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Series on faith in God

We have been looking at the topic of faith in God for the last number of weeks. (Perhaps you might even think the title today applies to making it through this series.) We have also looked at the obstacles that get us off track and keep us from receiving what God has for us.

Last week we talked about the third part of faith, how we need to act on our belief and trust in God’s word to us. Today, we are talking about the third obstacle to faith, giving up. This is when you act on your belief and trust in God’s word to you, but then things get hard and so you quit.

Now, this much is obvious –

Walking by faith isn’t easy

You will experience difficulties and you will have to wait on God. In fact, I think we can say that it’s rare that God acts suddenly or that there are no difficulties.

  • Abraham waited 25 years. From the time he was promised a son until the promise was fulfilled was a long time! And there were many trials and tests related to receiving this promise.
  • The Psalmist says, “For you, O Lord, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer” – Psalm 38:15. The writer here is seriously ill and has enemies who are scheming against him. He’s going through a hard time and waiting for God to answer.

And we will often find ourselves in situations where we are in a test and it seems to be taking forever.

Why do we go through difficulties and have to wait? Let me say just briefly, that God is working in us. God wants to teach us (Deuteronomy 8:3) and shape us and make us more mature. As James 1:3-4 says, “the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” This is God’s goal for us.

But also Satan is working against us. He is called our “enemy” (Matthew 13:39), and also our “adversary” (1 Peter 5:8). He opposes our attempts to walk in faith, by making it hard for us. So for these reasons it can be really hard to walk by faith. You will be tempted to give up at one point or another.

Let me ask you –

Where are you struggling with your faith?

Where are you tempted to give up? If you’re in a situation like this I invite you to think about it as we look at the Scriptures this morning. If you’re not currently struggling, let me give you some examples to work with.

1. Starting a new ministry: You step out of your comfort zone to do what you think God is calling you to do. But things don’t go well at first. Not a lot of people are interested and it seems really hard to you. You’re sure that God wanted you to do this, but you have acted and nothing is working out. What do you do?

2. Looking for a spouse: You’re single and you know it’s God’s will that you marry a believer. And you have prayed for God’s help. But no one is on the horizon. What do you do?

3. A financial crisis: You can’t pay your bills. You have cut back and done everything that you can do, but the struggle continues. What do you do?

Well –

We need endurance

– in these situations. We need endurance in our belief, our trust and our action. Endurance means that you keep on doing what you are doing, despite the difficult circumstances and despite how long it takes.

  • You keep believing in God’s truth
  • You keep trusting in God and dealing with any doubt that comes
  • You keep acting on God’s truth and your trust in God

Endurance means that you do all this, despite whatever problems come your way. 

Now this doesn’t mean that you dig in and ignore everything around you, so that you have blind faith. If it really is difficult and taking forever, maybe there’s some presumption going on. It’s not a lack of faith to check. Jesus did this in the garden of Gethsemane. Just before the cross he prayed, “God, is this really the path you want for me?” But once you check and affirm that you’re standing on firm ground, don’t give up!

And here’s –

Why you shouldn’t give up

1) God won’t let you be tested beyond what you can take. Now, I confess I have wondered about this myself. Because it has certainly felt like it is more than I can take at times. I think, “I can’t take any more.” And then more comes. And then more. And then still more.

But Scripture tells us that it is true. “God . . . will not let you be tempted (tested) beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13. God will not let us get in over our heads, and he will provide a way out in due time, if we look to him.

Another reason not to give up is that 2) The answer might be just around the corner. Another reality of walking by faith is that God often acts when we are at our weakest. Think of Abraham. God acted when he and Sarah were both too old to have children. It simply wasn’t possible.

And with us a well, God often waits until we can’t do it in our own strength. So do you feel weak? Are you ready to give up? That might be exactly when God is getting ready to come through for you.

And then finally,  3) It is those who endure who receive the blessing. Galatians 6:9 says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Don’t grow weary in your situation, because in due season you too will reap the blessing, “if you don’t give up.”

A personal story . . .

Listen to Hebrews 10:36. “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” Endurance in doing God’s will is the key to receiving the promises that God has given us.

I believe that this is God’s word to you here today and I hope you will receive it. Don’t give up.

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Series: Faith in God

We are focusing on faith because this is how we receive God’s blessings. So let me just ask, “How many of you want to receive the blessings God has for you?” “Do we want God to provide for our material provisions, to give us peace, to give us more and more of the Spirit – and all of God’s other promises to us?” Well, we must ask for these things and we need to ask fully trusting in God and God’s promises to us.

But let’s just note the obvious. Faith doesn’t just spring up within us. It’s not a natural part of us. We would much rather walk by sight;that is, by what we can see and control. But God calls us to walk by faith; that is, trusting in God even when we can’t see what’s ahead or control things (2 Corinthians 5:7).

And so, like the disciples, we too don’t trust God at times. We can honestly say, “I don’t have this kind of faith!” Or “Where does it even come from?” You know, “How can I have confident assurance in God’s promises to me?” And we especially ask these questions when what faith we have is being stretched and tried by difficult life circumstances.

