Rightly Handling Our Sinful Failures

Every Christian sins. We all, without exception, willfully “stumble” on occasion. But some of us, after continually failing to effectively battle the flesh and to rightly deal with our sinful failures, have found ourselves far beyond the “stumbling” stage. Many of us have reached the terrifying point when we felt utterly unable recoup from our falls and continue fighting, so we raised our white flags and allowed our fallen nature to ruthlessly subdue us. We hated the pain our carnal pleasures inflicted on our souls, but we didn’t feel like we could stop. Hopelessness settled like a thick, dark cloud over our hearts as we lost ourselves in the storm of sinful desire. As we plunged further into the lusts of the flesh, we began to believe that God didn’t care about us. Didn’t love us. Didn’t want us. We seriously wondered if he was even there . . .

Thankfully, most of us can gladly testify today that the God who is there stepped in and plucked us out of our sin-ridden state. When every ounce of our power was depleted and our stupidity seemed to have won the war for our souls, God reached down and with his saving arm gathered us back to himself. For reasons owing totally to his divine power at work within us, our seemingly dead faith reignited and we suddenly found power to repent. Would God have been right and just to allow our faith to disintegrate? Yes. Has he let others—who once professed faith but then threw themselves to sin as we did— totally forsake him and go their own way? He has. But in mysterious mercy, he didn’t let our faith fail (Luke 22:32). He didn’t let our indwelling sin win.

And I, for one, never want to go back to that place again. I never want to let my indwelling sin get such a hold over me that I, if left to myself, will throw the blessings of salvation away for a stupid helping of sin (Hebrews 12:15-17). God rescued me out of gross, willful rebellion once . . . and I don’t want to test his patience by treading those waters again. I can’t communicate in words how fearful I am of letting my indwelling sin prevail over me and potentially lead me to walk away from Christ and prove my faith fraudulent. I know that every single one of us will commit sin until we exit this wretched flesh—I don’t expect to live a life of sinless perfection. But I do, more than anything, want to prevent my sinful stumbles from compounding into a big, faith-threatening catastrophe.

Sin-dominated seasons like the one I walked in a few years ago usually don’t just pop out of thin air. Resilience to fight the flesh fades slowly. It was failure after failure to efficiently battle my flesh and rightly handle my stumbles into sin that eventually ushered my soul into a state of hopelessness and almost utter unbelief. So, until sin is completely expelled from my being, I am determined never again to let a casual approach to battling the flesh or ill-dealt-with sinful failures lead me into a potentially faith-destroying situation.

The following are a few “courses of action” that people much wiser than me have urged me to incorporate into my life to prevent such a catastrophe. My walk with Jesus has radically changed (for the better and more stable!) since doing so:

  • Confess and deal with sin immediately. Whether it’s a “big” or “small” sin—an adulterous affair, a fall into pornography, an episode of gluttony, or even a prideful or hateful attitude of the heart—confess it immediately. Don’t have such a naïve view of sin that you don’t deal with it urgently—unchecked sin breeds more sin. And don’t let the uncomfortable experience of confession cause you to “put it off.” Embrace the painful feelings—the guilt, the shame, the sorrow—and run speedily to the One who, by his own blood, can truly remove them from you. Don’t hesitate . . . deal with sin seriously and quickly. Go in haste to the throne of grace! Jesus is faithful to forgive; run to him and let him apply fresh forgiveness to your soul. Let him “create in you a clean heart and renew a right spirit within you.” – Psalm 51:10.
  • Ravenously seek God every day—especially the days following a fall into sin. “Discipline” is a concept many evangelicals shy away from, worrying it may be mistaken for, or morph into, legalism. But being disciplined about daily Bible reading and prayer is essential if you want to live even a semi-stable Christian life. Our souls need to feed on Christ through his Word and need to soak in the Spirit in prayer every single day. We must seek to abide in him (John 15:4). Personally, my desire to draw near to God is never duller than it is the days/week following some sin committed. Immediately after a fall, in a desperate attempt to escape guilty feelings, I am all about praying and reading the Bible. But after those initial feelings of discomfort dissipate, I find my heart a bit numb towards God. The lusts of the flesh really do wage war against the Spirit. When we feed our flesh through sin, the desires of our new nature immediately become less prominent. And this is why we must fight with all our might through the dullness of heart in the days/week following a sinful stumble. We must resist the temptation to spiritually “coast.” We must open our Bibles. We must get on our knees. If we really want to counter the inner workings of our flesh (and it is always working!), we have to constantly sow to the Spirit by filling our minds and hearts with the reality of God . . . especially in the days/week after a fall into sin, when our hearts grow less inclined to God.
  • Let people know how you are really doing. One of the greatest weapons God has given to help us continually fight the flesh and walk by faith is community. But our brothers and sisters in the faith can’t effectively help us wage war if they aren’t really aware of how we are doing. It’s essential that we be transparent and honest with trusted Christian siblings about the true state of our souls. If we are struggling with some specific sin, we need to let them know that. If we are regularly facing a certain temptation, we need to let them know that. Their prayers, encouragement, and accountability will serve as hedges of protection for us. So let’s not put on some front, pretending to be better than what we are. Let’s be real and utilize the gift God has given us in the love and friendship of other believers.

Sin is deceitful, friends. Every “stumble” into it has the potential to evolve into a spiritually catastrophic situation if we don’t deal with it seriously and immediately. If we aren’t sowing to the Spirit every single day, the flesh—even if seemingly quiet—grows stronger and will eventually rear its ugly head. If we aren’t walking in community with other believers and allowing them to spur us on (and us spur them on) in pursuit of Jesus, it’s only a matter of time before our sin will get the best of us. So let’s fight! Let’s fight to apply the gospel to our failures and to let grace pick us up and keep us going! Let’s fight to subdue the flesh by filling up on the Spirit! Let’s fight this fight of faith with one another and for one another!

