60 More Seconds of Christian Comfort

Look at the birds of the air:  they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?  And why are you anxious about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow:  they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 

Matthew 6:26-30

Look around you, Christian.  God feeds birds and causes flowers to grow and makes lilies and tulips beautiful.  This is His world.  And if you have truly been born again in Christ, then the God who owns and runs this universe spent His all to adopt you.  

Look at how tender this God is with robins and finches and dandelions and grass.  And you are His child.  Trust Him!

The word Jesus uses at the beginning of verse 28 doesn’t mean just to watch.  He uses a word like that in verse 26, but in the sentence that begins verse 28 He uses a word that means to study or observe or learn from.  So, seriously:  Go outside and look.  Step into your backyard and watch the petals of a flower flicker in a breeze like a candle flame, and know that every step in that dance is by His hand.  Go look at a tree and see the odd shape and direction of its branches, gnarled like an old man’s fingers, and know that every moment from that tree’s first break through the soil to its falling back down back into it are all by the decree of the God who loves and adopted and values you, Christian.  

“Do you see that sun coming up over the horizon, over there, tracing the blue sky with its warm gold?  Do you see that bright yellow star our side of the earth is facing right now?  Study it.  Look at it.  Birds and plants and stars and sins; this is all in His hands, child.  Trust Him.”

This is a good God.  This is a King we can trust.  This is a beautiful, caring, creating, provident, kind, remaking, rescuing, adoring, wise God.  

Let us seek His Kingdom first.  

Let us trust Him.

Grace and peace.

Peace.

Let This War Kill Him


One of the most freeing parts about being a Christian is being on the right side in a war that’s already been won.  

And one of the villains who has been laid down in that war is all of the worst things inside of yourself.  

We’re preaching through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7) as a church right now, and one of the things that Jesus does for me as I read it and think about it and pray through it is to reveal to me how many wicked things there are inside of my heart.  In the corners, under the floorboards, stuck up in the attic, in all sorts of hidden spaces within my heart are some disgusting things.  And He knows about them. 

And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 

Matthew 6:16-18

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 

Matthew 7:3

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 

Matthew 5:22

Jesus knows how wicked I can be.  He knows.  My greedy motives and petty, little grudges and pretentious, false religiosity are all before Him.  

The wickedness in my flesh and soul do not surprise or perplex Jesus.  

And He says that as I am conformed more and more to Him, as I’m made more and more teleos (Matthew 5:48; “perfect” or “complete” or “mature,” e.g., Hebrews 5:14) as I am grown as a Christian by grace through faith, those sick and awful pieces of myself are getting laid low.  

There is hope for the Christian.  There is hope for me.  I am a territory being conquered by a good King.  My heart is a battlefield, and I myself am a soldier on the right side.  

This war will end someday, and all the veterans like me will stand in the light of our Sovereign, with bodies and souls that will be big enough and clean enough to enjoy Him to the fullest.  

15 Seconds On Sin Killing Things

  
Death entered the world when Satan made sin look promising.  And death enters a life, a marriage, a home, a mind when we believe him again.  

Don’t be enticed by pornography.  Don’t be enticed by the idea of divorce.  Don’t be seduced by or attracted to the prospects of gossip, deceit, or greed.  Sin promises life but always delivers death.  Those clothed in it face God’s eternal wrath, and those who know God but tolerate it face its murderous powers in their lives.  Envy kills friendships, lust kills marriages, greed kills companies, bitterness kills families, and unrepentant sin of all kinds kills souls.  

Sin brings death.  Always has, always will, until God casts it away from His presence forever and ever, that is.  But boy, does it look good while it’s hanging on the tree and the father of lies starts whispering.  

You’d almost never know he was peddling poison.  

30 Seconds for Father’s Day

  
My Heavenly Father, the One who sent His Son Jesus to save selfish people like me, is slow to anger and abounding in rock-steady love.  He always tells the truth.  He forgives the wrongs done against Him.  He gives profoundly beautiful gifts, chief among them His Holy Spirit.  He disciplines me in order to make me the kind of man I’d want to be if I had a heart as good as His.  

Gracious, honest, forgiving, generous, and ready to discipline.  That is my Abba Father.  

And so I have a template for what to be for my three little ones.  

Happy Father’s Day, guys.  

Father.  

The word has meaning because a Father made the world.  My prayer, as I sit outside my house just about ready to go in and give the kids lunch, is that I can, more and more, have the posture towards my children that He has towards His. 

