise and great encouragement for those who suspect or who know of a war of words being waged against them. This is a psalm of David. David as a king and leader must have known all too well the devastating effects of wars of words against him. His own son waged such a war against him. When family members turn to warring with words it is particularly painful. Absalom started a strategy of deceit against his father that led to his father’s being temporarily dethroned, greatly shamed, and greatly pained (cf. 2 Samuel 15-18). God fought for David and brought victory over his treacherous son eventually, but broad deep scars were left as furrows in his heart.

Mean words may not win the day, but they always leave their mark. Maybe that incident between David and his son was one of the experiences that led to David penning Psalm 27. What can we learn from this psalm about our God provided protection when under attack?

First, turn to God when under attack. David is inspired to open the psalm, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1). Light dispels darkness. Light helps one see for direction. Light helps one avoid dangers. Light and salvation are connected because when there is light one can see or handle one’s enemy or other dangers. The light of God’s word leads us out of the darkness of our sin and into the light of saving gospel of Jesus Christ. If we aren’t saved from sin then surrendering to Jesus in faith and receiving forgiveness for our sins is the place to start in finding protection in any war. If we are saved and walking in a personal relationship with Jesus as Savior and Lord then we need to remember and hold on to that reality.

The LORD (note Tetragrammaton – God’s holiest name: He is all He needs to be in order to do all He purposes to do) is the Person David attributes his light and salvation too. Therefore, he concludes, “Whom shall I fear?” The minister or one called by God as His instrument is promised light and salvation in the LORD. If God is for us who of any consequence can be against us? (Romans 8:31-32).

David knows God is the source of his strength. The LORD is “the strength of my life.” Any strength we have comes from the LORD. We don’t rectify life problems by our might or our power but only by the Holy Spirit (Zechariah 4:6; Acts 1:8). We stand in the power of His might with His weaponry (Ephesians 6:10-18).

Twice David is inspired to mention the idea of fear. Fear is the common link in this first verse. David wouldn’t have mentioned fear unless he was afraid. Life can get scary at times; even for a minister of God. There is the fear of “failing,” the fear of a lack of provision, or a fear of gossiping attacks. There are many reasons that tempt us to fear. We need not fear though when we hold on to Jesus by faith. Fear is the foe of faith. Faith in Jesus overcomes fear.

Second, understand that adversaries can be ruthless. David describes his attackers as, “When the wicked came against me to eat up my flesh, my enemies and foes, they stumbled and fell” (Psalm 27:2). David’s opponents were going for the jugular. They were fleshly flesh eaters. Here are some real walking dead. “Wicked” (Hebrew ra’a) means literally spoiler, one who breaks to pieces, a good for nothing. A wicked person is a relationship killer. Wicked words wreck relationships.

The person called by God can expect to be attacked. David was, Jesus was, the Apostles/disciples were, so will we. But we need not fear because God is for us (cf. Psalm 62:8; Romans 8:31-32). God will cause our enemies to stumble and fall. He will trip them up in their own deceptions. The more lies one tells, the harder it is to keep tract of them. We are not in life or ministry alone. God is with us. God is for us. He will watch over us. God will defend us.

Third, the size of an enemy is not the most important factor. David said, “Though an army may encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war may rise against me, in this I will be confident” (Psalm 27:3). The size of our enemies force is not of primary concern. David said, “My heart shall not fear.” This is a declaration of faith. Courage is not the absence of fear; it is faith to overcome fear. “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.” We can be “confident” while under attack. “Confident” (Hebrew batah) means trust, refuge, certainty, trust. David says, “I will”; this is a step of faith. Take a step of faith and keep on stepping in faith. Trust in God no matter the size of the attacker.

Fourth, the one thing you NEED to do when under attack; stay in fellowship with God and His people. David said, “One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple” (Psalm 27:4). When under attack we need to keep our eyes on the LORD. Keep your eyes on “the beauty of the LORD.” Add to that “inquire in His temple.” In other words, go to church and seek the LORD. Get into God’s place of worship and focus on the LORD. Be still and quiet before the LORD. Go to church when a service is not going on and just sit in the presence of the LORD.

When under attack, especially if we feel an injustice has been done, our inclination is to isolate ourselves from people; even God’s people. The temptation is to pout and have a pity party. This psalm tells us we should do just the opposite of that. It is the enemy that wants to isolate us. You’re easier to attack and defeat when you are alone. It is the animal separated from the herd that is easy prey for the predator. Fellowship is a pillar of spiritual health (cf. Acts 2:42). It’s in fellowship that we can help each other with the burdens of life that are too heavy for any one person to bear (Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 10:24-25). And even if the source of the attack you are experiencing is from your fellowship, you need to stay plugged in. Don’t let the enemy run you off. Let the enemy leave. You stay. Work it out. Grow from the situation.

David had a heart that steadfastly sought the LORD even when under attack. This was his key to survival. He did temporarily leave Jerusalem when attacked by his son. But he always had dependable friends around him. And eventually he returned. It’s easy to run away when attacked. But when we run off no true resolution or healing can take place.

Fifth, when under attack, find a secret place to pour out your heart to the LORD. It’s so important to have, “a place.” You need a place that is your place to meet with the LORD; just you and Him. David knew this as he said, “For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; in the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock” (Psalm 27:5). Constant and persistent attack can be debilitating and exhausting. Because of that we need to tap into God and let His presence course through our spiritual veins. This is where we are empowered by the LORD.

When we meet with God it also helps us keep things in perspective. When troubles arise it is God who hides and protects us from the troubles and the enemies. God does this as He will “set me high upon the rock.” God provides an advantageous position for us to see. God gives us perspective. That’s why David was inspired to testify in another psalm – “You shall hide them in the secret place of Your presence from the plots of man; You shall keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues. . . . Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the LORD” (Psalm 31:20, 24). Get alone with God. Come into His presence. He will give you rest. He will heal your wounds.

