Malankara World Journal
Chapter 2: The Seven Laws of the Spiritual Life by Dr. Ray Pritchard
2. Chapter - 2: The Seven Laws of the Spiritual Life
by Dr. Ray Pritchard
by Dr. Ray PritchardIntroduction to The Series For the last few years I have been thinking about putting together a short list of the basic principles of the Christian life. What are those truths that every believer needs to know in order to have a healthy relationship with God? This project turned into a lengthy personal journey that took me to all parts of the Bible. I wanted a short list that would take a person from their first thoughts about God all the way to heaven. That's an ambitious goal and I would be the first to admit that any such list is bound to be imperfect and subject to correction and addition. As we begin, I would like to thank John Tahl, one of the elders of our church, for giving me some crucial help in putting the list together. For the moment, I am not going to give you all seven "laws." But I would like to make this general observation: The Seven Laws begin and end with God. That is as it should be since the Bible is a book about God, and as the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism reminds us, "The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever." We were made for God. We were made to know God, to serve God, to love God, and to live forever with God. As Augustine said, "Our hearts are restless until they find rest in you." We were made to glorify God, and in the act of bringing glory to him, we will enjoy him forever. And in enjoying God, we will enjoy (in the truest and deepest sense) the life he has given us. So where does the spiritual life begin? It all starts with this fundamental truth: He's God and we're not. Nothing is more basic than that. All spiritual reality begins with this truth, and if we skip this or ignore it or downplay it, nothing else I say in this sermon series will make much sense. A Biblical Safari In order to help us grasp this truth, I want to begin by surveying a number of biblical passages. The First Law is so fundamental that I might easily find 300 verses that teach it. Here are just a few. "But he stands alone, and who can oppose him? He does whatever he pleases"
(Job 23:13). Job understands that he cannot demand anything from the Lord. In and of himself, he has no power to change his awful condition and he can't even demand a hearing to plead his case to the Lord. God does what he wants and Job is powerless to oppose him. "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted"
(Job 42:2). This verse introduces the final chapter of Job's saga. It comes after God has given him a theology lesson and a final exam on creation, which Job flunked miserably. He couldn't answer a single question. Now thoroughly humbled, he confesses that God is all-powerful, he does what he wants, and no one stands against him. This confession leads him to deep repentance for his foolish questioning of God's plan. "Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him"
(Psalm 115:3). That's pretty clear, isn't it? The Lord of the universe does whatever he pleases. Whenever I read this verse, I want to stop and say, "Any questions?" "The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths"
(Psalm 135:6). The psalmist goes on to list various proofs that God does what he wants. He makes clouds rise in the sky (v. 7), he struck down the firstborn of Egypt (v. 8), he sent signs and wonders (v. 9), and he struck down many nations (v. 10). The conclusion of the psalm is a five-fold call for everyone to praise the Lord (vv. 19-21). "Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him"
(Daniel 2:20-22). When King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had a dream he could not remember and did not understand, he eventually asked Daniel to help him. Daniel agreed, prayed to God, and the dream and its interpretation were revealed to him. These words are part of Daniel's response of praise to God. I am struck by the phrase, "he knows what lies in darkness." He sets up kings and then dethrones them. He orders the times and seasons. He even sees the hidden things because the darkness is not dark to him. Let's run the story forward to Daniel 4. When King Nebuchadnezzar takes credit for the greatness of his kingdom, God struck him with a kind of insanity that made him think he was a beast of the field. For seven years he lived among the wild animals. When he finally turned his heart to the Lord, his sanity was restored. This is part of his public praise to God: "Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?' … Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble" (Daniel 4:34-35, 37). Here is a pagan king who discovered the hard way the truth of God's sovereignty. To his credit, he does not hesitate to speak the truth once his sanity was restored. God does whatever he wants. Even the greatest human rulers are as nothing to him. No one can question what God does. Everything God does is right. And the Lord knows how to humble the proud. It would be hard to find a clearer statement of the First Law in the entire Bible. "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?' ‘Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?' For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen"
(Romans 11:33-36). This wonderful doxology comes at the end of Paul's presentation of the gospel as God's answer to man's sin, and his presentation of God's future plans for Israel. No one could have foreseen how God would respond to human rebellion. No one gives God advice. No one can trace his path across the starry skies. God is never in debt to anyone for any reason. Everything is from him, everything is through him, and everything is to him. And he alone gets the glory. "In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will"
(Ephesians 1:11). This verse is one part of a long sentence that begins with the words "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" in verse 3. In verse 11 Paul is praising God for choosing us in Christ according to his predetermined plan. You might translate the last part of the verse this way: "He arranged everything so that all things are working out just as he planned a long time ago." One of the sections of the Westminster Confession of Faith says that God ordains "whatsoever cometh to pass." As Tony Evans puts it, everything in the universe is either caused by God or allowed by God. Nothing ever "just happens" and nothing is caused by someone or something outside of God's control. Some things he directly causes; other things he allows to happen. But all things in heaven and on the earth and even the things that happen in hell, even the very acts of Satan, are controlled by God. As Luther said, the devil is "God's lapdog." He can do nothing without God's permission. Which is why Paul can declare that everything is happening just as God planned from the very beginning. "Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: ‘Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!'"
(Revelation 19:6-7). When Christ returns to the earth, the whole world will clearly know what we know right now by faith: Our God reigns. He reigns over all things.
He reigns in every situation.
He reigns in the best and the worst that happens to us.
He reigns over his friends and even over his enemies.
He reigns in heaven and he also reigns in hell.
He reigns over those who doubt him and deny him.
He reigns over those who follow other gods and other religions. Our God reigns. The world does not yet see it, and sometimes we have trouble believing it because we don't always see it either. But the truth remains and will not be changed: Our God reigns. Time to Praise the Lord! As I stand back and consider all these marvelous verses, one fact jumps out at me and will not be ignored. Every time the Bible writers speak of God's sovereignty, it always leads them to praise.
He does what he pleases … Praise the Lord.If this truth does not fill our hearts with praise, then we either don't understand what the Bible says or we simply refuse to believe it. But the truth remains whether we believe it or not. He is in charge of all things. Even when it looks like he's not ruling, he's ruling. When chaos appears, he's in charge of the chaos. When things start falling apart, he's in charge of the falling apart of those things. Theologians call this doctrine the "Sovereignty of God." You find it on every page of the Bible. The word "sovereign" means king or ruler or boss. God's sovereignty means that he is calling the shots in the universe. He's in charge of all things. "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it" (Psalm 24:1). And that's what I mean by the statement: "He's God and we're not." He is the Creator and we are his creatures. This is truly the most fundamental principle of the spiritual life. Until you understand this, and submit yourself to it, nothing in life will work right. Every mistake you've ever made has come from forgetting who's God and who's not. I believe the first sin in the universe happened because Lucifer (an angel created by God who later became Satan) forgot who was God and who was not. Isaiah 14:13-14 seems to use poetic language to describe the very first act of rebellion against God: "I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High." Note the five "I wills" of Lucifer. When any created being attempts to become "like the Most High," the only possible result can be severe judgment from God. When we decide to "play God" and run our little portion of the universe, we will not escape judgment either. I. God's Freedom At this point I'd like to say a word about God's freedom. Although we talk a great deal about freedom, it's usually our personal freedom in view. We rarely think about God's freedom, yet that is the major point of the passages just discussed. When you come to the bottom line, God's freedom is the only true freedom in the universe. Every other "freedom" is derivative from his freedom in one way or another. Here are seven short statements that flesh out what I mean by "God's Freedom": A. He is absolutely free to do whatever he wants to do. Because God is God, he can do whatever he wants to do whenever he wants to do it. If he wants to create a planet, or a galaxy, or even another universe, he just says the word and it happens. He is truly "free" in the absolute sense of the term. This is why he announced himself to Moses as "I AM WHO I AM" (Exodus 3:14). God is eternal, self-existent, and entirely self-sufficient. He exists entirely apart from the universe he created. B. He has the right to deal with us any way he chooses. By this I mean that God was under no obligation to create you or me or anyone else. And he is under no obligation to keep us alive even one more second. He is under no compulsion to save a single member of the human race. No one has a claim on God. He can do what he wants with any of us and no one can successfully second-guess him. C. He doesn't have to treat me the way he treats my next-door neighbor. Many people struggle with this concept because they think that because God did something for a friend or a neighbor or a loved one, then God must be bound to do the same thing for them. But it doesn't work that way. God can deliver your neighbor from cancer and you may die of cancer. Or vice versa. Envying your neighbor because he has something you don't have is a waste of time because God treats us as individuals, not as groups. The truth is, he might do for you exactly what he's done for someone else, or he might do more or he might do less or he might do something entirely different. He's God. He can deal with us the way he wants. D. He doesn't have to treat me today the way he treated me yesterday. This principle needs to be stated carefully. Since God's character never changes, we know that he is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is always gracious, always loving, always holy, and always just. His ways are always perfect. However, that doesn't mean that what happened to me yesterday is a pattern or guarantee for what will happen tomorrow. God's character and his love for me will never change. How that grace and faithfulness and love is expressed varies widely from moment to moment. One day I may need a remarkable answer to prayer. The next day I may be in the valley of suffering, waiting on the Lord to deliver me. He's always the same God but he does not display himself in my life the same way all the time. E. He can answer my prayers any way he chooses. Everyone who has prayed very much understands this truth. One night we fish and catch nothing. The next day our nets are filled to breaking. I may be in prison one night and an angel may come to set me free. Or God may send an earthquake to deliver me. Or I may die in prison as many Christians have over the years. A loved one with a dread disease may be spared by God for several years, only to die from that disease eventually. One day I may sense God's Spirit working powerfully in my life. Another day I may plod through the doldrums. So it goes for all of God's children. Our God is infinitely creative in the way he deals with us as he brings us to spiritual maturity. There are bright days and dark nights, and both are from the Lord. F. He will not tolerate any rivals to his throne. This is one of the clearest themes of the Bible. There is only one God and he demands our exclusive worship. After reminding the Jews that he had delivered them from Egypt, God made this the First Commandment: "You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3 ESV). That's clear, isn't it? No other gods, period. God is Number One. And there is no Number Two. G. He is not obligated to live up to my expectations or to explain himself to me. This may be the most important statement regarding God's freedom. He doesn't bind himself to do what we expect him to do. As a matter of fact, God continually surprised his people in the Bible. He cast Adam and Eve out of Eden and then made garments to cover their nakedness. He sent a flood and gave Noah a rainbow. He parted the Red Sea, arranged for daily delivery of manna and quail, and then had the sons of Korah swallowed up by the earth. Jesus rebuked Peter, allowed him to see the Transfiguration, predicted his betrayal, restored him, and then predicted the way he would die. Everything happened just as God promised, but nothing worked out the way people expected. He's the God of great surprises. And he doesn't have to explain himself to us. There are many questions we would all like to ask. I have a handful of my own. Almost always our questions revolve around suffering, sadness, the death of loved ones, and times of personal disappointment. I have found that the greater the sadness, the less likely we are to fully understand it. Small things we can figure out on our own. Great losses are hidden in the mind and heart of God. "The secret things belong to the Lord our God" (Deuteronomy 29:29). Perfect in His Perfections He is far bigger than we imagine, his presence fills the universe, he is more powerful than we know, wiser than all the wisdom of the wisest men and women, his love is beyond human understanding, his grace has no limits, his holiness is infinite, and his ways are past finding out. He is the one true God. He has no beginning and no end. He created all things and all things exist by his divine power. He has no peers. No one gives him advice. No one can fully understand him. He is perfect in all his perfections. There is nothing we have, not even our praise and worship, that adds in the least to who God is. He did not create us because of any lack in himself, as if we were created because God was lonely. To paraphrase A. W. Tozer, were every person on earth to become an atheist, it would not affect God in any way. The belief or disbelief of the human race cannot change the reality of who God is. To believe in him adds nothing to his perfection; to doubt him takes nothing away. Time is God's Brush He rules all things everywhere at all times. Nothing escapes his notice. Nothing is beyond his control. He is beyond time and space yet he controls them both. As Ravi Zacharias said at Founders Week last Thursday night, "Time is the brush with which God paints his story on the canvas of human history. Eternity is the perspective from which we view the painting." This is our God! As we ponder God, we are eventually led to a very humbling truth, one that is not mentioned often and is hardly believed when it is taught: God does not need us for anything. If any concept flies in the face of contemporary American Christianity, this is it. Down deep inside, most of us want to feel that we are important and necessary. And we like to think that God must have needed us, or else why would he have created us? In the absolute sense, God doesn't "need" anything or anyone. He didn't create us because he was lonely and he didn't save us because heaven was empty. He does not need our worship or our obedience or our missionary service or our prayers or anything else we do in order to be God. There is no lack of any kind with him. This is a very humbling, and for some people, a very frustrating truth. But ask yourself this question: Do you really think God can't get along without you? What if our entire congregation just disappeared, poof, just like that? What if we had never even existed? Do you think the universe depends on us for its survival? Hardly. When the Pharisees told Jesus to rebuke his cheering disciples as he entered Jerusalem for the final time, he replied, "If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out" (Luke 19:40). If he wants to, God can cause the trees to clap their hands and the mountains to sing out his praises. He can make the rocks sing his praises if he wants to. That God created us is an act of his sovereign will. That we are saved is a miracle of sovereign grace. That he accepts our worship and rewards our obedience is a miracle of sovereign love. Before going on, I should add one or two clarifying points. The point of the teaching just given is to destroy all human pride and to leave us lying in the dust. We must come to the place where we understand that there is nothing good in us. Apart from God's kindness, there is no reason for him to use us at all. If God "needs" us to do his work, it is only because he has ordained to work through us to accomplish his will. Because God is God, he could have set up the universe in some other fashion. We are blessed beyond measure that God should allow us the honor of praising him, serving him, and proclaiming his glory to the nations. I recognize there is much more we need to know about who God is than what I have said here. The Bible is filled with rich truth about our Heavenly Father. As we move through this series, we will talk a great deal about his mercy and grace. However, in this first installment, it is crucial that we get ourselves firmly grounded in the truth of God's absolute, unquestioned, totally free sovereignty. While listening to the radio many years ago, I heard a country preacher shouting into a microphone in east Tennessee. I don't remember anything about his message except one line that he kept repeating (at an ear-splitting decibel level): "God do what he want to do." That's terrible grammar and excellent theology. God does exactly as he pleases, all the time, everywhere, in every situation, in all parts of the universe. Always has, always will. In a profound sense, his ultimate will is always being