Friday, August 28, 2009

The Promise Sacrificed

By S. Michael Durham

(Eighth installment on faith)

Do you know that flushed feeling of panic when you first hear or see something that is threatening to your joy? Abraham was well acquainted with it. His blood pressure spiked; the chill that leaves you warm instead of cold rushed through his body the night he heard God say, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

Frankly, there is an air of holy mystery in this story that leaves me with questions. I don’t understand it all. But its message I do get, at least somewhat. What becomes the preoccupation of your life, the passion of your life, and the love of your life must be sacrificed to God. To you theologians who want to tell me the story is all about a glimpse into the future when the Heavenly Father will lay His Only Son on an altar and plunge the knife of divine justice through His body and soul let me say, I understand that. Surely redemptive light-beams shoot out of Genesis 22 and spotlight the Lamb hanging on Calvary’s cross. But there is a personal story here as well.

An old man was given a promise. Twenty-five long years he waited for its fulfillment. The day came when his promise came to pass and he held it in his hands—a baby boy. As the years went by and the promise began to grow, take his first step, speak his first word, Abraham was right there. He taught Isaac his knowledge of husbandry and leadership and, most importantly, his God. Abraham’s life was now fulfilled. The culmination of his life was the son. Here was the holy seed. Here was the linage of the Messiah. He had lived his entire life for this purpose.

But in one moment, the stillness of a fulfilled life was jolted by a night visit from heaven. The words drove terror deep into Abraham’s heart, “Take now your son . . . and offer him . . . as a burnt offering.” What Abraham didn’t know the Lord did; Abraham’s heart was wrapped up in the promise much more than with the One who had made the promise. Abraham, like any of us who get in that position, couldn’t see it. The more he loved Isaac, he assumed the more he loved God. The boy was the promise of God, given to him by the performance of God’s power. To love the gift was to love the Giver, was it not?

Not exactly. Not when the promise is exalted above the Giver. When the gift no longer motivates you to praise the Giver and it becomes the object of ultimate adoration, then you have crossed the line. Abraham had crossed the line.

We are not privy to the prayers of Abraham after the command came. We do not know if his prayers sounded strangely similar to night prayers that would be prayed almost two millennia later in a garden: “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me.” All we know is the text reads, “So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.”

The soul’s dilemma was ended by morning. The promise-turned-idol had been relinquished from the patriarch’s heart. He may have laid Isaac on the altar days later, but that night sometime before sunrise the sacrifice had already been committed. In vain are the arguments that suggest Abraham didn’t have to sacrifice Isaac. The idol had to be purged. And it was. Perhaps that is why Abraham did not have to finish the act.

The writer to the Hebrews gives an interesting insight to this story. Hebrews 11:17, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son.” In other words, Abraham offered up one of God’s promises.

He continues in verse 19, “concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.” This is very important. If you are to have faith in God you must understand this truth. Because God promised Isaac and because the promise of Isaac was the seed of the covenant God made with him, Abraham knew the seed could not die. In other words, the promise of faith was the reason Abraham could die to the promise. He knew if he obeyed God and sacrificed Isaac, God would raise him from the dead. This is absolutely astounding since Abraham had no precedent to believe this. No one had been raised from the dead between Adam and Abraham. Yet Abraham believed God would restore Isaac to him because of the promise.

Two things are involved here. One, Abraham was tested: where was his ultimate loyalty and love? Was it with Isaac or Jehovah? The test made him choose, which brought him out of his idolatry. Two, Abraham relinquished control of his idol. He surrendered control of his son and placed him in the hands of the Lord. In essence, he trusted God with the promise.

That is our task also. When given a promise by the Lord we must not take control of it and become possessed with it. Rather, we must surrender it back to the Lord in complete confidence that He will keep His word and do what is right. You must rest in Him without worry, free of consternation and concern, knowing the One who promised is faithful. He will do it. Even if He has to raise your promise up from the death of your sacrifice.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Separate Church & State, It Won't Change the Truth

No one wants our government to tell us what our religious views should be. Our constitution provides that the government will not establish a religious order, while at the same time protecting our freedom to hold and speak out on any religious views we may hold. While it does protect us from religious tyranny and allows for the freedom to exercise nearly any variety of religious practices in the United States, it does not change the truth of the one true religion, that of Jesus Christ.

In a recent Courier Journal article, it was reported that a judge in Kentucky struck down language in a 2006 state law that created the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security. That law acknowledged “the dependence on Almighty God as being vital to the security of the Commonwealth.” An amendment to the law required that a plaque be placed at the state’s Emergency Operations Center in Frankfort, which states "the safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God." Ten residents of the state along with the American Atheists Inc. filed suit against the state to have the verbiage removed from the law. A circuit judge ruled that reference violates the U.S. and Kentucky constitutions, which prohibit the government from establishing an official religion. The plaintiffs’ attorney was happy, saying that: “Maybe people will think twice now before trying to impose their religious beliefs in Kentucky.” In the end, these people do not want to acknowledge God as being a vital part in the protection of a people.

Regardless of whether or not they want to rely on God in times of state emergency, they unknowingly rely on the common grace of God for everything. Even know, as they breathe, as their hearts pump blood through their bodies, and as their stomachs are well full with food, they exert great dependence upon the one who created them. Even their ability to file a lawsuit in a Kentucky court was only accomplished by God’s allowance. Psalm 10 states that “the wicked boasts of his heart’s desire; he blesses the greedy and renounces the Lord. The wicked in his proud countenance does not seek God. God is in none of his thoughts. His ways are prospering. Your judgments are far above, out of his sight; as for all his enemies, he sneers at them. He has said in his heart, ‘I shall not be moved. I shall never be in adversity.’ His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and oppression. Under his tongue is trouble and iniquity . . . He has said in his heart, ‘God has forgotten. He hides his face. He will never see.’” Psalm 10:3-11

Oh how so this is! The wicked have no regard for God, and they appear to prosper. Yet they, in their darkness, will come undone when the light of dawn breaks and the Word of the Lord is fulfilled. For now the night grows long, and shadows may seem to hide God’s face, but the light of his son will burst forth as glorious day, and they shall acknowledge Him as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

The Psalmist cries in verse 12, “Arise, O LORD! O God, lift up Your hand!” His cry is our cry. Legislation and judges have no impact on reality, on the truth. Perhaps state Representative Tom Riner of Louisville sums it up best: "They make the argument ... that it has to do with a religion," Riner said, "and promoting a religion. God is not a religion. God is God."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Death to the Promise

By S. Michael Durham

(Seventh installment on faith)

You would think we would know better. We expect more from ourselves, something less gullible. Yet, I have done it. Have you? Haven’t you focused more on the promise than the Promiser? Should the eyes of faith cast their look anywhere but on the “Faithful and True,” the vision will become dim at best.