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” – Hebrews 3:12-14

When You Are Too “Jesus-Freakish” For Some Christian Circles, And Not “Sold Out” Enough For Others

“For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” – Luke 7:33-34

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were hyper-religious hypocrites. I don’t mean “hyper-religious” as in they loved God too much—if being obsessed with the awesomeness of God is hyper-religion, sign me up! But these guys weren’t about the awesomeness of God; they were about the awesomeness they derived from their perverted form of religion. These pompous men marched around town teaching all sorts of add-ons to the faith of the Old Testament while ignoring the essentials of the faith of the Old Testament. The Pharisees neglected the central matters of the Law like love, justice, and mercy and then imposed all sorts of non-essential, extra-biblical traditions.

So naturally, when John the Baptist comes on the scene and rebukes the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, they accuse him of having a demon. And when Jesus shows up epitomizing love, justice, and mercy but ignoring their extra-biblical traditions, they call him a drunkard and a glutton. Moral of the story: when you don’t really know the God of whom the Bible speaks, you will fail to recognize those who are walking with God . . . and call them all sorts of stupid, crazy things.

As you try to follow Jesus as the Bible prescribes, have you ever been perceived as “too spiritual” by some professing Christians and “not spiritual enough” by others? Have you ever been ridiculed by one group of people for being a holy roller and shunned by another group for not being “sold out” enough? I’m sure you have because Christians today encounter the same kind of mislabeling that John the Baptist and Jesus dealt with two millennia ago. Though accessing and learning the Scriptures has never been easier, there are subcultures within contemporary Christian culture that seem so void of biblical truth and wisdom. Like the Pharisees of times past, these subcultures twist or add to the true faith and ridicule—or even condemn—those who won’t submit to their twistings and additions.

Some subcultures will judge you for taking the Bible super seriously and trying to live out its truth in every aspect of your life. They will accuse you of being Amish-like when you choose not to go out to clubs or participate in other worldly activities. They will exclude you from social gatherings because you talk about the things of Christ too much. They will roll their eyes at your devotion to prayer and reading the Word, and say you’re “too heavenly minded to be any earthly good.”

And then there are subcultures that will judge you for not being devoted enough. They will shame you for not protesting with them at various celebrations of sin. They will accuse you of “compromising” when you enjoy a glass or two of wine with dinner. They will say you’re apathetic about evangelism because you won’t go with them to the park and hand out gospel tracts to random people. They will murmur about your “worldliness” when you frequently spend time with your unbelieving friends.

I think if Jesus were to come down from heaven and walk into either of these groups in disguise, he would be treated just as disrespectfully as he was by the Pharisees. If you are a Christian who is simply trying to walk as Jesus walked, don’t be discouraged or swayed by the extremism of some “Christian” subcultures. People may say you’re too heavenly minded to be any earthly good, but Christ was the most heavenly-minded man to ever live, and he did the most good for this earth that anyone has ever done! People may say you talk about God too much, but Jesus loved his Father with all his heart and wasn’t ashamed to talk about him constantly. People may condemn you for enjoying a good glass of wine, but Jesus regularly glorified his Father by enjoying good gifts like food and wine, in moderation. People may say your refusal to protest in the streets indicates a lack of hatred for sin, but Jesus hated sin more than any other person ever has, and he didn’t go out into the streets to yell at sinners. People may see you spending time with unbelievers and accuse you of being lackadaisical about holiness, but Jesus spent ample time with the worst of sinners . . . without becoming like them.

Friends, don’t let your heart be troubled by the various kinds of “Pharisees” of 2016. There will always be sects and groups within Christianity that take things too far (or not far enough). As Jesus said in Matthew 15, “Let them alone. They are blind guides.” Just keep on following Jesus . . . if he was judged and misunderstood, you surely will be, too.

The Toughness of God’s Love

About a month ago I wrote the following in a blog post about repentance:

“I think some Christians live in perpetual anxiety that one day God is going to snap on them. Doubting the sureness of his love, they live trepidatious lives—striving to avoid sin lest they awaken his hot wrath. Personally, this is the mindset that I am inclined to. I tend to have heavy doubts about God’s love for me and feel like his wrath is lurking just around the corner of my life, waiting to sweep me up the next time I sin. But friends, this is not the gospel! If we have entrusted ourselves to Jesus, God doesn’t sit as a wrathful judge over us. His anger for our criminal behaviors has been extinguished once and for all upon the head of Jesus. God is now our Father, and as any father would, he rejoices over us with gladness, quiets us by his love, and exults over us with loud singing (Zephaniah 3:17). He isn’t sitting on the edge of his seat, anxiously waiting to kick us out of the realm of grace. We are secure in his love.”

Though I stand by this statement, I do think it is in need of some biblical symmetry. There’s no doubt that through the gospel we become sons and daughters of a loving God who will never toss us to the curb. If we have been born again, we shouldn’t fear being “un-adopted” because of our sin. We are secure in God’s love.

However, God’s love is sometimes tough.

We absolutely should not fear God is going to disown us. But we should fear him similarly to how we feared our earthly parents. Just as our earthly parents loved us and, with our own good in mind, wanted us to obey them, God loves us and, with our own good in mind, wants us to obey him. We knew our parents would never disown us, but we feared the discipline that would rain down on us if we “crossed the line.” Likewise, we should fear provoking the God who deeply loves us to disciplinary action. Because he will act—for his glory and our good.

“And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,

nor be weary when reproved by him.

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,

and chastises every son whom he receives.’

 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” – Hebrews 12:5-11.