Sixth, when under attack, by faith, be thankful for victory ahead of time. David states by faith, “And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me; therefore I will offer sacrifices of joy in His tabernacle; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the LORD” (Psalm 27:6). This is a declaration of faith by David. He is not looking retrospectively on what has already happened. He is looking ahead to what he believes by faith God will do to bring him victory. The evidence of this hope is his worship of the LORD. It’s easy to worship God after victory is secured. It’s faith to worship God in the midst of the storm before victory is secured.

Seventh, when under attack pray and seek the face of the LORD! David says, “Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice! Have mercy also upon me, and answer me” (Psalm 27:7). David expresses his reliance on prayer and his call for mercy. Sometimes enemy attacks can be overwhelming so like David we cry for mercy. Then David describes the content of his prayer  saying, “When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You, “Your face, Lord, I will seek.” Do not hide Your face from me; do not turn Your servant away in anger; You have been my help; do not leave me nor forsake me, O God of my salvation” (Psalm 27:8-9). God called David to “Seek My face.” He calls out to the LORD. Then he listens. He takes in God’s response. And then David obeys. David applies to life what God reveals to him. David’s prayer is a two way conversation.

God told David, “Seek My face.” God tells the hurting overwhelmed David and He tells us “Look at Me.” In other words, “Seek My presence.” David responds in obedience, “Your face, LORD, I will seek.” When you seek the face of the LORD it is enthralling. Once you seek and see the face of the LORD, you don’t ever want to look away. That is what David says. He begs God to not hide His face from him. David acknowledges God “has been my help.” It is in such a memory of God’s past faithfulness that David cries to God for salvation in the present. David knows how dependent he is on God. To David, a worse idea than an attacking enemy is the thought of God forsaking him. What’s most important to you, vanquishing your attacker, or leaving that to God and seeking His face?

Eighth, when attacked remember God is most faithful. David makes this point when he says, “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me” (Psalm 27:10). David says God is more reliable and faithful than even his own parents. God is our primary and most important relationship. Even if everyone forsakes us, God never will. Rest in that truth. Even, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).

Ninth, when attacked be teachable. David humbly prays, “Teach me Your way, O Lord, and lead me in a smooth path, because of my enemies” (Psalm 27:11). He is teachable. He knows there are lessons to be learned in such difficult situations. David doesn’t proudly insist there is nothing for him to learn. Humbly David seeks God’s teaching and direction to learn from his life circumstance. Nothing teaches so thoroughly as a hard trial (cf. 1 Peter 1:6-9).  

Tenth, when attacked bring the specifics of the attack before the LORD. David prays, “Do not deliver me to the will of my adversaries; for false witnesses have risen against me, and such as breathe out violence” (Psalm 27:12). David states the specific danger to the LORD; “false witnesses.” The LORD already knows what David is facing so he is not led by the Spirit to do this for the LORD’s sake. David states his request for his and our sake. When we pray specifically we know when God answers specifically. Pray generally and we might miss God’s answers. Bring the details before the LORD. Ask Him for recollection and insight. Let the Spirit open your eyes (1 Corinthians 2:9-14).

The Christian, (and especially those in ministry) can be sure to expect “false witnesses” to rise against them. That is reality. People will make false statements in varying degrees. Sometimes it will be due to self deception (1 John 1:8, 10). Other times it will be a purposeful use of misinformation or lies to reach a desired end. Just remember, if someone complains or talks negatively about a predecessor or someone else, chances are they will do the same about you when they leave. No accusation should be received that can’t be corroborated by reliable witnesses (1 Timothy 5:19; Hebrews 10:28).

Eleventh, when attacked don’t lose heart; trust in the goodness of the LORD. I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13). David expresses the value of a close and constant relationship with the LORD. This is emphasized over and over in this psalm. Take that to heart. He says he would have “lost heart” or given up if it weren’t for God. Similarly, we will lose heart if we don’t go to the LORD when under attack.

We need to go to God and believe that we will see the goodness of the LORD. “Goodness” (Hebrew tub) means God’s goodness in the widest sense, concrete actual goodness, beauty, gladness, joy, or things going well. This is what we need to believe in and anchor our hope to (Heb. 6:19). And this promised goodness comes in the “land of the living.” It will come in this life. This is not a dream of eternity, (though God’s goodness will overflow there too) but this is something we can expect in this life. We will experience God’s goodness. That is encouraging truth for the one under attack.

Twelveth, when under attack wait on the LORD to deliver. Lastly David says, “Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14). David exhorts the person under attack to “wait on the LORD.” He exhorts the attacked to “be of good courage.” “Courage” (Hebrew hazaq) means to fasten upon, be strong, courageous, get strength from, conquer, cleave to, be constant in. Hold on to the LORD when you’re under attack! “Strengthen” (Hebrew amas) means to be alert physically and mentally, be courageous, be steadfastly minded, determined, prevail, strengthen and make strong, and steadfast. Rely on God to get you through the war of words.

Take courage and persevere in light of David’s psalm. Wait courageously on the LORD when you’re under attack. Load up with the ammunition provided in this psalm and weather the storm of the war of words.  It’s tough in the trenches. There will be times of hand to hand combat. But you aren’t alone. Remember, God has your back!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

“She has done a good work for Me”

“Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me” – Mark 14:6


What have you done for the Lord lately? Do you feel His prodding, His urging, His call and are hesitating, resisting or holding back? Do you fear or have you been told that ministry or giving to ministry in some way is a waste of time? Perhaps you’re considering college; Bible college; or seminary. Maybe you have your entire life in front of you and are wondering, What should I do? Maybe you’ve lived most of your life for yourself. Maybe you’re coming to terms with how the Lord would have you live out the remaining portion of breath He has blessed you with. Maybe you’ve considered giving your life in ministry but are being discouraged to do so because others would prefer you spend your life in “making a living,” “making money,” or “making a name for yourself.” Maybe you’re concerned with a pension; with retirement? Are you hearing comments like, “Ministry, really? Can’t you come up with something better than that? “Or, “Ministry? You’re not going into ministry are you? What a waste of time!” Or, “You’re giving to what, ministry?!” Let me tell you something, nothing that is done or given for Jesus is ever a waste in any way.