Well, this is what we’re here to talk about today – overcoming doubt so that we can walk in the path of faith, so that we can receive God’s blessings in our lives.

Last week we looked at –

What doubt is

And specifically about how Scripture speaks of doubt, not really about intellectual doubt, but concerns of the heart about God’s faithfulness.

Doubt means that you are not fully convinced that God is able to do what he has promised (Romans 4:21). The reason for doubt is that you fear that God will fail you. When you look at the circumstances and difficulties around you, you think, “Is God going to come through for me?” And, then you think, “If God doesn’t come through for me, this could get really bad.”

Doubt is really about wavering. It’s a state between firm faith and unbelief. You say, “I should trust God.” But then you say, “No, I shouldn’t trust God.” You are double-minded, going back and forth between the two. And the end result is that doubt keeps you from acting on God’s promises. It’s too risky if you aren’t sure God will come through. So you “shrink back” (Hebrews 10:39).

What can you do to overcome doubt?

Perhaps you are trusting God to provide for a need, or as we looked at last week, to give you the words to share with a friend who doesn’t know the Lord. Whatever your situation –

1. Fight your fear. Fear is where our doubt comes from, so this is key.

Last week we saw how Jesus told Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe” – Mark 5:36. He was afraid that since his daughter wasn’t just sick, but had died, Jesus couldn’t help him. Well, when we think that God can’t help us we need to hear this too! “Don’t fear, only believe.”

Here are two ways to fight your fear: Ask the Spirit to give you the strength to be courageous. Our flesh is weak and vulnerable to fear. But the Spirit can give you the strength to die to your fear, to crucify it and to trust in God’s promises. As Jesus said, “the flesh is weak.” But he also said, “the Spirit indeed is willing,” that is, willing to help us and empower us – Mark 14:38.

Next, when Satan tries to reinforce your fear rebuke him in the name of Jesus. Tell him to go away. He comes to us and puts ideas in our head  – “you should be afraid!” Or “God won’t come through for you!” As James 4:7 says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

When you are seeking to trust in God to come through on his promise to you, and your fear rises up – fight it in these ways. Draw on the power of the Spirit to strengthen your heart and on the power of the name of Jesus to clear your mind.

2. Keep God’s word in your heart. Where does faith come from? “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” – Romans 10:17. Now this is talking about the promise of salvation through Jesus. But the general principle stands: God’s word to us builds faith within us.

God can speak to us through the Scriptures. And I don’t mean merely reading Scripture. The word is powerful and alive. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active . . ..” So, I’m talking about when we read Scripture and God’s truth comes alive and goes down into our heart and touches us. And we know the truth at a level that goes beyond simply the mind and the senses.

When God speaks to us like this and we receive it God’s word builds us up and strengthens our faith. Something supernatural takes place within us, that is powerful and life changing. So when you are struggling, immerse yourself in God’s word and let the power of his word work in your heart.

3. Remind yourself of God’s faithfulness. First, remember that God is always faithful. Lamentations 3:21-23 helps us see this. The writer here, is despairing and is suffering greatly after the destruction of Jerusalem. And then he says, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” He finds hope in God’s unchanging character, despite his awful circumstances.

Second, remember that God has always been faithful. This is not a theoretical concept. God has a track record that you can look at. In Psalm 77:11-12 the writer is troubled and concerned. Is God still faithful? He feels that God has deserted him. But then he says, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.” He goes on to remember God’s miraculous deliverance of his people from Egypt. And this encourages him. God has always been faithful. And the Psalm then ends on a note of faith.

You can remind yourself of God’s faithfulness too. Recall Scriptural stories of God’s faithfulness, perhaps toward Abraham or David. Think about stories of God’s faithfulness in history or People’s testimonies that you know. And remind yourself how God has been faithful to you; how God has answered your prayers and come through for you in the past. Remembering these things build up our faith. It will strengthen and encourage you.

 4. Keep your focus on God, not your obstacles. Stay focused on God’s truth to you, and God’s faithfulness. Otherwise you will be overwhelmed by your difficult life circumstances; by the heaviness of it all; by the craziness going on around you. It is these that feed our fear and doubt.

Remember Peter walking on the water? He started out great! He walked on the water to Jesus. That’s amazing! But when he took his eyes off of Jesus, and started to focus on the circumstances – the strong wind and no doubt the waves, he became afraid, he doubted and he sank – Matthew 14:30. This is a perfect picture of what happens to us when we focus on the wrong thing and fall into fear and doubt.

What you choose to focus on makes a difference. Focus on God.

5. Remember faith is a choice, not a feeling. Feelings you can’t always control. But you can control your choices. So deal with what you can control, your choices. Even if you feel fear (you’re all alone, it’s gonna fail, God’s not gonna come through) still make right choices. Your feelings will come into alignment with God’s truth eventually, if you keep making choices of faith.