Sometimes being wary of provoking God to disciplinary action is the strongest motivation to turn from sin. For a couple of months in early 2013, I pulled away from the Lord, became entangled in an ungodly relationship, and seriously considered living the rest of my life out from under all this “Jesus stuff.” But day and night throughout these months, I was in turmoil. Some of my turmoil stemmed from fear that I may not be saved. Some of my turmoil stemmed from sadness over continuing to turn my back on a good and gracious God. And a big ole chunk of my turmoil stemmed from fearing what God might do to me if I continued to proudly sin against him. I actually feared that God might kill me.

I know many people’s gut reaction to that might be, “God would never ‘do something’ to you! He is loving and kind!” He is loving and kind, but friends, he is holy and stern. He doesn’t play games. In the beginnings of the Church, shortly after Christ’s ascension, one of the very first ways God moved among his people was in killing two of them: Ananias and Sapphira. This couple “lied to the Holy Spirit” about money, and he literally killed them (Acts 5:1-11). Later, in 1 Corinthians chapter 11, Paul says many in this particular church had become sick or even died because they were nonchalant as they participated in the Lord’s Supper. And as verse 32 of chapter 11 states, this was not God’s condemnation, but his discipline! Sickness and death were God’s disciplinary means of purging the sin from the Corinthian church.

So yeah, I feared that if I was really God’s child, he might strike me with a disease or send an 18-wheeler into the drivers’ side of my car. I feared that if I didn’t willingly cease from sin, God would do whatever it would take to make me stop. My fear of God was a huge contributor to my eventual repentance. It wasn’t the only contributor, but a major one, for sure.

Believers, it is good, right, and most importantly biblical to have a reverential fear of God. He is our Creator and Master and Lord. He takes our holiness seriously. As we rest secure in his love, we should never get so “comfortable” that we don’t tremble a little.

“‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
    and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
 Therefore go out from their midst,
    and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
    then I will welcome you,
 and I will be a father to you,
    and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.’

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” – 2 Corinthians 6:16- 7:1

 

What Will Keep You From Drifting Away From Jesus?

I’ve only been following Jesus for six years, but in that short stretch of time I have seen so many people walk away from him. Some of these people were exposed to the gospel decades before I was born, professed faith in it, and fell away after years of church-going and apparent dedication to God. And others began and ended their journey with Jesus within the duration of my Christian life. Some of them were introduced or “reunited” (as they would say) to the gospel through me! I shared the truth with them, brought them with me to church, saw their hearts soften toward Jesus—I even saw some of them baptized! To then witness them subtly or violently pull back from Christ has been heartbreaking.

And dang it—it’s been down right frightening! If I’m honest, every time someone embraces Jesus with seeming sincerity and then throws him out with the bathwater, I wonder to myself, “Will this be me? Is it only a matter of time before I fall away, too? Is this life I’m living—this daily death to self—really sustainable for the long haul? Is my faith authentic?”

These words don’t just float around inside my head; I’m assaulted week in and week out with others’ “predictions” of my falling away. Former leaders of “ex-gay ministries” who have now embraced homosexuality insist that it’s only a matter of time before I throw in the towel on this celibacy stuff. Personal friends with same sex attraction who once embraced repentance but now chase the fleeting pleasures of this world urge me to follow suit because “it’s going to happen eventually, so ya might as well go ahead and date while you’re young!” Though I generally stand pretty steadfast against these “predictions” and feel confident I will continue following Christ (biblically) until the day I die, sometimes I do get a little uneasy. Sometimes, when I see so many people failing to persevere, I feel a little uncertain about my own future endurance in “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” – Jude 1:3.

And you know, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Don’t get me wrong; I think God wants his people to have assurance they will be kept blameless until the Day of Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:23). John says the entire reason he writes his first epistle is so that those who believe may know they have eternal life (1 John 5:13). However, the New Testament is also filled with exhortations for us to examine ourselves and to keep looking, keep listening, and keep clinging to the one who is able to keep us from falling away (Jude 1:24).

  •  “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard [the gospel], lest we drift away from it.” – Hebrews 2:1
  • “Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.” – Hebrews 3:6
  • Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” – Hebrews 3:12-14.
  • “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? —unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” – 1 Corinthians 13:5

If you’re like me, and you begin to get a little nervous when you see your friends and family falling away from Jesus, I think the Bible tells you God will finish he work he began in you, and you better hold fast to Jesus. In Philippians 2:12-13, Paul tells believers: “ . . . work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Do you see the tension there? In other words, he’s saying, “It is purely by God’s grace and power you are living as a Christian . . . but you better work hard to hold onto Jesus!” This tension is found throughout the entire New Testament.

When it comes to Christian endurance, many believers embrace one biblical truth at the expense of another. Some think because God sovereignly keeps his people until the very end, we don’t have to put forth any effort at all to remain in Christ. Others think because the Bible commands us to keep fighting, clinging, and abiding in Jesus, the future of our salvation rests solely in our hands. Brothers and sisters, God is sovereign over every aspect of our salvation and we are responsible to keep believing, hoping, and trusting. It is both/and, not either/or. So let’s embrace the tension! Let’s rest in God’s sovereign power to keep us as we cling to Jesus with all our strength. Let’s put all our hope in God’s free and unending grace while not being lackadaisical about putting on the new self. Let’s rest deeply in the security of God’s commitment to us as we cling desperately to Jesus with fellow believers.

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” – 2 Peter 1:3-11.

Singles, Let’s Not Suck The Life Out Of Valentine’s Day This Year

V-Day is a rough day for single people (shocker, I know). It’s a day when the idea of romanticism gets a shot of steroids and every couple from here to kingdom-come spends the entire day broadcasting their infatuation with one another over social media. For the next 24 to 48 hours, ooey-gooey posts about hubbies and wifies and dinner dates and flowers will be filling up all of our Facebook newsfeeds.