done. He's God. That's the way it has to be. II. Our Response As I have pondered this truth of God's freedom, many applications come to mind. Properly understood, it ought to lead us to a calm confidence in God even in the midst of unspeakable tragedy. And it should make us bold in our witness and strong in our prayers. And if we believe this, we will find the strength to persevere over the long haul, knowing that even our foolish mistakes cannot cancel God's plans for us. All of that is true, but it does not seem to touch the core issue. There is a fundamental choice that each of us must make every single day. It goes something like this. We can reject the First Law and decide to fight against it. But that rebellion leads inevitably to anger, bitterness, despair and finally to a hardened heart. I know a few believers who have chosen this path. Some end up dropping out of church altogether because they are so angry they cannot come to worship anymore. In my experience, however, most of the people who choose this path stay in church and end up as very angry Christians. They are hard to talk to because they are secretly (or not so secretly) fighting against the Lord. Usually they have suffered an enormous personal loss and cannot find a way to reconcile what they lost with the God they have always worshiped. So they come to church Sunday after Sunday, sitting in the pews, singing the hymns, praying the prayers, going through the motions, but their hearts are not in it because down deep, they are angry at what God has done. They have the "wounded spirit" spoken of in Proverbs 18:14. It is very difficult to help them unless God's Spirit softens their heart. There is another choice we can make. If we accept the First Law as true, and if we submit ourselves to God, and if we acknowledge that he is free do what he wants to do, that submission leads on to joyful praise. The truth of God's freedom ought to lead us to praise and worship. If it doesn't, then we haven't fully understood the biblical teaching. It is not that we will praise God directly for the pain and sadness around us or for the sinful acts of others. But we will praise God that he is able to work in, with, and through everything that happens, both the good and the bad, to accomplish his will, to make us more like Christ, and to bring glory to himself. To say that is to say nothing more than what Romans 8:28 clearly teaches. So these are our choices with regard to the First Law of the Spiritual Life: Rejection and Anger Submission and Praise One Saturday night a few years ago I was working in my office at home. My office is located in the corner of our basement so that when I'm there, I won't be bothered and I won't bother anyone else. I rarely have visitors to my office at home, and no one ever drops by on Saturday night. But on this particular night, I heard a knock at the door. When I opened it, there stood an old friend with tears streaming down his face. As he walked and sat down, he kept repeating two words: "It's over." I knew what he meant. His marriage was coming to a very sad end. Although both he and his wife were Christians, a series of sinful choices had brought their marriage to a total collapse. That night she had told them that she was filing for divorce. My friend sat in my office, tears coursing down his cheeks, thoroughly broken as he realized that soon his marriage would be over and he would be divorced. He went on to say two things had sustained him in this agonizing personal crisis. The first one was a song that was playing on the local Christian station: "Life is Hard But God is Good." He had heard it so many times that he knew the words by heart. And he had discovered through his pain that both parts of the title were true. Life is hard. No one had to convince him of that. But as he contemplated the wreckage of a marriage he had hoped would last forever, he was discovering that even in his pain, God is good. Then he said that recently he had learned a verse of Scripture that had helped him greatly. It was Psalm 115:3, "Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him." On the surface, that might seem a strange verse for such a sad moment, yet to him it had been a lifeline. The truth of God's sovereignty and God's freedom meant that what was happening to him was part of the outworking of God's plan. Though human sin had caused it, God had allowed it to come and he did not intervene to stop it. Therefore, God would help him through it, and in the end, he would learn many painful and much-needed lessons. Rebellion Leads to Slavery All of that happened a number of years ago. Looking back, my friend would say today that he believes that verse even more than he did then. Nothing happens anywhere in the universe by accident. There is no such thing as luck or fate or chance. God is at work in all things at all times to accomplish his will in the universe. He does whatever pleases him. I understand why some people rebel against a high view of God's sovereignty. The paradox is this. People who rebel against God usually do so in the name of freedom. They want the freedom to go their own way, follow their own desires, do whatever they want, when they want, with anyone they choose to do it with. Ironically, this sort of "freedom" leads only to slavery. They end up enslaved to sin, chained to addictive behaviors, and locked in the prison house of unrelenting guilt and shame. There is no freedom in rebellion against God. There is only slavery. But when we submit ourselves to our Heavenly Father, when we finally say, "Lord, you are God and I am not," when we bow before him, through our tears if necessary, then (and only then) do we discover true freedom. This is what Jesus meant when he said, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32). Those whom the Son sets free are free indeed. Our basic problem is that we have allowed God to be everywhere but on his throne. No wonder we are unhappy and frustrated and unfulfilled. No wonder life doesn't work right. How much better to say with the psalmist, "Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker!" (Psalm 95:6). There is coming a day when "every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father" (see Philippians 2:9-11). If that day is coming, then why not get a head start and bow your knee and confess that God is God and Jesus Christ is your Lord? When I preached this sermon, I ended by asking the congregation to repeat this phrase: "The Lord is God and there is no other." Can you say those words? I challenge you to say that sentence out loud right now. Make it a public affirmation of your faith. And here's the good news. If you really mean it, then you can take a deep breath. Now go and rip that big G off your sweatshirt. You don't have to be God anymore. Let God be God and all will be well. Perhaps some of us need to say, "Oh God, you win. The battle is over. I'm going to stop fighting you." If you need to say that, do it right now. There is abundant joy for those who will admit the most fundamental truth in the universe: He's God and we're not. This is the First Law of the Spiritual Life. Source: The Seven Laws of the Spiritual Life series
© Keep Believing Ministries
by Dr. Ray PritchardIn this series we are discovering the basic principles of the Christian life that meet us where we are and take us all the way to heaven. The First Law teaches us a fundamental truth: He's God and We're Not. All spiritual reality must begin at this point. Until we have settled the issue of who's God and who's not, we're still in spiritual kindergarten. And as long as we fight against God's right to be God, our lives will be miserable and we will be angry and deeply frustrated. But when we finally come to the place where we can rip the Big G off our sweatshirt, then we're ready to move on. That brings us to the Second Law, which builds directly on the First Law.
Law 1: He's God and We're NotAs it is stated, this law tells us something about God and something about us. To say that God doesn't need us means that he is totally and truly sovereign over the universe. He's the boss, the ruler, and the Lord of all things. That means he alone has true freedom. Go to any Bible college or seminary and you will hear learned (and sometimes heated) debates about "free will." But when we use that term, we almost always refer to human free will. Years ago I used to expend a lot of energy in those debates. And I was always on the side of those arguing for human free will. As I look back, that seems odd to me now since the term "free will" appears nowhere in the Bible. Here's the truth of the matter. Only one person in the universe has free will. Find that person and you've found God. Our "free will" is drastically limited, his is not. He can do whatever he wants to do whenever he wants to do it, which is the proper definition of free will. It's true that we humans have important moral choices to make and it is also true that God will hold us 100% accountable for those choices. But any "free will" we have is strictly derivative. The "freedom" we have to obey (or to rebel) is freedom that God has given to us. The Second Law also tells us something about God's transcendence, which the Bible indicates to us when it tells us that God is high and lifted up. Transcendence means that God created the universe and is separate from it. The universe is not an extension of God or a necessary part of God. He existed in and of himself long before the universe was created. This law also points us to God's holiness. This is a hard attribute to define because it is basic to who God is. As one writer put it, holiness is what makes God God. It's the "goodness" of God that separates him from his creation. It involves purity and separation from sin but goes beyond that. We might say it this way: If God were not holy, he would not be God at all. Finally, this law impresses upon us the truth of God's immensity. All power and all wisdom and all majesty reside in him alone. He inhabits all things and his presence fills every part of the universe. There is nowhere you can go where he is not already there. No One … Not Even One Not only does this law tell us something about God, it also tells us something about who we are. To say that we desperately need God reveals our inherent weakness. We are sinners by birth, by nature and by choice. The true condition of the human race is revealed in these penetrating words of Romans 3:10-12, "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." Even a casual reader is struck with the universal emphasis of these words: "no one … not even one … no one … no one … all … no one … not even one." It's hard to miss the point. The whole human race has rebelled against God. As a result, when God looks down from heaven he can't find a single righteous person. Not even one. He can't even find anyone who truly seeks him. Sin has so warped the human heart that no one does anything truly good in his sight. We are all "worthless" in his sight. That last part is a pretty tough bottom line. How can you square the word "worthless" with the fact that "God so loved the world?" Why would anyone love a "worthless" person? The answer goes to the very heart of the Second Law. God loves us in spite of our sin and not because of some supposed worth he found in us. To put it in crass terms, he found nothing worth saving in us but he saved us anyway because that's the kind of God he is. That thought is both humbling and thrilling. None of us deserved God's grace. If we deserved it, it wouldn't be grace at all. Any "worth" we have to God is worth that he gives to us. We have value because he values us, not because of anything in us. The Second Law exposes our phony independence, our casual arrogance, our sinful pride, and our obsessive need to be in control. It tells us that we aren't in control and we weren't ever in control, not even when we thought we were. We can find this concept in numerous places in the Bible:
"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing"A God Greater Than My Dreams Before going on, let me pause to make a purely personal comment. It occurs to me that 30 years ago I would not have enjoyed a sermon like this very much. Too much emphasis on God and on our human weakness. In my younger days, I wanted to hear about my potential, my possibilities, and what God could do through me. As I look back, I think a lot of that comes from being young and feeling invincible. And that's not an entirely bad thing. In fact, I think it's good that our young men and women should dream great dreams, have high hopes, and set out to do something big with their lives. Why not? Sometimes young folks do things that the rest of us thought couldn't be done. But no one bothered to tell them they couldn't do it (or they ignored the advice) so they went out and did it anyway. Thank God for the valiant faith of those who are in high school or college or post-college and have not yet turned 30. But as I slowly approach my 50th birthday (just seven months from now), I have come to have a deeper appreciation for the hard realities of life. Soon enough today's excitement will wash up against the hard rocks of reality. Not every dream will come true. If you live long enough, you'll have to face some hard times and some deep disappointment. That, too, is from the Lord and is part of the inevitable process of growing to spiritual maturity. At this point in my life, I am more aware than ever of my own limitations. I can think of more things I can't do than I can do. I am not as impressed with my talents and abilities as I used to be. So it goes for all of us. And in place of those things, I find myself increasingly glad that we worship a God whose power is unlimited, who never grows weary, whose plans will not be defeated, and whose ways are far beyond my own. What a comfort to serve a God like that. I need that God and I need him more than I know. I desperately need God. Sometimes I feel my need, often I don't. But feelings don't matter in any case. I desperately need the Lord. And so do you. So do we all. From Theology to Praise and Worship Let me summarize the Second Law in several succinct statements:
1. God is free to do whatever he wants to do whenever he wants to do it.The Second Law is not simply a statement of theology. It's meant to be a crucial stepping stone in the spiritual life. First, you admit that God is God and you are not. Then you confess your utter and complete need for God's help. Until you can say that from your heart, you are not yet to first base on your spiritual journey. There are many places in the Bible that teach this truth. As I prepared this sermon, my mind was drawn to Psalm 100. Many years ago this psalm was sung to a tune called "the Old Hundredth." Today we know the tune better as the "Doxology." You can find a musical version of Psalm 100 in most hymnals, usually under the title "All Creatures That on Earth Do Dwell." The Hebrew text calls it, "A psalm for giving thanks." Even though there are many thanksgiving psalms, this is the only one specifically titled that way. It is sometimes called the "Jubilate," which means "O be joyful." In Old Testament times, the Jews used it as part of the Temple worship. These simple words have blessed the hearts of God's people for nearly 3,000 years. He is God and He is Good Psalm 100 has two stanzas and each is centered around God. We are to give thanks and praise the Lord because: He is God (verses 1-3), and
He is good (verses 4-5). Verse 3 says, "Know that the Lord is God." Older versions say, "Know that the Lord, he is God," which makes it even more pointed. This acknowledgement of God's sovereignty leads to three corporate responses: We shout for joy (verse 1),
We serve the Lord with gladness (verse 2a),
We sing with joy (verse 2b). Then there is a statement of ownership and assurance: "It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture" (verse 3b). Some versions say, "It is he who made us, and not we ourselves." I actually prefer that translation because it emphasizes that there are no self-made men or women. All that we have was given to us by God. (After I preached this sermon, someone asked me if that statement applies to a man like Hugh Hefner, the multimillionaire founder of the Playboy empire. The answer is yes; he was given certain gifts, talents and opportunities by God. The fact that he has badly misused them does not change the fact that they came from God in the first place. Wanted: More Public Praise! This leads us on to visible, public thanksgiving and praise: "Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name" (Psalm 100:4). The design of the tabernacle and the temple allowed for large courtyards where great crowds of people would gather. The psalmist here exhorts the people to come into that courtyard singing and openly praising God's name. It's almost as if God is saying, "You want to meet me? You can. Start singing a hymn or a chorus and I'll meet you on the second verse." Part of the emphasis is surely meant to be that Israel would publicly praise the Lord. As the pagan nations watched from a distance, the public, loud, joyful worship of the Israelites would send a message to the watching world: "These people know and love their God." I do not think it is out-of-place to suggest that we should be bolder and more public in our praise. All week long we've watched as Olympic athletes in Salt Lake City have won medals for their respective countries. Sometimes it's Germany, sometimes Norway, sometimes Australia or China or the United States. There is great rejoicing in the countries of those who win the medals. But if the people of the world celebrate a medal that will one day melt away, how much more should we openly celebrate our great God? We should praise the Lord on the street, in the parks, in the classrooms, on the job, in our offices, in our neighborhood, and with our friends and loved ones. And while we don't need to be pushy or offensive, we shouldn't be silent either. As I look at our congregation, I think we do reasonably well in this area. That is, we do pretty well for a Midwestern, middle-class, suburban congregation. We don't worship like they do in Haiti or Africa or many countries of the world where the congregation walks to church singing and chanting and laughing and lifting up the name of the Lord. We're too reserved for that. As much as I enjoy our worship services, I think there is room to improve in terms of joyfully praising the Lord. His Mercy Endures Forever The psalm ends with these reassuring words: "For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations" (Psalm 100:5). Because God's mercy endures forever, it has no beginning and no end. Before time began, he was the eternal Father of Mercies. And since God is eternal, his mercy extends as far into the future as the mind can conceive. And then infinitely farther. When eternity is finally done—if such a thing can be contemplated—God's mercy will still endure. It never runs out, is never exhausted, and when you feel you have used up your allotment of mercy, you discover that there is an infinite river flowing from God's throne. God's mercy is not like the weather. It does not change with the seasons. And it does not depend on you or on anything you may do. There is nothing you can do to make God love you more and there is nothing you can do to make him love you less. His mercy is so great and his love so free that it is truly infinite and everlasting. We see God's love and mercy most clearly at the cross. While walking by a bookstore one day, I saw a plaque that read, "I asked Jesus, ‘How much do you love me?' ‘This much,' he answered. And he stretched out his arms and died." Fix your eyes upon the bloody cross of Calvary. Gaze upon the dying form of the Son of God. There you will find grace unmeasured, mercy undeserved, and love beyond degree. No changes, however great, can produce any changes in him. All things are moving according to his divine plan. There are no mistakes with the Lord. You may think it otherwise, but it is not true. You may say, "All things are against me," but it is not so. All things are for you but you do not yet see it. God is ordering all for the best. God and My Great-Grandchildren Consider the final phrase: "through all generations." It literally means "from generation to generation." Exodus 20:6 tells us that God shows his love to "a thousand generations" of those who love him. Since a biblical generation is 40 years, this means God's love lasts at least 40,000 years. And since this promise was given to Moses at Mt. Sinai approximately 3,500 years ago, we may safely conclude that God's faithful love will continue at least another 36,500 years. That is to say, in 3,500 years we are not yet even 10% of the way through the length of God's love. But surely that is not literal, you say. Indeed, it is not. But it is not purely figurative either. It's a way of showing us that God's love and faithfulness go far beyond any human understanding. Suppose we line up a grandfather, a father, a son, a grandson, and a great-grandson on the platform. This text tells us that what God is to the grandfather, he will be to the father. What he is to the father, he will be to the son. What he is to the son, he will be to the grandson. What he is to the grandson, he will be to the great-grandson. And so it goes across the centuries. Generations come and go, one after the other. Only God remains forever. I am so glad that God's faithfulness transcends the generations. I am 49 years old heading for … what? 50? 