As explained in the previous blog, the enemy of our faith will not just assault our faith by attacking God’s integrity. That is not his only strategy. He will also try to steer our faith away from its source, Jesus. And if he cannot do so with worldly idols, he will distract our souls with the very thing the Lord has promised. Should you or I begin to focus our attention on the thing we are trusting God for, then we cannot behold the Giver. Faith has eyes only for God, therefore if I am looking, gazing, concentrating on something other than the Lord Jesus, even if it something He has promised to give me, my faith will wilt. Faith must have God as its focus as we need air to breathe.

Preoccupation with the promises of God is nothing more than idolatry. It is fascination with the gift more than the Giver. This is a major enemy to faith. How then do we fight this tendency? How do we keep our eyes on Him who has promised and not the promise? By way of the cross. It is by death. You must die to the very promise that God has given you.

Dying to the promise doesn’t mean we cease to trust God for the promise’s fulfillment. It means that I refuse to let the promise be the source of my delight rather than the Promiser. If the Lord has promised something you really desire and the thing desired has your heart, you will know it by the fact that you are not able to wait patiently for it. You will become impatient and even frustrated with the Lord for His delay in keeping His promise. Or you will begin to lose hope that it will ever come to pass. You will begin to think you did not hear God accurately or at all.

The antidote is death. Your desires, longings and hopes must cease being your source of pleasure. The excitement you feel as you think about the promise must be transferred back to God Himself. It is indeed permissible to be excited about a promise you have received from your Father, but it is not acceptable that the excitement outweigh your enthusiasm in God.

To the cross you must go and lay the promise there. Upon the cruel and rough beams of the cross you must sacrifice your promise. In other words, you must be willing that the promise never be fulfilled so long as it has your heart. Death to the promise is to want God’s pleasure and sweet presence much more than the promise fulfilled. Possessing communion with the Heavenly Father means a great deal more to you than possessing the promise. This is dying to the promise.

You must pray at the altar of sacrifice that the Lord would give you grace to restore your heart for Him, to see Him again with the eyes of faith. Once you have died to the promise, then the promise can be fulfilled. If we have relinquished the worship of the thing promised, then we can once again truly trust God with the promise and its fulfillment. We can again wait on the Lord in peace because our mind is stayed on Him. The Lord Jesus can give us what He has promised. It is no longer an idol; it is an expression of His love to us. And if an expression of His love, then surely He is the object of our worship and thankfulness.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Eyes of Faith

By S. Michael Durham

(Sixth installment on faith)

Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12: 2).

Faith has eyes only for Jesus; that is God-like faith. Faith cannot survive gazing on any other. That is why the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews says, “Looking unto Jesus,” which in a recent blog we said means, “looking away to Jesus.” In the eleventh chapter of Hebrews the attention was on the faith of men. But now he wants us to look no more at men, as inspirational as that may be, and now focus our eyes of faith on Jesus.

Faith cannot survive long without seeing Jesus. He is its only object. As long as it beholds His glory, it thrives. Like a rose loves sunshine and develops in the sun’s rays, so does faith develop in the rays of Jesus’ excellence.

If you would have your faith strong keep Christ your focus. If you would be a person of faith do not take your gaze off of the Author and Finisher of faith. If you would excel in faith, then do nothing that would distract attention from the object of faith—Jesus. Learn to have eyes only for Him.

This is so important that you must resist the greatest temptation of all, the temptation to focus on the promises of God. Quite often it is so casually said that we must keep faith’s eye on the promises of God. But casualness is not godly rest; far from it! Casualness it is the devil’s nest. It is to lie in the enemy’s lair. Vigilance is faith’s friend and we must not get casual with the things of God, especially faith.

There is a good deal of truth that the promises of God are the food of faith. God’s promises fuel our faith. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). But the promises of God encourage faith only because they are that, the promises of God. It is the character of God that makes His promises certain. What makes one man’s promises better than another man’s? The integrity of one and the lack thereof in the other. It would be better to say the impeccable character of God is the fuel of faith. Faith loves to behold the infinite God and lovingly trust the treasure of God’s person.

Someone may ask, “How do you separate God’s promise from God? Aren’t they one and the same?” Yes, a man’s word is an expression of his heart. This is no less true of our Father. But it is not the promises themselves to which faith looks, but the One who makes the promises believable.

It is right here that the devil’s trickery enters. He will work to turn your gaze away from the Promiser to the promise, or better yet, to what is being promised. If your focus is on what has been promised to you, faith will begin to waver. It will waver for one of two reasons.

First, as you keep your eye upon the thing promised, the promise will soon seem a difficult thing. You will begin to think the promise can’t come to pass unless you maintain your faith that it will. And when that happens your faith is looking to you. As long as you believe you have faith you will be encouraged, but the moment you stop feeling your faith you will fall into fear, frustration and faithlessness.

The second reason faith will waver when the eyes of faith is diverted to the thing promised is that you will begin to idolize it. It will become more important to you than the Lord. Your joy will be found in the anticipation of the fulfillment more than in He who has promised. This is one of the most subtle forms of idolatry. Unless, the Lord of mercy shows you your sin, you will maintain this idolatry and you will do so calling it faith in God.

When the soul has been forced to cease its adoring attention of Christ, faith cannot be maintained. It will vacillate and eventually wane. Do you see this, my friend? Has the thing you believe God has promised become all-consuming? If so, have you not yet noticed the difficulty to keep faith strong?

What is the answer? You must die to the very thing that God promised. More about this in our next posting.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Trusting Christ for Faith to Trust

By S. Michael Durham

(Fifth installment on faith)

The Lord Jesus is the Author and Finisher of our faith. This means He is the creator of our faith. It is He, and not us, who creates faith, initiates faith and stimulates our faith. That does not mean we have no responsibility in the exercise of faith or that we can excuse ourselves for not believing God. It only means we cannot create our faith in God. It is a grace given to us from the very One who calls us to trust Him.

I am learning this and have been over the course of my life as a believer. I am obviously a very slow learner. But actually, the problem hasn’t been my intellect. I learned the principle of where my faith comes from a long time ago, within three years after my conversion. But my stubborn pride has prevented me from believing it. You can know something is true in the realm of the intellect but not understand experientially in your spirit. There is something in me that resists absolute trust in God; a need to impress my heavenly Father exists that is as real as was my need to impress my earthly father as a child. For years I have wrestled with a deep-seated conviction that pleasing God meant showing Him I am capable and worthy of His attention.

This is so deceiving because you know the gospel proclaims otherwise, but your knowledge blinds you to flesh’s impulse to do. You are convinced that you are walking by the Spirit only because you know you are to do so. But knowing something to be true and doing it are not the same. Intellectually, we get it. But internally the two, knowing and doing, somehow get garbled up as being one and the same. In my case, I know I can’t have faith in God without God’s granting of faith and helping me to exercise it but instead of looking to Christ, the Author and Completer of my faith, I look within to strengthen my faith and cause it to grow. The result is stress, frustration and exhaustion.