These things can be incredibly annoying for singles to endure, and it’s easy for us to step in and join the flood of Facebook posts to bitterly broadcast how stereotypical and fake we think this day is.

But guys, let’s just not. Really, let’s just not do that. Instead, let’s be honest with ourselves and just admit that our frustration isn’t due to the fact that we actually feel that Valentine’s Day is a bunch of crock or because our friends are legitimately annoying.  

What’s really going on here is that we want what they have, and we don’t have it, and we’re kind of bitter about it. 

Really, just embrace it. Embrace the fact that you’re jealous. Admit to yourself that your hard-heartedness toward all things pink or candle-lit or heart-shaped today is solely due to the fact that you aren’t able to participate in it. Stop projecting your frustration onto the happy, coupled people around you and just accept the fact that you’re frustrated with your own current lot in life. You don’t want to be alone anymore. You feel like you’ve put in your time already. And yet, here you are, single and ready to mingle with a lack of minglers.

And if you are a Christian, you may even be frustrated with God. In a very real sense, you are single today by choice. There are many options out there for you; a whole slew of fish in the vast sea of this largely-single world! But the problem is that those fish are off limits to you because of your biblical standards for a relationship.

You want to follow Christ into a God-honoring, gospel-exalting relationship—and you know that God knows that. You know He knows you want to honor him and that’s why you’ve passed up so many opportunities to date seemingly kind, attractive and well-adjusted people that aren’t believers. You know that God has seen your heart’s desire to be faithful to Him, and yet here you are, still awaiting. 25, 30, 35, or maybe even 40, and still single.

Every year, you sit back and watch the Lord provide husbands and wives for the people around you. You try to remain patient. You keep on waiting. But you’re growing incredibly frustrated as the time ticks on—and probably even growing pretty irritated with the Lord, if you’re honest with yourself.

I get it. Truly, I do. But sitting here today in a gall of bitterness and scouring at your iPhone all day and night as you peruse your friend’s love-dripping posts on Facebook isn’t going to do anything but produce death in you. The Lord already knows you’re ticked off about the way He’s currently orchestrating your life, so how about you just be honest with Him about it?

The only way to effectively deal with your pain and frustration regarding your relationship status is to go before The Lord honestly today and allow Him to remind you that:

1) Your relationship status is not excluded from the realm and reign of His sovereign power. If He wanted you Valentine’d today, you’d be Valentine’d today.

2) You have Christ. I know that’s so cliche, but it’s true; and because it’s true, you have no excuse to be bitter today. Let the Lord take your eyes off of the temporal things of this world and help you gaze upon the eternal glories that await you because of your position in Christ.

3) Marriage is a spectacular gift and it’s a noble thing to desire, if for the right reasons. But, the order of this world is quickly passing away and that order includes marriage (1 Cor 7). There will be no marriage in the age to come (Matthew 22, Mark 12). It’s okay to hope for marriage, but don’t set your hope on it. You should set your hope solely and fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the day of Christ Jesus (1 Peter 1:13).

4) The Holy Spirit is a far greater comforter than a spouse. Following Christ in this world means self-denial on so many levels, and right now, the relational part of your life is falling under that umbrella. Jesus knows that. He knows it. And He’s sent His Spirit into your soul not only for the sake of rebirth and missions and gospel proclamation, but to truly comfort you as you walk through the trials of this life. Lean into the Spirit. Ask Him to manifest His peace in your heart.

5) If we want to love our neighbors as ourselves, as the Lord commands, that necessitates us being genuinely happy for our Valentine’d friends—not bitter, envious, or even inwardly hateful. If we truly want to love them, we should be thankful for the grace they’ve been given through the gift of a marriage.

Being single on Valentine’s Day can be a drag, but it’s not the end of the world. So let’s not drag ourselves down today into a pit of bitterness through self-pity or envy. Let’s be joyful for the grace the Lord is showing us today, and be happy for our Valentine’d friends.

Besides, it will all be over Monday, anyway! 🙂


Originally posted 02/14/15

Jesus Can Handle Your Doubt

Doubt has been an unwelcome yet close companion of mine since stepping foot onto the Narrow Path. Just a few short weeks after surrendering my heart to Jesus, my mind was running rampant with questions and concerns. Is this God the true God? Why do we believe the Bible? Where did the Bible even come from? Who wrote it? Who pieced it together? How can we know Jesus really did and said all the things recorded in the gospels? How can we know for sure he resurrected from the dead? How can I know for sure this is all legit? In its very infancy, my faith was rocked by skepticism. I was fearful I was changing the entire course of my life based upon something that may not be true.

My new Christian friends looked at me as if I were from Mars whenever I threw out questions like these. Their puzzled faces made me feel like I was speaking things that were not supposed to be spoken—asking questions that were never to be asked! But honestly, I think they were just caught off guard. Most of the believers I knew at this point embraced the Bible pretty blindly—and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I am not wired in such a way that simple faith comes easily, but that doesn’t mean those to whom it does come easily are weak or inept. The Spirit witnessing to one’s spirit that the Scriptures are true is reason enough for a bold and sure belief! But for whatever reason, some people’s hearts don’t settle as easily into unshakeable certainty.

And you know, I don’t think Jesus is put out with those of us in whom skeptical tendencies run deep. I don’t believe he sits on his throne all perturbed, complaining to the Father about our struggle to feel assured that he and his Word are legitimate. I believe he is patient and tender with us as we wrestle through these most vital matters in life. And I think I have strong biblical grounds for my opinion.

In Mark chapter 9, a weary man with a demon-possessed son expressed a shaky faith in Christ’s claims and abilities when he cried out: “I believe; help my unbelief!” Did Jesus say, “You wretched doubter! Nope . . . not gonna do it! I’m not going to free your son from Satan’s grip until you believe more firmly!” No—Jesus graciously healed the boy and in doing so most certainly strengthened this doubting man’s faith.