Jesus was in “Bethany at the house of Simon the leper” on the night He was to be betrayed. In a few short hours He would be brutalized and crucified for the redemption of humanity. John’s gospel account tells us it was Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus who “came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard” and “broke the flask and poured it on His head” (John 12:3; Mark 14:3). It was Lazarus who had been raised from the dead by Jesus (John 11). What memories; what incredible miraculous blessings from God. And all of it was percolating in Mary. And what was happening inside led to a lavish act by Mary. The oil was worth 300 denarii or a year’s wages (Mark 14:5; John 12:6). A year’s wages! A year’s salary poured out on Jesus’ feet! Would you do that?

The disciples, led by Judas, felt at least the oil could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor (Mark 14:5; John 13:29). Logical. Reasonable. Pragmatic. Someone who is a good steward, or thrifty, would think like that. They were indignant, angry. Of course we know Judas was really concerned with pilfering the proceeds. But the other disciples may very well have had a legitimate concern (cf. John 12:6).  What would you have thought? What did Jesus think?

Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. Assuredly, I say to you. Wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her” (Mark 14:6-9).

There’s a lot to learn in this passage. There’s something vital to take away from this account. Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” That means that she did something worth taking note of, worth repeating; worth copying and doing ourselves. What she did left us an example. What was her memorial? What is it we should remember and also do?

“She has done a good work for Me.” What is the nature of this good work she did? It was costly; valuable. It cost her a year’s wages. It was total. It was impractical, unreasonable, and not to logical as far as the male disciples were concerned. Maybe they were thinking, Just like a woman. But look deeper. It is likely this oil was something that was very precious to her. Precious oil was often purchased as a kind of investment for the future; it was a valued commodity; a precious currency. It may have been her dowry; something to be given her husband upon their marriage. If she were to die before marrying it may have been poured out on her own body in burial. By pouring it out on Jesus it was as though she was saying, “I give my future, my family, my happiness, my hopes and dreams, my life; I pour it all out to You Jesus.” Pouring out this costly oil was an act of supreme, deep and total devotion to Jesus. Have you poured yourself out to Jesus like that? Who holds your future? Or are you like the disciples, too practical and reserved for something like that?

This good work was exorbitant. When was the last time you did something lavish, exorbitant for Jesus? When was the last time you went all the way for Jesus? When was the last time your worship of Jesus took priority over your future plans? When was the last time you gave something to Jesus or for His glory that actually cost you something? Some say “I can’t afford to give.” Looking at Mary and her good work seems to tell us, “You can’t afford not to give.” At some point she came to realize, “I must give.” Jesus said, “She has done what she could.” She could not have done anything less. How about you?

But what about the poor? Don’t mistake what Jesus was saying. He isn’t minimizing ministry to the poor. He was maximizing our worship and commitment to Him. The poor and caring for them is extremely important. But it pales in comparison to how we spend our time with Jesus. In fact, if you don’t lavish worship on Jesus you probably won’t have too much to offer the poor or anyone else. Are you a Mary or a disciple?

Notice how Jesus attached the good work of Mary to the preaching of the gospel. How are they connected? They are connected at the heart. What Mary did is an example of how everyone should come to Jesus. She symbolized in a very worshipful and real way that she was giving her all to Jesus. That’s really what God is looking for when the gospel is preached. I received Jesus as my Savior over 35 years ago with the words that can be summed up as “Jesus, I’m Yours.”  My wife likes to say of people who struggle with their relationship with Jesus, “They just have to fall in love with Jesus.” That’s what Mary’s lavish act of worship communicated. She was totally in love with her Lord Jesus. She was wholly holy to Him. Are you?

What does your life speak to Jesus? Are you more like the disciples who scorned and looked down on lavish expressions of love to Jesus? Are you very practical; so practical that you’d never think of condoning such a lavish expenditure of funds, not even on Jesus? Remember, “You are not your own . . . For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). Remember, “you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your sinless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19). Maybe as Mary and the disciples ate the Passover meal together that fateful night, it all came together for her. Maybe she realized what Jesus said of her act – “She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial” (Mark 14:8).

Do you know that Resurrection Sunday is only 11 weeks away? It will be here before you know it. Let's begin preparing to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus early this year. This season of the crucifixion and resurrection why not pray about a lavish expression of your life for Jesus? Ask the Lord how you could show your love for Him in a costly lavish way like Mary did. Ask Him how you can follow in her steps and do a similar good work. Ask Him.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

“That we may die with Him”

Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”- John 11:16


Life is filled with uncertainties. Life is filled with risks. How will you deal with that? Life in Christ is lived by a faith that helps us wade through the sea of darkness. But there are times, even as a Christian, when we will have to choose to follow Jesus based on very limited circumstantial evidence. There is a time in every Christian’s life when they will have to risk all and follow Jesus. At some point, maybe at many points in life, we will have to step in line behind Thomas and say, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” If we refuse to do that, the consequences could be tragic.


The story is told of a dissatisfied man.[1] He had inherited a farm but felt tending it was more of a burden than a blessing. He was looking for anyway out from under this “burden.” He had little appreciation and saw his life as an aggravation. So frustrated and dissatisfied was the man that he took the matter to the Lord in prayer. He prayed and prayed, “Lord, get me out of here! I hate farming!” As time went on and nothing happened he approached the edge of despair. He began pleading with God to show him a sign of the way out. His prayers became expressions of his panic.