A couple of years ago the Lord again enrolled me into the class of faith by putting me on a path of frustrating failures. I sensed that my help would come by reading chapters 13-17 of John’s gospel. And so on my knees I began reading slowly, prayerfully Jesus’ discourse to His disciples on the eve of His crucifixion. When I got to chapter 15 and read the parable of the Vine something clicked. I knew that within these verses was the answer I was seeking. Day after day I would read the words of this simple illustration, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser . . . Abide in Me, and I in you . . . I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” The words washed over my starving soul like rain water removing the dust and filth of a long, dry barren season. The Lord began to open my eyes and see with spiritual understanding what my brain could recite and even preach with ease. But this time it was mine—it was my truth; it was affecting my heart and not just my mind.

The truth was I couldn’t even have faith in Christ without Him. There was nothing I could do without Him, including abiding. We are completely helpless in the realm of the spirit, and if it were not for Jesus we would be hopeless.

After this I remembered long ago reading Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret. I recalled that I did not understand what in the world the man was talking about. In theory it sounded right, but I couldn’t make it happen for me. And then I would read well-intentioned brothers attack Taylor’s position on abiding in Christ as an unbiblical passivity.

But now I get it, and it’s not passivity. It is no more passive than a branch is passive in the producing of fruit. But the agenda, ability and energy to produce fruit comes from the vine and not the branch. Here is what Taylor said.
When my agony of soul was at its height, a sentence in a letter from dear McCarthy was used to remove the scales from my eyes, and the Spirit of God revealed the truth of our oneness with Jesus as I had never known it before. McCarthy, who had been much exercised by the same sense of failure, but saw the light before I did, wrote, (I quote from memory): “But how to get faith strengthened? Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the Faithful One.” As I read I saw it all! “If we believe not, he abideth faithful.” I looked to Jesus and saw (and when I saw, oh, how joy flowed!) that He had said, “I will never leave you.” “Ah, there is rest!” I thought. “I have striven in vain to rest in Him. I’ll strive no more. For has He not promised to abide with me - never to leave me, never to fail me?” And, dearie, He never will!
The title of this blog posting may sound redundant, if not confusing: Trusting Christ for Faith to Trust. But really it is quite simple. Instead of trying to trust, I rest in Christ to grant me the ability to trust. In other words, I ask Him to give me the faith that I need for whatever His will is for me. I am assured of this. I know this is more certain than the sun rising tomorrow. And He never fails. Oh, I still fail at this and therefore fail Him, but “He remains faithful.” Truly, He is the Author and Completer of our faith. Without Him, we can do nothing, not even trust Him.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What Does it Mean to Seek the Lord?

What Does It Mean to Seek the Lord?
Meditation on Psalm 105:4

By John Piper August 19, 2009

Seeking the Lord means seeking his presence. “Presence” is a common translation of the Hebrew word “face.” Literally, we are to seek his “face.” But this is the Hebraic way of having access to God. To be before his face is to be in his presence.

But aren't his children always in his presence? Yes and no. Yes in two senses: First, in the sense that God is omnipresent and therefore always near everything and everyone. He holds everything in being. His power is ever-present in sustaining and governing all things.

And second, yes, he is always present with his children in the sense of his covenant commitment to always stand by us and work for us and turn everything for our good. “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

But there is a sense in which God’s presence is not with us always. For this reason, the Bible repeatedly calls us to “seek the his presence continually.” God’s manifest, conscious, trusted presence is not our constant experience. There are seasons when we become neglectful of the Lord and give him no thought and do not put trust in him and we find him “unmanifested”—that is, unperceived as great and beautiful and valuable by the eyes of our hearts.

His face—the brightness of his personal character—is hidden behind the curtain of our carnal desires. This condition is always ready to overtake us. That is why we are told to “seek his presence continually.” God calls us to enjoy continual consciousness of his supreme greatness and beauty and worth.

This happens through “seeking.” Continual seeking. But what does that mean practically? Both the Old and New Testaments say it is a “setting of the mind and heart” on God. It is the conscious fixing or focusing of our mind’s attention and our heart’s affection on God.
“Now set your mind and heart to seek the Lord your God.” (1 Chronicles 22:19)
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:1-2)

This setting of the mind is the opposite of mental coasting. It is a conscious choice to direct the heart toward God. This is what Paul prays for the church: “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ” (2 Thessalonians 3:5). It is a conscious effort on our part. But that effort to seek God is a gift from God.

We do not make this mental and emotional effort to seek God because he is lost. That’s why we would seek a coin or a sheep. But God is not lost. Nevertheless, there is always something through which or around which we must go to meet him consciously. This going through or around is what seeking is. He is often hidden. Veiled. We must go through mediators and around obstacles.

The heavens are telling the glory of God. So we can seek him through that. He reveals himself in his word. So we can seek him through that. He shows himself to us in the evidences of grace in other people. So we can seek him through that. The seeking is the conscious effort to get through the natural means to God himself—to constantly set our minds toward God in all our experiences, to direct our minds and hearts toward him through the means of his revelation. This is what seeking God means.

And there are endless obstacles that we must get around in order to see him clearly, and so that we can be in the light of his presence. We must flee every spiritually dulling activity. We must run from it and get around it. It is blocking our way.

We know what makes us vitally sensitive to God’s appearances in the world and in the word. And we know what dulls us and blinds us and makes us not even want to seek him. These things we must move away from and go around if we would see God. That is what seeking God involves.
And as we direct our minds and hearts Godward in all our experiences, we cry out to him. This too is what seeking him means.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.” (Isaiah 55:6)

“If you will seek God and plead with the Almighty for mercy...” (Job 8:5)

Seeking involves calling and pleading. O Lord, open my eyes. O Lord, pull back the curtain of my own blindness. Lord, have mercy and reveal yourself. I long to see your face.

The great obstacle to seeking the Lord is pride. “In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him” (Psalm 10:4). Therefore, humility is essential to seeking the Lord.

The great promise to those who seek the Lord is that he will be found. “If you seek him, he will be found by you” (1 Chronicles 28:9). And when he is found, there is great reward. “Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). God himself is our greatest reward. And when we have him, we have everything. Therefore, “Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!”

Seeking with you,
Pastor John

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Looking Away to Faith’s Completer

By S. Michael Durham

(Fourth installment on faith)

Turning our attention to Hebrews 11, we see faith described and portrayed in men and women. Many of the names are very familiar to us; they make up a list of the heroes of our faith. In addition to the famous names, Hebrews 11 mentions the unnamed heroes who demonstrated remarkable faith in the face of fierce persecution. Only God knows their names. In a future blog I will return to chapter 11 of Hebrews, but today I want us to look beyond the eleventh chapter and set our eyes upon the first two verses of chapter 12.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1).

The writer of Hebrews turns his attention to you and me. What about you? What should you do in light of these champions of faith? Well, whatever I do I sure don’t want to be compared to these “witnesses.” That’s what the author calls the heroes of chapter 11, a “great a cloud of witnesses.” My immediate reaction is that I don’t belong in this assembly. I do not have enough faith to be associated with such a prestigious listing of men and women of faith. But I am. I am associated with this group by virtue of having faith in Christ. And so are you. We are a part of this club of faith even though we feel unworthy to be granted membership. The writer of Hebrews makes it definitive that we are a part later in chapter 12,

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn [who are] registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect (Hebrews 12:22-23.