In John chapter 20, the resurrected Christ appears to his disciples while Thomas is out and about. When the MIA disciple returns, he refuses to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead. He goes as far as to say he would never believe unless he sees the marks of the nails in Jesus’s hands and the wound in his side. Thomas didn’t possess an inkling of assurance that Christ was raised, even when the other 10 disciples—whose claims he had all the reason to trust—insisted that he was! So what did Jesus do? Did he say, “So be it!” and leave Thomas to live the rest of his days doubtful and void of the joy of belief? Negative.

“Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” – John 20:26-29

Jesus didn’t roll in with a hot rebuke; he met Thomas in the middle of his skepticism and provided him the means to overcome it! I believe this is exactly how Jesus still works today. No, he may not physically appear in our bedroom in the middle of the night and be like, “Hey! Here I am! I really got up out of that tomb, and the entire Bible is true!” But he does, in a very real way, manifest himself to us and bear witness to the truth. The big difference between Thomas’s day and our day is that the Spirit of God is the one bearing witness to the truth. Whereas Christ stood physically beside Thomas to help him believe, the Holy Spirit fills the entire world to give us faith in Christ . . . and to strengthen our faith in times of doubt and confusion.

But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” – John 15:26

In John 16, Jesus says it is better for the Spirit to be in the world than for him to personally be in the world. Therefore, I believe the Spirit is just as able as the physical Jesus of overcoming the unbelief of Doubting Thomases, like myself. When we don’t allow our doubt to drive us away from Christ (notice in John 2o that Jesus waited eight whole days to reappear, and Thomas, though doubtful, was still there with the other disciples), the Spirit moves mightily to assure us of the truth. When doubt began to assail me, I didn’t shrink back in utter disbelief. Though I was struggling to do it, I wanted to believe! So in the spirit of the man in Mark 9, I sought the truth and pleaded with the Lord to help me believe it. As I began to learn about the formation and transmission of the Scriptures, as well as the mountain of manuscript evidence we have that assures us the writings we have today are the same writings they had thousands of years ago, my trembling faith became a little bit stronger. Seeing the logic and reason undergirding the Christian faith gave my mind more assurance that all of this was believable.

But I’ll tell ya, nothing has increased my belief in the grand story of the Bible more than actually reading the Bible. As I have feasted day in and day out on the Writings that claim to be God’s Word, my confidence in their content has soared higher and higher. It’s been in front of these Holy Scriptures that the Spirit of God has testified to my spirit, “Yes! This is truth!” I can’t explain the mechanics of what has happened (and still is happening), inside me. All I know is that as I set my mind on the person of Jesus by reading the Big Book that is all about him, the Holy Spirit moves powerfully in my heart to crush doubt and strengthen faith. That annoying skepticism still exists inside me, but its presence continually grows dimmer—and belief grows more vibrant—as I seek to see Jesus through his Word.

Doubting friends, Jesus has room for you at his table. He is willing and able to overcome your skepticism if you will submit yourself to the process. Do your research (this article published on 02/08 is a great place to start). Study apologetics. But more than these things, open up the Bible and read it yourself. Every day. Maybe even find someone in your church who is more familiar with the Scriptures and ask them to walk with you through it. Pray—even if doubtfully—that God would increasingly manifest himself to your soul by his Spirit. Ask him to grant you eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to believe. He wants you to believe! So don’t retreat. Press on. Read, pray, and study your heart out. Faith will find you!

When You Love Jesus But Still Want The World To Accept You

I’ve always adapted to be accepted. In my early teens, I realized the quickest way to be embraced by my peers was to become like them. However they talked, I talked. Whatever they drank or smoked, I drank and smoked. Whatever it was that they did or liked, I did and grew to like. Some people are born leaders, and I am not by nature one of those people. In typical follower fashion, I bowed down to the ways and interests of others in an attempt to earn their acceptance . . . because their acceptance was what I craved most.

I’ve changed pretty drastically since Jesus moseyed his way into my life six years ago. In many ways (many BIG ways) my life now sings a totally different tune than that of the people around me. However, I still find “imitating others so they’ll think I’m cool” tendencies arising here and there. Sometimes when I am around unbelieving family or friends, I find myself not wanting to be perceived as “too religious” or as a goody-two-shoes. Sometimes I’ll have a drink—not because I want one, but because I want to show people I’m not bound by restrictions. Sometimes I’ll express my humor in a super sarcastic or even just plain mean way because I want people to think I’m funny. Sometimes I’ll spice up my language with sinful terminology—not because I talk that way inwardly or even regularly, but because I want people to see I speak their language. I find myself putting on this worldly façade that is totally misrepresentative of the person I really am and for no reason other than wanting the world to accept me.

And we all know what the Bible has to say about that.

Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”- James 4:4.

 In the deepest part of my being, I don’t want to be friendly with the ways of this world. I want to live outwardly what I experience inwardly: Christ. But why do I still bend so easily? Why do I desire to be desirable in the eyes of people who are at war with the God who lives in me? Why do I sometimes set my new and true self aside and conjure up fragments of my old and crucified self? I think there is probably a myriad of reasons, but after digging into my soul a bit lately, I think it all boils down to two big lies I am believing: 1) I believe that the opinions and praise of people are worth more than the opinions and praise of God, and 2) I believe that the acceptance of the world will make my heart happier than living out my true identity in Christ.

And the only way, in my experience, to squash these lies is to saturate my mind with truth.