One day, as he was plowing in the field, he looked up into the sky. He stared at two particular clouds as they floated conspicuously across the sky. Then in astonishment he perceived the clouds seemed to form two letters. “I see a ‘P’ and a ‘C.’ My sign? Thank You Jesus!” But what did it mean? It didn’t take him long to interpret the “sign” in the clouds to mean, “Leave your farming and Preach Christ.” “Hallelujah!’ he shouted, “I’m finally set free from this curse of farming.” The dissatisfied man sold his farm and everything with it at a price that was far less than its true worth. He just wanted to get out of there.


The dissatisfied man turned preacher left and went to Bible school. There he struggled to pass his classes. Learning the Bible seemed to him drudgery. He was hell bent to “Preach Christ.” He lost interest in his studies. He didn’t seem to have any staying power. He struggled and stalled. He was confronted with another dead end of dissatisfaction. He decided to quit. “But not all is lost” he thought, “I have met the perfect pastor’s wife.” He married and moved on leaving school before graduation. He justified his decision by reasoning there were too many lost souls that needed him to save them.


At the urging of his wife he found a church that would have him as pastor. The church was desperate and so was he. A “perfect match” he thought. Soon he was caught up in the busy-ness of ministry. He was obsessed with “ministry.” But a preacher is not necessarily a pastor. And as hard as he preached Christ to the lost, no one ever seemed to listen to what he had to say. No one seemed to ever get saved.


The man turned pastor labored and toiled in ministry to the “bride of Christ.” But he neglected his own bride. This soured the mood of “the perfect pastor’s wife.” Their marriage was in trouble. They thought that children, “a blessing from the Lord,” would bring them together. So they jumped into parenthood and family. But the little blessings only added stress to their lives. They just seemed to get in the way. They were a nuisance to the Mom who was thought to be a perfect pastor’s wife. They were a nuisance to the Dad who was the dissatisfied farmer preacher pastor. They just didn’t have the time or interest to be parents.


No matter what this dissatisfied man did it seemed out of sync with everything around him. This led to more dissatisfaction and more emptiness for not only him but for his wife too. That led to anger. They fought with each other. They fought with their children. They fought with the congregation. They fought with their neighbors. There was no blessing. They struggled to pay their bills. They struggled to make ends meet. They seemed to be opposed at every turn. Life was misery.


Dissatisfaction is contagious. The dissatisfied man led to a dissatisfied woman. Dissatisfied parents led to dissatisfied children. The children grew and couldn’t wait to leave home. And when the last one did leave, “the perfect pastor’s wife” had nothing to hold her to the dissatisfied farmer preacher pastor husband and father. She didn’t feel she even knew him. And she didn’t care. All she knew was that she was dissatisfied. It was her time to live for herself. So the dissatisfied woman left the dissatisfied man. And the man who was a dissatisfied farmer, preacher, student, pastor, husband, and father sunk deeper and deeper into greater and greater darkness.


The dissatisfied man had long since stopped praying or reading his Bible. He was a preacher and pastor in title only. His heart wasn’t in it. He settled on using online sermon outlines. He didn’t have the time or interest to seek the Lord for his own sermons. He settled to “preach” a company line. He was tossed to and fro with every wind and wave of doctrine. He had long since stopped trying to “Preach Christ.” He didn’t pray but he did shake his fist at God.


If the dissatisfied man did have a time with God it was only to complain. And his complaints took the form of, “Why are You doing this to me? Why doesn’t anything go my way? Why has life been such a struggle? Why do I feel so empty? Where is Your peace? Why have You forsaken me?” And then finally he shouted at God, “I can’t take this anymore! I hate You!” The dissatisfied man’s faith was hanging by a thread.


The dissatisfied man became bitter, left the ministry, and lived the rest of his life in resentment toward God and anger toward everyone else. He lived on scraps. It was a sad story. Finally he died. Finally it was time to go before the Lord. The dissatisfied man had some questions to bring up to the Lord. He wanted some answers. And in “righteous” indignation he was determined to confront God with his questions.


He passed from this life to the next. He was ushered into the presence of the Lord. There he was forced to bow in God’s Holy Presence.  He tried to hang on to his proud indignation but that was hard to do while bowed in the presence of the Sovereign of the universe. As his turn came to be addressed by God he was summoned not by the sound of an angry ogre but by a powerful calm and controlled voice. It was a voice that soothed and oozed with grace, mercy and love.


The man’s name was called. He was brought forward. He nearly melted in the gaze of the Lord. Then the Judge said, “Hmmm, I see you’ve had a rough time in life. A lot of starts and few finishes: farmer, preacher, student, pastor, husband, father, and man. Much dissatisfaction. Much depression. Much division. Much disappointment. Many defeats, few victories. A divorce. What’s this, you shouted at Me in prayer and said, ‘I hate You!’ Well you may hate me, but I love you. Thank Me for your sake that My grace is sufficient. At least you received My gift of salvation. And I’m still glad that you’re here. But what have you to say for yourself?” 


The dissatisfied man gathered his strength and lifted his head. He said, “I was born into a cursed farming family. I prayed and prayed to You for freedom. Then finally one day You gave me a sign in the clouds. A “P” and a “C.” Your call to “Preach Christ. And I answered that call. But my life as a whole has been miserable even after I answered Your call. I just don’t understand.” With this the Lord opened His Book of Life. He turned to the man’s name and looked at the record. Then He said, “Hmmm. You’re right. I did answer your prayer in the clouds of the sky that day. But you seem to have misinterpreted My message. That sometimes happens when a person such as yourself trusts in himself and not in Me. That sometimes happens when someone rejects my blessings and obsesses over their own lusts like you did. That is what happens when a person fights My will like you did. That’s what happens when people like you think they know better than Me.” The weight of God’s words was heavy on the man. The LORD paused to let the dissatisfied man catch his breath.