So It Stays Dead

   

In The Mortification of Sin, Puritan theologian John Owen writes that living a holy life for Jesus is something that the Holy Spirit must help you do.  Only God can truly change a person.  If you want to kill your anger or your pornography use or your self-pity so that it stays dead, you need supernatural help.  We can kill a sin by just trying really, really hard, but not sin.  If all you do is throw out your computer and your phone, you may be able to stop from ever looking at online porn again.  But you haven’t changed.  And you, my friend, are the problem.  

And me, too.  

Some of us can probably stop swearing or drinking or cheating by pure willpower, but we can’t make ourselves love and worship the right thing.  Just making a rule for yourself that you won’t look at pornography anymore won’t change your soul’s perfect north.  Don’t get me wrong:  Do that, please.  Make the rule and then stick to it.  But willpower by itself can only change behavior, not a heart.  And that’s what God wants:  our hearts.  The obedience our Creator desires is not just a dutiful one; He wants obedience that springs from hearts and minds that truly love and worship Him.  Living free from sin means living for Him, and living for Him means having a spiritually changed heart.  

True holiness and truly spiritual change have to start with Him, because the only one who can make you love God is God.  So if you want your sin truly dead or dying, you first need God’s help to make you a different kind of person.  

Owen asks and then answers the question that we’d all probably ask after reading that:  How does that happen?  How does God change us and make us holier?  And in one section of the book, he gives three specific ways:

  1. By causing our hearts to abound in grace (in other words, by lovingly giving us His supernatural power and the fruits of His own Spirit). 
  2. By weakening and destroying the root of our sin.  
  3. By giving us union with Jesus Christ, His death, and His sufferings.  

In other words, if you have trusted in Jesus then God’s Spirit helps you to change from the inside out by giving you power, by weakening your sin at its root (the root being desire, either the desiring of a sinful thing or the desiring of a good thing more than you desire God), and by placing you in Jesus, the only One who can and did crush sin.  

Giving us grace, weakening our sin at its foundational level, and giving us Union with Jesus.  

We absolutely should work out our own salvations with fear and trembling, but we should do so knowing that it’s Him whose first working in us.  Everything good starts with God, including sanctification.  

Real holiness, goodness that comes from down deep in the soul, has to be initiated by God in a person.  If we want to truly change, we should pray for God’s healing hand to help us, not just plan on sweating it out.  

Self-discipline all by itself might be enough to quit cursing, but it isn’t enough to change your heart. 

Dead sin follows a living heart, and the only One who can create either is God.  

So it’s wonderful news that He is offering to right now.  

    The One Where the Smoke Clears

      
    I think like a fool sometimes.  

    I think, and then of course act, as though my fiercest enemy is someone or something out there.  I fret about a problem or a person just on the other side of the hill, something or someone I know is ready to make trouble for me tomorrow. I sweat and stress and stew about it or him or her.  

    And so I’m often preparing for the wrong battle.  

    Every Christian will have to wrestle the world and struggle against Satan, but the pivotal war of my life is being waged inside my own skin.  My biggest enemy, and the thing causing my most glaring vulnerability, is my own sin.  

    Have you ever felt really wronged by somebody?  You know how it eats away at you?  Or apprehension about something coming down the pike?  You know that palm-sweating, can’t-sleep sort of worry?  

    I can be so absorbed in that sort of thing, with what or who might assault my comfort, my peace, or my loved ones, that I neglect the thing most poisonous to any of those:  my sin. I bloody my knuckles on a punching bag preparing for the wrong enemy.  I’m so obsessed with financial problems or job worries or car troubles that I miss the fact that my rage or doubt or idolatry or deceit are right at the door, threatening to blow it off the hinges and kill everyone inside.  

    The most important battle you’re ever going to load your musket for is the one against your own flesh.  Your sin is a far more deadly foe than a layoff or a leak in the roof or a bitter relative you can’t please.  Your anger, gossiping, lust, and idolatry are far better armed, and far closer to the front lines.  This is Gettysburg.  This is Normandy.  I’m warning you and I’m warning me:  Don’t get too distracted by life’s little skirmishes with less toxic dilemmas.  The one that can cost us most dearly is right behind our own breastbone.  