2 Corinthians 5:7 says, “We walk by faith not by sight.” And we could just as easily say, we walk by faith and not by feelings. Let the reality of God’s truth determine what you choose, not your feelings about your present difficult circumstances.

6. Be around others who will encourage your faith. Especially if you are struggling. Fellow Christians can help build up your faith, encouraging you, praying for you and ministering to you.

The writer of Hebrews says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” – Hebrews 10:23-24. The problem here is wavering and the answer is to be stirred up by others, knowing that God is faithful.

So this is –

How we overcome doubt

  1. Fight your fear
  2. Keep God’s word in your heart
  3. Remind yourself of God’s faithfulness
  4. Keep your focus on God, not your obstacles
  5. Remember faith is a choice, not a feeling
  6. Be around others who will encourage your faith

I encourage you to put these lessons into practice in your life. I want each of us as individuals, and as a congregation to receive all that God has for us. And trusting in God is how this happens.

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We are seeking the Lord’s guidance as a congregation and will be coming together for a meeting next week after church. As a part of our preparation I shared last week on Listening for the Spirit – to help us know what this means and how to do it. We are continuing on with this theme today.

Last time I made the point that it’s normal for believers to be led by the Spirit of God. As Paul says in Romans 8:14, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons (children) of God.” This is simply a part of being in relationship with God.

And we also looked at the most common way the Spirit leads us, which is the inward witness of the Spirit. This is when the Spirit doesn’t necessarily speak words, but gives us a deep inner sense of things that goes beyond words; an affirmation or a conviction that teaches and guides us in the way to go.

Today we want to go further on the topic of the Spirit’s leading, and first we look at –

How to receive God’s leading

That is, how do we get ourselves in a place to hear what God might want to say to us? (more…)

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We are in Daniel chapter 3 today. This is the familiar story of the fiery furnace (quite a contrast to our temperatures today). I want us to hear this story again today, perhaps with new ears, to glean some lessons for when we go through difficult times of trial in our lives.

Let’s begin with some –

Background

– to our story that helps us understand what’s going on. Nebuchadnezzar has conquered the people of God and taken many of them back to Babylon. Daniel was one of these, but our story today focuses on his three friends – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

So they are living in exile in a foreign land, but they were determined to be true to God, even though they worked for the government. And this wasn’t easy, especially with the beliefs and practices of the people of Babylon.

v. 1 sets up our story – “King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its breadth six cubits. He set it up on the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.” So this was a really big idol – 90 feet high and 9 feet wide.

And he had big plans for it.  V. 6 conveys his order to everyone, “whoever does not fall down and worship (the image) shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace.” Now for most people this was no big deal. They worshiped many gods, and the idols that represented them, and so this was just one more.

But for Jews this was strictly forbidden. The second of the ten commandments in Exodus 20:4-5 says, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image  . . .You shall not bow down to them or serve them.” So they had a choice. And this brings us to –

Lesson #1 – They were true to God

When the King had gathered together all his officials to dedicate this golden image and fall down before it, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did not bow down. They made the right choice, even knowing the danger it posed to their lives.

And sure enough the report came to the king. In v. 12 they speak, “There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men, O king, pay no attention to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” There must have been a lot of competition between these officials to get ahead and some saw this as “a golden opportunity” to get rid of some of the competition.

The story goes on in Daniel 3:13-15. “Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought. So they brought these men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”

Even with all these threats and the rage of their king, they remained faithful to God.

This brings us to –

Lesson #2 – They entrusted themselves into God’s hands

vs. 16-18 – “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.’”

They already knew they would be thrown in the fire. But they have strong faith in God. In response the king’s taunt, “and who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” (v. 15) they confess that the true God is more than able to deliver them if he wants to. But even if God doesn’t choose to do this, they will still be faithful to him.

Lesson #3 – God was with them in their trials

Things got even worse for them. In Daniel 3:19-23 we learn that:

  •  the king was furious and his countenance changed
  •  the furnace was heated seven times hotter
  •  it was so hot it killed the men who threw them into it

Things are really bad. But God didn’t leave them alone. Vs. 24-25 – “Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, ‘Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?’ They answered and said to the king, ‘True, O king.’ He answered and said, ‘But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.’”

So the king is working on his basic math skills and finds a problem – there was an extra person in the furnace. Who was the fourth man? An angel, who are called sons of god? Or was this the Son of God? All we know is that God sent one of his own to be with them in the midst of their trial. God didn’t let them go through it alone, but was there with them right in the fiery furnace, walking with them.

Lesson #4 – God came through for them

We have already seen that the fire didn’t kill them, but they were walking around in the furnace. V. 26 goes on to say, “Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the burning fiery furnace; he declared, ‘Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here!’ Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire.”

v. 27 tells us that the fire had no power over them

  • Their hair was not singed
  • Their clothes were not burned and
  • They didn’t even smell like smoke

But God not only delivered them, he glorified his Name. In v. 28, the king acknowledges the greatness of the true God. “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.”