Then the LORD continued, “You see, I indeed sent you the sign of “P” and “C” but My word to you was ‘Plant Corn,’ not ‘Preach Christ.’ My plan for you was that you be blessed from working My land. If you had only been open to My will and plan for you I would have blessed you with complete and full satisfaction. From My blessing of your harvest you were to provide financial support for My Great Commission. Many souls would have been saved. I provided grace for you to do that. I had great plans for you. I wanted to use you so mightily for My glory. But you weren’t open to that. And so you read into My sign what you wanted. The result is that you were indeed out of sync in life. You sowed selfishness and reaped dissatisfaction. You and those you touched missed so much. If only at some point you would have come to Me in full surrender and just listened to Me, I could have turned things around for you. Oh, you would have been so blessed by what I wanted to do in and through you. Too bad, I had so much more for you than you were able to grab on your own. The blessing that could have been yours was passed on to another.”


There was a heavy silence when the Lord ended His words. The dissatisfied man was dumbfounded by God’s truth and reality. The Lord’s revelation explained his life exactly. All he could initially muster in response to His Lord was, “O LORD, I see.” Then, after another moment, the dissatisfied man submitted, “Forgive me Lord for my selfishness and dissatisfaction. Forgive me for seeking my will and not Your will. Forgive me for being more concerned with representing me and not You. Forgive me for a wasted life. Forgive me for not loving You and trusting You the way I should have. Forgive me Lord, my sin, in Jesus’ name, by His blood, forgive me.”


The Lord forgave him. He forgave him with a final word. “Yes, in Jesus’ name, by His blood, I forgive you. You have believed in My Name by the Gospel for your salvation. And salvation is by My grace not your works. But you will pass into eternity naked with no evidence of God-glorifying fruit. In fact, people have looked at your miserable life and questioned My grace, My wisdom, My love. Your dissatisfaction, pride, self-serving attitude, and self-centered living have robbed you of My blessings. I can see here that you have finally died to self.  But had you died to self earlier, your final chapter would not have been such a sad epitaph. Had you died to you and followed Me your life would have been abundant and not such an abomination. Go now into eternity.” With that the dissatisfied man walked into eternity. Eternal life with Jesus for the dissatisfied man was still so wonderful. But it would have been better to have been able to offer Him a life of thanks.


Our life can be better than that dissatisfied man. It can be better if we follow the example of Thomas. Thomas is so real. Thomas is so practical. Later in John’s gospel he misses a resurrection appearance of Jesus and insists on seeing and touching Jesus for himself before he will believe that Jesus had risen from the dead (John 20:24-29). Thomas was not one to dwell on esoteric ideas. Thomas was not the kind of person who looks at a cloud and sees letters in the sky. Thomas is a meat and potatoes man from the show me state. He was a man of faith and loyalty to his Lord.


When Jesus announced He was going to see Lazarus, Thomas knew that meant going into a life threatening place where Jesus would be vulnerable to His enemies. They might take Him and stone Him. Thomas and the others knew that. They knew following Jesus was not comfortable, it was costly. When we look at Thomas’ response we see he didn’t fully understand what Jesus plan entailed. None of the disciples did at this point. But he followed Him anyway. We can learn a lot about following Jesus by looking at Thomas.


Even though Thomas didn’t quite understand Jesus’ plan and even though accompanying Jesus meant putting his own life at risk, Thomas was willing to die with and for Jesus. Thomas wasn’t a perfect disciple. But neither are we. There are no perfect disciples. Thomas had a faith that believed in Jesus through times of unseen outcome. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for the belief in things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). Thomas didn’t see the end of Jesus’ plan. But he was willing to die to his own plans in order to be with Jesus and be a part of His plans. Even though they aren’t revealed to us, it’s likely that Thomas had hopes, dreams, aspirations, goals in life. He was human. But he was willing to physically die with Jesus. His physical death meant he was willing to die to the things of this life.


How about you? Are you willing to trust Jesus even though you don’t know what the final outcome with Jesus will be? You may be willing to physically die for Jesus like Thomas. Peter said he was willing to physically die for Jesus too (John 13:37). But later Peter kept his distance from the arrested Jesus (John 18:15-27). Later Peter denied His Lord three times. Thomas departed from Jesus’ side in the end too. But here Thomas is willing to die with Jesus. We need to come to that place as well.


We may not be called upon to physically die. But we will need to come to that place where we are willing to follow Jesus even if we must die to the things of this world. His call on us will bring us to a place of crucifixion and death.  To count the cost of following Christ means to be willing to pay the price of all we hold dear that isn’t Christ. We have to die to our dreams, hopes, expectations, aspirations by being willing to lose them for the sake of God’s will in our life. We have to go to our personal Gethsemane like Jesus. Jesus asked the Father to take the cup from Him. He asked the Father for an alternative to the cross if possible. There’s nothing wrong with questioning God or asking Him for something. But like Jesus we must end our request with “nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).  We must submit, “not my will, but Yours be done.”


Like Jesus, we need to get alone and get quiet with the Father. We need to get still and listen to the Father (Psalm 46:10). We then need to seek His will in all that we hold dear to us. We might ask, “Father, I would like to get married. But not my will but Yours be done.” Or, “Father, I want to pursue this career. But not my will but Yours be done.” Or, “Father, I want ________. But not my will but Yours be done.” We have to come before Him as a living sacrifice with open hands, open mind, and open heart and seek His will (cf. Romans 12:1-2).


God’s will for us must be our top priority. We must decide to truly follow Jesus. We have to die to “me” and live to Thee. Why is that so? Because if we “Preach Christ,” when we were called to “Plant Corn,” life will be miserable. If we compromise and do something that contradicts God’s word or His expressed will, that which we thought would be a blessing will turn into a curse. Let me provide a more practical example.