    The devil and my flesh would love for me to spend six hours wondering how to pay a bill and no time praying for victory over my anger.  So this is a written redirect, as well as an attempted clarion to fellow Christians:  this is the battlefield where most eternal blood is spilled.  This is the war our Savior died to win, and rose to prove He can’t lose.  This is the one where the smoke clears and the faithful are left standing, swords of Spirit in hand, ready for a peace that never ends.  

    This is the one that counts more.  

    Be brave, and be focused.  

    I’ll let Scripture shut the door for me:

    For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me… For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’

    Some Help for Feeling Like a Failure

      
    Here’s how I’m going to try to help:  By clarifying.  Nothing can be done when you have a merely vague, depressing sense of not measuring up, just a shapeless fog of hopeless inadequacy or shame or self-loathing.  

    So, permit me to put “failure” into four categories:

    1. Actual Moral Failure.  This is the simplest type, in my opinion, to define.  This sort of failure is the failure to do what is good and/or to actively do that which is evil.  It is, simply put, sin against God and/or others.
    2. Imagined Moral Failure.  This would be something you feel shame or guilt over, but which has not actually been revealed by God as sin in His Word.
    3. Actual “Earthly” Failure.  Here I mean a failure that is not directly sinful; it is a mistake or a shortcoming, but not an ethical violation against man or God.  This would simply be having truly failed at a task/endeavor at which you were trying to succeed.
    4. Imagined “Earthly” Failure.  This is (a) thinking you blew it, failed, or were inadequate concenring some task when in reality you were not the root cause of the breakdown, or (b) fretting about about something that is not truly a failure at all (like distressing about your looks or your lack of charisma).  These are mistakenly labeled failures, and they may be (wrongly) thought to be failures due to pride, misplaced priorities, insecurity, vanity, fear of man, or some other problem in the heart of the person mischaracterizing them as failures.  

    Let me give an example of each:

    Actual Moral Failure:  Gossiping about a co-worker.  

    Imagined Moral Failure:  Having a normal, healthy sexual desire for your spouse, but believing it is strange or sinful..

    Actual “Earthly” Failure:  Having lost track of an assignment at work due to not prioritizing your time well.

    Imagined “Earthly” Failure:  Despairing about a relative not liking you when the reason is something truly outside of your control.  

    Now, I believe that the only one of these four types of failure we should feel healthy guilt (or conviction), over is the first category. 1 John 1:9 tells us to confess our sins to God, and that He can cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  We are not told to confess our inability to close a sale or our weight.  A little remorse or regret for a legitimate screwup at a vocation or for having forgotten something due to carelessness is one thing, but shame is for sin, and shame and sin are what Jesus resolves for all who trust in Him at the Cross.  

    That is the consistent testimony of Scripture: We are, in our own selves, wicked and morally rebellious, morally damaged, and spiritually impotent creatures. And that, our actual moral failure, is what Jesus eternally rectifies in His perfect life, sacrificial death, and powerful resurrection. He has overcome the evil of everyone who believes in Him so that they can have peace with God.  

    But while that first category is what we should be convicted about and seek forgiveness for (and is the type of failure that should generally attract most of our attention), what I find in myself is that I’m often drowning in shame or anxiety over things that fall into the latter three categories. To my own detriment, I might waste time and spiritual attention being:

    • Ashamed of things I’d heard or imagined were sinful (or less-than-holy), but which God never calls wicked (to which Paul would tell me, “for everything created by God is good, and and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the Word of God and prayer”). 
    • Despairing over not being as qualified or as talented as someone else I know. 
    • Allowing myself to become depressed or angry that I couldn’t provide something for my family which I’m not even called to provide (such as a perfect, magazine-spread house).
    • Hating myself for a dream not coming true that God never intended to come true.  

    So instead of repenting over (turning from) real sins, I’m often dwelling on things that aren’t sins at all.  

    Instead of resting in the forgiveness of my sins and letting the joyful, hopeful energy from that help me kill the remaining sin in my life, I can spend hours in anxiety over career missteps or things I don’t like about my personality or being angry that I’m not as captivating as another pastor. 

    All right, a few words before exiting the stage:

    Obviously these categories can overlap.  And I don’t mean to give an exhaustive description or explanation of failure and shame, here.  But this has helped me a bit as I’ve thought about failure from the inside of shame, guilt, and fear, recently.  

    I’ll come back to these categories of failure in the coming weeks and expand on them, but I’ll leave this now by saying:  I hope God’s grace in Christ nourishes all His redeemed failures.