55? 60? 75? Maybe 80 or even 90 years old if God blesses me with long life. But I won't live forever. As the years roll by, I find myself realizing how much of my life is wrapped up in my three boys. Yesterday they were in grade school, today they are almost grown up, and tomorrow they will be grandfathers. Will God still take care of them? What about their children? And their grandchildren? Will God still be there for them? The answer is yes because God's faithfulness doesn't depend on me but on the character of God that spans the generations. That means I don't have to stay alive to ensure that my boys will be okay. God will see to that. After I am gone from this earth, and even if all my prayers have not been answered, I can trust God to take care of my boys. What a comfort this is. I can do my best to help my boys while I'm here, and after I'm gone God's faithfulness will continue for them and for their grandchildren, and even for their great-grandchildren. The Real "Happy Hour" This is our hope at the edge of death. This is why we rejoice as we bury our dead. More than once I have told you that nothing of God dies when a man or woman of God dies. We need not fear death because a Christian is immortal until his work on earth is done. You cannot die and you will not die until God's appointed time. Until then, you are immortal. I do not know how far we have to go until we reach the end of our earthly road. But this I know—that road is paved with God's love and faithfulness. And we need not be afraid. This week I ran across a quote from Lloyd Ogilvie, Chaplain of the United States Senate. He said that Psalm 100 "makes a strong case for gladness as the sure sign that we are living by grace and not our efforts." What a striking thought that is. Happy Christians honor God. There are places where you go to have "Happy Hour." But why should Christians need alcohol to be happy or joyful or filled with praise? Spurgeon commented that "our happy God deserves to be worshiped by a happy people." He's right. If our hearts are not filled with joy as we contemplate the Lord, if we are so uptight that no one would ever associate the word "gladness" with us, perhaps we need to discover the grace of God all over again. A Prayer to Keep You Out of Trouble A few days ago I was doing a TV interview with Jerry Rose on the Total Living Network. Our subject that day was the Lord's Prayer. As we neared the end of our time, Jerry mentioned that many years ago, an older man who had built a large and successful ministry offered him an important piece of advice. He told Jerry there was a prayer he should pray every day because it would keep him out of trouble. Jerry went on to say that he had tried to pray that prayer every day since then, and he had found that it was true. What was the prayer? The older man advised Jerry to pray the last sentence of the Lord's Prayer every day: "Yours is the kingdom, yours is the power, yours is the glory, forever. Amen" (Matthew 6:13). That's a part of the Lord's Prayer that most of us don't even think about, but it is absolutely crucial. We pray "yours is the kingdom" because we know that the kingdoms of the earth will give way to the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. We pray "yours is the power" because we do not give up in the face of difficult trials but instead live in faith that the Lord has a purpose and will give us whatever we need to face the challenges of each day. We pray "yours is the glory" because we have chosen to live for God instead of for the praise of men. And we need to pray that way because we are all kingdom builders who love to operate in our own power and for our own glory. So it is good to say to the Lord, "Not my kingdom but yours, Lord. Not my power but yours, Lord. Not my glory but yours, Lord. And not just today or tomorrow but forever. Amen." If we pray like that, and if we live like that, we'll stay out of the kind of trouble that could destroy us. Three Simple Statements As we wrap up this message, let me boil the application down to three simple statements: 1) God owns everything; we own nothing. Our problem is that too often we don't feel our need until things aren't going well. But we need God just as much when we have a million dollars as when we are flat broke. And we need him just as much when our health is good as when we have cancer. We need the Lord. We need him desperately. We need him more than we know. 2) Our lives are broken because of sin. Sin has messed everything up. The whole world groans and travails because of sin. Nothing works right, things break, little children are shot by the side of the road, marriages disintegrate, promises are broken, laws violated, and terrorists fly airplanes into buildings. The world is broken and we are broken. Like Humpty Dumpty, nothing we do can put us back together again. 3) If God doesn't help us, we're sunk. That should be pretty obvious by now. I love how David puts it in Psalm 34:6, "This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles." Take that verse backwards and you come to a wonderful truth. If you want to be saved, the Lord must hear you. But to be heard, you must call on the Lord. But only a "poor man" calls on the Lord. Those who think themselves self-sufficient have no need for God so they never call on him. Only the "poor man" calls and only he is heard and only he is saved and delivered. Is not this what Jesus meant when he said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3)? Blessed are the poor in spirit, and those who mourn, and the meek who confess their weakness. They will enter the kingdom of heaven, they will be comforted, and they will one day inherit the earth.
Blessed are the needy …They will find the Lord! Everyone else will be turned away. But to the needy God says, "Come on in. I have a place reserved for you." Get Off Your High Horse If you ever travel to the Holy Land, you will visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The church is built over the reputed spot where Mary gave birth to Jesus. To get to the church, you first walk across a broad plaza and then come to a very small entrance. In fact, it's so small that you have to duck down low to get inside. The entrance is deliberately made low because several centuries ago the local rulers liked to ride their horses into the sanctuary. The priests felt that was inappropriate so they lowered the entrance to force the great men to dismount before entering the church. The same is true of salvation. If you want to go to heaven, you've got to get off your high horse. Until you do, you'll never be saved. Since you don't deserve heaven, the only proper response to God's offer of salvation is to say, "Thank you, Lord God, for what Jesus did for me." Gratitude, not arrogance, is the language of heaven. Jesus is All You Need If the First Law drives us to our knees; the Second Law keeps us there until we cry out for mercy. It is a great advance in the spiritual life to bow before the Lord and say, "Oh God, I need you. I can't do this myself. Please help me." No one who has cried out to the Lord like that has ever been turned away. And when we finally get off our high horse and cry out to God, then (and only then) are our prayers finally heard and answered. But you'll never know until you see for yourself. I can preach all day long, but it will have no effect until you admit how much you need the Lord. Some of us have to hit rock bottom before we will finally look up and cry out to God in desperation. Years ago I heard it said this way: You'll never know if Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have. When Jesus is all you have, then you will know that Jesus is all you need. If you are weary, if you are tired, if you are discouraged, if you need a fresh start, if you know your life is going nowhere, if you want your sins forgiven, if you want to know God, then drop what you are doing and run to the cross. Run to the cross! Don't delay, don't put it off, and don't make any excuses. Drop everything and run to the cross of Christ. Lay hold of the Son of God who loves you and who died for you. Lay all your sins on Jesus. Trust him and him alone as your Savior. That is all I have to say, but it is enough. May God give you faith to believe and wings to fly to the cross. Let's all lay hold of Jesus and hold on tight. He is a wonderful Savior to those who trust in him. God doesn't need us but we desperately need him. This is the Second Law of the Spiritual Life. Amen. © Keep Believing Ministries
by Dr. Ray PritchardIn this sermon series we're looking at the basic laws of the spiritual life that apply to all Christians everywhere. These are the principles that every Christian needs to know because they meet you right where you are and then take you all the way home to heaven. The First Law states a fundamental reality: He's God and We're Not. Get this and everything else in life will begin to fall into place. Skip this and nothing will work right. If you are unclear about who's God and who's not, the rest of the spiritual laws won't help you a bit. But once you rip that big G off your sweatshirt, you are in a position to grow spiritually. As long as you fight with God, your frustrations will follow you no matter how often you go to church. It is a great advance in the spiritual life to finally say, "The battle is over, Lord. I'm putting down my weapons. You win." The First Law leads us to healthy submission where we can say from the heart, "O God, not my will but yours be done." The Second Law takes us one step further: God Doesn't Need Us But We Desperately Need Him. The key is the word "desperately," which focuses on our weakness, our sinfulness, and our total separation from God because of our sin. God can get along fine without us, but we couldn't live another second without him. Once we realize our true condition, we end up on our knees, confessing our sin and crying out to God for mercy. And that leads us to the Third Law of the Spiritual Life: What God Demands, He Supplies. This is a wonderful word of hope for those who find themselves face down in the dust with nowhere else to turn. The Third Law brings us to the very heart of the gospel. If we understand this law, we know why the gospel is truly Good News. I. An Old Testament Illustration Let's begin with a very familiar story from Genesis 22. One day God came to Abraham and told him to take his son Isaac to the region of Moriah and sacrifice him there as a burnt offering to the Lord. The words of Genesis 22:2 emphasize the close bond that existed between father and son: "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love." There are many questions we would like to ask at this point, foremost among them being, Why would God ask a father to sacrifice his own son? Isn't the very request a violation of God's nature? If there was any discussion between Abraham and God, or if Abraham hesitated when he heard the command, it is not recorded in the text. All we know is that the next morning Abraham took his son and his servants and set out to obey the Lord's command. When they got to the region of Moriah (modern-day Jerusalem), he said to his servants, "Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you" (Genesis 22:5). One wonders what he was thinking and how much he understood. Hebrews 11:19 indicates that he thought that God would raise his son from the dead. Somehow Abraham looked beyond the immediate circumstance and found faith to believe that the God who would take his son from him could also give him back. As they walked along together, father and son, Isaac asked a question that must have torn at Abraham's heart. "Father, I see the wood and the fire, but where is the lamb for the sacrifice?" With an even greater flash of insight, Abraham replied, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son" (Genesis 22:8). Across the centuries Christians have seen in these words a prefiguring of the death of Christ on the cross. There is Abraham (representing God) placing the wood (representing the Cross) upon Isaac (representing Jesus Christ). It is the father offering his son freely and without complaint, just as God the Father offered Jesus for the sins of the whole world. Somehow Abraham understood something of the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. When he said, "God himself will provide the lamb," he was pointing not simply toward the altar on Mount Moriah, but to a greater sacrifice to be offered at the very same location almost 2,000 years later when God provided the Ultimate Lamb - Jesus Christ - for the sin of the world. When they reached the right spot, Abraham built an altar of stones and placed the wood on top of it. Then he bound Isaac and placed him on the wood. I don't know what words passed between father and son but I doubt that much was said. What does a father say to his son in a moment like that? What does a son who loves and trusts his father say as his hands and feet are bound? Then came the moment of truth. Abraham raised his hand and prepared to plunge the knife into the breast of his son. At that very moment, not one second sooner and not one second later, God spoke to Abraham: "Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son" (Genesis 22:12). Again, the timing is crucial. As Abraham looked up, he saw a ram caught by its horns in a nearby thicket. I am sure he ran to get that ram before it freed itself and got away. With the same knife that he would have used to take his son's life, he slit the ram's throat, drained the blood, set the wood on fire, and offered the ram on the altar to the Lord. Only one detail remains. Abraham called the place "The Lord will provide." The traditional English rendering of the Hebrew is Jehovah Jireh. The word "jireh" comes from a Hebrew word meaning "to see" or "to provide." Abraham meant, "Here is the place where God saw my need and provided the ram to meet my need." In a broader perspective, we can sum up the whole story in three short phrases:
Not all the blood of beasts"Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy"
(Micah 7:18). Who is a God like you? Where else will we find a God like this? He is a God who delights to show mercy to sinners like you and me. He loves to forgive sin. He longs for sinners to come to him. He sends his Son to die on the cross and then says to the whole world, "Whosoever will may come." There is no other religion in the whole world like Christianity. We are the only people in the world who preach free grace. Ours is the only free religion in the world. Every other religion says, "Do this and live." Our God says, "It has been done for you." And right there you find the whole gospel in just three little words: Do vs. Done. Every other religion is based on works. You go to heaven because of what you do: Give money. Go to church or to the synagogue or the mosque. Pray toward Mecca. Light a candle. Pray all night. Keep the feast days. Give alms to the poor. Offer a sacrifice. Keep the Ten Commandments. Be baptized. Follow the Golden Rule. Be a good neighbor. Don't get in trouble. Obey the law. Stay out of jail. Be courteous, kind and forgiving. Try harder. Do your best. Follow the program. Live a good life. In looking at that list, it's important to note that many of those things are indeed good and right and noble, but the problem with a religion based on "doing" is that you can never be sure you've done enough. And if somehow you finally do enough, how do you know that you won't blow it all tomorrow by one stupid sin? But Christianity is based on grace. Sometimes you hear the phrase "free grace" but that is a redundant statement. If it's not free, it's not grace. If you have to do something, anything at all, to earn it or merit it or deserve it, it's not grace. Grace is no longer grace if you have to do something to earn it. The whole difference comes down to this: Christianity is based on what Christ has done for us.
Every other religion is based on what we ourselves do.
Christianity vs. Radical Islam Let me make the point a bit sharper. In recent months world attention has been focused on the radical version of Islam that causes young men to hijack planes and blow themselves up in the service of Allah, in the hope of being rewarded with 72 virgins in the next life. According to syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, Attorney General John Ashcroft offered a simple explanation of the difference between radical Islam and Christianity. Although he later said his words had been misunderstood, whoever said it was right on the money:
Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,Poor pauper! Run to the cross, run quickly. Lay hold of the riches that are yours in Christ Jesus. Lay aside the rags of your own righteousness and receive the pure white robes of the righteousness of Christ. Hold out your hands and he will fill them with every spiritual blessings. All that God has promised is yours for the asking. Would you like the water of life? Come and drink all you like. It's yours and it's free, flowing from the throne of grace in heaven. Think of what is yours through Christ:
by Dr. Ray Pritchard In this sermon series we are looking at the Seven Laws of the Spiritual Life. These "laws" are not exactly doctrines, not exactly duties, not exactly promises and not exactly rules. Each one represents a major truth that Christians need to know. They are like pillars that hold up a large building. Here are the first three: The First Law: He's God and We're Not.
