Category Archives: Sanctification

As Sparks Fly Upward

Job captures the human condition when he says: “Man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward”(Job 5:7). Painful and stressful situations are inevitable, no matter how hard we try to avoid them. They crouch behind corners and pounce when we least expect it. It is often believed that these circumstances are plagues from God and are not part of His plan. (I know that’s how I feel sometimes.) The reality, however, is that God has ordained difficult, stressful, painful situations – trials – as a means of transforming people into His image. As we recognize trials as God’s instrument, we can find joy in the midst of our trials and respond rightly to them.

Mental Response to Trials

It was Chuck Swindoll who said, “show me a man or woman who’s never endured suffering, and I’ll show you a spiritual wimp.” There is some truth to that statement. Trials and suffering produce spiritual maturity. It says in James 1:2: “Count it all joy when you experience trials of various kinds.” The verb “count” in Greek is noteworthy suggesting something done with your mind. The way it’s written suggests that one should dwell on the given situation and come to the conclusion that “This is good for me.” Not because the situation itself is good, (let’s be honest, trials hurt), but because of what you learn, and what it produces in your life, which is spiritual maturity.

Trials Come in Many Colors

As a child, I used to think of trials as the big problems and situations of life e.g. Abraham having to offer Isaac. However, the Greek word poikilois, translated asvarious in James 1:2 – “when you encounter various trials” – has the meaning “many colors.” When James uses it, he conveys that trials come in different colors. We can experience testing with finances, family, work, friendship, rebellious children, classes, etc.

Trials Reveal Our Condition

 Recently, I got a mundane job that pays close to minimum wage working in a freezer. I definitely believe that it’s a trial from God! This job is making me work on my pride and is helping me to realize what’s important in life. I’ll admit that when I signed up for it, there wasn’t an ounce of joy. I was embarrassed and I wanted to buy a mask to hide my face. However, I’m realizing that working at this job will produce spiritual maturity.

 The trials of our lives reveal our human condition. They show the areas of our life that haven’t conformed to the image of God. I didn’t understand I had a problem with pride until I faced my trial. Then I realized I am a prideful person, and that I need to change. I didn’t enjoy this realization, but now I can work on my pride. When you face trials it reveals your sinful areas and then by the power of the Holy Spirit you can change.

The Place of Wisdom

 What is a Christian’s response to trials? It’s true that we ask God for deliverance, but what James suggests is to pray for wisdom. People use this verse for almost anything: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (1:5). However, the context of James chapter 1 is trials. When we find ourselves in a trial we pray to God for wisdom in dealing with it. “Lord, what do I do about this situation?” Wisdom is vital in responding to our various trials. We also pray to God for understanding in what we can learn from our testing. Even in the worst of trials, there is a nugget of wisdom to be taken from it, and we pray to God for it.

Hope is Key

 Hope provides the necessary endurance to overcome trials. It says in Romans 5:3 “Tribulation works patience.” If you think about it, often tribulation does just the opposite. I know people in whom tribulation has worked bitterness and hatred. Why then does the Apostle Paul say, “it works patience”? This statement is found in the context of hope. When you have hope you can endure the most agonizing trials imaginable. Our hope in trials is the knowledge, that in the end, it’s shaping us in the image of our Savior.

 As long as sparks fly upward, you will experience all sorts of trials and testings. It’s not fun or enjoyable in any way, but when we recognize what God is doing through it, we can embrace our trials wholeheartedly. For we know that as we endure it, we are becoming spiritual men and women of God.

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God’s Two Books

How do we know God? Have you ever asked yourself the question, “How can finite human beings know the infinite and eternal God?” I believe it was John Stott who said, “God has two books; He has His works in creation that reveal His glory, and He has His words in Scripture that reveal His Grace. The first we call nature and the latter we call Scripture.” Theologians refer to the first as general revelation and the latter as special revelation.

His Works in Creation

From creation, God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse (Romans 1:20). When we go outside and we see the stars and the sky, the mountains, the animals, the beautiful sun, we know that there is a creator God. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” cries the Psalmist! Creation points to a creator. Every civilization throughout history has had some notion of God. Their reflection on their world led them to believe in His existence. Yet, many of these civilizations failed to distinguish between the creator and His creation, leading to the spiral of darkness we see towards the end of Romans 1.

