Monday, October 9, 2017

Hope When You Are Tested

Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sister, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.
James 1:2-4

Sunday I preached about hope and its dependency upon the sovereignty of God. I believe it was a sovereign plan of God that the devotional book my wife and I read each day, New Morning Mercies, by Paul David Tripp, was, on that same day, about hope. The author pointed out that we find ourselves hopeless when we trust in horizontal relationships, the things of this earth, rather than our vertical relationship with God.

Any preacher knows that sometimes he preaches "to" the congregation, and sometimes he "is" the congregation. The latter should always be the preacher's goal. Yesterday I was the congregation. He spoke to me as I shared Samuel's struggles after Saul failed. For Samuel to get past the grief and fear that paralyzed him, he had to trust that God was sovereign. It felt good, not to preach, but to be preached to, confronted, convicted, instructed, forgiven, and empowered.

I had a great afternoon, like I was freed to live and serve in new ways. I forgot something, though. I forgot that our faith is always tested. James wrote "when" you experience, not "if." He also made it clear that in the testing of our faith God produces "endurance," which is absolutely necessary if we are to be "mature and complete, lacking nothing."  Well, before the day was out, the horizontal had tested my faith in the vertical. 

I have always been tested. You have, too. It's part of our sovereign Lord's plan for our good and His glory. Since I preach and teach every week, my testing always comes either before or after I preach. This week it was after. While the test had to do with a horizontal situation, the real test was vertical. Would I still hope in God, or would I become preoccupied with another failure of the horizontal to give me hope? 

When the horizontal intrudes on a child of God, they have a choice to make. Trust in God, or not. Even in that choice, the Lord gives help. Part of that help is in the Psalms of Lament that help us move through a process that moves us from 1) crying out, to voicing our 2) complaint, to 3) confessing our trust, to 4) prayer, and finally trusting Him in 5) praise. Here's one of those Psalms. If your faith is being tested, it might be just the prayer you need to turn from the horizontal and trust once again in God. 

Psalm 43

Vindicate me, God, and champion my cause
  against an unfaithful nation;
  rescue me from the deceitful and unjust person.
For you are the God of my refuge.
  Why have you rejected me?
  Why must I go about in sorrow
    because of the enemy's oppression?

Send your light and your truth; 
  let them lead me.
Let them bring me to your holy mountain,
  to your dwelling place.
Then I will come to the altar of God,
  to God, my greatest joy.
I will praise you with the lyre,
  God, my God.

Why, my soul, are you so dejected?
Why are you in such turmoil?
Put your hope in God, 
  for I will still praise him,
  my Savior and my God.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Jesus And His People Run Toward The Fire

"So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him." 
Luke 15:20

Las Vegas is one of the 5 least religious cities in the US. Less than 29% of its residents identify with any type of religion. The percentage of evangelical Christians, those experiencing new spiritual birth by faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, is much lower. It may be only 6% of the Vegas metro area of nearly 2 million people. So, the massacre of October 1st occurred in a city that is largely devoid of belief in any God.

Last week I heard Vance Pitman, pastor of Hope Church in Las Vegas, talk about how God led him and his family there to plant the church, how it has been blessed, how it is reaching out with love and the Gospel to the multicultural city, how over 60 Iranian Muslims who live there have believed in the last few months, over 50 language groups attend their church, and on and on. It was so exciting to hear that when God saw "Sin City," He didn't run away. He ran to it.

He has run to Vegas for years as believers have labored in the Gospel there. He ran to it when Pitman and others planted Hope Church. He ran to the sin-broken people of that city, just as He runs to the sin-marred people of every city and town. Like a fire-fighter running toward the fire while everyone else runs away, Jesus runs to sinners. If he runs toward the fire, so should his body.

Run with prayer. Pray for believers on the ground in Vegas as they run toward the broken. Maybe God wants you to run to Vegas. Maybe you should move there and join in the mission of the Gospel in a lost city and culture. Pray for yourself and your own church, that you will run toward the fire in your own town, your own city, with the love and Gospel of Jesus Christ.

To run toward something requires you to run away from something. Run away from doubt and skepticism. Fill your heart and mind with the Word of God so that you believe, with Paul, in the power of the Gospel to save any and all. Run away from judgmentalism. When Katrina struck New Orleans, some said it was because of the city's wickedness. Maybe it was. God knows. But, when God sent a message of judgment to Ninevah, Jonah ran away rather than to that wicked city that had oppressed his people for many years. Why? He ran away, because he knew that God did not send a message of judgment so that he could turn the Ninevites into ashes. He sent the message so that the people would hear, believe, repent and turn to God for life. So, run to "Sin City" and the sinful in every city with the love and Gospel of Christ.

One more thing. Let's run away from politics. Let the pundits and 24 hour news cycle spin the gun control issue, but you, Christian, run away from that. While it is certainly an important discussion, it is not an eternal one. People need Jesus, not political agendas. Run with him. Run to the broken, the outcast, the prideful, the sinful. Run to the fire. That, I believe, is where you'll find him.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

How Is Your Wife?

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her to make her hoy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. He did this to present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless. In the same way husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  (Ephesians 5:25-28 CSB)

War, violence, unrestrained anger, race riots, rampant drug addiction, human trafficking, hatred of Christians, compromising and apostate believers, hurricanes, floods, on, and on, and on it goes. The world's need for the church to carry out its missions has never been greater. Where do we start? Should we head to Houston, load the truck with supplies for the shelter in Beaumont, invite a family of a different color over for dinner, lobby Congress for more money for drug treatment, leave home to share the Gospel in a hostile country, or walk down the block praying for our neighbors?

We start in the wedding chamber. Whether she is saved or lost, weak or strong, sick or healthy, rich or poor, loving or nagging, our wives are our first and foremost field of mission. We are commanded to demonstrate and proclaim the love of Christ to all those in need of redemption. How we treat her is perhaps the most reliable test of our true Christian character. If we do all these other things and do not have love, especially for our brides, what are we?

This morning I prayed with a group of pastors from across the country. As we came to the point of praying for our greatest concerns, almost every pastor asked for help in ministering to failing marriages. As I examine my own life, all the busyness, the ministry, I am convinced that my wife contributes more to me than I to her. And yet I am to be like Christ to her. I am to lay down my life for her, not her for me. If I gain the whole world, but fail my Jerusalem, what will I have gained? So, brothers, before we go expecting great things from God and doing great things for God, let's ask ourselves some important questions.

"Am I treating my wife like Christ treats His church?"

"Does she experience the love of Christ through me?"

"When she fails, does she hear a message of redemption and forgiveness from me, or criticism and condemnation?"

"Do I live to lay down my life for her, or do I expect her to lay hers down for me?"