How can I have this kind of faith that is demonstrated in Hebrews 11? The answer follows. But let me remind you, you are not a faith factory. You cannot produce faith. All of your attempts to manufacture faith fail. Understanding this, the author of the epistle to the Hebrews tells us our responsibility. First he says we should gain inspiration from the heroes he has cited, “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight.”

Some have thought that the author is suggesting that the saints in heaven are able to see us as they look over “the balconies of heaven.” Not for sure where that concept came from, but I know one place it didn’t—the Bible. This is not the author’s meaning. Rather, he is saying, in light of what these others have done who have gone before us, let us emulate them and do all we can to persevere in faith. Let us, as they did, throw overboard everything that would slow us down, especially that one sin that hinders and ensnares us all: unbelief. The author of Hebrews is clear; whatever this sin is, it affects us all. And what is the one sin that he has singled out throughout the entire book of Hebrews that has kept others from finishing? The sin of unbelief.

The stories of the men and women who demonstrated faith in God should motivate us to do the same. These people are, in the final analysis, no different from us. They are frail and fallible people who needed a Savior like I do. So, their testimonies should say to me, I too can trust God.

But inspiration will only go so far. I’ve been inspired reading a great biography and resolve to be like that person only to lose my motivation in short while. Surely, you have heard a rousing sermon and vowed to do better with honest intentions. What happened? The same as me—your steam ran out. It will always run out. Why? Because faith, the opposite of unbelief, cannot be humanly sustained. Yes, the author commands believers to sustain their faith and increase it, but he knows that is impossible to you and me. Therefore, he bids our gaze to quickly leave the coronated saints and look upon the “Author and Finisher of our faith.”

Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of [our] faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).

It is Jesus who is the origin of our faith. He is the One who gave you your faith and He is the only One who can complete it, or in other words, increase it to its full measure. The word finisher means “one who perfects.” Jesus is the One who perfects our faith. Therefore, the greatest attention I can give to my faith is to give all of my attention to Christ. I run the race of faith by a simple of act of looking to Christ to sustain my faith in Him. If the Lord should will, I will elaborate on this in my next posting.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Are You a Faith Factory?

By S. Michael Durham

(Third installment on faith)

We have seen thus far that I have a faith problem stemming from my fallen nature. I was born with a heart that says, “I do not want to trust God in the least. I want to trust me.” The temptation in the Garden of Eden came down to whom Adam and Eve were going to trust—God or themselves. Of course, we know how they opted. And as a result we have opted right along with our first parents. We inherited their rebellious nature, and all a man can do is act out of his nature. We were born with a sinful nature that does not have faith in God.

The new birth counteracts our first birth. The new birth is a birth of a new nature. To be born of the Spirit is to be given a spiritual nature that is from above, given to us from our Spiritual Father. In no way does that make us divine, but as the Apostle Peter says in his second epistle, we partake or share or participate in the divine nature. This new nature or new man, as the Apostle Paul called it, has holy affections and desires. It, by grace, can exercise faith in God. To trust in God is standard equipment for the new heart.

In conjunction with the giving of spiritual life is the fact that our old man, that is who we were before conversion, is gone. The Bible says he has been crucified with Christ (Romans 6:6). To put it another way, the old man was my fallen human nature ruled and dominated by sin. When God regenerates the sinner and the sinner puts his trust in Christ, there is a literal conversion or change. A transformation occurs. The principle of sin enslaving and controlling the sinner is broken. The new believer is free to break with sin and no longer do sin’s bidding. He can now obey God from a heart of faith because sin’s power to enslave is gone.

But as wonderful as the gift of salvation is, it is not perfection. That is not yet. The new believer confidently hopes in a day when he or she will be absolutely and completely rid of the corruption of sin. Even the ability to sin will be vanquished. However, until that day we still have a mind and a body polluted. The mind and the body are not sinful, but within them are appetites and desires contrary to the Spirit that still remain. This is the remnant of the fallen human nature, with which we were born. The Bible calls it the flesh.

The Bible describes in Galatians 5:17 that a contention, to put it mildly, resides between the flesh and the Spirit within the Christian. The flesh promotes self and the Spirit promotes Christ. Flesh trusts only one person, self, whereas the Spirit trusts only Christ. So how are we to put our faith in God if we feel this tension between ourselves and God?

Thankfully, the answer is to walk in the Spirit and we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh (Galatians 5:16). We consciously reject faith in ourselves and look to the Savior. This is all Jesus meant when He described the conditions of being a Christian, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). Self-denial means I deny myself the right to trust in myself. I refuse to live my life by my own wisdom or strength. This is the key to faith.

One of the most difficult things for the Christian to learn is that he cannot trust God without God’s help. If I trust me to trust God, then it is no more than my flesh trying to meet God’s requirement of faith. The sad fact is that even though I have a new nature and the Spirit of God resides with me, I still am insufficient to trust and obey the Lord. I must look away from myself totally and look to the One who gives faith. Only He can maintain my faith, increase my faith and preserve my faith. Only He can strengthen the faith that He has already given. Faith is still a gift from God. It is a spiritual gift, having spiritual substance. Otherwise faith becomes me straining with my brain to believe God. Sadly, this is what so many Christians think faith is—mere mental assent. If they can hurdle their own minds’ objections and feel like they believe, then they consider themselves to have faith in God.

If you are to have a strong faith, you must have a weak faith in you. Faith that is strong in God is based upon a strong belief in human helplessness. You must be absolutely convinced that without Jesus you cannot even hope to have faith in God. You believe with intention that Jesus meant what He said, “for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Your will must be exercised to renounce any self-sufficiency so that you may receive God’s sufficiency.

Is not this the lesson of nine frustrated disciples who could not cast out a demon from an afflicted child? Did they not pray to the Lord, “Why could we not cast it out?” Note the “we.” They tried to cast out the demon. Contrast that to the prayer that got results. The father of the demonized prayed, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” He somehow knew Christ could help him to believe. You and I are not faith factories. We do not nor cannot produce faith in God. All we can do is exercise the faith that He gives. Maybe that is why the disciples eventually, after this event, prayed more accurately, “Increase our faith.”

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Origin of Our Faith

By S. Michael Durham

(Second installment on faith)

The basic problem we have in the realm of faith in God is our human nature. Our fallenness works against trusting someone else completely. We don’t mind trusting someone as long as we maintain some control, but our Heavenly Father requires absolute trust, which translates as no control on our part. You and I must relinquish command of the situation in order to exercise faith in God. The Lord requires a dependency that relies completely on Him. This way, trust means trust. You really do trust God so that you are able to take your hands off and rest in Him.

But this is not natural to our humanity. And although we are redeemed with new natures we still have fallen human nature, i.e., flesh, which is opposed to the spirit of faith in God. Therefore, our problem is part of us wants to trust God and part of us wants to trust ourselves. How then can we have faith in God?