The Second Law: God Doesn't Need Us But We Desperately Need Him.
The Third Law: What God Demands, He Supplies. These three laws lay a theological foundation that prepares us for everything that follows. They lead us to three words of response: submitting, admitting, receiving.
"But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul"And this list is just the tip of the iceberg. The whole concept of "seeking God" is an enormous biblical concept that touches our motivation, our priorities, how we spend our time, the goals we set in life, and our spiritual growth (or the lack thereof). I. Clarifying the Issue I'd like to summarize what these verses are saying in several simple statements: A. Everyone seeks something. We are all by nature seeking people. Some people seek for money, others for fame, others for pleasure, others for self-validation, others for sexual fulfillment, and others for worldly power. We may seek a husband or a wife or we may seek children or a new job or a better education or a new home or new friends or a new church. The tragedy of our time is that so many people are wasting their lives chasing after three things that can never satisfy—money, sex and power. We want money, so we sacrifice our families to get it. We want sex so we sacrifice our morals to get it. We want power so we sacrifice our friends to get it. And when we finally get it, it doesn't satisfy. Duane Thomas, star running back for the Dallas Cowboys in the 1970s, had it right. He kept hearing writers refer to the Super Bowl as the Ultimate Game, so he asked the obvious question. "If this is Ultimate Game, why do they play it again next year?" That's the way things are in the world. You climb to the top of the heap only to discover that next year you've got to start all over again. Nothing in this life satisfies forever. B. There is an easy test to find out what you seek in life. Here's a simple test to help you discover what you truly seek in life. This test is absolutely foolproof. You tell me how you spend your time and your money and I'll tell you what you are seeking. You can say anything you like, you can come to church and look very religious, but your time and your money don't lie. Time is life and money is nothing but the time it takes to make the money. Show me your calendar and your checkbook and I'll know the truth about your priorities. This week I read about a man who looked at his life and concluded that he was just like the Professor on Gilligan's Island. "The Professor knew how to turn banana peels into diesel fuel and he could take algae and make chocolate fudge, but he never got around to fixing that hole in the boat so he could get off the island. Same as me. I spent my life learning to do amazing things that didn't matter, and I ignored the hole in my boat. And that's why I'm stuck where I am." C. Whatever righteous thing you seek in the spiritual realm, you can have it, if you want it badly enough. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled" (Matthew 5:6). This is one of the most stupendous promises in the Word of God. If you are hungry and thirsty for the righteousness that God provides, you will be filled. If you want righteousness, you can have it. Let me go out on a limb and make a bold statement. Whatever righteous thing you desire in the spiritual realm, you can have if you want it badly enough. I don't think we appreciate the importance of that truth. Most of us are about as close to God now as we want to be. We have about as much joy as we want, about as much peace as we want. Abraham Lincoln said that "most people are about as happy as they want to be." Totally true. We are the way we are because that's the way we want to be. Either we're happy that way or we've accepted that this is who we are and we're not going to change. For the most part, you are where you are right now because that's where you want to be. If you were hungry for something better from God, you could have it.
When you used the example of people who are "trying to" quit smoking … lose weight … work out … read God's Word, etc. and that there really are no excuses and no self-pity for me if I am willing to accept responsibility for my condition, I am reminded of a principle I learned early in my AA career. It was the answer to people (me and others) who said that they were "trying to quit drinking." We were told that: "Trying is Lying." It is lying both to myself and to anyone else who heard it. Further, if I wanted to lie to myself that was one thing, but I was told that I should really have the decency not to waste the time of the group with that.That little bit of truth had no varnish on it. It was really tough talk to hear and I didn't like it when it was directed at me. But I learned that the real answer was to "admit I was powerless to change myself," but that God "could and would if He were sought." He would relieve me of my compulsion to drink, drug or whatever and He did … Just like that … in the blink of an eye. The third excuse is simply saying, "I'll never change" or "I can't change" or "I don't want to change." If that's your bottom line, then I really don't have anything else to say to you. Until you want to change, you are doomed to stay exactly the way you are right now. III. Applying the Truth Let's wrap up this sermon with a simple question of application: Are you a God-seeking person? How would you answer that? What evidence in your life points in a positive direction? It is not enough to be religious or simply busy going to church events. As good as that may be, it's not the same thing as seeking God with all your heart. I ask each reader of this sermon to do something that might be a bit difficult. Go to someone who knows you well and ask this question: "Am I a God-seeking person? When you look at my life, do you see the qualities in me of a person who truly seeks God?" If you'd like a fascinating test, go to an unsaved friend or relative and ask them that question. You may be surprised at how readily they answer. Unsaved people may not understand the intricacies of our faith, but they know the difference between someone who seeks God and someone who doesn't. In some cases I think unbelievers can be less easily fooled than believers. Since they don't focus on the outward trappings as much as we might, they can spot a God-seeking heart, even if that's not what they would call it. People who don't know the Lord instinctively recognize a person who truly knows God and seeks him passionately. This is a question a Buddhist can answer, or a Hindu, or a Muslim, or a Jewish co-worker, or someone who isn't religious at all. Go ahead. Ask them, "Am I a God-seeking person?" They will tell you the truth as they see it. Or ask your husband or your wife (if you dare!). You certainly can't fool them. Or your children. (After preaching this sermon, a woman wrote and said that she had asked her children and they unanimously told her that she was indeed a God-seeker. That's a wonderful affirmation.) And I remind you again of the words of Isaiah 55:6, "Seek the Lord while he may be found." Life is so uncertain for all of us. No one knows what a day may bring forth. In January, during my week of teaching at Word of Life Bible Institute in New York, I ate lunch with Mike Calhoun, head of the Bible club ministry for Word of Life. We talked about our children, and Mike spoke with great joy about his daughter Misty and her husband Bryan who had recently settled in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They both had excellent jobs and were active in a local church there. You may have heard in the news last Thursday morning about a massive 125-car pileup on Interstate 75 near the Georgia-Tennessee border. Dozens of people were injured and five people were killed. I learned yesterday that Misty Calhoun Corley was among those killed. She was 24 years old. Speaking of her daughter's faith, her mother Betsi remarked that she lived so much for eternity that it's not surprising that she slipped away so soon. "While he may be found." I speak now to those who don't know Jesus. Do not say, "Tomorrow or the day after I will come to Christ." Come now. Believe now. Be saved today. You can't be certain about tomorrow. And to those who know the Lord, do not say, "Tomorrow or the day after I will serve the Lord." No! Serve the Lord today. Seek him today. Honor him today. You don't know if you will live to see tomorrow come. A Place to Begin What should we do with the truth we have learned? If you want a God-seeking heart, where should you begin? I have five suggestions: First, admit your need. You cannot change until you admit that you need to change. If you are happy the way you are, then I have nothing to do say to you. But if you are tired of turning banana peels into diesel fuel while there's a hole in your boat, then pay attention because your life could be radically changed. Second, cry out to God for help. Early on Sunday morning I met a man who said, "It happened 16 years ago today." What happened? "Sixteen years ago my life hit rock bottom. Alcohol had destroyed me. My marriage was gone, my career was ruined, and my life was a wreck. I had tried everything the world had to offer and nothing seemed to make a difference. When I finally had nowhere else to turn, I cried out to Jesus. Sixteen years ago today, he heard my cry and changed my life." That man was in our early worship service on Sunday. He is living proof of the life-changing power of Jesus Christ. He cried out and the Lord heard him and saved him from the pit of destruction. If you need the Lord, cry out to him today. Seek him with all your heart and you will find him. Third, surround yourself with God-seeking people. You know who they are. God-seekers aren't hard to spot. Find some friends who truly seek the Lord and glue yourself to them. Go where they go, do what they do. Follow their example. Eventually one of two things will happen. Either they will drive you nuts and you will leave them or they will rub off on you and you will become a God-seeker too. Fourth, wait on the Lord. This is a hard discipline for most of us to practice. Our message to God is, "Give me patience, and give it to me right now!" We want spiritual maturity and we want it by 11:30 a.m. We're not accustomed to waiting patiently on the Lord. But waiting has many positive benefits. The very act of waiting purifies our hearts and increases our longing to know the Lord intimately. As we wait and as we pray, we become like the deer panting for the water. Our souls grow hungry to know the Lord. Fifth, spend time in fasting. I believe there is a direct connection between biblical fasting and seeking the Lord. For some, that might mean going without a meal once a week in order to wait on God. For others, it might mean going a day without a meal. The ancient discipline of biblical fasting can be practiced many different ways. I have found it beneficial to take a day a week and fast from sunrise to sundown. And on occasion I have fasted for several days at a time. Fasting slows us down, reorients our perspective, weans us away from our love of the world, and puts us in a spiritual position where we can seek God with fewer distractions. (If you would like instruction in this area, I highly recommend the book A Hunger for God by John Piper from Crossway Books.) The great mystic Thomas a Kempis (who wrote The Imitation of Christ) said, "Seek God, not happiness." We have it all backwards. We seek happiness and hope to have God thrown in as a bonus. But we end up with neither. The paradox of the gospel is that when we truly seek God, we find him, and we get happiness (deep fulfillment, lasting joy, the abundant life) too. But it takes years for many of us to figure that out, and some of us never get it straight. To the very end, we pursue earthly happiness and our own agendas and we wonder why life leaves us frustrated and disillusioned. "Come Unto Me" I close with this final thought. Jesus' appeal is always personal. He never says, "Come and join the church" or "Come and be baptized" or "Come and give money." He simply says, "Come unto me." When Jesus says, "You will be filled," he means, "You will be filled with Jesus himself!"
by Dr. Ray PritchardLet’s begin by reviewing the first four laws of the spiritual life: Law 1: He’s God and We’re Not.
Law 2: God Doesn’t Need Us But We Desperately Need Him.
Law 3: What God Demands, He Supplies.
Law 4: What You Seek, You Find. Each law covers a major area of our relationship with God and leads to a personal response. Once we know that God is God and we are not, we submit ourselves to his authority. This principle leads us to worship and praise. When we realize how desperately we need God, our logical response is to confess our sins and cry out to God for his mercy. This law introduces us to such concepts as human sinfulness, humility, and the importance of prayer. The good news of the gospel comes in the Third Law. Here we reach out with the empty hands of faith to receive what God offers us. This principle teaches us about God’s love, compassion, mercy and grace, and leads us to gratitude, joy, and the deep confidence that God will give us whatever we need, whenever we need it. It provides us with hope in hard times and calls us to respond with praise and a life of glad obedience to God who has lavished us with the riches of his grace. The Fourth Law brings us into the realm of spiritual motivation. It washes away our flimsy excuses and challenges us to seek God’s kingdom above everything else. Here we encounter the power of the Holy Spirit and the importance of our daily choices. Without Faith You Cannot Please God The Fifth Law moves us into a new area: Active Faith Releases God’s Power. Faith is the most prominent word in religion. Sometimes the word refers to an entire religious system, such as Christianity or Islam or Judaism. In other contexts it refers to a body of doctrine, i.e., “Keep the faith.” But most of the time faith refers to our personal response to God. The “faith” of the Fifth Law is not a religion or a set of doctrines, but rather our daily, moment-by-moment trust in God. When our faith is put to work, when it is active and not passive, it releases God’s power in us and through us. We know from Hebrews 11:6 that without faith it is impossible to please God. No matter how religious you may be, if you do not have faith, you cannot please God. This may come as a surprise to those who have trusted in their religiosity to get them to heaven. But God looks on the heart, and what he looks for is faith. You can be baptized, go to church, give money, attend Sunday School, read your Bible, fast three times a week, sing in the choir, and even be a missionary, but if you do not have faith, you will not please God. Faith, genuine faith that comes from the heart, matters more to him than anything we say or do. Everything by Faith Faith is never meant to be a one-time experience. In our circles, it is tempting to fall into that trap because we put so much emphasis on being saved by faith. We talk about accepting Christ, receiving Christ, trusting Christ, and giving your heart to Christ. We challenge people to respond in faith to the gospel invitation. This is well and good, but sometimes we leave the impression that having been saved by faith, the rest of life is up to us. Not so! The same faith that saves us is the faith that carries us from day to day as we make the journey from earth to heaven. That’s why the Bible says, “The just shall live by faith,” and we are told that the gospel reveals a righteousness that is “by faith from first to last” (Romans 1:17). The whole Christian life is a life of faith. We are saved by faith, kept by faith, and we walk by faith, endure by faith, rejoice by faith, serve by faith, love by faith, sacrifice by faith, pray by faith, worship by faith, and we obey by faith. We get married by faith, and we have children by faith. (When I remarked in the last service that we get married by faith and have children by faith, there was a hearty “Amen!” from the audience). All that we do, we do by faith. The question before us in this sermon is both simple and profound: What is faith and how does it work? This is a crucial topic because I think we often don’t appreciate how precious and how precarious is the life of faith. I. Faith Defined In the entire Bible there is no clearer instruction on faith than Hebrews 11. Most of us know it as the “Hall of Fame of Faith.” Here we have a long list of Old Testament heroes, most of them introduced with the phrase “by faith.”
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”I personally prefer the traditional King James rendering because it is more picturesque:
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”The word “substance” is an unusual word that refers to the “essential nature” of things. It was sometimes used of the foundation of a house and outside the New Testament was used for the title deed to a piece of property. Faith is the “title deed” to things in the future, things hoped for, things promised by the Lord. It is confident assurance that what we hope for will some day come to pass. The word “evidence” refers to legal proof in a courtroom. Faith is proof to the soul that enables us to see things that cannot be seen by the naked eye. By faith we “see” what would otherwise be invisible. Holy Discontent Let me pause for a word of application. There is a sense in which living by faith requires a measure of holy discontent. You’ve got to want some things that you don’t have in order to have faith because faith always deals with things “hoped for.” If you’ve already got everything you need and want and desire, and if for you all the promises of God have already come true, and if you’ve reached a state of spiritual perfection, if all your prayers have been answered, and if all your loved ones are saved and serving the Lord, if there is no lack anywhere in any area that you can see, you don’t need faith because you’re living in heaven already and you just don’t realize it. If you are satisfied with the current state of affairs, then you can skip this sermon altogether because it doesn’t apply to you. On Sunday I was late entering the second worship service because of something that happened while I was walking through the basement corridor to enter the sanctuary. A man in tears stopped me and asked if I could talk to him. I didn’t have any time right then so I asked if I could pray with him. Through his tears he said that he had spoken with his son the night before and had learned some heartbreaking news. The details are both personal and tragic and I didn’t have any easy answers for him. We prayed and I left to enter the service. Later I reflected that as long as we live in a world where fathers get bad news from their sons, we will need faith. As long as marriages break up, and children suffer, and as long as the killing continues, and our leaders disappoint us, and as long as there is hatred and violence and prejudice and all manner of evil in the world, we will need faith because the “things hoped for” have not yet come to pass. What, then, is faith? Think about these three words: Believe, See, Do.