The existence of God is also evident from our conscience, which is a part of general revelation. Conscience is latin for “with knowledge.” We all have knowledge of right and wrong, and God gives this knowledge. There is an absolute standard for morality. There are certain things that are absolutely wrong, at any given time, anywhere. As hard as we try to deny it, there are moral absolutes and when push comes to shove we all recognize it. I remember talking with a guy who told me, “I don’t believe rape is wrong. I mean who says it’s wrong?” As he spoke, I sat there agape, and then I responded, “That may work well in your bubble, but if you were faced with rape, would that be ok?” His silent facial response was priceless. It’s humorous that people will believe there is no moral standard until someone wrongs them.

Revelation from Creation is Limited

Even though we know God through creation, this revelation is limited. Being in awe at creation doesn’t help me enter a relationship with God. Even our own faculties are limited in knowing God personally. God is infinite and we are finite human beings. It was the French Astronomer Laplace who, while looking at the sky with his telescope, said pointedly, “There is no evidence of God.” President Sawyer, when he heard this, he said, “Laplace may as well have swept his kitchen with a broom, looking for God because you can just as easily find God in your kitchen while sweeping as you can by using a scientific instrument.” Through natural means, one cannot evaluate the supernatural. Any well-minded scientist will tell you that the method you use to investigate an object must correspond to the object itself. For instance, if it is a material object, then the means of investigation must be materialistic. Similarly, if you are investigating God, then your method must correspond to God Himself.

His Words in Scripture

God is incomprehensible, but He can be apprehended because He has revealed Himself in Scripture. God has given us His Word so that we can know Him. Apart from God’s Word, it is impossible to know God personally. Granted, through creation we can know God’s existence, but it is only through the Bible that we can know God intimately and know the Gospel. We can liken this experience to knowing another person. I know my friends and family because we have spoken to each other. They have told me about themselves. If they didn’t communicate, I wouldn’t know them. If God didn’t speak through His Word, we would not know Him. This is why it’s important to read God’s Word. That’s the means God has ordained for us to know Him.

I remember sharing the Gospel with a Hindu. I kept telling him, “You can only truly know God through His Word.” He kept insisting that creation was enough to know God intimately, and so I told him again, “You can only truly know God through His Word.” As I kept repeating myself, I felt so convicted, God has revealed Himself through the Bible, and I have not been giving the Bible its due weight.

A non-Christian said to me recently, “If I were a Christian I would study the Bible cover to cover. I don’t think I would be able to put it down. I mean, if you’re telling me that it’s the Word of God, that’s what I would do. But… I’m not a Christian.” From the mouth of a pagan, truer words have never been spoken. God has given us His Word; let’s pay heed to it.

 

Beyond the Negative

Sometimes in Christian circles we have unholy pride in what we don’t do. It is easy to feel a sense of confidence in restraining oneself from certain behavior. We have this faulty understanding that not participating in cultural sins somehow makes us more spiritual than everybody else. In actuality, true spirituality does not consist of just restraint, though that is involved. It goes beyond that by engaging in godly acts that reflect the character of Christ.

No “Worldly Things”?

I enjoyed this story told by Lewis Sperry Chaffer, the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary. He once said: “I know a city of over a million where everyone in that city never watches a movie, drinks alcohol nor does any other ‘worldly thing’. Did you know there was a city of that size in America? I’m speaking of Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn New York. They are absolutely through doing evil. If Spirituality consists of what you don’t do then the corpses have it all.”

Chaffer ended by saying: true spirituality is the output and character of our lives it is not merely the absence of certain behavior.

Grace Driven Effort

Growing in our walk with the triune God isn’t easy, and it’s not something we do naturally. I remember a few weeks ago telling a friend that I wanted to get in shape. He told me that he could make me a schedule, and a diet to go along with the workout. As he explained what was involved I realized quickly that getting in shape is hard! It’s not something that my body will do naturally as I had secretly hoped… I actually have to make a conscious effort to get fit, and then follow through with it. DA Carson explain this truth as it relates to the Christian life:

Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the  Lord.

We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and  call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.