The answer to this all-important question is found in how we were able to exercise faith in Christ when we were converted. How could a sinner, dead in trespasses and sin, diametrically opposed to God to the degree that he hated God, ever wind up putting his confidence in Him? The answer is grace. God grants to the sinner faith. It is a gift given to all who will believe, otherwise none would believe. In Philippians 1:29 the Apostle Paul says, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” What does he mean, “it has been granted on behalf of Christ . . . to believe in Him”? Would it help to know that the word granted is translated from a Greek word that means to give graciously? In other words, it is a gift of grace. To believe in Christ is a gift of grace given to us by God.

Does not the Bible say that to every Christian God has given a “measure of faith”? Are we not told “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8)? There is no other explanation for how a God-hating, sin-loving, self-centered, Christ-rejecting sinner can suddenly trust the One he has never trusted. It is a gift of God’s amazing grace. It is part and parcel of what it means to be born again. The new birth is the beginning of a new life. Whereas the old life was full of self-trust and empty of God-trust, the new life created by God is the opposite. It is full of faith in Christ and empty of faith in self.

We can say that faith is a gift given to a person as much as we can say forgiveness is a gift. You did not manufacture your faith in God. You did not just, all by yourself, decide one day to cease your unbelief in God’s promises. Nor did you, apart from God’s grace, decide you could now trust the Lord. It is a part of the miracle we call the new birth.

Someone may ask, “Why then do I still find it, at times, hard to have faith in the Lord if God has given me faith?” Well, the answer may ring a bit with simplicity, but it is, nonetheless, true. The answer is that although God grants faith, you and I must exercise it. God will not do our trusting for us. We are involved in the very act of faith. That’s why Jesus often scolded the disciples for their lack of faith. If He didn’t expect them to exercise their faith but God to do it for them, then Jesus would not have rebuked them. And if that was the way faith worked and Jesus would have censured them, the disciples could have replied that the fault was not theirs but the Father’s since He had not moved them to believe.

God gives us faith but it is ours to use it or not. The measure of faith in Romans 12:3 that Paul says every believer has received, is an ability to trust God and not the very act of faith. It must not be confused with the “gift of faith” listed in 1 Corinthians 12. I must will to act on this ability to trust. It is exactly here that the battle to believe is waged. The flesh will be opposed until we learn how to bring the flesh into submission to the Spirit. How this battle is to be engaged and won will be the subject of our next entry. Until then may the Lord help you to trust in you less and Him more.

Friday, August 7, 2009

I Have a Faith Problem

By S. Michael Durham

(This is the first of a series of blogs on the subject of faith.)

I feel like I am taking a refresher course. Or maybe it’s more like I have multiple times failed the class and must take it again. The lesson is faith, how to trust God in everything. You would think to believe God should be a relatively easy lesson to learn since God has a track record of never playing someone false. He does not lie, He cannot lie. He is completely trustworthy. So what’s the problem? Obviously it isn’t God; it’s me. I’m the problem. There is something wrong with me that I can’t trust the most honest Person in the universe.

Maybe my problem is that I’m an untrustworthy person and I’m judging the Lord based upon my performance. We do that; we often judge other people’s motives by our own motives. I know I can’t always be trusted. I sometimes have ulterior motives and so why couldn’t God have a few? May be He is up to something other than my good because often “my good” hurts. I can’t handle too much of that kind of good. Yet, that seems to be the kind of good the Lord is often dishing out.

Maybe my faith problem is an intellectual problem, meaning I just can’t figure God out. I mean He sometimes asks me to believe Him for things that don’t make sense to me. He requires strange things that appear unreasonable. He tells a 100 year old man he’s going to have a son with his 90 year old wife whose womb never worked when she was younger. And then once the miracle boy arrives a few years later God tells the same dad to take his son and offer him as a human sacrifice on an altar. I’m sorry but it doesn’t compute.

Perhaps my faith issues have stemmed from a problem I have with control. I do like to have my hands on the helm of my ship, if you know what I mean. I’m not so kosher with the idea of someone else doing the driving, especially if I don’t know where we are going. I want to sit down and plan my course. I want to Google map my trip and think of possible contingencies before I head off in any direction. But it seems the Lord has this thing about taking me to places I’ve never been without consulting me or at least letting me see the map.

Or could my faith problem be an odd mixture of all the above? And if so, wouldn’t that be indicative that my real problem is a nature problem? I mean it could very well be that my human nature is fallen and doesn’t like to trust anyone more than me. But don’t take my word for it. Remember, I’ve already confessed I’m not so honest. How about you? Why do you struggle with trusting God?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

This Present Evil Age: Worldliness Part Four

by Michael Durham (listen to all four parts of this blog entry by downloading it in MP3 format)

It motivates you to please yourself.

This is the one area, I fear, that has the strongest grip on us. To some degree, all of us are trying to be free from the power of the world. This desire for pleasure is not evil – it is not wrong to want to be happy or experience pleasure. Pleasure is a gift from heaven. But the present evil age perverts the true pleasure with lesser pleasures: Internet, computer, TV, cars, wealth, good friends and families, good homes, good health, hobbies – on and on the list goes; the lesser pleasures are offered to you.

If you are not careful, when you taste the pleasures the world offers, like a drug addict you will want more. You wish to regain the euphoria you felt when you first experienced the pleasures of the world. But the problem is, the pleasures of the world are not long lasting! You must drag an intravenous bottle with you! You must have a constant stream, because the heart becomes addicted to the entertainment of the surrounding culture. So we do what everyone else does: we go into debt for things that will cause us to experience pleasure. That’s the strategy of worldly pleasure: to get you seeking it rather than Jesus Christ.

Our Deliverance
Our text offers our help, “Who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age.” Would you note with me the measure to which Jesus went to offer you help? Not only did He die for your sins, but He also gave Himself up for our sins that He might deliver us from this present evil age.

Some of the things I talked about this morning may have seemed harmless or natural to you. But they must be of great offense to God and so dangerous to your soul that Jesus Christ would go to the cross to die so that He might deliver you from them. His life has been given that He might set you free from these things. Your self-providing spirit cannot handle these things. You sit there thinking, “I believe, now that you have warned me, I can handle these things.” And once again, the present evil age has deceived you. That is simply more self-provision and self-protection.

The only way you can be delivered is to call upon Jesus Christ for His saving mercy to rescue you from the spirit of this present evil age that has your body and soul. Only He can save you! I am talking to the saved as well as the unsaved. He is the only one who has overcome the world. Why would I listen to the spirit of this world in order to find out how to overcome it? That is like listening to the thief tell you how he will not steal you blind!