Truth #1) God is much more valuable than every human being I know combined. People are created in the image of God and therefore have great intrinsic value, but in comparison to God, “all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing.” – Daniel 4:35. Isaiah 40:22 also paints a humble picture of man: “The Lord sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers.” Because God is exceedingly greater in power and value and beauty than every other entity in the universe, his opinion of me, and pleasure in me, carries far greater weight than that of any mere human being. He is the only one whom I should be living to please. He is the only one I should be following and the only one to whom I should be adapting.

Truth #2) Living out my identity in Christ brings joy, while denying Christ by suppressing my faith brings sorrow. I know from experience how my heart surges with joy when I refuse to muzzle my new nature in Christ. I know how high my happiness soars when I let the world see that Jesus is in me and that his pleasure with me is the aim of my life. I know how full of the Holy Spirit I feel when the life of Christ shines through me, even when friends or family think I’m a bit fanatical. Being who I really am brings me joy. And on the flip side, I know how my soul shrivels up when I deny Christ by pretending to be someone I’m not. I know how guilty I feel when I stuff my faith into a dark corner of my soul and interact with others as if Jesus hasn’t dramatically changed who I am.

I could be wrong, but I don’t believe I am alone in this struggle. I think this desire to be accepted and praised by others is a universal struggle for Christians. Friends, our joy will only be as full as Christ is manifest in our lives. Don’t shut him out. Don’t stuff him down. Delight yourself in pleasing the most valuable Person in the universe by letting him radiate through you. His opinion and acceptance of you are all that matters.

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20

Unbelief is not Mainly an Intellectual Problem

A few weeks ago, I got a late night call from an old friend wanting to have an honest chat about God, truth, and faith—my favorite kind of chat. Throughout her college years, my friend was heavily involved in a local church and passionate about the things of the Lord. But in her late twenties, something in her soul went awry and she made a speedy exit out of the church, leaving Jesus and any certainty that there is absolute truth in her wake. Over the last few years, she’s developed into what many conservatives would call a staunch liberal. My friend is pro-choice and pro-gay marriage, and she expresses her opinions without hesitation. And let me tell ya, she expresses them well. This is one sharp and articulate young lady.

But despite the evolution that’s taken place on the surface of her life, she shared with me that her inner life has been a nightmare lately. Though she wants in no shape or form to live her life for Christ, she cannot escape him. He stays on her mind. She can’t shake the feeling that he may actually be the Way, the Truth, and the Life, as the Bible claims. And boy, does she hate it. She wishes she could live her life unhindered by these “nagging” whispers about Jesus that so frequently and annoyingly interrupt her rebellion.

As we continued to chat, she kept saying, “If I just had proof that this was real and that Jesus was legit, it would be so much easier to give myself over to him.” Proof is a tricky concept. People are quick to say they want undeniable proof that this God of the Bible is real—they want to physically see him, tangibly touch him, and speak with him face to face. But they don’t realize there isn’t any system of belief (or disbelief) about God and truth that offers that kind of “proof.” Christians can’t prove beyond the shadow of a doubt to our peers in 2016 that Jesus really performed miracles, resurrected from the dead, and ascended to heaven—the best we can do is offer up reliable testimonies of those who claimed to have been eye witnesses. However, those who believe God isn’t real don’t have physical, tangible proof that he’s not. Those who think there are many avenues to God don’t have physical, tangible proof that there are. Those who think absolute truth doesn’t exist don’t have physical, tangible proof that it doesn’t (and in saying truth doesn’t exist, they are making an absolute truth claim, #inconsistent). When it comes down to it, we can’t prove with absolute certainty that we weren’t born yesterday and that all the memories we have weren’t implanted into our brains by aliens. I know that sounds silly, but my point is that no system of belief about who put us here, why we are here, and where we are going can be absolutely proven in the way many people want it to be.

However, we can use the reasoning powers God has given us and follow evidence to a logical conclusion. I asked my friend the other night: “If Jesus really wasn’t healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, and raising the dead in order to validate the claims he was making about himself (that he was the Son of God), then why did masses of people flock to him? If Jesus was some powerless fraud, then why was he viewed to be such a religious and political threat—so much so that they murdered him? If Jesus didn’t really resurrect from the dead, linger around for 40 days, and appear to over 500 people, why did his post-crucifixion following increase exponentially? If the apostles were lying through their teeth about Christ’s resurrection and Lordship, why did they, for the rest of their lives, endure all kinds of suffering for their claims? Why did almost all of them embrace martyrdom for his sake? If the Holy Spirit—whom Jesus promised would come—isn’t really working in the world to produce worshippers of the true God, why have millions upon millions of people chosen to give their lives to this Jesus they’ve never seen with their physical eyes? The logical conclusion, based on the indisputable evidence we do have, is that Jesus is God.”

My friend agreed: “Yeah, I mean, I think there is enough evidence to confidently say that this stuff about Jesus probably happened. It makes more sense that the biblical accounts would true than false. But I just feel so antagonistic against it. I don’t want it to be true. I don’t want to accept it.

And that, right there, is the root of my friend’s unbelief.

Unbelief is not mainly an intellectual problem; it is a heart problem. Romans Chapter 1 says that God has made his existence plain to every person and that we are all without excuse (v. 19-20). “God didn’t prove his existence to me!” will not be a valid claim at the Judgment throne. He has made his existence and power clear to every human soul. The issue is that we have foolish and darkened hearts that are unwilling to worship him. Though hard heartedness can and does lead to faulty thinking (v. 21), the primary problem isn’t with our intellect; the primary problem is our heart’s unwillingness to submit to God’s will.

Jesus demonstrates this when he says, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God.” – John 7:17. In other words, if our will is truly to serve and worship God, our mind will be able to rightly discern what teaching is from God. And just two chapters earlier, he says, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” – John 5:44. Again, Jesus connects unbelief with the heart’s desire. Because these people preferred some other glory to the glory of God, they could not believe.