Many times our Christianity is defined by the “don’ts” and not the “do’s”. Being aware of what not to do is a safety warning for us. But we need a holistic understanding of the Christian life. And this involves actively engaging in grace-driven effort in loving and serving our neighbor and our God. This cannot happen passively. This walk is difficult and takes time. But as we have been saved by grace, we will grow into His image by His grace.

Redeemed Sinners in the Hands of a Mighty God

When we think about the heroes of the faith we often have a misconstrued view of them. It is common to believe that those individuals were a touch above everyone else, and that in order to be used by God we need those special skills too. It is true that those believers were gifted, but their impact on God’s Kingdom was not because of their ability, rather it was a result of the God who wielded them. When we grasp what God is seeking and how He works with His creation we too can significantly impact this world for Him.

God Used Moses

In Exodus 3, God says to Moses that He has seen the afflictions of His people, and He will deliver them. God tells Moses His plan for the nation of Israel, and then commands him to go to them saying, “I AM has sent me to you.” God then shows to Moses several signs he can display to confirm God’s message to the Israelites. After seeing God’s miraculous power, Moses says to the Lord, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” God’s response to Moses is classic. He says, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? The Lord responds essentially by saying that He is God. Moses you’re worried about speaking, but you forget that I made your mouth. We often forget in the midst of our challenges that we serve the Almighty God, and He has made everything. Even though we are immensely inadequate God can work through us if we will just realize that He is God.

God Used Asa

One of my favorite verses is “For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.” (2 Chronicles 16:9) This verse is written in the context of judgment, but it brings hope to those who want to serve God. The history of the nation of Israel with regard to its Kings is not complicated: they have many bad kings and the occasional good one. A great king was Asa, and he did what was good and right in the sight of the Lord (2 Chronicles 14:2). When Asa became king, the first thing he did was remove the pagan altars and the high places, shatter the sacred idol pillars and chop down the Asherah poles (2 Chronicles 14:3). He removed before God everything that was a sin. (Interestingly, if we want to be used by God we also have to destroy the idols in our lives.) In battle before the Ethiopians, he sought the Lord, and his army was able to triumph over a million men.

However, as Asa got older he began to depend on his wealth and did not seek God (2 Chronicles 16:3). The Lord had orchestrated events in such a way that Israel could have wiped out their enemy. But instead of trusting in God, Asa depended on another army. That’s when the prophet tells him: God is always looking to support someone whose heart belongs to Him. God pretty much tells Asa, you think you’re special but your success is only because of Me. The principle being: God determines who will rise and fall and He is always seeking to support a heart that is fully committed to Him.

God Used Carrey

William Carrey the ‘Father of Missions’ started out repairing shoes for people. He told men and women that he wanted to go to India to do missions, and many scoffed at him. One man said to him, “Sit down, young man! When God pleases to convert the heathen, He’ll do it without your help or mine.” Carrey had only a primary school education, but he had a heart that wanted to serve God, and a desire to share the Gospel to unreached people groups. Carrey said, “we have only to keep the end in view, and have our hearts thoroughly engaged in the pursuit of it, means will not be very difficult.” The Lord enabled that man who loved Him to learn 34 different languages, and the people of India have the Bible because of him.

God Used Moody

In order to be used by God we don’t need a particular set of gifts; we just have to be willing and committed to Him. In fact, it is God who does the gifting and qualifies the called. Henry Varley spoke at a prayer meeting and said the famous words, “the world has yet to see what God can do with a person wholly committed to Him.” A person in the back said to himself, “By the grace of God I will be that man.” The person who made that decision was D.L Moody the Billy Graham of the 19th Century. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Moody was able to lead thousands of people to know Christ. He had a 4th grade education, but his heart was fully committed to God.

God Can Use You

Our impact on the Kingdom of God does not depend on our ability; rather it is contingent on our relationship with the Savior. When we have a heart that belongs to God there is no limit to what He can do with our lives. God used Moses the weak communicator, Carrey the Shoemaker, and uneducated Moody. God can use you and me if we would just give our hearts to Him, and place His will above our own. “The eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.”