I want to go to the One who has overcome the world. He was in this world, confronted with things far more difficult than you have been confronted with. Pain? Think about the pain Jesus had to endure as He walked in this world of nothing but woe and problems. How did He withstand? It is an amazing thing. Look at how the world treated Him—with every argument lined up against Him and every weapon they could form aimed at Him. And yet He says, “I have overcome the world.” Finally, the world gets its final wish with Him: they take Him to a place called Golgotha, and there they stretch Him out on splintery, rough-hewn timbers, and there they nail Him and kill Him. And even as the world kills Him, the world does not overcome Him or defeat Him. He alone survives in victory. He defeats it!

If you are a believer today, “greater is He that is in you that He that is in the world!” The very One who has said, “I have overcome,” said to you, “Be of good cheer!” Be hopeful, Christian! You don’t have to continually be deceived by the spirit of this present evil age! There is victory in Christ Jesus!

Dear friend who has yet to know Christ (I would like to believe that you will be saved; please forgive me if I presume upon you that you will one day be a Christian, but I have great hope in God), if the Spirit of God has spoken to you so forcefully you could not help but know it was God, you must say, “I am bound by the spirit of this present evil age. I am preoccupied with myself. I care only for me – even my own family members, I love them, but I love them only in proportion to what they do for me! I promote me or I hide from the world so I can protect me! You have described me – what is my hope?”

Your hope is my hope. Your deliverance is my Deliverer. So I extend to you now the hope of Christ Jesus. Believe in Him, trust in Him, and be saved from this present evil age. Amen.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

This Present Evil Age: Worldliness Part Three

by Michael Durham (listen to all four parts of this blog entry by downloading it in MP3 format)

It motivates you to protect yourself.
Its motto is, “You must guard your heart, your reputation, your possessions, and your life. You can’t trust that to anyone; it is up to you.” I cannot expose this enough! It is so pervasive because it is so natural to us!

Much of what we call common sense is nothing more than worldly wisdom, the spirit of this present evil age. Therefore, you can be motivated by this spirit and not even know it. Here is the power of the mask: as we learn to take off our masks, you will find something resisting. It is the voice of worldliness saying, “You cannot let people know the real you! You must protect yourself against pain, hurt and rejection!” But, brothers and sisters, that is not the Spirit of Christ. The Lord bids you to trust Him with your life. He will bring pain into your life, and when He brings pain by the rejection of someone you hold dear, trust Him that it is for your good! Why? “What good can there be in that kind of pain, in someone hurting me like that?” you ask.

I can understand the anger of the question, and have only one answer. By submitting to your pain, you understand that your life is not to be something clung to as precious. It is rejection, pain, hurt and difficulty that keeps teaching you your life is not precious.

I don’t know what Tolkein intended to represent when he wrote of the ring of power; I’m sure it meant many things. But to me this morning it means one thing: your life. What will you do? What lengths will you go to, to hold your life as precious to you? That is the spirit of this present evil age. It is worldliness, and it is choking Christ in you. It is so unlike Jesus, who made Himself of no reputation and took upon Himself the form of a slave. God is not against you by introducing you to pain; He is actually trying to protect you against the person you are trying to protect: you!

This same spirit that keeps men from coming to Christ keeps Christians fearful. It can work just the opposite of self-promotion, causing you to hide in order to protect yourself. You don’t let anyone get close to you, and the few people you do allow near you, you manipulate by giving or withholding your love and affection.
Some are kept from Christ, this morning, because the spirit of this present evil age has manipulated you to believe there is some other way besides Calvary. There’s no better place to see this than in John Bunyan’s dream called, Pilgrim’s Progress, which I love. The pilgrim is loaded down with the burden of his sin. Evangelist has sent him to a place called the Wicket-gate, a narrow little gate that leads on a narrow pathway up a hill to a cross. Do you see the imagery? Burdened with sin, the only way to be free is Calvary. But Worldly Wiseman crosses Christian’s path and diverts him from Wicket-gate.

“I would advise thee, then, that thou with all speed get thyself rid of thy burden; for thou wilt never be settled in thy mind till then: nor canst thou enjoy the benefits of the blessings which God hath bestowed upon thee till then,” says Worldly Wiseman to the pilgrim, Christian. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Christian: “That is that which I seek for, even to be rid of this heavy burden: but get it off myself I cannot, nor is there any man in our country that can take it off my shoulders; therefore am I going this way, as I told you, that I may be rid of my burden.” Does that sound familiar? Is there a load on you, like a concrete block on your chest, which no one has been able to lift?

Wiseman: “Who bid thee go this way to be rid of thy burden?”

Christian: “A man that appeared to me to be a very great and honorable person: his name, as I remember, is Evangelist.”

Wiseman: “I beshrew (condemn) him for his counsel! there is not a more dangerous and troublesome way in the world than is that into which he hath directed thee; and that thou shalt find, if thou wilt be ruled by his counsel. Thou hast met with something, as I perceive, already; for I see the dirt of the Slough of Despond is upon thee: but that slough is the beginning of the sorrows that do attend those that go on in that way. Hear me; I am older than thou: thou art like to meet with, in the way which thou goest, wearisomeness, painfulness, hunger, perils, nakedness, sword, lions, dragons, darkness, and, in a word, death, and what not. These things are certainly true, having been confirmed by many testimonies. And should a man so carelessly cast away himself, by giving heed to a stranger?”

Interesting question, since Worldly Wiseman is himself a stranger to Christian.
What I want you to notice is that Worldly Wiseman didn’t argue that Christian needed to get rid of his sin; he agreed Christian needed to get rid of his sin! But his argument was “You cannot trust the Gospel or the Gospel preacher who gave it to you!”

How many times have you heard that same message? How many times have I proclaimed the Gospel to you? But you heard another voice, an attitude of the heart that said, “Surely, if I can do the same things you all do, then why do I need to go to Calvary and die? Surely if I can learn your doctrine, I shall be rewarded as you! If I can perform and talk as you all do, surely God will accept me in the end!” My friend, that is the spirit of this present evil age! It will damn your soul as it almost did Christian, for when he diverted from the path and took Worldly Wiseman’s advice, his burden got heavier. It increased to the point he was almost to death, until the Gospel preacher came and put him back on the right path.

There is only one thing you need today, and it is not to protect yourself from pain, but to embrace it and let God deliver you. That doesn’t make sense to you, I know. Ask God to illuminate your mind and give you an understanding beyond just intellect. Ask Him to show you what I’m talking about, and He will. Say, “Tell, me, what does this mean, that I must embrace the pain in order that I may live?” He will show you Jesus, dying on a cross for your sins. He will show you a Savior bleeding on your behalf, One who suffered not because He had sinned, but because He was sinless, and thereby could be the only sacrifice for your sin. He will show you three days later, in the empty tomb where they had lay His body—the grave could not hold Him. “Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o’er His foes!” And you begin to see that when a man accepts God’s way, God will exalt him in due season.

The apostle Peter says in his epistle, “humble yourself, and in due season God will exalt you.” The way up is down! No, it doesn’t make sense, but who asked you to approve of God’s wisdom? Who gave you the intellect that you can discern God’s ways as being right or wrong? Do you have the intellect of God? No, nor do I. But I can testify that I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see. I was dead; now I’m alive. Can you testify to that? If you can’t, don’t listen to the spirit of this present evil age. It will lie to you all the way to your grave. For that is where it means to send you!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Unequaled Greatness

This Present Evil Age: Worldliness Part Two

by Michael Durham (listen to all four parts of this blog entry by downloading it in MP3 format)

How Does Worldliness Work?