Faith believes what others do not believe.Faith sees what others do not see. Faith does what others do not do.True faith is never passive. True faith moves us to act, to do, to try, to build, to attempt, to expand, to say “no” to sin and “yes” to righteousness, to join, to speak out, to move forward, to dare to dream beyond our means, and to walk around Jericho again and again until at last “the walls come tumblin’ down.” This week at our Promise Keepers meeting, one of the men offered this definition: Faith is “outrageous trust in God.” I like that. “Outrageous trust” is what you have when you build an ark hundreds of miles from any body of water. “Outrageous trust” compels you to leave your home not knowing where you are going. And “outrageous trust” sends you into the Elah Valley to face Goliath. Have you ever been in a situation where you needed “outrageous trust” in God? If not, I think your Christian life has been too boring! II. Faith Illustrated Let’s pause for a moment and take a closer look at the case of Moses. The heart of his story is found in Hebrews 11:24-27.
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.Note the five words that tell his story: Refused … chose … regarded … perservered … saw. He said “no” to one thing because he chose to do something else. He made that choice because he regarded God’s promises as true. He found the strength to endure 40 years in Midian because he “saw him who is invisible.” Everything hinges on the first word: He “refused” to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. That may not seem like much to us but it was a life-changing decision for him. Recall that when Pharaoh’s daughter found him floating in a basket near the shore of the Nile River, she rescued him and raised him as her own son. That meant he received a complete Egyptian education in science, history and philosophy. It meant he was trained to be a leader of the nation. It meant he was raised in the lap of luxury, having the best of everything at his fingertips. Some scholars suggest that in those days the line of succession passed through the daughter of Pharaoh. If so, that means that Moses was in line to become the leader of the most powerful nation on earth. The upshot is this: Moses had everything he wanted and everything that most people would give anything to have. He had power. Clap his hands and in came a dozen men to do his bidding. Clap again and servants delivered trays of food. Whatever he wanted, he could have. Here is the irony of it all. When he got to the height of his power, he gave it all up. Refused it. Relinquished it. Let it all go. It was not an easy decision to make because he knew that no one, least of all Pharaoh’s daughter, the woman to whom he owed his life, would understand. It seemed foolish, as if he was throwing away his whole future. By any normal standard, it didn’t make sense. “If they suffer, I will suffer.” Note how the text puts it. “He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God.” It doesn’t call them “the Jews” or “the Hebrews,” even though those terms would be accurate. Moses didn’t make his decision on a racial or ethnic basis. It’s as if Moses stood in front of the Egyptians and said something like this: “You thought you knew me but you didn’t. I’m not one of you and I’ve never been one of you. I may look like you and talk like you and dress like you and act like you, but down deep in my heart, I’m a different person. All these years in your midst haven’t changed my basic identity. Those Hebrew slaves who seem so troublesome to you, I’m one of them because they are the followers of the true and living God. Though you hate and despise them, they are my people and I cannot stand by and turn my face away while they are suffering. If they are hated, I will be hated too. If they suffer, I will suffer. If they are mistreated, then I will be mistreated with them. What happens to them will happen to me. I will no longer live as if I were an Egyptian because I’m not. I am a follower of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and it’s time I cast my lot with my own people.” And with that one act, Moses committed what we might call today “career suicide.” He gave up the riches of Egypt and the “pleasures of sin for a season” in order to join the motley band of Hebrews who were so hated by the Egyptians. And he found the strength to endure the persecution because he “saw him who is invisible.” That’s one of the most remarkable and revealing statements in the entire Bible. It appears to be an impossibility. How do you “see” an invisible person? The whole point of being invisible is so that no one can see you. If you can be seen, you are not invisible. But God was invisible and yet Moses “saw” him. How? Two words. “By faith.” Moses had faith and his faith gave him sight. And he saw the God who is invisible. The Egyptians didn’t see. But Moses did. That’s what faith can do. Seeing Beyond This World What exactly did Moses see? The text says he was “looking ahead” to his reward. Let me explain it this way. Moses knew there were two worlds and he could choose to live by the values of either one. There was the world he could see, the world of Egypt, the world of the senses, the world of money, power, sex, pleasure, fame, self-gratification, the world of military power and brute force. That was the world where Pharaoh ruled as king. As far as the Egyptians knew, that was the only world there was. The “gods” they worshiped were nothing more than an extension of their own perverted values. But there was (and is) another world. That’s the invisible world of the spirit, the realm of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, the angels and the saints. It’s a world that is ruled by righteousness and entered by grace. Now here’s the kicker: Those who live for this world will have the reward this world offers. They will live for 40 or 50 or 60 or 70 or 80 or maybe even 90 years. And they will have as much fame or wealth or power as they can amass. Their reward from this world will be in this world. And when they die, all that they lived for will die with them. They will be buried in a box in the ground and have nothing substantial to show for their time on planet earth. But (and this “but” makes all the difference) those who live in this world by the standards of the eternal world have an entirely different experience. Like Moses, they may suffer in the short-run but when they die, the party is just getting started. They enter into “the joy of the Lord.” And frankly, those who live in this world by the values of the next one will have deeper joy and greater satisfaction even while they are rejected and ridiculed by those around them. Somehow Moses saw all of this. He figured out that it wasn’t worth it to live for Egypt. The “pleasures of sin for a season” didn’t measure up against the joy of serving the Lord even if that meant temporary suffering and putting up with a bunch of crabby Jews for 40 years in the wilderness. It just didn’t matter. For him, there was only one choice. He would suffer with the people of God. Period. End of discussion. If the people of Egypt didn’t like it, or if they didn’t understand it, so be it. He might have been Pharaoh if he had stayed but that didn’t bother him in the least. If he had stayed in Egypt, we would never have heard of him and I would be preaching about someone else today. So the question is, in which world do you want to make your mark? If you want to make it big in Egypt, good luck. Have at it. You will have your reward, and you won’t be happy when you get it. If you want to live for the next world, you can, but it will cost you something in the meantime. Mozart’s Head or a Dancing Girl Let’s return to the statement that Moses “saw him who is invisible.” Faith sees what is really there even though others see nothing at all. Faith believes what is true even though others don’t believe it at all. By faith we see reality, which means we see beyond the world around us. But that concept should not seem strange at all. After all, the most beloved hymn in the world ("Amazing Grace") contains this line, “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” By faith we see what others do not see. Have you ever looked at one of those 3-D pictures that contain hidden images? When you look at the picture, all you see are wavy lines or dots or perhaps marbles or stars or pieces of fruit. But if you look at the picture up close, and if you throw your eyes out of focus and turn your head a bit cockeyed, suddenly out jumps Mozart’s head or a dancing girl or a giant bird. Since I have less-than-perfect eyesight, I have trouble with 3-D pictures. Usually the only thing I can see is a bunch or lines or something that looks vaguely like a head of cabbage. To my consternation, my wife Marlene can almost always see the “hidden” image. But just because I can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. The “hidden” image is there whether I see it or not. It’s the same way with the life of faith. The “hidden world” of eternal reality is there whether we see it or not. And by faith we “see” it even though the people of the world do not. After my sermon on Sunday, a friend sent me this: “Faith sees the invisible, believes the incredible and receives the impossible.” That’s seems to fit Moses’ experience very well, and it all starts with seeing the invisible. If we can do that, then we will be able to believe the incredible, and in God’s time, we will receive the impossible.
Faith, mighty faith, the promise sees,
III. Faith Applied As we come to the end of our study, we can draw three important conclusions about the nature of faith. A. Faith is not a feeling but a conscious choice to believe what God has said. We will never progress in the spiritual life as long as we stay on the plane of our feelings. If Noah had waited until he “felt like” building an ark, he might never have laid the first piece of gopher wood. And if Joshua had waited to “feel like” marching around Jericho, those walls might still be standing. Feelings are important but they are not the basis of true faith. When you are in a hospital waiting room while a loved one is in surgery, you may or may not feel positive. In that moment, you must consciously choose to believe that God is who he said he is and that he will do what he said he would do. And you’ll probably have to make that choice a hundred times a day. Faith chooses, then acts, and then the feelings follow. B. Faith acts even in the face of doubt and opposition. If we wait until all the circumstances are in our favor, we’ll probably wait forever. David didn’t wait for Goliath to go blind. He trusted God and walked down into the valley to face the giant. If we wait for our doubts to disappear, we’ll have to wait a long time. Someone said that faith is “belief plus unbelief and acting on the belief part.” Sooner or later, we all have to “act on the belief part.” Abraham did. Moses did. Samuel did. All the heroes of the Bible “acted on the belief part.” You can too. But what if you face that proverbial “leap of faith?” What then? The following quote from Barbara Winter cheered me up when I ran across it this week: “When you come to the end of everything you know, and are faced with the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing one of two things will happen. Either there will be something solid for you to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly.” C. Faith sees what others do not see. All week long I’ve been thinking about my friends Mike and Betsi Calhoun. Mike is the director of the Bible club ministry for Word of Life. In January we ate lunch together when I taught for a week at the Bible Institute in New York. Their daughter Misty died a week ago Thursday in a huge pileup of cars on Interstate 75 near Ringgold, Georgia. Misty was only 24 years old, recently married, and recently moved with her husband Bryan to Chattanooga, Tennessee. They had been very active in the ministry of Calvary Chapel in Chattanooga. Marlene and I have known Mike and Betsi for many years and our thoughts have been with them in the days since we heard the news. Speaking of Misty’s faith, Betsi commented that she lived so much for eternity that it wasn’t surprising that she slipped away so early to live there forever. And on March 16, the Atlanta Constitution carried an article about the wreck that contained this quote from Mike Calhoun: “We are not blind.” He went on to say that although Misty is gone, they know she is in heaven and that they will see her again.
“We are not blind.” We know what has happened.Is this just wishful thinking? Is it just the broken heart of a father speaking about his daughter? Oh no, a thousand times no. My friend Mike Calhoun has discovered what Moses found thousands of years ago. We are not blind, our eyes have been opened, we see what has happened, and we see beyond it to the eternal realities that cannot be taken away. The pain of death cannot cancel the promises of God. Mike and Betsi have seen “him who is invisible” and they know the truth. Philip Yancey’s Definition My favorite definition of faith comes from Philip Yancey who said, “Faith means believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.” So many things in this life make no sense to us. I imagine that every person reading this sermon has a few very deep and personal questions that defy all human answers. We want to know why things happen the way they do and why couldn’t things have happened some other way. It would be wrong to say that faith provides all the answers. It doesn’t. Perhaps in heaven we will fully understand, or in heaven our desire to know will be transformed by our vision of the Lord. By faith we see things that are invisible to others and by faith we believe in advance those things that right now make no sense but one day will make perfect sense because we will view them in reverse.
The world says, “Seeing is believing.”Wherever He Leads One final word and I am done. Biblical faith is never faith in faith, as if we were believing in our own powers of logic or self-persuasion. Faith can never be stronger than the object on which it rests. Since our faith rests on the Lord Jesus Christ, the essence of faith is following him wherever he leads. Here’s a little acrostic that has helped many people:
ForsakingAllITakeHim.Following Christ can be risky business. You may wonder if everything will work out right if you follow Jesus. It depends on what you mean. When Todd Beamer finished saying the Lord’s Prayer with the attendant who took his phone call from United Flight 93 on September 11, he turned to the men with him and said, “Are you ready? Let’s roll.” By faith he put the phone down, started down the aisle toward the hijackers, ready to face his destiny. In the struggle that followed, he and his fellow passengers lost their lives but they saved the nation from an even greater tragedy. Did it work out all right for him? I think from heaven he would answer yes. “Nothing Bad Happened to Them.” A month ago I heard Jim Bowers speak at Moody Founders Week. Last April he and his wife, Roni, and their children, Corey and Charity, were shot out of the sky by a Peruvian jet that mistook them for drug traffickers. Of all the bullets that were fired that day, a single bullet pierced the fuselage of the missionary airplane, hit Roni in the back and entered the head of seven-month-old Charity, killing them both instantly. Speaking of that terrible moment, Jim Bowers said, “Nothing bad happened to them. They got to heaven quicker than we did.” Is that faith or fantasy talking? I submit that those are the words of a man of faith who out of great personal loss has “seen him who is invisible,” and the sight has transformed his life. Even the worst tragedy doesn’t appear that way when viewed from heaven’s perspective. I think we can safely draw three conclusions about those who live by faith:
1) They will see great triumphs and endure great trials.2) They will be misunderstood by the world.3) They will be glad they did what they did in the end.Our call is not to understand but to follow Christ wherever he leads, whatever it costs. And the word of Christ to all of us is always the same, “Come, follow me.” Try it out. Come to him. Put your life in his hands. To be a disciple of Christ means to get on the “Jesus road” and follow wherever it takes you. No guarantees, no deals, no special promises. You simply walk that road every day, following in your Master’s steps. Don’t be afraid to follow Jesus. You’ll never regret starting down the “Jesus road.” You’ll only regret that you waited so long to do it. Are you ready to follow Jesus wherever he leads? That’s all he wants. Someone may ask, “What if Jesus asks me to do something I can’t do?” He will! He will! He will! If he only asked you to do something you could do, you wouldn’t need him. I promise you this: If you decide to follow Jesus, he will ask you to do the impossible, and then he will help you do it. Our part is simply to take the next step. Just take the next step God puts in front of you. You don’t have to see the whole plan or even see ten steps down the road. Faith means taking the next step in front of you and leaving the rest in the hands of God. Faith is the law of the kingdom. And active faith releases God’s power. Every blessing of the kingdom is available to those who put their faith to work, moment by moment, day by day, one little step at a time.