And in the end he promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (v. 30).

These are lessons for us

For we are in a similar situation. Just like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego we too live in exile in a foreign land. Peter calls all Christians “sojourners and exiles” in this world – 1 Peter 2:10. And the author of Hebrews talks about the saints as those who have “acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” 11:13.

And in our time of exile we too will go through trials of various kinds. The world tries to get us to live by its will instead of God’s will for us. And this often puts us in a bind where we have to choose. And the evil one, the god of this world is always seeking to test and try us. And as 1 Peter 1:7 says, we are “tested by fire.”

So when we go through fiery trials remember this story. 1. Remember to be true to God. Just as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego  made the right choice and stuck with it despite the rage of many and the threat to their lives, so we need to make right choices. We can’t let difficult circumstances lead us to be unfaithful to God.

Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not grow weary in doing what is right.” In a time of testing it is easy to grow weary in doing what is right, but we must remain steadfast. James 1:2 says, “Blessed is the one who remains steadfast under trial.” We too must make right choices and stick with them, even when it is terribly difficult.

2. Remember to entrust yourself into God’s hands. Just as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, in full faith, gave their lives into God’s hands in their trial, so should we because God is more than able to take care of us too.

Hebrews 13:6 is a strong confession of faith, “the Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” Whether God delivers us from our trial or not, we know that God will take care of us and bless us.

3. Remember God will be with you. Just as he was with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, so he will walk with you through your fiery trials.

Hebrews 13:5 says, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” And as Isaiah 43:2 says, “I will be with you . . .when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flames shall not consume you.” God doesn’t leave us alone.

4. Finally, remember that God will come through for you. Just as he came through for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, so he will come through for you. Like them, we don’t know how he will do this – through a miracle or strengthening us to endure and overcome in the midst, or in the world to come. But God is faithful and he will come through.

1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your ability, but with the testing he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

When you go through difficulties, remember you are not the first to do so. There are many examples in the Scriptures that can help us. This morning, let’s learn from the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and be strengthened to endure and overcome just as they did.

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We are in Psalm 63 this morning. I invite you to turn there in your Bibles. This is a very beautiful psalm that speaks to seeking after God in difficult times and finding faith to make it through.

Let’s look at this passage in three simple steps:

1. David is in the midst of a trial

Judean wilderness

The Judean wilderness

According to the inscription, this Psalm is connected to David “when he was in the wilderness of Judah.” It isn’t clear exactly what this refers to, but a good case can be made that this Psalm is about when David fled Jerusalem into the wilderness when his son Absalom rebelled against him. (At this time he and those loyal to him went into the wilderness – 2 Samuel 15:23; 28. Being faint and thirsty are mentioned in 2 Samuel 16:2 and 17:29. If v. 11 does mean swearing by King David, this is what Ittai does in 2 Samuel 15:21. v. 11 speaks of David as a king which doesn’t fit his fleeing from Saul. If we take swearing by David as an expression of loyalty to him (as it is with swearing by Yahweh) this fits the context of a rebellion against David. And “the mouths of liars” would then mean those who had sworn by David before, but now have rebelled against him, breaking their word.).

The last 3 verses say a bit about what David is going through. He has enemies – v. 10, 11. They are seeking to kill him – v. 9. These people are liars – v. 11. So David is suffering an intense trial.

Let me ask you this morning – What trials are you going through today? Physical needs, difficult circumstances, spiritual struggles? All of these can wear us down and bring discouragement. Keep your areas of struggle in mind as we work our way through this psalm. 

2. David chooses to seek after God

In the midst of his trial he prays, 1O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

Notice the personal relationship with God – “you are my God.” This is not the first time David has prayed to God. This is the God that he knows, has walked with and served his life. 

Notice the intensity of his seeking, He says, “earnestly I seek you.” He is not just praying every once in a while.

He describes this seeking poetically as thirsting after water.Have you ever been really thirsty? It can become an overpowering, all consuming desire. Well, his desire for God is like someone who is thirsty. But not just a little thirst, someone who is dying of thirst.He is so thirsty that his “flesh faints”. He is like someone in desperate need of water “in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

This is how much he is seeking after God. 

We too need to earnestly seek after God in our time of trial. When we are suffering and discouraged it is easy to push God away, to blame God, to become angry at God. But our trials are meant to lead us to God. Precisely because we can’t fix them we have to come to God and depend wholly on God.

David models this for us. Are you seeking after God like David speaks of here? Are you seeking after God like a person who is dying of thirst looks for water in a dry and weary land, where water is really hard to find?

3. David’s faith is renewed

The bulk of this psalm speaks to this. First, he is strengthened as he remembers who God is. This comes from his encounters with God in worship – 2So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary . . ..” This is the tabernacle in Jerusalem.

What did he see? I have looked upon you . . . “beholding your power and glory. 3Because your steadfast love is better than life . . .” He remembers God’s power, glory and steadfast love. He remembers that this is a God who can take care of him, even in his life-threatening situation. And this is a God who is faithful. The word steadfast love (hesed) refers to God’s faithfulness or covenant love.