In our day we see more and more Christians disregarding God’s truth. One area we see this is in the area of marriage. There is the same-sex marriage abomination. But even in normal marriage arrangements we see a departure from God’s truth. For instance, we see Christians open to being unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6). We see Christians, especially those who are getting further up in age, compromising and marrying people who don’t know the Lord or who know Him in only a very superficial way. We see a redefinition of what a “Christian” is in order to marry unbelievers. Or we see the manipulation by affection to drag people to church and act like a “Christian” before the wedding only to see such an artificial “Christian” evaporate in absence to the church after the wedding. Lowering God’s standards to get what you want always leads to frustration and dissatisfaction. You’d be better to die with Jesus.


Our holy objective in marriage should not merely be to find someone who will allow us to follow the Lord. A spouse should be someone who will advance in the Lord hand in hand together with us. And God will supply such a person if we trust Him. God brought Eve to Adam. God will bring a suitable spouse to you. If you say, “Okay, where is my spouse? I don’t see them.” Well maybe you need to look harder. Maybe you need to look more at the heart than the body. Or maybe God has Someone better for you to be with; Himself. It’s better to die with Jesus.


Some might respond, “Wait a minute pastor. I know believers who have married unbelievers and they’re okay.” “Okay,” what does that mean? Will the unsaved spouse be able to join with the saved spouse in fellowship in the holy presence of God? Will an unsaved spouse relate to the things of God? If you have children are you sure the unsaved spouse will agree to allow them to be raised in the counsel of the Lord? Will their view of “raising them in the counsel of the Lord” be like yours? “Love” and passion may tempt you to overlook the spiritual shortcomings of a spouse before marriage, but you will regret it when you want to go deeper with the Lord. Can two walk together unless they are agreed in such eternal things? (cf. Amos 3:3). Why would you settle for less than God’s best? Are you willing to die with Jesus?


“But they will get saved by my influence?” you retort. Truthfully, you don’t know that.  In seeking a spouse there is the trap of overlooking flaws or problems that are evident and revealed by God in prospective spouses before marriage. A person does this because they presume they can change the unsaved into the saved. Sometimes there is the fantasy of thinking that a wedding certificate will miraculously change a person into to something they have never been. A wedding will not change anyone; it is designed as a rite of passage for those already devoted to God. Will a uniform make you a player? Maybe for Halloween, but not in real life. You cannot save anyone. Only God can save a person. You do not know if someone will be saved. Only God knows that. And if such a disregard of God’s truth does work out in the end, it will be in spite of you not because of you. Thank God for His mercy and grace but don’t use that as an excuse for sinful presumption.


Marriage is a wonderful thing; if it’s pursued in God’s way in God’s timing. If it isn’t God’s will for you to be married, then maybe He wants you all to Himself. That’s not a bad thing. He loves us so much. He deserves our trust. He knows what is best. The bottom line is whether or not you trust Him enough to run your life. Jesus is enough. Surrender to Him. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8). Die with Him.  


The decisions we make and figuring the cost of following Jesus should take place in counsel with the Lord. We need to get quiet before the Lord and seek His will. He will guide us with His peace (cf. Colossians 3:15). God works in orderly not disorderly ways (1 Cor. 14:33, 40). It is the enemy that wants you to compromise. Satan knows if he can get you outside the parameters of God’s word you will be more vulnerable. If we pursue unscriptural relationships, careers, work involvement, or anything else, it will consume our time. It will rob us of our precious quiet time with the Lord. Think about that.  Anything we rush into, force ourselves into, or do without seeking the will of the Lord or waiting on Him will result in dissatisfaction, discouragement, and distance from the Lord. Nothing is worth more than spending time with Jesus. Nothing is worth more than following Jesus.


Life is blessed and faith is built by following Jesus at the cost of death to our will and acceptance of His will. That is prerequisite to experiencing the abundant life Jesus promised us. Some may see that as too risky or not to their liking. It’s easy to surrender all to Jesus when you have nothing. But as life goes on we begin to accumulate things that become more precious to us. As time goes by and age becomes a factor, we are tempted to take things into our own hands; to bend corners; to compromise. We start to get fidgety. We consider preaching when we should be planting. The older we get the greater the calculated risks become. It becomes harder and harder to hold to the cost we once counted. But think about it. The Jesus you are turning to and forsaking all for is the same Jesus who went to the cross and died for you to redeem you from your slavery to sin. And He did that while you were still a sinner (Romans 5:8). He loves you unconditionally. He loves you just the way you are. And He loves you too much to leave you the way you are. He is devoted to finishing what He started in you (Phil. 1:6). When He’s finished with you, your life will be a beautiful poem to His glory (Eph. 2:10).


The closer you draw to Jesus, the more clearly you will sense His will. The closer you come to Jesus the more sensitive you will become to His beating heart. That beating heart of our Lord beats for you. That beating heart of Jesus brings comfort and satisfaction. That beating heart of Jesus reduces the risk because you are assured of His dependability.  Don’t be a dissatisfied farmer who willfully turns preacher. Be a satisfied whatever-God-calls-you-to-be. Follow Jesus like Thomas did. Pray, “Lord, I don’t know all of Your plan. But I’m going with you even if it means I die.” That’s a life journey worth taking. That’s a life blessed by the Lord.



[1] Story idea is adapted from a Newton Stein Sermon Illustration

Monday, January 5, 2015

"That You May Believe"

" Then Jesus said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.” - John 11:14-15


" Then Jesus said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.” (John 11:14-15). Those are the words spoken by Jesus to His disciples about the death of Lazarus. Lazarus was dead, not merely asleep as His disciples wrongly assumed (John 11:13). And Jesus was glad for this. Not because it would cause pain or that He didn't like Lazarus, or Mary, or Martha. He loved them all (John 11:5). Jesus loves us too. Jesus was glad Lazarus had died because it was part of the Father's plan to build their faith. He wants to build our faith too.


How can our faith be built? Why should we put a priority on faith building? What do we learn from Jesus’ faith building tactics that can help us cooperate and be used in God’s faith building procedures? These are questions this teaching aims to address.