Christians, as you love your unbelieving friends and seek to share the gospel with them, don’t forget what really is their main issue: a hardened and unwilling heart. By all means, provide them with evidence. Show them the writings of 1st and 2nd century secular historians who wrote of Jesus, his miracles, his death, and his “alleged” resurrection. Point them to all the manuscript evidence we have which assures us that the biblical writings we have today were the same writings they had in the early church. Read with them through the Scriptures, and help them see how it all connects into one big and beautiful redemptive story. Walk with them down the paths of logic and reason. But more than all these things, pray for God to heal their wayward hearts (Jeremiah 3:22). Pray he would remove their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).

And let’s not be so deceived that we think we shouldn’t pray for our own hearts, too. John Calvin once said something like, “no Christian has perfect faith; we are all part unbeliever.” God has started a work in us, but it is far from finished! Brother or sister, if you and I were honest we would admit that we still find ourselves riddled with doubt, fear, and skepticism at times. We need the Holy Spirit to continue to soften our hearts, and to help us believe in Christ more fully than we already do. We need to ceaselessly cry out with the man in Mark 9, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

Don’t Let Your Suffering Make You Bitter

Nobody gets through life without feeling a little shortchanged at one time or another. Sure, there are dream-like seasons when we feel the sailing couldn’t be smoother. But these seasons tend to evaporate with a snap of the fingers, and our bliss goes up in smoke as some unwelcome misfortune parades its way into our lives. I’m not trying to be pessimistic; I’m just being real. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, the loss of one’s own health, financial troubles, relational strains, romantic unfulfillment, lack of friends, wayward children, or another of the million and one woes commonly experienced, we all—at some point—suffer the pains of life in a broken world.

And if we aren’t vigilant in protecting our hearts, these pains, losses, and troubles can lead us into bitterness . . . bitterness toward God.

I mean, he is sovereign, right? God is in absolute control of all things at all times, correct? Correct. Though it can feel to the finite human soul that this world is in chaos—and in some sense, it is—God is ruling over the chaos. No teeny particle passes this way or that without him permitting and guiding its movement. God foreknows and permits all things that come to pass. All things.

Now this doesn’t mean that God wants things like 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina—or our wife’s cancer diagnosis, our job loss, our mother’s death, or our friends deserting us—to happen. Human logic is quick to come to the conclusion that if God allows something, he must heartily desire for that thing to occur. But this isn’t true. Logic and reasoning are gifts, but they have their limits; our minds are incapable of comprehending the wisdom and knowledge of God (Romans 11:33). However perplexing it may be, the truth is that the Sovereign King of the universe allows many things to transpire that anger and grieve him. Remember how Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus? He was moved to tears over the pain that the people he created were enduring. God takes no delight in suffering, but for mysterious reasons that we aren’t entitled to know, he allows it.

But hear me: God is not to blame for our suffering. Brokenness creeps its way into our lives because of sin—not necessarily our personal sin, but the sin brought onto the scene by our first father, Adam. The unblemished perfection of the world shattered into pieces when the representative of all humanity rejected God’s good rule over his life. And you and I have done nothing but add to world’s problems with our own sin. We have all—with merry hearts—joined Adam in his rebellion against God. We, humanity, are to blame for why things are the way they are. But we so easily lose sight of this. We forget the big truths about why things are messed up (sin), and what God is doing to remedy it (Jesus), and so easily become bitter with God about why things are the way they are.

A few years ago, I found myself extremely embittered over various things that God had allowed, and was allowing, to exist in my life. At the beckoning of more mature brothers in Christ, I began asking the Lord to help me counter this bitterness by cultivating humilitygratitude, and an eternal perspective. I started setting my mind, day by day, on the hardest and best truths in the world.

Truths like these:

1) God owes us nothing. If this isn’t a humility inducer, I don’t know what is. If you guys are anything like me, you probably walk around with spiritual amnesia—forgetting you were at war with God until he changed your heart, forgetting you still sin against him constantly, forgetting the only thing you “deserve” is to be in Hell. I know that’s a buzz-kill, but it is a foundational truth we must stay grounded in. Friends, any smidgen of goodness that we experience in this life is purely owing to grace. And—I think this is the most difficult part for us to embrace—God can dish out different graces to different people as he chooses. If he wants to make someone else prosper financially and not you, he has the right to do that. If he wants to grant someone else perfect health until their dying breath and not you, he has the right to do that. God can pour out his mercies in this life in whatever way he pleases, and we haven’t a leg to stand on in complaining about it. However, regardless of how God chooses to give or withhold in this life, he gives us so much in Jesus!

2) God gives us everything in Christ. And if this isn’t a gratitude inducer, I don’t know what is! We deserve nothing but to be tormented forever by God’s righteous wrath toward our sin, but if we are in Christ, God gives us forgiveness, righteousness, and the entire world (1 Corinthians 3:23)! He has made us co-heirs with Jesus and in the age to come, we will reign with him (2 Timothy 2:12). We, being clothed with glorified bodies and minds, will shine like the sun in the glory of his Kingdom (Matthew 13:43). We will judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3)! And more than all these things, we will forever enjoy the incompressible pleasure of unhindered fellowship with the good, loving, and all-satisfying God. However, I know that even as many of you read these things, many of your hearts may still lay lifeless in ingratitude and bitterness (the struggle is real!) . . . and I think this may be because you have shortsighted vision.

