Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Make No Complaint

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
                                                                            Isaiah 53:7


He was dragged before the Sanhedrin and the High Priest to be questioned and falsely accused, yet "Jesus remained silent" (Matt. 26:63). When Pilate questioned Him to determine His fate, "He gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed" (Matt. 27:14). He had another chance still when Pilate sent Him to Herod, yet again "He made no answer" (Luke 23:9). Even as He was flogged, struck in the head with a reed, spit upon and mocked Scripture records no complaint escaping Jesus' lips. 

Isaiah prophesied that it would be this way. He said the Messiah would march to His death like a lamb is led to the slaughter, silently and submissively. Lambs don't protest because they lack sense. Jesus refused to grumble because He trusted His Father and was willing to endure anything to fulfill God's purpose for His life. Anything for God's glory (John 12:28).

Ultimately that's the problem with complaining, with grumbling against the circumstances of your life. It means that you think God has messed up. Either you don't trust that He knows what He is doing, or you don't think His purposes are worth your pain. Are you willing to endure anything to fulfill God's purpose for your life, to bring Him glory? When you grumble and complain against God, even in your own thoughts, you reveal the outer boundaries of your willingness to follow Him.

Consider how often the people of Israel grumbled, complained and rebelled against God during their journey in the wilderness. God had a purpose for every discomfort and difficulty they experienced. He was teaching His people to trust Him completely. With each trial they had the opportunity to learn to turn to Him for help and watch Him provide for their needs abundantly. Had they submitted to God and learned this lesson well it would have paid great dividends as they went in to possess the Promised Land. Unfortunately, they didn't submit to God. They grumbled and complained, so they continued to struggle for many years to come.

But Jesus is the new and perfect Israel. He gets it right precisely where they got it wrong. He doesn't grumble. He willingly submits. He accomplishes God's will for His life. In only three and a half years of ministry He changed the world forever and He opened a door into the true Promised Land, Heaven above.

God accomplishes great things in and through us by virtue of our suffering, our difficulty, and our discomfort. We are called to emulate Jesus. Let's complain less and trust more. Let's turn to God for strength and deliverance, and trust that He really will cause all things to work together for our good (Romans 8:28). Let's stop grumbling and start praising!  

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Name a Star

He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names.

His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.
Psalm 147


Have you ever heard of those services that let you name a star? You give them $20 and they enter your star name into the "official star registry." So, basically you name a star after your girlfriend thinking it will really impress her, and then she looks at you like you're an idiot when you give her the "authentic certificate." Not that I'm speaking from experience or anything...

I can just imagine God having a conversation with some poor schlub when he gets to heaven. "Hey, Lance, so you know that star isn't named 'Stacy's Hot' right? I actually named that star a long time ago because... I made it. You don't really get to go around naming things that other people created. You get that right?" 

It's surprising the things we do to try to impress someone. We guys especially make idiots of ourselves trying to impress girls, but what about the things we do to try to impress God?  I think our attempts at impressing Him are often met with the same disappointment that those "authentic certificates" from the star registry are. I can just see God looking at me with a confused look on His face saying "You thought I would like that???"

It turns out that the things God takes pleasure in are not often talked about in our churches or small group Bible studies. According to Psalm 147:11 God takes pleasure in those who fear Him and in those who hope (or wait) on His steadfast love. These are the gifts God wants from us. He wants us to understand His authority and fear the awful consequences of rebelling against Him. This type of fear is proper for those who truly understand how big and great God is. This fear of God's wrath will keep us far from sin and enable us to serve Him faithfully. God also wants us to understand that He is our only hope of escape from the difficult circumstances in our lives. We fix our hope on Him by waiting patiently on Him even in the midst of our suffering.

So don't try to impress God by what you wear to church or by pretending to be better than you are or even by getting that cool new Christian tattoo. He sees through all of that and see your heart. Give Him what He wants. Fear Him and place your hope in Him alone. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Am I Wicked?

“There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.”
Isaiah 57:21


Memorize this verse! Roll it over in your mind. "Write it on the tablet of your heart" as the Scripture says. Do this because this little verse reveals something important about God.

God opposes the wicked. Those that break His laws, who go against His commands, He will not prosper. The world may celebrate them, they may even appear to thrive for a short time, but their end is destruction (see Psalm 73). They will not know peace. Psalm 146:5-9 elaborates on this same point. As you read it take note of all the types of people God helps and notice that there is only one type of person He disappoints.
How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
Whose hope is in the Lord his God...
Who executes justice for the oppressed;
Who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free.
The Lord opens the eyes of the blind;
The Lord raises up those who are bowed down;
The Lord loves the righteous;
The Lord protects the sojourners;
He supports the fatherless and the widow,
But He thwarts the way of the wicked.

God doesn't take the sin in your life lightly, so you shouldn't either! Run from wickedness! Avoid temptation. Focus less on identifying who the wicked are around you and focus more on asking yourself the question, "Am I wicked?". 

For further reading...
  • Asaph considers the apparent prosperity of the wicked in a powerful psalm- Psalm 73.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Ashamed

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.
2 Timothy 1:6-8


"I don't really tell people I'm a Christian at school. If they know you are a Christian they just give you a really hard time. Especially the Buddhists. The Buddhists love tearing into Christians at my high school. They just won't leave you alone." 

I had been in full-time youth ministry for about seven years when a teen shared this during Wednesday night youth group. The teen's father was a deacon, his family were church members, and I couldn't believe my ears. In my flesh I can commiserate with this teen, and yet to this day I haven't heard a clearer or more succinct example of what it means to be ashamed of the testimony of Christ.

If I were to ask each of you whether or not you are ashamed of Christ, chances are you would say no. But what if I were to ask you this question: When was the last time you shared what Jesus has done for you with a lost person?

Honestly, this question stirs shame in my own heart because the answer isn't nearly as recent as it ought to be. I have my excuses, but these are only attempts to explain away evidence that points in an unflattering direction. Our answer to this question matters because in context being "ashamed" must mean remaining silent. Thus to be "unashamed" must mean to speak up. Look at the text with me. 

It says, "for the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid." Why does Paul take the time to tell Timothy that Christians are not fearful? At this time, Paul is a prisoner in Rome, in chains for proclaiming the gospel (v. 8). It's reasonable for Timothy (Paul's right-hand-man) to be concerned that persecution might find him as well. So Paul reminds him that Christians do not give in to fear. Rather, God's Spirit "gives us power, love and self-discipline." God gives us power that we may be confident in the gospel's ability to change people, love to fuel our passion for telling others the truth, and self-control so we can persevere in sharing the gospel even in the face of significant opposition. 

This is how the passage ends. "So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God." Think for a moment. What would Timothy have to do in order to share in suffering for the gospel? He would have to continue telling others about Jesus. Rome wouldn't persecute Timothy if he went silent and even if they did persecute him in some way after he fell silent it couldn't be considered suffering for the gospel if he had stopped preaching the gospel. So when Paul says "don't be ashamed of the gospel," he is urging Timothy not to be silent about Jesus. 

So don't remain silent anymore. Find opportunities to talk to others about Christ. Pray for opportunities. Make opportunities. Tell your story.