The Bible states, “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Spiritually speaking, we can’t walk or get anywhere without doing so by faith. We progress and move on in our spiritual walk “not by sight,” or not merely by what we see around us or what we understand about what is going on around us. In fact, faith building utilizes the lack of sight; not knowing. The account of the resurrection of Lazarus is a good example of this. This is a chapter about the necessity of waiting in order to see Jesus’ resurrection work. But it is also about what is involved in building faith.


Building faith involves testing. Belief, faith, is like a muscle. To grow strong faith must be tested. Faith must be tested in order to be trusted and revealed as true. The Apostle Peter was inspired to write, “In this you greatly rejoice [i.e. the prospect of resurrection, our incorruptible inheritance in heaven, and “the power of God through faith for salvation”] , 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 1:6-9). This flies in the face of making decisions purely based on financial reasons. (Which is, in and out of the church today, one of the primary if not the primary determiners in decisions in our world today.) Our faith is “much more precious than gold that perishes.” According to God and His word, our faith is more valuable than the most precious commodity this world has to offer. Nothing in this world is as valuable as your faith. Do we really believe that? Do we make decisions from that world view? Would you pass that kind of test? Would you choose faith over fortune? Are your decisions made based on building your faith or finding financial “freedom”?


A faith untested cannot be trusted. This is why life is more making money. Life is more than financial comfort. It is a great mistake to run after comfort. Comfort makes faith flabby. Comfort atrophies faith. Faith dies when we live at ease. Christian, you are called to be more than a couch potato! Challenge, difficulty, and circumstances that require perseverance and hard work are the proving ground of faith. Faith is birthed by grace. Faith is built as we by grace go to work. We are what we are by God’s grace. But that does not excuse us from “labor” (Greek kopiao in 1 Corinthians 15:10); hard wearying, fatiguing, labor. It would have been relatively easy for Jesus to heal Lazarus before he died. But Jesus knew building faith involves testing. The faith of His disciples, Martha and Mary had to be tested strong. Jesus is looking to build believers with ram-tough faith. How tough is your faith when tested? The resurrection of Lazarus is a faith building experience.


Building faith involves God's planning. Jesus followed the Father's plan not man's plan (John 11:15). The people in this story are all in a hurry. Jesus isn’t in a hurry. Jesus is on a mission. He operates by His Father’s schedule not the schedule of those around Him. He moves about in a calm calculated way to fulfill His Father’s plan. Can you say that? Have you discerned God’s will for you in quiet waiting before Him with His open Word before you? Or do you rush around with no clue of God’s will for your life?


Faith is the assurance of things hoped for (Hebrews 11:1a). Faith invites that inner witness of the Spirit. The Spirit directs the faith-full to carry on, push forward and push through. Faith involves hope. Hope is the eye of faith for the future. Faith and hope are both guided and governed by God's plans, not our own. Faith asks, "What is God's plan for my life?" Faith waits on God for its marching orders. Then faith pursues God's plan with an assurance God will be faithful to fulfill His plan in and through us. Faith believes God’s calling is God’s enablement.


Building faith involves uncertainty. The question on everyone's mind and in everyone's heart was "Why?" Why did Jesus delay? Why did He let Lazarus die? Why did He act in such an apparently unloving way if He loved these people? (John 11:5, 21, 32). Why did Jesus wait? Faith is the belief in things not seen (Hebrews11:1b). It's in circumstances where you can't see how God is going to work things out that faith, in God, is worked out.


It's in those times where all you have is God, where He is your only hope, that you discover faith and that He really is, your only hope. It is in the death of your plans, your resources, your efforts, abilities and strategies, where nothing works anymore and all seems lost, that is where faith is born and raised. That is where God can come through and faith is strengthened. Faith is built when our time runs out and God comes through. He reserves the right to come through with plans that may differ from our own. His coming through may not mean rescue, healing or resurrection. His coming through will in every way mean we will be closer to Him and know Him more intimately. Our faith will be made stronger.


Building Faith is challenging not comfortable. It would have been so much more comfortable to heal Lazarus before he died. Jesus could have come to heal Lazarus in the comfort of his home. It would have spared these people a lot of grief, sorrow, and pain. But it is the flesh, not faith that lusts after comfort. It is the flesh, the sinful nature, not faith, that lives in comfort and ease where everything is easy, no work is required, and God is easily forgotten. Without a challenge God can't come through. God is omnipresent (e.g. Psalm 139). But if there could ever be a place where God's presence is not, it would be the place of carnal comfort, easiness, and ease.


Faith building is the process that involves us coming to the point where we realize I can’t. . . but God can. Once Lazarus was dead, there was nothing anyone other than Jesus could do. They might have thought That’s it, he’s dead, we can’t do anything about it. Thankfully they didn’t stop there. They still went to Jesus. Only Jesus is Master over death.


If we stop and give up every time we can’t do something we miss out on the chance for God to use our circumstances to show us He can. Submit your circumstances to Jesus. Let Jesus tell you when to press on or when to give up. People who give up do so because they haven’t sought the Lord for His will. Without any awareness of God’s will or plan a person is driven only by circumstances, good or bad. Without an awareness of God’s will we become like the man tossed to and fro by the wind on the ocean (James 1:5-6). Lack of direction makes one easy prey for doubt. Untethered doubt wrecks faith.


The next time you have a big decision to make, ask first, “Father, what is Your will for my life here?” Then ask, “Father, which choice will best build my faith?” Then step out in faith. It will always be uncomfortable when God is building our faith. We don’t like to submit or surrender, even to God. We don’t like uncertainty. But discomfort and uncertainty is not something to run from. That is something to run too! These are tools God uses to build our faith.


Building faith involves risk. Risk is the possibility of loss. It is the flesh that settles for safety and no risk. Mary and Martha and the disciples wanted Jesus to come before Lazarus died (John 11:3). They didn't want to risk Lazarus’ death. But faith involves risk. Faith requires we trust God in the face of danger and threat of loss. Faith is brought to life through risk that leads to reward. Therefore life worth living involves risk. God's plans involve risk. I’m not talking about presumption. Presumption is prayerless risk taking. I’m talking about obeying God even when it is risky. There is no faith building without risk.