by Dr. Ray PritchardSeven Laws of the Spiritual Life series Life is hard. Does anyone reading these words have any question about that? I didn't think so. Because we live in a fallen world, nothing works the way it's supposed to. Sin has stained every part of the physical universe. And sin has deeply infected the human bloodstream. Things break. Our bodies wear out. We grow old and die. People kill each other. Marriages break up. Children get hooked on drugs or alcohol or sex. Or all three. Babies are born with defects that cannot be corrected. Priests molest children. Pastors commit adultery. Our friends disappoint us. And we disappoint our friends. One day we wake up to find out that we're being sued by a former colleague. Or the boss decides that we aren't the right "fit," whatever that means. And so it goes. "Into each life some rain must fall." I know that's true because I just saw a girl with an umbrella on a carton of salt. The Sixth Law of the Spiritual Life brings us face to face with a reality that some Christians would rather not talk about. There is abroad in the land today the notion that the Christian life is easy. It isn't. Whoever said that it was? Jesus did say that his yoke was easy and burden was light, but that was in comparison to the Pharisees, and anyway, an easy yoke is a yoke nonetheless. He also talked about taking up your cross daily, denying yourself, and following him. Nothing easy about that. The Best Life There Is Lest I be misunderstood, I hasten to say that the Christian life is the best life there is because it's the only true life. To know Christ is to know God and to know God is to have eternal life. Jesus himself said that anything you give up will be repaid many times over in this life, and much more in the life to come (Mark 10:29-30). The paradox is this: If you follow Christ, you have to lose your life in order to save it. You have to go to the cross every day in order to discover the power of the resurrection. You have to die to find abundant life. You have to reckon yourself dead to sin in order to experience the fullness of life in Christ. None of this is easy to do. If you think it's easy, it's only because you haven't taken the Bible seriously. Romans 7 speaks of a "war" going on in the inner life of the believer and Romans 8:13 commands us to "put to death" the deeds of the flesh. Galatians 5:17 tells us that the flesh and the Spirit are continually at war with each other. Christians traditionally have spoken of three great enemies they face: the world, the flesh and the devil. The world is "out there" and all around us. The "flesh" is inside and loves to answer the call of the world. And it seems like the devil is everywhere, like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (I Peter 5:8). No wonder the Bible says that "through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22 ESV). And that's why Paul told Timothy to "share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus" (II Timothy 2:3 ESV). The most beloved hymn of all time ("Amazing Grace") contains a verse that teaches this same truth:
Through many dangers, toils and snares,Truly, there are "many dangers, toils and snares" along the road that leads to heaven. The Sixth Law reminds us that those difficulties are placed in our path for our spiritual benefit. This law teaches us that spiritual growth is possible and necessary but it is not instant or easy. There are no shortcuts on the road to glory. As football coaches have said for generations, "No pain, no gain." Here are four principles that help us think clearly about our trials:
1) Because we live in a fallen world, bad things happen to all of us.If you flip the Sixth Law over, it looks like this: Struggle in the Christian life is inevitable, lifelong and ultimately beneficial. We encounter God's grace through our trials in ways that would not happen if the trials had not come in the first place. It takes a mature Christian to understand this principle, and ironically, it is this principle that makes us mature. Be a Student, Not a Victim Years ago my friend Jim Warren (longtime host of Primetime America on the Moody Broadcasting Network) passed along this bit of advice: "Ray, when hard times come, be a student, not a victim." The more I have pondered those simple words, the more profound they seem to me. Many people are professional victims, always talking about how unfair life is. A victim says, "Why did this happen to me?" A student says, "I don't care why it happened. I want to learn what God is trying to teach me." A victim looks at everyone else and cries out, "Life isn't fair." A student looks at life and says, "What happened to me could have happened to anybody." A victim feels so sorry for himself that he has no time for others. A student focuses on helping others so that he has no time to feel sorry for himself. A victim begs God to remove the problems of life so that he might be happy. A student has learned through the problems of life that God alone is the source of all true happiness. In James 1:2-4 we find practical guidelines that will help us be students and not victims when hard times come our way. I. The Command "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds" (James 1:2). James begins by reminding us that sooner or later (probably sooner) we will all face trials of various sorts. The word "face" has the idea of falling or stumbling over a problem. Picture someone driving down the highway in a convertible. The top is down, the music is blaring, and the driver is having a blast. Not a problem in the world, not a care or a concern. Suddenly there is a bump, a jolt, and the car comes to a sudden halt. What happened? The car hit a massive pothole and suddenly the happy journey is over. Life is like that for all of us. No matter who we are or where we live, trouble is just a phone call away. A doctor may say, "I'm sorry. You've got cancer." Or the voice may inform you that your daughter has just been arrested. Or you may be fired without warning. Or someone you trusted may start spreading lies about you. Or your husband may decide he doesn't want to be married anymore. The list is endless because our trials are "multi-colored" and "variegated" (the Greek word has this idea behind it). Unlike the famous ice cream store, our trials come in more than 32 varieties. How, then, should we respond to these hard times that suddenly come to us? James offers what appears to be a strange piece of advice: "Consider it pure joy" or "Count it all joy" (KJV). That sounds so odd that one wonders if he is serious. "Count it all joy? Are you nuts? Do you have any idea what I've just been through?" It does sound rather idealistic, if not downright impossible. I confess to be being bothered by this so I decided to check it out in the Greek. No help there. The word "joy" means … joy. Pretty simple. So I decided to check out some other translations. One version says, "Be very glad" and another says, "Consider yourselves fortunate." That didn't help at all, so I turned to the translation of J. B. Phillips, hoping for some light (if not a way of escape). This is how he handles verse 2: "When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives, my brothers, don't resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends!" Even as I type these words, there is a rueful smile on my face. I think it's the exclamation point at the end that does it for me. It's not just "welcome them as friends," which would be hard enough, but "welcome them as friends!" which to me sounds positively giddy, like I'm welcoming long-lost friends to my home. A "Supernatural" Response As I have pondered the matter, and considered my own difficulties with this concept, the thought occurs that "counting it all joy" when troubles come is not a natural response. If we want a natural response, we can talk about anger or despair or complaining or getting even or running away. It isn't "natural" to find joy in hardship. But that's the whole point. James isn't talking about a "natural" reaction. He's talking about a "supernatural" reaction made possible by the Holy Spirit who enables us to see and to respond from God's point of view. I conclude, then, that counting it all joy is a conscious choice we make when hard times come. Truthfully, it's probably a choice we'll have to make again and again and again. And to do it we'll have to take the long view of life, to understand that what we see is not the final chapter of the story. If we can make the choice to view life that way, then we can make the following statements about our struggles and our trials:
1) This is sent from the Lord.2) This is necessary for my spiritual growth.The first statement reflects a high view of God's sovereignty. Everything that happens to us is either caused by God or sent by God. If I truly believe that, then I can move to the second statement and begin to look for ways to grow spiritually. Here's a practical hint. Don't trust your feelings! When those you love are in great pain or when you face senseless tragedy or when friends turn against you or when life tumbles in around you, your feelings won't be an accurate guide. You won't "feel" joyful or grateful or full of trust normally. You are quite likely to be filled with a whole bag of negative emotions. So don't judge your circumstances by your feelings. Judge your circumstances by the Holy Spirit and by the Word of God. When you do that, a powerful conclusion emerges: These great trials give me great hope that God means a great benefit to me. Seeing things God's way doesn't cancel your trials and it doesn't turn them into non-trials, but it does transform your evaluation of those trials. You will view them differently because you believe that God intends through them to give you a great benefit that could not come any other way. This week I read about a pastor in Florida who occasionally throws "Count it all joy" parties. He prepares a nice invitation, sends it out to lots of people, and then waits for the response. "Why are you having this party? Is it your birthday? Your anniversary? Did you get a raise?" they ask him. "No, I'm having this party because I'm going through a hard time right now and I want to celebrate because I know God has something good planned for me in the end." The thought occurred to me that this is a far better idea than the "Pity Parties" many of us like to throw. Perhaps a group of people going through hard times should come together to throw a "Count it all joy" party so they can commiserate and celebrate together. That's at least approaching the spirit of our text. Joy Because God is in Control No doubt our main problem comes because we misunderstand the word "joy." In contemporary parlance, the word is virtually a synonym for happiness. Joy to many people speaks of a pep rally or a champagne party or a New Year's Eve bash. To us, joy means the absence of all pain. But that's not at all what the Bible means. Here's a working definition: Joy is deep satisfaction that comes from knowing that God is in control even when my circumstances seem to be out of control. The key to joy is knowing that God is in control. If you know that, you can be satisfied at a very deep level even while you weep over what is happening around you and to you. During a Bible study this week, a friend pointed me to the story of the death of David's son in II Samuel 12. You probably remember the details. David seduced Bathsheba, committed adultery with her, and had her husband Uriah the Hittite murdered. Then he married her and they conceived a child together. But the Lord was displeased with David's sin so he sent Nathan the prophet to tell David that the child would die. When the child was born, the Lord struck him with a serious illness (II Samuel 12:15). In response, David fasted and prayed and cried out to God to spare the baby. He lay on the ground weeping for seven days. His servants begged him to eat but he refused. When the child died on the seventh day, the servants were afraid to tell David because they feared that he might harm himself, so great was his anguish. But David overheard their whispers and asked, "Is the child dead?" When they replied that he was dead, David rose, washed and anointed himself, put on fresh clothes, and went to the temple to worship. Later he returned to his house and began to eat a meal. His puzzled servants couldn't figure out why he fasted and wept when the child was alive, but when he died, he got up, went to the temple, and ate a meal. David's response is classic. He told them that he had fasted and prayed while the child was alive, thinking that God might yet spare him. But once the child died, fasting would make no difference. "Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me" (II Samuel 12:23 NKJV). The last phrase, by the way, gives us an early glimmer in the Old Testament of the hope of being reunited with our loved ones after death. You can search through II Samuel 12 and you won't find the word "joy" anywhere. Yet I believe this passage offers us a sad and true-to-life example of what it means to "count it all joy" even in the midst of a terrible personal loss. There is no laughter here, only pain and sorrow and weeping over one man's foolish choices that led to the death of a son. But David's response teaches us that down deep, far deeper than his sin, he understood God. He wept and prayed and fasted while that was appropriate. When the time had passed, he rose, washed, worshiped, and ate a meal. He understood that even through his tears, life must go on. He could not and should not fast and pray and weep forever. There is a time to weep and there is a time to refrain from weeping (cf. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). Sorrow Can Be Selfish The great 19th-century preacher Alexander MacLaren points out that excessive grief can be selfish: There are many of us who make some disappointment, some loss, some grief, the excuse for shirking plain duty. There is nothing more selfish than sorrow, and there is nothing more absorbing unless we guard against its tendency to monopolize. Work! Work for others, work for God is our best comforter next to the promise of God's Holy Spirit. There is nothing that so lightens the weight of a lifelong sorrow as to make it the stimulus to a lifelong devotion; and if our patience has its perfect work, it will not make us sit with folded hands, weeping for the days that are no more, but it will drive us into heroic and energetic service, in the midst of which there will come some shadow of consolation or, at least, some blessed oblivion of sorrow." (From his sermon on this text: "Patience and Her Work") And so I ask this practical question. How can we go on when sorrow has paid us a visit? What shall we do when tragedy strikes and we feel like giving up? Here are five suggestions: A. Remind yourself of the promises of God. That simply means, dwell much in the Word of God. Talk to yourself and forcibly call to mind the promises of God's presence, his comfort, his divine care, and his unerring purpose to mold you into the likeness of his Son. In the darkest hours, the promises will not come easily. You must do whatever it takes to feed your own soul with the Bread of Life. B. Give thanks for what you can give thanks for. There are times when thanksgiving seems almost impossible and sometimes even impious. Sin in all its ugliness sometimes comes as an unwanted guest. Should we give thanks for sin? No, never. But even if you cannot give thanks for 99% of what is happening, focus on the 1% you clearly see and give thanks to God for that. C. Refuse to give in to bitterness and despair. Here I speak of the conscious choices of the heart. Too many times we speak as if we were involuntarily overwhelmed and had no choice but to be bitter, angry, and hostile. Or we had no choice but to give up our faith in God. Better we should say, "I could give in to anger but by God's grace I will choose a higher road. I could turn away from my Lord but I will not do it." D. Choose to believe in God. That means exactly what it says. Believe in God! Believe in his goodness. Believe in his love. Believe in his kindness. Faith is a choice made by the heart. If you want to believe, you will believe, and the angels of heaven will come to your aid. E. Make up your mind to go on with life. This is what David did. This is what we must do. Grief is good and proper and is healing and even ennobling, but after grief has done its work of healing and helping, then we must move on. The past is gone and we can't go back. Don't try. You can't live in yesterday. And you can't even live in today. The voice of God calls us onward toward tomorrow. Several years ago I formulated a principle I call the First Law of Spiritual Progress. It goes like this:
I can't go back.I can't stay here.I must go forward.Even if we want to go back, we can't. And we can't stay where we are. God's call is always onward, forward, moving out by faith into the unknown future. This is not easy but it must be done. And when we do it, we will discover a well of joy springing up to refresh our souls as we march onward with the Lord. II. The Reason
"Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance"Every word of this verse is crucial. The phrase "you know" refers not to head knowledge (what we sometimes call "book learning") but to heart knowledge, the kind gained by years of experience. Some things we learn from books, others we learn in the School of Hard Knocks. This lesson comes from daily life. God wants to put our faith to the test. The word "testing" refers to the process by which gold ore was purified. In order to separate the gold from the dross, the ore was placed in a furnace and heated until it melted. The dross rose to the surface and was skimmed off, leaving only pure gold. That's a picture of what God is up to in our "fiery trials." We all have to undergo some "furnace time" sooner or later. And some of us will spend an extended time in the furnace of affliction. But the result is the pure gold of Christlike character. Job spoke of this experience when he declared of the Lord, "He knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold" (Job 23:10). What is God trying to do when he allows his children to go through hard trials and deep suffering? There are several answers to that question. First, God wants to purge us of sin and to purify us of iniquity. Second, God uses suffering to test our faith. Will you still obey God in the darkness? Will you serve God when things aren't going your way? Will you hold on to the truth when you feel like giving up? Third, God uses times of difficulty to humble us. When things are going well, we tend to get puffed up about our accomplishments. But let the darkness fall and we are on our knees crying out to God. Fourth, God definitely uses hard times to prepare us to minister to others. He comforts us so that we may comfort others. I know many Christians whose greatest ministry has come from sharing with others how God helped them through a time of crisis. Fifth, I believe God uses hard times to prepare us for a new understanding of his character. In the furnace we discover God's goodness in a way we had never experienced it before. Until your faith is put to the test, it remains theoretical. You never know what you believe until hard times come. Then you find out, for better or for worse. When the phone rings with bad news, when your son winds up in prison, when your best friend betrays you, when you lose your job, when your parents suddenly die, when life comes apart at the seams, then you discover what you truly and actually believe in the depth of your soul. Until then, your faith is speculative because it is untested. You can talk about heaven all you want, but you'll discover whether or not you believe in it when you stand by the casket of someone you love. God's great design is to produce "perseverance." The Greek word is hupomone, sometimes translated as "endurance" or "steadfastness" or "patience." In the book of Revelation, this word describes the faith of those brave saints who would not take the Mark of the Beast. Thus it describes a certain kind of "battle-tested" faith that stands up under withering fire from the enemy and does not cut and run. William Barclay notes that in the early church the martyrs gained the respect of unbelievers because in the moment of death, they had this quality. To the very end, they died with their faith intact. Of them it was said, "They died singing." III. The Promise
"Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything"There is a process involved in our trials that leads to a product. Perseverance requires work and faith and hope and dogged determination to hold on to our faith even when the world seems to be disintegrating around us. Perseverance says, "I will not give up no matter what happens or how bad life may be. I will hold on because I promised and because I believe the Lord has something in store for me." The reward of such gritty stubbornness is genuine spiritual maturity. When trials have finished their work in us, we will not lack anything the Lord wants us to have. If we need faith, we will have it. If we need hope, we will have it. If we need love, we will have it. If we need any of the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), it will be produced in us. Nothing will be left out; nothing will be left behind. The great danger is that we will try to short-circuit the process by running away from our problems. Eugene Peterson (The Message) translates part of this verse this way: "Don't try to get out of anything prematurely!" That's good advice; it's not always easy to follow. It occurs to me that you can see the full flowering of this passage in the life of an older saint of God. As I thought about this truth, my mind went to Mabel Scheck who died within the last year after a long battle with cancer. Mabel was in her 80s and had been a member of Calvary Memorial Church for almost 60 years. She and her husband joined our congregation near the end of World War II. He died many years ago and by the time I met Mabel, she was in her mid-70s. Over the years we became close friends. Mabel was full of vinegar and spice and pep and she always was ready with a quip or a comment. Almost every Sunday I would tease her and she would tease me right back. About ten years ago she developed cancer. The doctors did all they could but finally could do no more. She surprised them all by surviving three or four bouts with cancer. I used to kid her that she was living on "Bonus Time" from the Lord. When the cancer came back for the last time, she was truly ready to go to heaven. No fear, no doubts, and no regrets. Shortly before she died, my wife Marlene and I went to visit her. By this time she could barely breathe and her words were hard to understand. But her faith was undiminished. Cancer could take her earthly life but it could not destroy her walk with God. As she labored to get her breath, in a very faint voice she greeted us and said how glad she was that we had come to see her. She wanted to talk about things at the church and to hear the latest news. "I'm ready to go whenever the Lord wants to take me home," she said. Then she added, "The Lord has been so good to me." A few days later I spoke at her funeral service. When I think of Mabel Scheck at the end of her life, two words come to mind: Pure Gold. Through long years of difficulty, God had fashioned truly Christlike character in her. She was mature and complete, nothing was lacking. I think that's what James means when he says in verse 3, "You know." We know these things are true because we have learned them by experience and because we have seen them come true in the lives of others. Things Known and Unknown Let me wrap up our study with a few concluding words. When trials come (and they will come to all of us eventually), there is something we can't know and something we can know: 1) We can't always know why things happen the way they do. No matter how hard we try to figure things out, there will always be many mysteries in life. The greater the tragedy, the greater will be the mystery. God does not explain himself to us. As we go through life, we can look back and see many blanks that we wish God would fill in for us. Most of the time we will carry those unfilled blanks with us all the way to heaven. 2) When hard times come, we can know that God is at work in our trials for our benefit and for his glory. To say that is to say nothing more than the words of Romans 8:28. For the children of God, "all things" do indeed work together for good. Sometimes we will see it; often we will simply have to take it by faith. But it is true whether we believe it or not. And so we are left with the simple words of the Sixth Law of the Spiritual Life: There is no growth without struggle. As long as we live in a fallen world, we cannot fight against this law and win. Your arms are too short to box with God. Be of Good Cheer! When Charles Simeon finished his exposition of this passage, he addressed himself to two groups of people. First, there are the timid, those who fear the trials of life. Our message is, Be of good cheer. Fear not. Nothing can touch you that does not first pass through the hands of your Heavenly Father. Though the arrow be shot by the evil one, it cannot touch you unless God should will it so. And your Father who loves you will never give you more than you can bear. Though you may feel that you are far past the limit, you aren't. God measures his trials along with his blessings. If he afflicts you, it is not to destroy you but to develop in you the gold of Christlike character. And what shall we say to those who are suffering right now? Should we pity you? No! We should rather congratulate you that God has counted you worthy of such great trials. Nothing is wasted—not your pain, your tears, your confusion or even your doubts. All of it is grist for the mill of God's loving purpose. "Behind a frowning providence, he hides a smiling face." Receive with joy what God has given you, and bless his name. Two Simple Words In order to make this as simple as possible, I'd like to boil my sermon down to just two words. When hard times come, when trials fall upon us, or we seem to fall upon them, when the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune knock us to the ground, what should we do? Remember these two words. Pray and stay. Repeat that out loud. PRAY and STAY. Don't run. Don't hide. Don't shake your fist at God. Don't start arguing with the Almighty. And don't waste time trying to make excuses or empty promises. And don't try to bargain your way out of trouble. It doesn't work, and you don't have anything to bargain with anyway. Pray and stay. Pray and stay. Pray and stay. Pray: Seek God's face. Spend time with the Lord. Listen for his voice. Ask God, "What are you trying to teach me? Speak, Lord, and I will listen to your voice." Stay: Wait. Be patient. Don't rush God. (You can't rush him!) Refuse to run away. Affirm by faith that God is at work even though he seems invisible and your life seems chaotic. And don't do anything foolish or hasty. While having lunch with an old friend, he reminded me that years ago he came to talk to me because his marriage was falling apart. In fact, he had made up his mind that he was going to divorce his wife because the situation seemed hopeless. I asked him one question: "Is there any decision you need to make today?" The answer was no. So I told him not to do anything until he had to. Soon after that there was a breakthrough that led to a turnaround that transformed his wife, himself, and their marriage. I had forgotten my advice until he reminded me. If you are tempted to take a quick and easy road out of your troubles, stop a moment and think about it. Do you have to do anything today? Then don't. Give God time to work. There will be time to "do something" later if you have to. The Choice is Ours The Christian way is not an easy way and any representations to the contrary are false. There is an abundant life to be had, and there is spiritual victory, and there is joy in the Lord and the filling of the Spirit, but those things don't come in spite of our trials. Most often they come through and with and alongside our trials. In various ways we will all struggle every day as we make our earthly pilgrimage. In a fallen world, there can be no other way. And for the most part, we can't choose our trials nor can we avoid most of them. But we can choose how we respond. That part is up to us.
by Dr. Ray Pritchard We begin with the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor whose opposition to Adolph Hitler during World War II finally landed him in jail. Shortly before the end of the war, the Nazis put him to death. His best-known writings include The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together. At one point he pondered what it means to live in wartime while still believing in the promises of God. These are his words: "There remains for us only the very narrow way, often extremely difficult to find, of living every day as though it were our last, and yet living in faith and responsibility as though there were to be a great future." This week I have pondered the paradox of his words. On one hand the Christian is to live each day knowing it might be his last. That's always good advice, but there are moments in history when it is literally the only way we can live. Do you recognize the name Peggy Noonan? If you don't read Peggy Noonan, you should. Each week she writes an essay (available online for free) for the Wall Street Journal. This week she wrote about the worsening crisis in the Middle East in a column called "The Hard Way." She begins by pointing out that for a long time, most of us tried not to worry much about the Middle East. We knew the various parties to the conflict didn't like each other, but we had faith that someone, somewhere would work out a peace deal to keep the lid on so it wouldn't blow up and start World War III. Recent events have destroyed that sort of na�ve optimism. The situation has deteriorated so badly that this time no one has the answer. Not even Secretary of State Colin Powell can bring the Palestinians and the Israelis together. In some ways it seems ironic that in a world of such amazing technological advance, we seem utterly unable to bring an end to this ancient hostility. Noonan points out that all we can do, all we are really trying to do, is to buy time, to push back the inevitable so that no one detonates a nuclear bomb and wipes out the other side. One Catholic theologian calls the Middle East the vortex of history. This is where history started and this is where it will ultimately end. When God speaks to mankind, he speaks to us from the Middle East. And his message to us right now is: You are all in a heap of trouble. The column ends with a call to prayer. Why pray? Because it's always easier to fight than to pray. Fighting is hard enough but prayer is much harder because it means giving up the certainty that you have all the answers. When you pray, you are confessing that there is a realm outside this world, and that God who dwells in eternity can affect what happens in time. Prayer may be our last, best and only hope in these troubled times. The Red Heifer That's part of what Bonhoeffer meant by living each day as if it were our last. But that's not the whole story. The Christian faith demands that we live in hope because we believe in the promises of God. We cannot become pessimists and give up. To do so is to deny what we say we believe. There is always a reason for hope. So where will we find hope in these troubled times? There are many answers to that question, but I find hope in the recent birth of a red heifer in Israel. According to www.israelnationalnews.com, a red heifer was born about a month ago. Bible students will recall that according to Numbers 19, a red heifer is required as part of the purification process for priests who served in the Temple in Jerusalem. For most of us, that's merely an ancient law that has no relevance since A) we are Christians, and B) the Temple was destroyed 2,000 years ago. But many of the ultra-Orthodox Jews believe that the Temple must eventually be rebuilt on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. For over a generation, they have been gathering the required sacrificial implements and training young Jewish men to serve as priests in the yet-to-be-rebuilt Temple. They view the recent birth of a red heifer as a sign that the "Messianic Age" is about to begin. Many Christians (myself included) believe that some form of the Temple must be rebuilt in the closing days before Christ comes at the end of the Tribulation period. Now I have no idea if this red heifer has any connection to Bible prophecy. Only time will tell. But I take encouragement from the larger truth that God often uses the weak and unlikely things of this world to confound the high and mighty and powerful. He uses weak things (a widow with a pitcher of oil, for instance) to demonstrate his mighty power. And since he owns the cattle on a thousand hills, why should it surprise us that the birth of a red heifer makes the news? If God is For Us We have come to the seventh and final law of the spiritual life. In case you have forgotten them, here are the first six laws:
Law 1: He's God and We're Not.The final law brings us back to God as the source and end of our faith:
Law 7: What God Starts, He Finishes.This law gives us hope in hard times and keeps us going when we would rather quit. It's the law that inspired believers to be faithful under persecution and gave Moses the strength to reject the treasures of Egypt in favor of the unseen riches of the invisible God. This law reminds us that in the end, everything we give up for the Lord will seem like no sacrifice at all. And when life tumbles in around us, and others have given up their faith, we stand firm because we know that what we see is not all there is. The best is yet to come. As I have pondered this truth, the words of Romans 8:31 have been ringing in my mind:
"What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?"This is the question that the people of the world want answered. Is there a God, and if there is a God, is he for us or against us? When Paul says if God is for us, he's not saying maybe he is and maybe he isn't. It can be translated "Since God is for us" or "Because God is for us." There is no truth more fundamental in all of God's Word than this truth: God is for us. God is not against us. God is not neutral toward us. Because of Jesus Christ, once and for all the question is settled. God is for us. All that God is, all that God has and all that God does, he does on behalf of his people. Even those times when God seems to be acting against us, if we could only look behind the veil, we would understand that God is for us. Name the enemies of the people of God. Can the devil stand against us? No, because he has been defeated. Can the world stand against us? No, because Jesus has overcome the world. Can the flesh destroy us? No, because in Jesus Christ we overcome the pull of the flesh. Therefore, let the people of God be bold. Who dares to stand against us if God be for us? I. Three Truths You Can Depend On The truth of the Seventh Law depends on several important attributes of God. First, God is faithful. That means he does not lie, does not change in his essential character, and he acts in time and space to ensure that his purposes are carried out. He perseveres until that which he has ordained comes to fruition. There are no gaps and no performance failures with the Lord. He is faithful to himself, to his Word, and to all his creatures. In the end, all things in the universe will be seen to have served God's purposes. No detail will be missing, nothing will be out of place, and there will be no "accidents." Even the tragedies of life will fit into God's eternal plan. The fact that we cannot see how this could be true simply demonstrates the First Law: He's God and We're Not. God is faithful whether we see it or not, and he is faithful whether we believe it or not. Second, God is good. This attribute tells us that God is "for" us and not "against" us. He intends to bless us beyond our expectations and he desires to even bless those who rebel against him. "You are good, and what you do is good" (Psalm 119:68). Because God is faithful and because he is good, we can be confident that what God starts, he finishes. Sooner or later, his Word will be proved true, his justice will be vindicated, his wisdom will be plainly displayed, and the magnificence of his grace will be placarded from one end of the universe to the other. His Name will be glorified and we will be satisfied. As we work and wait and hope for that day to come,
here are three truths you can depend on. A. All God's Promises Will Eventually be Fulfilled. The key word here is "eventually." While reading through Joshua recently, I came across these verses that serve as a summary of God's faithfulness to his people. They come at the end of the section where the Jews have defeated their enemies and taken possession of the Promised Land. It had been a hard fight that meant some people died in the process. It took blood, sweat and tears to conquer the land and drive the pagan people out. But at last the work was done, the tribes had received their allotment, and the nation was ready to settle down and live in peace. Against that background, Joshua offers this assessment: "Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass" (Joshua 21:43-45 ESV). Note that although the Lord "gave" them the land, they still had to fight for it. The "rest" came only after long years of warfare. They had to go into battle over and over again, and no doubt some soldiers had to die, and blood had to be shed, in order for God's promises to come true. It's not as if the Jews "claimed" the promise and simply moved in with no opposition. They had to fight to win what God had promised them. So it is for you and me. We must fight the good fight, put on the whole armor of God, and be good soldiers for the Lord. That means enduring long days and longer nights, facing fears within and foes without, being misunderstood by the world and sometimes by our best friends, living by radically different standards than the people around us, and claiming dual allegiance to two nations—one on earth and the other in heaven. Living for Christ means hard times, bearing the cross, despising the shame, denying ourselves, following him wherever he leads, judging all things by the values of the Kingdom, putting others above our own interests, yielding our rights, refusing to give in to anger and rage, forgiving when we'd rather get even, loving our enemies, laying down our lives for others, bearing one another's burdens, washing dirty feet, taking on the role of a servant, and sometimes being regarded as fools, "seed-pickers," and the scum of the earth. Sometimes we will be opposed, sometimes hated, sometimes mocked, sometimes persecuted, and sometimes the followers of Christ will be put to death. It happens. The point is, being a Christian does not exempt you from the problems of life. Coming to Christ solves some problems and creates others. The problems solved include salvation, eternal life, forgiveness, removal of guilt, provision of a brand-new life, new desires, and new power to serve God. And it means a home in heaven and abundant life while you live on earth. So it's not a bad deal. Not at all. And the "problems" you gain are rather small in comparison but they are problems nonetheless. Being a follower of Christ is a wonderful life, it's the best life there is, and it's really the only life there is. Apart from Christ there is no life at all. But it doesn't mean that things will be easy or simple or that life will be a bed of roses. Or maybe it will be a bed of roses but all those roses will have thorns. The good news is that God fully intends to keep his promises to you. What he did for Israel so long ago, he does for his people today. As we trust and obey, as we fight and pray, as we stand up for righteousness and shine the light in a darkened world, one by one by one the promises are kept. And in the end (and not until then) we will look back and say, "The Lord did it. Not one of his good promises failed. All came to pass." B. The Lord Will Complete His Work in Us. Psalm 138:8 says this plainly. "The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever" (ESV). The argument here is very simple. Because the Lord's love endures forever, his purposes for us will endure forever. If God's love could somehow fail, then perhaps we could doubt his purposes. But since his love reflects his eternal character, we can be sure that God will do whatever it takes to accomplish whatever he wants to accomplish in us. C. The Entire Work of Salvation is Guaranteed by God. Consider Romans 8:29-30.