The spirit of this present evil age permeates everything our human hands touch. It shouldn’t have sway over us, but it can. It works in accordance with our natural human natures, our personalities and dispositions. That is why it’s so believable! Its deception is so plausible, and we believe the lie!

I hope I’m not shocking you; I’m attempting to reveal and expose this. I believe every one of us have mindsets or belief systems that are, frankly, worldly. I might not even see them as worldly; I might even defend them thinking they are biblical! How can that be? Because worldliness always appeals to your fallen human nature in these four different ways:

1. It presents itself as being concerned for your welfare and provision.

It sounds so sensible – you must provide for you and your family, so good Christians work, burning both ends of the candle having no time for their families or the work of the church. Prayer meetings are missed because you must provide and the Sunday evening service must be missed because you must get up early and go to work. Mothers with young children forsake them and enslave themselves to a company and a boss in order to provide for themselves. And worldly wisdom will even quote the Bible defending it all, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). Very good, spirit of the age! It is true that I am to provide for my family, but I do not trust that I am my family’s provider. It is also written, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out the mouth of God.” It is also written, “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26).

It is the same spirit that whispers you must control your life, fix all of your problems, fix all the people in your little world, that says something to the effect of, “If it’s going to get done, it’s up to you.” That is the spirit of this present evil age.

It’s true that we are not to be lazy and not always looking to someone else to do our work for us. The Bible does say we are to bear our own burdens. But oh, the spirit of the present evil age, it will accentuate and emphasize the bearing of your own burdens. “You must rely on no one.” “Be your own person.” All of these things are of this present evil age.

1. It motivates you to promote yourself.

We assert ourselves so people will notice and appreciate us. We all do it to some degree. It manifests in many ways: the man who will not be involved in a project unless he leads the project; the woman who must have all the right clothes in all the latest fashions; the teenager who must be popular and in all the right cliques. It even works in the church with Christians who get involved in the work of the church so others can pay attention to their endeavors. They pray not to God but to the people who hear them. They love and care for others not because they really care, but because they want to bolster their reputations among the saints.

Are you offended when no one notices your endeavors or labors? Even slightly offended? Then you should know that the master you serve is not Christ, but the spirit of this present evil age.
Are you preoccupied with what others think of you? It’s the spirit of this present evil age.
Are you ever envious of the promotion of others? That’s the spirit of this present evil age.
It’s all worldliness. It is from these kinds of things we need our deliverance right here in this church! Don’t ever boast in this place – boast in the God who is working in us! Don’t ever forget, we need more deliverance ourselves.

What could you be if you, like Jesus, were concerned to promote only one Person, His Father! Why are you so preoccupied with yourself? Shouldn’t you be obsessed with others knowing Jesus? But how can you, with worldliness in your heart?

Monday, August 3, 2009

How Does Your Church Measure Success?

This Present Evil Age: Worldliness Part One

by Michael Durham (listen to all four parts of this blog entry by downloading it in MP3 format)

Galatians 1:4
Who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father...

We all know worldliness is wrong, but if we know it’s wrong, why are we often so worldly? If you would allow us to examine your personal preferences by looking at your checkbook, your Internet surfing, your TV viewing, your MP3 player, your DVD collection, or your calendar, how would it compare to a nonbeliever’s preferences? Would there be a huge difference, a moderate difference, or little to no difference? It is a fact, brothers and sisters, that if it is anywhere from moderate to no difference, you have fallen into the snare of worldliness.

But there are other ways to fall into worldliness than the snares that I mentioned above. For years, churches have defined worldliness in basically three ways: immorality, entertainment and immodesty. Use of alcohol and tobacco are considered immoral. Entertainment like dancing, attending the theater, music or sporting events have been considered worldly. Growing up, I was taught by my grandmother that playing cards were evil and worldly, no matter the game. The way you were dressed could also be worldly: women not wearing dresses or skirts, or men not wearing long sleeves; yet even within this definition there is a great deal of variance – one church may teach it is alright for a hemline to come to the knee on a lady, while another teaches any hemline above the ankle is sinful and worldly.

My point is not that we get hung up on these things like outward behavior and appearance; on the contrary, if you judge worldliness strictly on behavior, you will overlook many other kinds of worldliness and fail to see the problem of your own heart. Worldliness is more than just behavior. It is possible to avoid all of these questionable things and still be worldly.

What is Worldliness?
How does worldliness affect you, and how can you be free from it? These questions are more serious than trying to recalibrate a list of dos and don’ts.

In our text, the Apostle Paul uses a different word than worldliness; he uses the phrase “present evil age.” In Titus 2:12 he does use worldly when he says, “…teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.” The Apostle John says to us in 1 John 2:15, “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” These three texts together tell us what worldliness is; there is a harmony of the three even though they give us a slightly different perspective.

In John’s text above, he says clearly, “Don’t love the world.” The question I would like to ask John is, “What do you mean by the word world? Do you mean this globe we call home?” It could almost sound that way when he adds, “or the things in the world.” What could capture our love but things that are in this planet we call home? So, is this a warning about becoming a tree-hugger or an environmental wacko? No, this is not necessarily his meaning. We are to respect God’s creation and we have been given stewardship of this planet, therefore we should not abuse but care for it.

But John is dealing with something much more dynamic than the planet we inhabit. You know that because in verse 16, he goes on: “For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world.” He doesn’t mention trees, forests, flowers, or any of those things. The focus here is not on the earth, but on a spiritual dimension that inhabits this earth. He calls it “lust” or “desire.”

Your desires are a part of the spiritual dimension that exists. Desires come from the heart or soul and therefore are not physical but spiritual. There are bodily appetites or physical desires, but even these are controlled by the heart or they control the heart. Either way the spiritual dimension cannot be ignored.

Also, the word world in the Greek New Testament is the word kosmos. The word means, the arrangement and order of things. We get our English word cosmology from it, which deals with the study of the universe and its order. We also have the English words cosmetics and cosmetology, which deal with the order and arrangement of a person’s looks. So John is dealing with a system of order that is diametrically opposed to the order of God. In other words, “Don’t love the world’s system of order and arrangement or the things that comprise that system!”
In Titus 2:12, which I cited earlier, Paul says we are to deny worldly lusts. The two words, “worldly” and “lust,” are here linked. Therefore, we can continue on this train of thought that worldliness is something more akin to the spiritual than to our behavior or dress. Evidently there are desires that are in conjunction with this world and its order that we are to deny.
Back to the words present evil age in our text. And even though the word world is not used, clearly Paul is referring to it. If you have the Authorized Version, that is the King James, the word world is used. But the word here is not the word kosmos but aion from which we get our word eons or ages. The Apostle is saying that Jesus has died to deliver us from the present work of evil in our times. What is the present work of evil in our times? And the answer is the same as 1 John 2:15; it is the present system or arrangement of evil that exists. To call it culture is not enough because this thing is larger than culture. Culture is a part of it, but not all of it. You can’t call it society for the word society simply means, a collection of people living as members of a community. There is nothing necessarily evil in that. So what is it? Again, we are back to the word spiritual or spirit.