Building faith involves facing fears. Lazarus was dead. Death is permanent. Death is scary. It is scary if you face it without faith in God. Martha and Mary feared the death of their brother Lazarus. They had faith in Jesus, but they were human. As the days went by and their brother moved closer and closer to death, their fears must have increased. The longer it took for Jesus to arrive, the more fearful of death they became. They would have to face these fears with Jesus.


It is devilishly deceptive if your faith is presumptuous or based on anything or anyone other than Jesus. Faith involves facing fear by trusting in Jesus. Jesus alone is the resurrection and the life. It’s only through faith in Jesus that we can experience salvation, resurrection and eternal life (John 11:25-26). Fear is the foe of faith. Faith in Jesus can obliterate our fears.


Building faith involves submission and obedience. Martha and Mary and the disciples were surrendered and obedient to Jesus' plan even if it meant death was involved (John 11:16, 22). His disciples accompanied Jesus on this life threatening journey (John 11:16). Martha said, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world” (John 11:27). And it was Martha who obediently ordered the stone to her brothers tomb to be moved aside even though he had been dead for four days (John 11:39-41). Because of their submission and obedience they saw a resurrection. We have to learn to wait in faith. We have to learn to submit to Jesus and obey Him. We have to learn to trust and obey. And like the classic hymn says, “for there’s no other way.” There’s no other way for faith to be built.


There's another reason to submit and obey in God's Faith building plans. If we resist God's faith building plans it can be dangerous. Unlike Martha, Mary and the disciples an Old Testament prophet named Jonah fled west when God's will was east. He resisted God's call. He hated those God loved. He proudly and indignantly rejected God's desire to call sinners to repentance. He couldn't and wouldn't accept God's plan. He refused to go where God wanted him to go. So God let him go. Jonah may have responded better if he had taken time to get alone with God in prayer. God has a way of getting us alone with Him. God prefers one on one conversations. And so God sent Jonah a storm. God had him swallowed whole in a great giant fish. He shook him in the sea monster. He stopped him, spoke with him, and brought him to his senses. God persuaded Jonah. He taught him how to walk in faith. He did what was required to get him going back in the right direction; to minister to the lost, to see a resurrection, and to build his faith. God can be very persuasive. God is all knowing and always has what looks to us like a contingency plan. God is never surprised.


Building faith involves difficulty and challenge, even failure. Jesus appeared to have failed His friends. If He had been there earlier, He could have prevented Lazarus' death (John 11:21, 32). And after four days in the tomb to remove the stone would have made a smelly defiling failure! (John 11:39). But Jesus is a Master of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Jesus knows how to bring beauty from ashes (cf. Isaiah 61:3). Have you crashed and burned? Are you down and out? Are you perplexed by defeat? Are you running from difficulty? Are you fleeing from life's challenge? That very well may be God's will for you. Failure and falls are sometimes what are required for faith to be built. Difficulties and defeats are necessary for us to learn we can't, but God can. God steers us with these not with ease. Rise with Him in faith.


Building faith involves death.Lazarus is dead” (John 11:14).  Faith is built in despair; when there is no reasonable hope. Jesus was glad for the hopeless situation of Lazarus' death. Why? because it was the perfect environment for faith to be built. They had to be brought to the place where Jesus was their only hope. They had to trust Jesus if they wanted Lazarus back. They had to come to a point where they said, “Yes, Lord. I believe” (John 11:27). Jesus alone, builds faith.


Building faith involves fire. The fire of testing is where faith is proven. When a person dies decay sets in like a slow burning degenerating consuming fire (John 11:39). Eremacausis is the gradual oxidation of matter from exposure to air and moisture. Eremacausis is a fire of death that burns up the dead body with decay. When the fire of life leaves, the fire of death takes over. When your faith is tested will it burn you out, burn you up, or burn you bright?


Where are you going? Why are you going there? What are you doing? What do you want to do? What is your dream, your destination, your destiny? Life is more than ease and retirement. Are you walking by faith? Is faith building your priority? Or are you looking for an easy way out? Are you ready to retire? Some old preacher once told me, "I'm not retired, I'm re-fired!" Are you looking for an early retirement, or a refirement? Faith fires us up.


Building faith involves destiny. Lazarus' destiny seemed set. But Jesus wasn't finished with him. Lazarus' death was his destiny and would become his greatest means of telling about Jesus' life giving ways. For Lazarus to be mightily used for God's glory he had to die. Death is part of faith building; death to self; death to my ways, my expectations. If you would have asked Lazarus while still alive if he wanted to live, he probably would have said "Yes!" But if he could have seen how he would be used for the glory of God and Christ as a result of his death and resurrection, he would have said “For the glory of God and my Savior Jesus, let me die a thousand times over!” Lazarus had to die to truly live for the glory of God (John 11:4). So do we. Are you willing to die?


At the end of the road of life what will your story be? Will it be a story of boring comfort and ease void of challenge and victory; void of faith? Will it be a life of complaints over the challenges you faced and the hardships you surrendered to? Will you lament the lost opportunities to build your faith?  Will you have to admit you hated what God loved and  rebelled against His will? Or will you be able to say through the wise eyes of faith, "Yes, life was a challenge, but I accepted the challenge and pressed on with Him in faith. Yes, it was hard and high but I pressed on harder and higher by faith. My life has been a living sacrifice to God by faith. I went where He wanted by faith. I stayed where He wanted by faith. I lived by faith. I worked, pressed on and overcame, by faith. I have come to see why Jesus was glad that Lazarus was dead and why He has purposely allowed deaths in my life; dangers, doubts, defeats, and discouragements in my life. It was so I may believe. And because of that I am glad too." What will your life testimony be?