"For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified."I want you to circle or underline five words in this text:
ForeknewPredestinedCalledJustifiedGlorifiedThose five words make up the golden chain of your salvation. It is a golden chain of five links. These five words comprehend the entire work of God on your behalf. No other statement in the Bible so comprehensively contains what God is doing to accomplish your salvation. He begins in eternity past and finishes in eternity future. To say it another way, your salvation begins in heaven, comes to earth, and ends up in heaven. Your salvation begins with the first link—foreknowledge. That's the link that starts in heaven. Then we come to predestination. That's the link that brings salvation down to earth. Then we come to calling. That's the link where you are hooked onto the chain. Justification is the link that ensures your righteous standing before the Lord. Glorification is the link that secures your eternal place in heaven. Those five things are the five links in the chain of your salvation. They are true of every believer. They are true only of believers. If you are a believer, these five links in the chain explain God's plan from eternity past to eternity future to accomplish your salvation. Notice the tense of the five key words: Foreknew, Predestined, Called, Justified, Glorified. They are all in the past tense. But how can "glorified" be in the past tense when our glorification is in the future? How can God speak of our future glorification in the past tense if it hasn't even happened yet? The answer is this: It is so certain that God speaks of it as past tense even though it is still future to us. In God's mind past, present, future are all the same. In some sense we can't fathom, our glorification has already happened. It's so certain that God can speak of it in the past tense. Let me illustrate: If God foreknew 100 people, then he predestined 100. If God predestined 100, he called 100. If God called 100, he justified 100. If God justified 100, then he glorified 100. It's not as if God starts out with 1500 people but loses some in the process. It not as if he foreknows 1500, then he predestines 1200, then he calls 800, then he justifies 400, and only has about 60 or 70 left to finally take to heaven. It's not a declining number. The number is exactly the same throughout. As many as he foreknew in the beginning, exactly that many will he glorify in the end. So let's suppose the Lord is in heaven counting his sheep: "94 … 95 … 96 … 97 … 98 … 99 … Pritchard, where's Pritchard? I can't find him!" No, it's not like that. Everyone he foreknows, everyone he predestines, everyone he calls, everyone he justifies—all of them will eventually be glorified. No one will be lost in the process. My friend Jack Wyrtzen used to say it this way: "I'm as sure of heaven as if I'd already been there 10,000 years." Why? Because it doesn't rest on me. It doesn't rest on you. It rests on the word of the eternal God. If God has said he's going to do it, he will do it. You can book it, you can take it to the bank. What God says he will do, he will do. All of God's sheep will make it. That's good news for all us unruly sheep. Some of God's sheep are sick and weak and some are unruly and a few are downright rebellious. And some of the sheep have been messing around with the goats too much and they look more like goats than like sheep. But fear not. The Lord knows his own, he knows how to find his own, and when the time comes, all of God's sheep will make it into the fold. Not one will be lost. Not one. II. Seven Ways to Apply the Seventh Law Let's wrap up this study by looking at a few ways we can apply this great truth that what God starts, he always finishes. A. We can be certain of our salvation. 1 John 5:12-13 tell us that eternal life is only to be found in Jesus Christ and that those who believe in him may "know" that they have eternal life. In this world of so much uncertainty, here is something God says you can know. That's hugely important. Do you want to go to heaven? You can. Do you want to know you're going to heaven? You can. Many people, even many Christians, say, "I hope I'm going to heaven," but that is not the language of the Bible. For those who truly trust Christ, there is a certainty that does not depend on them or their works, but on the promise of God who cannot lie. Because salvation is God's work, when we trust Christ, we can know that we are saved, that our sins are forgiven, that we are right with God, and that should we die tonight, we will go to heaven. B. We can be confident of God's purposes for us. This is one of those "long-range" truths that helps us when we are down and discouraged and wonder if we're all that we were truly meant to be. Philippians 1:6 reminds us that "he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." All that God intends to do in us and through us, he will do. Even when we are faithless, he is faithful still (see II Timothy 2:13). C. We can have comfort in the midst of confusing circum-stances. So many things in life confuse and perplex us. Things happen, both good and bad, in such seemingly random sequence, that most of the time we can't begin to understand the big picture. Not long ago the roommate of one of my sons learned that his father had an inoperable brain tumor. It seemed to happen suddenly, without warning, and without any apparent reason. The father's last few days were very difficult as the tumor invaded new areas of the brain. A few nights ago the suffering ended and he went home to be with the Lord. Mark wrote an e-mail about how hard it was to see his roommate deal with his father's death. He ended with these words: "All of this is to an end … It will be good … God will be shown through all of this, God is good." There is a profound truth underlying what he wrote. "It will be good." It isn't "good" right now. At least it doesn't seem good or feel good. Any good that is there must be seen and felt and taken by faith. Death is still the last enemy of the people of God. But death isn't the end of the story. God will be glorified even through things that seem senseless and even evil to us. We won't always see how this works out in history, but it is true nonetheless. "For we know," Paul says. Not "we think" or "we hope" or "we dream," but "we know," as if to state a settled fact, that "all things," not "some things" or "most things" or even "the things that make sense to us" work together for good, to those who love God, who are called according to his purpose (see Romans 8:28 KJV). Because God is good, "it will be good," and we will see that goodness somewhere down the road, if not in this life, then in eternity. All will be well and God will be glorified. D. We can remain calm when the world is in turmoil. I suppose that I would not have made this particular application a year ago. But now, after September 11, after anthrax and the threat of bioterrorism, after Afghanistan, and after heightened airport security, and in the midst of all the bloodshed in the Middle East, this application seems urgent. Many of the experts believe that further acts of terrorism in the U.S. are not only likely, they are inevitable. Clearly, there are people out there who would blow us up and walk away laughing if they could. Perhaps you've seen the picture of the man attending an anti-Israel rally in Berlin who dressed his young daughter up as a suicide bomber by wrapping fake dynamite around her waist. As Jonah Goldberg says, "This is insanity and it is evil." ("Arguing with the Insane," National Review Online, April 15, 2002). President Bush told a group of Christian leaders that peace is hard to come by because the leaders on both sides hate each other so much. On the night of September 11, during a special prayer meeting, I commented that terrorism had come close to us and will come closer yet in the future. That statement seems truer today than it did then. How will we maintain our sense of balance in a world like this? Psalm 46 points us back to God who is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble. The word "help" means that he will be for us whatever we need, whenever we need it. He is the supernatural resource when our strength has come to an end. "Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea" (v. 2). It is hard to read that verse without remembering the Twin Towers suddenly crumbling to the ground. "Nations are in uproar" (v. 6). What a fitting description for the current crisis in the Middle East. What shall the believers do in days of uncertainty? Will we give in to fear and desperation? "Be still, and know that I am God" (v. 10). Be still. Those who know God remain calm even under threat of Armageddon. We know that God is in control. "The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress" (v. 11). As believers, we do not claim any special insight into politics or military matters. And we don't claim to know what will happen to Mr. Arafat or Mr. Sharon. But we know this much: Our God is in control. Therefore we will not fear. We will be still and know the Lord is God. E. We can have hope when our progress seems so slow. All of us, if we are honest, wonder from time to time why we seem to make so little spiritual progress. We "conquer" a sin today and then commit the same sin tomorrow. Or we "conquer" a sin today and commit four new ones tomorrow. Sometimes the Christian life seems agonizingly slow: three steps forward, two steps back. Why can't we make 20 steps forward, take a breath, and make 20 more? Why must the Christian life seem so slow in terms of real life change? There are many answers to that question, including the fact that struggle actually makes us grow stronger. We generally do not appreciate victories that come at no cost. What we fight for, we value highly. And even our "defeats" and setbacks and our backsliding teaches us to rely on the Lord alone for everything, and not at all on ourselves. I Thessalonians 5:23-24 tells us that one day we will stand before the Lord and be holy through and through. In that day we will be "blameless" before the Lord, deeply and radically cleansed of sin and profoundly renewed by the grace of God. No part of our being will be untouched. In that day, we will be holy and pure in body, soul and spirit. Most of us have a long way to go and we may despair of ever reaching that happy condition. But "the one who calls you is faithful and he will do it" (v. 24). Our hope rests in the Lord. He called us, he is faithful, and he will do it. Your current struggles cannot cancel God's faithfulness. He will finish his work in you. F. We can encourage others who are faltering. Hebrews 10:24-25 points us to a crucial ministry of encouragement in light of the Lord's return: "Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near" (NLT). Eugene Peterson translates the first phrase of verse 24 as "Let's see how inventive we can be." Other translations speak of "spurring" other believers on to spiritual growth. How? By a kind word. By a phone call. By a note or an e-mail. By a friendly smile. By a kind word of thanks. And especially by meeting together—in Sunday School and in small groups and in fellowship meetings and at the Lord's Table and in Sunday worship services. Don't be a Lone Ranger Christian. He's coming back! The signs are all around us. You can encourage other believers by showing up on Sunday morning instead of staying in bed or playing golf or watching TV or walking your dog. Do that some other time. In these "end of the world" days, when we see "The Big Day" approaching, let's make sure we come together to worship and to encourage each other. Take time to lift up a fallen brother. Say hello to a discouraged sister. Lift up the arms that have fallen. When a friend falls, pick him up and help him get back in the race for God (Hebrews 12:12-13). G. We can wait patiently because we know the end of the story. A well-known Gospel song says, "I've read the end of the Book and we win!" The title says it all. If you've read Revelation, you know it's true. Jesus wins in the end, and he wins big! And everyone joined by faith with Jesus wins because he is the Captain of our Salvation. When the Captain wins, the whole team wins. The forces of evil cannot stand against him. He speaks the word and they are banished forever. Read it for yourself. Jesus wins! The devil loses! And all those on the devil's side lose with him. That includes the demons and every worker of iniquity and all the various ranks of evil spirits and all those who have wittingly or unwittingly done the devil's bidding on the earth. The problem is, right now we're living in an "in-between" time when Christ's victory has been secured by his resurrection from the dead, but it has not yet been fully exercised on the earth. The devil fights on even though he is a thoroughly defeated foe. Death still reigns. Christians still suffer and die. And little babies sometimes die. Early one morning I received a call saying that a baby had died in the night and would I please come to the hospital? The baby had been born four months premature and weighed about a pound and a half. He lived 12 days. When I arrived at the hospital, the parents held their precious baby in their arms. Through her tears, the mother said, "There must be a reason for this. God would not do this without a reason." There is a reason but the final answer is hidden in the heart and mind of God. But the faith that leads her to say, "There must be a reason," is truly biblical faith. Even through our tears and when our hearts are broken, we still believe, and because we still believe, we wait patiently for the end of the story to be revealed. James 5:7 instructs us to be patient until the Lord's coming. Verse 8 says "be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near." How precious that truth seems to me as I type these words and think about that little baby who slipped away from us in the middle of the night. Waiting in such circumstances is almost unbearably difficult, but it is infinitely preferable to the alternative, which is to say that there is nothing to wait for, that little babies die for no reason and we will never see them again because death ends all. I for one refuse to embrace such a hopeless philosophy of life. I want a religion that answers the problem of death. Thank God, we have a hope that goes beyond the grave, a hope that reaches beyond this life to connect us with the life that will never end. That hope is found in Jesus Christ. Therefore, as Paul said, we do not sorrow as those who have no hope (I Thessalonians 4:13). And we do not lose heart because the momentary trials of life (what faith it takes to say such a thing!) are far outweighed by the glory that will be revealed in us. The only thing left for us in times of incredible sorrow is to fix our eyes on unseen realities. The undertaker will not have the last word. Better days are coming, and they aren't far away (II Corinthians 4:14-16). "I Am Persuaded" As we wrap up this series on the Seven Laws of the Spiritual Life, it's good to remember what we know and what we don't know. In this life many things remain a mystery to us, especially the troubling issues of personal loss, sudden death, and unexplained suffering. At the end of the day, after all our thoughts and prayers and meditations, and even after our deep study of the Word of God, we simply don't know why some things happen the way they do. Certainly we could imagine that things might turn out differently if we were in charge of the universe. But that observation leads us right back to the First Law: He's God and We're Not. It's amazing how often we come face to face with that reality. But the First Law is basic to all the rest. If God is God, he must do many things that are far beyond our understanding. That truth does not answer all our questions, but perhaps it will enable us to quiet our hearts and to sleep at night when otherwise we wouldn't be able to sleep at all. And the things we know are all-important. Nothing is wasted with the Lord. Even the parts of life that make no sense to us today will be seen in the light of eternity to have fulfilled God's eternal purpose. Between now and then, we march onward and upward, moving toward the light that shines brighter and brighter. We march on with faith, hope and love, with deep confidence in the God who made us and who loved us enough to die for us so that we could be with him. As Paul said in Romans 8:38-39, we are persuaded, we truly believe, we are finally convinced that neither life nor death, nor angels or principalities or powers, and nothing above or below and or anything else we can encounter in all creation, nothing, absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. This we believe. On this truth we have staked our lives. For this we live and for this we will die. In Jesus we have become more than conquerors. Paul said, "I am persuaded." I say to you that I am persuaded. Are you persuaded? Paul was convinced. I am convinced. Are you convinced? Can you truly say, "I no longer have any doubts? I know that God will keep me safe to the very end?" If you are not certain, it is because you are looking to yourself and not to the Lord. Take a good look at Jesus and you will be convinced. I am persuaded and I am glad that I am. What about you? © Keep Believing Ministries
Malankara World Journal is published by MalankaraWorld.com http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/
Copyright © 2011-2019 Malankara World. All Rights Reserved.