And David even says, that “your steadfast love is better than life.” His life has been turned upside down. He has gone from luxury to the wilderness; from power to weakness; from respect to dishonor; from safety to danger. But knowing that God will faithfully and loving watch over him is better than all that he lost – his former life of good things. He is content to have and to experience God’s love for him without all this.

What’s the result? As he remembers who God is, this leads him to worship God, even in his time of trial. “My lips will praise you. 4So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.” His circumstances have not changed! But he is full of praise to God and worships with hands upraised.

Second, he is strengthened as he remembers how God has helped him in the past. And the context shifts from the sanctuary to his thinking about God in the night – 6when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night”

What does he remember? 7you have been my help.” God has helped David out of many difficulties, including life threatening situations.And to think back about this builds up his faith. God can do this again.

The result of this remembering is that he is satisfied and full of praise to God. 5My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips . . . 7and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.” The phrase, “the shadow of your wings” has to do with being under the care of a mother bird and being under her wings when there is trouble.

David summarizes his renewed faith – 8My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.” He is fully dependent upon God and God is upholding him in his trial. God’s right hand refers to God’s power (Exodus 15:6, 12)

And then finally, he speaks prophetically in faith of God’s deliverance. David was a prophet and speaks this way here (Acts 2:30). 9But those who seek to destroy my life shall go down into the depths of the earth; 10they shall be given over to the power of the sword; they shall be a portion for jackals. 11But the king shall rejoice in God; all who swear by him shall exult, for the mouths of liars will be stopped.”

His enemies will be judged and destroyed, not him. They will go to the depths, or Sheol, and their bodies will be left for scavengers.But he will rejoice, that is, he will come back to Jerusalem. And also all those who are loyal to him will exult. This comes out in the phrase, “all who swear by his name” which is an expression of loyalty to David as their king. And the mouths of liars will be stopped. That is, those who had sworn allegiance to him but rebelled against him, that is broke their oath and lied will be stopped.

And as we learn in 2 Samuel, David was in fact restored to power and his enemies were destroyed. [Notice the contrasts: David’s mouth is full of praise, their lies. He seeks God, they seek to kill him.]

As we seek God in our trial, let us be renewed in our faith. David remembered who God is from his times of worship. And he remembered how God had taken care of him in the past. We should do the same, because this builds up our faith to know that God will take care of us.

Whether we are delivered or not (David here has a prophetic insight that he will be delivered) we can confess with David that God’s “steadfast love is better than life.” That even if things don’t get better, we know God will take care of us. And that to know and experience God’s steadfast love is better than whatever life can give us. It is even better than continuing to live, because his steadfast love will continue on with us in the life to come.

In your struggles, may God make himself real to you and strengthen and sustain you to keep moving forward under God’s care.

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It is a central truth of our faith that new life comes through brokenness. We all want new life right? But we don’t want brokenness because brokenness is all about humility, weakness, suffering, pain and sacrifice.

I want to share with you today three examples of how new life can come from brokenness:

1. The brokenness of repentance

Turn with me to Psalm 51:17. This is, of course, David repenting for some very serious failures before God. He is confessing his sin and seeking cleansing and renewal. And then he talks about animal sacrifices and how what God really wants comes from the heart. v. 17 – “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”  This is a description of his repentance.

As Elders we have focused on calling the church to spiritual renewal; on prayer and on seeking God for renewal in our congregation. For our vision we have not focused on a new building or some new defining program. We believe that God is calling us to be renewed and that God needs to come and move powerfully among us to transform us – and then we can talk about these other things.

This is what I would highlight for us this morning in terms of what I am talking about:

  • we are too comfortable as a congregation and set in our ways. We don’t want to take risks for God. Many like things just the way they are, as long as their needs are taken care. There is too much focus on us and not on the needs of others and the work of the kingdom.
  • we have too many walls that separate people in their relationships with each other. Not that people are fighting, but there are wounds, scars and bitterness from the past that haven’t been dealt with, which creates separation. So that we aren’t the close, loving and caring community that we could be.
  • we are too busy, always doing things and overwhelmed with our fast pace of life. Often what gets cut is our local congregation – investing in relationships with each other and doing ministry together. Let’s be clear, we are not victims here. Our lives are like they are because of choices that we make. And we need to make different choices.

And so spiritual renewal is needed. I don’t know if you accept this or not, but I am your pastor and I am telling you that spiritual renewal is needed. And this requires repentance as a first step.

Now if we do have the brokenness of repentance, God can come in and renew us. As David says in Psalm 51:10-12 – “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” New life comes through the brokenness of repentance.

2. The brokenness of difficult situations

Turn with me to 2 Corinthians 12:7-8. Paul is here talking about various “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” (v. 10) that he has gone through. Starting halfway through v. 7  he says, “a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.” He is most likely talking about some physical ailment or the constant persecution that followed him around everywhere.