3) This life is just a blip on the radar. I think what a lot of us need more than anything is for God to drop an eternal perspective into our brains. Brothers and sisters, the world that we live in right now—with all of its ugliness and dissatisfaction because of sin—is going to be burned with fire, and a new world will come rushing in on its heels. In this new world, there will be no more suffering—no sickness, no pain, no loneliness, no loss, no death—but only continuous pleasure and joy. The richness of all that God is will no longer be hindered by the presence of evil, and it overflow into every aspect of our lives. Our joy and satisfaction will run deeper than we can imagine. We have got to believe that this is really going to happen! If we don’t, we will keep on having weak hearts that ravenously search for hope and comfort in this world. If we don’t put all of our hopeful expectations in the Resurrection and the world to come, our joy and gratitude will fluctuate according to what we do or don’t have in this life. And this is no way for new creations in Christ to live!

Cultivating humility, gratitude, and an eternal perspective in my life by meditating on the big, awesome truths of God has been ridiculously effective in killing my bitterness toward God. He owes me nothing, yet he gives me everything. I deserve Hell, but he gives me an eternity of happiness and satisfaction. I have no reason to be bitter with God about anything, ever. He is overwhelmingly good and gracious to me in Christ.

 

The Body of Christ is the Best Place for Broken People

A couple of weeks ago I attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting for the first time. And let me tell you, it was all kinds of awesome. Though I was there to support some courageous friends of mine, I have a history of some pretty ferocious alcohol abuse, myself. So I didn’t feel too out of place. As I listened to two women share their stories, so much of their experiences resonated with me. The cravings. The blackouts. The increasing carelessness about harming themselves and others. As I sat quietly and soaked in everything around me, I felt a deep solidarity with the people in my midst.

Most of the attendees were not Christians, but they were, in a very real sense, humbly broken. I think church folks sometimes envision the outside world to be full of people who don’t believe anything is wrong with them. But the men and women at this AA meeting were well aware of their frailty—perhaps more aware than some Christians I know. They knew they weren’t okay. That’s why they were here. They longed for help. And from the looks of things, they were getting it. One of the speakers had been sober for sixteen years. Sixteen years! That’s three times longer than I’ve even been following Jesus!

Though the messages shared by the speakers were inspiring, what intrigued me most about this meeting was that it seemed to be layered with biblical principles. Even in just attending one session, I learned that reliance upon a higher power, transparency, accountability, confession, and fellowship are integral parts of the AA structure. As I drove home I thought, “That’s kinda what a good church should be like!”

However, the truth is that AA—as fantastic as it is—is far from a church. I thoroughly enjoyed the openness and vulnerability I experienced in this meeting, but I was simultaneously grieved over the spiritual emptiness of it. I say that sensitively because I know most attendees find AA to be far from empty. Many of them have had their most profound experiences of fellowship, accountability, and spirituality in this program. But I knew, from my own experience, there was something much richer and more impactful than what AA has to offer. I just wanted to jump up and scream, “Jesus has so much more for you than this!”

But I didn’t—because, I mean, that would be weird. And I’d probably be kicked out.

I walked into Christianity just as broken as these people walked into their first AA meeting. I was run ragged by many addictions. My self-destruction had reached the point that, if I continued in it, I was going to end up dead or in jail. But by God’s grace, I had begun to grow tired of my life and my slavery to various intoxications. At the same time, something within me, which I now know was the Spirit of God, began drawing me toward this Jesus that I had heard of all my life. Long story super duper short: I became a Christian.

My life since that time has actually resembled many aspects of what I witnessed in AA last weekend. Relying upon a higher power, transparency, accountability, confession, and fellowship have become the pillars upon which my life stands. But I think—and I say this as humbly as I can—that I’ve experienced all these things in a much fuller and more beautiful way than they could ever be experienced in AA.

Reliance upon a higher power. Because my reliance was upon a personal God who really exists, his very real power began to manifest in my life. My belief in a higher power was not some psychological gimmick meant to spark some false sense of peace in my life. I latched onto the true God who both rules over history and entered into history in the person of Jesus. This just and holy, yet sin-forgiving God filled my soul with the love, peace, and joy of his Spirit and brought me into his family. In my relationship with Jesus and his people, I continue to experience transparency, accountability, confession, and fellowship in powerfully transformative ways.

Transparency. As I allow my fellow Christians to see all the ugly parts of me, and they let me see theirs, we are able to rejoice together because in our transparency we are reminded that, despite all our sin and junk, Jesus loves us. We don’t rejoice merely in the fact that we have reached some level of inner strength which allows us to be transparent, but we rejoice in what our transparency reminds us of: 1) God loves and saves really jacked up people, and 2) We aren’t alone in our brokenness.

Accountability. When my Christian brother and I hold each other accountable, and one of us becomes distant because he’s slidden back into sin, the other doesn’t just let him go until he decides to get his crap together. No! The stronger brother gently pursues his weaker brother, just as Jesus has pursued the Church. There is no pulling yourself up by your bootstraps in the family of God; we pull one another up. There is no “get your crap together!” in the family of God; we help each other get our crap together.

Confession. When we confess our failures to Jesus and one another, we’re able to take heart that there is real forgiveness for our sins based upon what God has really done in the Cross of Christ. Jesus really bore our guilt and shame; therefore we don’t have to be crushed under the weight of it. As we confess our sins to him, God is faithful and just to forgive us because Jesus has already made himself a sacrifice for our guilt.

Fellowship. Christian fellowship is not grounded in some common propensity toward a specific sin or addiction. Our fellowship is grounded in our familial relationship in Jesus. We aren’t just friends who support each other; we are family. We have been adopted by God and will live eternally as brothers and sisters in his Kingdom. The bonds I have with my brothers and sisters in Christ are deeper and more abiding than even those with my blood family, because they are forged by divine power.

I honestly can’t say enough good things about AA. I am genuinely thankful the program is helping so many struggling people. But the Body of Christ really is the best place for broken people. Reliance upon a higher power, transparency, accountability, confession, and fellowship are experienced most fully and beautifully when they are attached to the true highest power, Jesus, and practiced in the context of his Body, the Church.