This present world is manipulated by a spirit that the Apostle Paul calls the “spirit of the world.” He says in 1 Corinthians 2:12, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.” Here we see that this thing called the world is a supernatural and spiritual dynamic. Again the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:2, “you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience.”
It is interesting that the word course, “the course of this world,” is the same word in our text for the word age, aion. But it is also interesting that this age or course that the world is going in is also the same thing as “according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience.” That is why John says, “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19).

Worldliness has to do with a spiritual dimension, and it penetrates us at the level of spirit. Therefore, I think we can come to this definition that will help us to understand worldliness over this series of messages:

Worldliness: a spiritual principle that works contrary to God; an evil spirit; the power of Satan working in human order and arrangements. It is the pursuit of anything in this world, good or bad, by one’s own hand for one’s own satisfaction, rather than Christ.

Any institution, order, arrangement, such as philosophy, arts, government, religion – all can be infiltrated and manipulated by this spirit of this present age, a spirit that loves anything but God.
You see, worldliness is not just immorality. It can also be a morality that does good things. It can be very religious or very spiritual. Some do what they do to make God happy with them; that is worldliness. You could have entered into this service today having your own agenda or motives that didn’t include the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, and if you did, you are right now being worldly. There is a spirit that loves things other than Christ. That is worldliness. It is a spirit that is part of the present course this world is on, and it motivates everything in this world, standing in contrast to the Spirit of Christ which we are to submit to.

Worldliness is a love for your own self, looking to the world and the things that it offers to satisfy you. We can be gripped by it and not even know it.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

God's Design in Grace - Spurgeon

"Who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will."—Ephesians 1:11.

OUR belief in God's wisdom supposes and necessitates that He has a settled purpose and plan in the work of salvation. What would creation have been without His design? Is there a fish in the sea, or a fowl in the air, which was left to chance for its formation? Nay, in every bone, joint, and muscle, sinew, gland, and blood-vessel, you mark the presence of a God working everything according to the design of infinite wisdom. And shall God be present in creation, ruling over all, and not in grace? Shall the new creation have the fickle genius of free will to preside over it when divine counsel rules the old creation? Look at Providence! Who knoweth not that not a sparrow falleth to the ground without your Father? Even the hairs of your head are all numbered. God weighs the mountains of our grief in scales, and the hills of our tribulation in balances. And shall there be a God in providence and not in grace? Shall the shell be ordained by wisdom and the kernel be left to blind chance. No; He knows the end from the beginning. He sees in its appointed place, not merely the corner-stone which He has laid in fair colours, in the blood of His dear Son, but He beholds in their ordained position each of the chosen stones taken out of the quarry of nature, and polished by His grace; He sees the whole from corner to cornice, from base to roof, from foundation to pinnacle. He hath in His mind a clear knowledge of every stone which shall be laid in its prepared space, and how vast the edifice shall be, and when the top-stone shall be brought forth with shoutings of "Grace! Grace! unto it." At the last it shall be clearly seen that in every chosen vessel of mercy, Jehovah did as He willed with His own; and that in every part of the work of grace He accomplished His purpose, and glorified His own name.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

You'd think we'd have it down by now...

Christ came nearly 2000 years ago. He is the express image of God (Hebrews 1:3), and revealed to us fully who God is and how God is to relate to man. Within the first one-hundred years of Christ's death and resurrection, the knowledge of Him had spread far from Israel through his Apostles and the early church. Through Paul and the dispersion of Christians from Israel, Christianity was shared and told to people from Africa to Asia to Europe.

The works of the New Testament were completed within the first century and copied and passed from church to church. The early church continued the work of the Apostles. Writings emerged from the disciples of the Apostles and beyond. Centuries later, the innovations in papers and ink allowed information to be passed from one person to another, and with the printing press, the Bible, early church writings, and the writings of great church leaders could be distributed to the masses.

In our day, we are flooded with information. The average family may own several copies of the Bible, books explaining Biblical themes, access to commentaries, devotional materials, and study guides like no other time on this earth. Through our current technology, we can read the Word of God, instantly see the original languages and explanations of what the words mean, see what anyone and everyone has had to say about a passage from the early church until now, and then get interpretations on how it should be applied.

The question then comes: don't we, in the year 2009, have an advantage the early church does not? It has been nearly two thousand years since Christ came, so should we not be further along in our Christian walk than those in the first century? They did not have the vast resources and two millennia of learning that we enjoy. So why does it seem that we are further behind than they? Why does it seem like every Christian starts from scratch, and, while all our accumulated knowledge and study aids are of great help, in the end we have not progressed any further than those who did not have these things?

The answer is that many times we are pursing the wrong thing. For most of us, Christianity is about realizing that we are sinners and at odds with the standards of God, getting right with God, and now living the life that God has called us to live. We are now new people, and thus we must live like it. We have to strive to do good and please our God and Father. Sound familiar? But what is often lacking is the true thrust of Christianity and that is a relationship with God that is cultivated over the course of our lives. Upon conversion, we are introduced to Him by the Holy Spirit through the person of Christ. After conversion, we set out on a path to please Him by trying to live up to what He has done for us. The problem is we can't. I repeat, WE CAN'T. And it becomes and endless cycle of trying hard, and failing, trying hard, and failing, trying hard and failing.

But a relationship with God provides us with all we need as we spend time with Him and He begins to work the life of Christ through us. It's kind of funny how when two people spend a great deal of time with one another, they often pick up each others' characteristics. We need to spend time developing a relationship with our Heavenly Father so that we too pick up the characteristics of the divine. In Philippians 3, Paul said, "I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death..." Paul's aim was to know Christ. It wasn't to do better or try hard to live up to a new standard. His goal was to continue to grow in his active relationship with His Lord and Savior. And he prayed that for those he preached to as well.

So if it seems that every Christian starts from square one in the Christian life in spite of all that has been learned and compiled over the past two-thousand years, it's because developing a relationship with God takes a lifetime, and during our time on this earth pursuing Him with a dependency that builds as we continue our pilgrimage. A young man our young woman, in anticipation of getting married, may surround themselves by teachings, wise council, and hundreds of books about the marriage relationship. And while those things may be of great value and help, they must start at square one the day they get married and begin a lifelong relationship with their husband or wife that will grow and develop over the years, just like married couples have been doing for quite a long time. The same is true with our Christian life. We may have an advantage in an information rich culture, but the relationship building process remains the same. We must all start by pursuing Him, desiring Him, and treasuring Him above all. Then we continue on our pilgrimage, getting to know Him, the person who is the one true living God. That relationship is true Christianity.