Well, we have difficulties in our congregation –

  • people who have physical needs – some long term with no fix.
  • people who struggle with depression, anxiety and more.
  • people who have gone through deep waters.

And as a congregation we have experienced brokenness in our most recent trial . . .

All of our trials are painful, whether our individual trials or our congregational trial. There is definitely brokenness among us.

When these things happen we can despair and give up. Or our suffering can lead us to God; to come to God in our weakness and pain and to find strength through more fully relying on him.

Paul talks about the new life that suffering can bring when he goes on in 2 Corinthians 12 to talk about the strength God gives. In vs. 9-10 he quotes the Lord who said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” And then he says, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” A deeper spiritual life of greater dependence and relationship with the Lord can be ours, because of the brokenness of our trials.

3. The brokenness of serving God

This comes from the verse on the front of your bulletin from John 12:24. Jesus is talking about his own life which he is about to give up, but it teaches the path that we are to take as well. “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Serving God is all about walking in weakness. We are called to do things that no one is capable of doing in their own strength. And serving God is all about sacrifice – giving of ourselves to others, laying down our lives – even if people don’t receive it.

But through such death to self comes new life – for ourselves in terms of inner joy and the hope of the coming resurrection, and for those who respond to the ministry. It “bears much fruit.”

That life comes through the brokenness of service to God is supremely illustrated in the Lord’s supper. Jesus’ body was what? It was “broken” on the cross. Jesus’ blood was what? It was poured out on the cross. He laid down his life. But his brokenness led to his resurrection, and it also poured forth new life for all who will receive it.

As we receive the Lord’s supper today let’s remember the three kinds of brokenness:

1. If you need to repent, I invite you to do so, so that you can receive new life from God – a new heart and a renewed spirit.

2. If you are going through hard times, and as a congregation as we go through a hard time, let us throw ourselves at his feet and find spiritual renewal as we completely rely on him, so that in our weakness the power of God will shine forth more powerfully.

3. If you are tired and broken from serving God, I invite you to receive encouragement from God to know that it’s worth it; to receive joy now and remember your great hope for the future.

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Series: How to overcome sin

Tonight we jump into the core of what I want to share with you this week – five steps to overcoming sin in our lives.

These steps come from looking at Jesus as he faced the cross -primarily from Mark 14:26-72. Here he was tested as to whether he would stay true to God and go to the cross. He overcame. And we learn from his example, how to overcome in our own areas of struggle.

We will also look at Peter as a contrast case. He was tested to see whether he would stay true to God by standing with Jesus, even if it got him killed. He did not overcome. We can also learn from, as well as identify with him in our times of failure.

I encourage you to keep in mind the area of weakness you have identified and as we go through this, and apply this teaching to your situation.

We begin with –

Step #1. Understanding what God’s will is, acknowledge your weakness to do what God says

We learn what God’s will is primarily through studying the Scriptures. As Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” We especially need to learn from Jesus and the New Testament, since Jesus gives us the complete and final revelation of God’s will for us.

Once we begin to understand God’s will, it will become apparent that we don’t measure up.

It’s just like Jesus said, “The flesh is weak” – Mark 14:38. Weak that is, in terms of doing God’s will. We sin very easily, especially in a time of testing when we are put under pressure.

In humility we need to recognize this. As Paul said, “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” – 1 Corinthians 10:12. As Proverbs says, “Pride goes before a fall” – Proverbs 16:18. Our pride will kill us.

But if in humility we are rigorously honest with ourselves – God can help us.

Peter’s failure. He was confused about God’s will. Before he got to Gethsemane, he didn’t think Jesus had to die on a cross. In fact, he rebuked Jesus when he said he had to die – Mark 8:33. Despite hearing Jesus’ repeated teaching, he thought Jesus would be a warrior Messiah and he would fight alongside him.

But not only is he confused, he was overconfident. He saw himself as strong. He said to Jesus, “Even though they all fall away (the other disciples), I will not.” – Mark 14:29. And he said, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you” – Mark 14:31. Peter doesn’t acknowledge his weakness.

Jesus’ example. He knew God’s will for his life. Before he ever got to Jerusalem he told his disciples, “The Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him.” – Mark 10:33-34. (In our story Jesus quotes Zechariah 13:7 – Mark 14:27)

And Jesus was upfront that this would be hard. Just as he said to Peter and the others, “The flesh is weak” – Mark 14:38. Jesus didn’t want to die the shameful death of a criminal on the cross. He didn’t want to be abandoned by God. He didn’t want to come under the judgment of death. Mark tells us that he “began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.’” – 14:33-34. He knew it would be hard.

Step #2. Remain alert in prayer for times of testing and temptation

At Gethsemane Jesus told the disciples “keep alert and pray that you might not enter into testing” – Mark 14:38.

As we saw, Satan comes before God requesting permission to test us. He wants to test us in order to cause us to sin, so that he can condemn us before God. 1 Peter 5:8 tells us that he “prowls around like a lion, seeking someone to devour.”