 

Wrong Medication Kills

We live in a world that tells us that we can do everything on our own. The solution offered by our society is to try harder, and if we fall pick ourselves up by our bootstraps, but there’s a problem. We are weak sinful human beings. We try hard to change our lives but things aren’t really changing. The new years resolutions for overcoming sin keep repeating… Why does this happen? We are taking the wrong medication. Let me explain, this world does not believe that we are sinful. In fact the world believes that we were born perfect. If the problem is misdiagnosed, how is the solution given valid? People die when they take the wrong medication. The truth is that we’re sinners and we need a Savior. We needed this Savior the moment we began the race, and we need Him just as much when we’re running.

You Always Need Jesus

When I was a child I was really lazy, and so I would never really chew my food… I would always just swallow it (Looking back I don’t know why, really how long does chewing take?). As you can imagine, a day came when I choked on some food. In that moment I really needed some oxygen. What’s funny is that I always need air, but it’s just that I don’t realize it until something dramatic happens. In the same way, we always need our Savior. There is no moment when we have outgrown our need for Christ. He saved us on the Cross and He is saving us daily.

Recognize the Problem

What is our responsibility when we find ourselves struggling with sin? Do we just need to try harder and bite our lip? If you think by trying harder and believing in yourself you can overcome sin, I guarantee you that you will fail. For an individual to truly change there must be a realization of our depravity and the power sin has in our lives. The lie propagated by Satan is that we are self-sufficient: we do not need anyone except ourselves.

Key to Victory

I love the story told by Lewis Sperry Chaffer. Chaffer spoke of his mentor CI Scofield and the bullying he experienced as a child. Scofield went to a country school, and he had to walk almost a mile to get there. On his way to school, he would constantly get beat up by a bully. One day he got sick of the shoving, teasing, and punching and decided to fight his bully. The problem was the bully was significantly bigger than him, and so he was quickly put to the ground and the pounding began… With all his power Scofield tried to fight, but he was no match. Then with all his might he called out to his brother, who was bigger than the bully, and he came and took the fight. Scofield just stepped aside and watched. That day Scofield learned to turn the fight over to someone else. What’s the use of being all mangled up and never having victory said Scofield. The battle is always won by faith in Christ and depending on Him who conquered death. No matter what we are going through it is vital that we cry out like Scofield to our ‘true elder brother’ Jesus Christ. When we depend on Him, and trust in Him alone we are able to have victory in the struggles of life.

When you struggle with sin don’t take the wrong medication. We are born sinners and we need a Savior. If we could save ourselves, then Christ died for nothing. God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Are you trusting in Christ or yourself?

Contentment in a Fallen World

We live in a world that is always telling us that we need the next best thing. People are always trading up and saving up for something better. But what’s interesting to me is that we are never satisfied. No matter what we have it doesn’t fill that void in our heart. It’s true that we may enjoy it for a little bit, but if we’re honest we’ll admit that after a while it gets dull and we want the next best thing. It is an endless cycle that we often fall into… I know that I am definitely guilty of it.

I honestly thought that after I bought the Iphone 2g I would never buy another phone… Needless to say I have an Iphone 5.

Lack of contentment also plagues our relationships. In our society, how long do relationships between men and women last? People get bored so quickly. Men especially jump from one relationship to the next seeking a woman that exists only in their imagination.

How do we break this cycle? How do we do find contentment in a world that tells us what we need is the next best thing?

True contentment is found in our identity with Christ. When we have a relationship with Christ and know Him we can be content. When we enter into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ we become adopted into His family. We are loved infinitely and are invited into God’s plan of redemption for mankind.

When we have a relationship with the God of the universe what more do we need? We have an inheritance with God and we will spend eternity in His presence. In the busyness of life, we forget that this world is temporal. It’s a way station at best. No one ever makes a way station their home. Let us never forget that we are citizens of a heavenly kingdom and sojourners on earth.

When we are discontent it’s because we have what Luma Simms calls “Gospel Amnesia”. We have forgotten what God has done in reconciling us to Himself. We forget the price that He paid on the cross. It says in Colossians 1:13-14 that “He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” We have been rescued from darkness and placed into His kingdom!

When you feel discontent or discouraged remember that if you have trusted in our Lord and his saving work, then you are a child of the living God. You have been given all that you need for bringing Him glory. It says in Ephesians 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Father our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ”. In Christ we have all we need! Why do we need the next best thing?