So, since we know that we are weak and the enemy is trying to destroy us, we should look to God in prayer (Ephesians 6:18; Colossians 4:2) and specifically we should ask to be spared testing and temptation. We need to counter Satan as he seeks permission from Go to test us, by asking God, “do not lead us into testing but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13), as Jesus teaches in the Lord’s prayer, and as he told the disciples in our story. We are saying, ‘God, the enemy is powerful and I am weak. Have mercy on me. Don’t let me be tested, lest I sin against you and dishonor you.’

Now sometimes in mercy God will answer our prayers and we will be spared. And who doesn’t want to be spared going through difficult situations? Why wouldn’t we be praying this all the time?

But even if God doesn’t spare us but allows us to go through testing, because he knows we can handle it, and he wants us to grow in character and godliness – we will be ready for the test, being alert and prayerful. We will recognize what is going on when it confronts us.

Peter’s failure. He was not spiritually alert to what might come his way. In fact, he was literally asleep – Mark 14:37. Jesus found him asleep three times.

Although Satan had obtained permission to test him, as Jesus said in Luke 22:31, he didn’t ask God to spare him testing, asking for God’s mercy.

The final time that Jesus woke Peter up he said, “The hour has come” – Mark 14:41. It was too late to get ready. There Peter was in the test of his life – confused and unprepared.

Jesus’ example. Jesus was alert and knew what was coming. And so he prayed to be spared. He prayed that “the hour might pass from him” – Mark 14:35. He prayed fervently, three times, “remove this cup from me” – Mark 14:36, which is another form of the prayer “do not lead (me) into testing.”

And when God didn’t intervene to offer up another way, he was ready and accepted the test.

Step #3. In a time of testing – Keep your mind focused on God’s truth

In a test, Satan will attack our thinking. He puts thoughts in our minds and plays on those we already have to tempt us to sin;  to rationalize choosing sin:

–           “It isn’t really a sin, is it?”

–           “Well, under these circumstances surely it’s OK.”

–           Or, “So and so does it!”

–           He will even quote Scripture, in a twisted way, as he did with Jesus in the wilderness.

He also uses the influence of the world to deliver these messages. He will do whatever it takes to deceive and confuse us; to get our thinking distorted.

Jesus faced this battle of the mind throughout his ministry. And he shows us what to do: 1) Tell Satan to stop and go away when thoughts of giving in come to mind. In Mark 8 when Peter told Jesus he must never go to the cross, Jesus heard in this the voice of Satan. So he rebuked Satan’s message that came through Peter. He said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” – v. 33. He is saying to Satan, “No!” “You are wrong!” And he tells him to “get behind me,” that is, go away. We also see this in the wilderness testing of Jesus, where he said to Satan, “be gone” in Matthew 4:10.

In the same way, we can also tell Satan to stop and go away when he tries to confuse and deceive us. We have the authority to do this in Jesus. As he said in Luke 10:19, “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy.” When we hear thoughts that seek to excuse our sin, we can simply say, “Depart from me in the name of Jesus!”

2) Counter Satan’s deception with the truth. When Satan tested Jesus in the wilderness, each time Jesus responded, “It is written . . ..” He countered Satan’s distortion and deception with the truth of the Scriptures; by quoting Scripture.

In the same way, we can quote meditate on, or read aloud Scriptures that pertain to what we are  struggling with. And by repeating the truth of God is this way, we keep our minds thinking God’s thoughts and dispel the deceptions of Satan.

Peter’s failure. He entered the test already confused, and so he had no chance. He had already lost the battle of the mind. Thinking that Jesus was about to start a war, he acted in the flesh to cut off the man’s ear, who had come with those who sought to arrest Jesus – Mark 14:47 (John 18:10).

Jesus’ example. He stayed focused on God’s truth. As the soldiers arrested him he said, “let the Scriptures be fulfilled” – Mark 14:49. And he carried this attitude all the way through.

When he was on the cross and the people said, “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe” (Mark 15:32) he must have heard the voice of Satan in this and he must have been tempted to show them just who he was.  But he kept his mind focused on God’s truth and he stayed on the cross in obedience to God’s will.

Step #4. In a time of testing – Receive strength from the Spirit to do God’s will

This is almost certainly the most important thing I will share with you. Not only does Satan attack our mind he also attacks our heart – our desire to stay true to God. As he tests us he puts us in difficult situations that make it really hard to follow God and really easy to give in to sin.

As we saw, when the pressure is applied, what happens is that there is a conflict between the desires of the Spirit, who encourages us to do God’s will even if it is hard and requires sacrifice and the desires of the flesh, which want us to take the easy way out even if it means sinning against God.

It’s like Paul said, “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other” – Galatians 5:17. And we have to choose which way we will go.

Well, when we are struggling, what I am saying is that the Spirit can help us. Although the flesh is weak, Jesus also said, “the Spirit is willing” – Mark 14:38.

That is, the Spirit is willing and able to help us. The same Spirit of God who first gave us a new heart with new desires when we were born again, can strengthen our desires for righteousness in a time of testing, when the desires of the flesh seem to be prevailing, so that our desire for righteousness is greater than our fleshly desires – and so we choose to do God’s will. As Paul said, “Walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” – Galatians 5:16. The power of the Spirit gives us the strength we need to override the desires of our flesh.

What we are really doing is putting to death the desires of our flesh that oppose God. Paul writes in Romans 8:12-13, “we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – for if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” By the Spirit, that is, the strength the Spirit gives us, we put to death the deeds of the body; we deny or say “no” to our fleshly desires that oppose God, so that we can do God’s will.

As Jesus told us, we are to deny ourselves and take up our cross in this way daily – Luke 9:23.

So in your moment of weakness pray, “Spirit fill me and empower me. Give me the strength I need to do your will.” The Spirit is powerful and can enable us to overcome.

When we do this there is a death and resurrection that takes place within us. The wrongful desires of our flesh are crucified and the new life that God is raising up in us is more fully manifested.

Peter’s failure. He tried to stay true to Jesus, but he only relied on the power of the flesh.

As you remember, he secretly followed Jesus after he was arrested and was outside in the courtyard where Jesus was being tried – Mark 14:66-72. Satan used the world to pressure him. The crowd put him on the spot. They said, “This man is one of them!” – Mark 14:69. And they did this three times. The third time it says, “Peter began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know this man (Jesus) of whom you speak’” – Mark 14:71.

Despite what he had said earlier, Peter wasn’t prepared to die for Jesus. When it came down to it he denied Jesus in order to save his life. Only relying on the power of the flesh and under pressure – he gave in.

Jesus’ example. He received strength from the Spirit to do God’s will. Jesus didn’t want to die on the cross. He didn’t want to be abandoned by God. He didn’t want to come under the judgment of death.

But Jesus received strength from the Spirit. Again, “the flesh is weak,” but “the Spirit is willing” – Mark 14:38. And the Spirit was at work in him. You can see this in his prayer in Gethsemane, “not what I will, but what you will (God)” – Mark 14:36. His desire to do God’s will was greater than his desire to stay alive.

He received strength to undergo arrest, false accusation, mockery, torture, crucifixion and death. Jesus crucified the desires of his flesh in his heart, which led, in this case, to him offering up his body for literal crucifixion.

Step #5. Endure test

Satan tries to wear us down in a time of testing. Even if we are successful at first, he continues to pressure us to give in so that we will fail. So whatever the test, however long it goes on, however hard it gets – Don’t give up!

What this means is that we keep repeating the previous two steps:

  • Keep focusing your mind on God’s truth. When the lies and rationalizations come, respond with God’s truth – the Scriptures. And keep telling Satan to leave you in the name of Jesus.
  • Keep receiving strength from the Spirit to do God’s will, denying the desires of your flesh that would lead you to sin.

No matter how long the test lasts, you don’t quit thinking what is right based on the Word, or choosing what it right by the power of the Spirit. This is what endurance means.

James 4:7 calls this “resisting Satan.” And there is a promise in this verse. Just as Satan has to seek permission to test us, he can’t keep actively testing and pressuring us forever. It says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

Peter’s failure. He sinned. He denied that he knew Jesus in order to save his life. When Peter realized what he had done, “he broke down and wept” – Mark 14:72.

Jesus’ example. He endured his time of testing. He endured through arrest, beatings, mockery and crucifixion. He endured even when the test was so hard that he cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – Mark 15:34. Jesus endured, faithful to God – and this is the key phrase – until the end. Not for part of it or for most of it, but until the end. Mark 15:37 says, “Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.”

In all of this I am making the point that – 

Jesus is our example

He shows us how to overcome sin; how to overcome our weakness; how to do what God calls us to do, even when it is really hard.

He models this for us in five steps. And what I am saying is that, if in this way he overcame the most basic desire of the flesh – to live – he surely shows us how to overcome any desire of the flesh that stands in the way of doing God’s will in our lives. Jesus shows us how to overcome in our areas of struggle.

Finally,

A word of encouragement

Keep this in mind when things are really hard. Jesus was blessed for his faithfulness to God. He was raised from the dead (Mark 16:4-7), vindicated and seated at the right hand of God above all where he reigns over all.

And he knew this would happen ahead of time; that it would be worth it to stay true to God. As Hebrews 12:2 says, “for the sake of the joy set before him Jesus endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”

In the same way we will be blessed for our faithfulness to God. Testing can be really hard and painful. So we need to keep this bigger picture before us as well. If we endure to the end it will be more than worth it!

Listen to these promises:

Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up.” We will be rewarded.

James 1:12 says, “Blessed is anyone who endures testing. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” We will be raised to new life.

2 Timothy 2:12 says, “If we endure, we will also reign with him.” Just as he endured and now reigns, so if we endure, we will reign with him in the life to come.

William Higgins

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