What Should The Church Expect In The Years Ahead?

As we witness our culture turning further and further away from God’s Word, I have often wondered what should we, as believers, expect in the years ahead? Will the day come when verbal persecution of believers in America turns to physical persecution as many of our brothers and sisters experience in other parts of the world? Will we be imprisoned for speaking God’s truth? It is certainly possible.

I have been reading through the book of Acts lately and came across a verse that, I believe, answers the question of what we should expect. It can be found in Acts 12:24 but before I give you the verse I want to put it into context. The church was born just a few chapters earlier in Acts and God was moving powerfully. But the Jewish religious leaders and the secular Roman government began to persecute the church. They were told to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. They were beaten and jailed. Immediately leading up to Acts 12:24, James the brother of John had been martyred for the faith and Paul was imprisoned.

Yet, here is what we read in Acts 12:24 – “But the word of God increased and multiplied.” During one of the most intense seasons of persecution of believers in the history of the church, the truth of the gospel was preached and it increased and multiplied! I think this is what we should expect in the years ahead. But we must be faithful, as God’s people, to be who he has called us to be and do what he has called us to do.

Take a moment and ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Is the word of God increasing and multiplying in my heart and life? Can I echo with David, the Psalmist, that the word of God is “more to be desired than gold” and “sweeter than honey” (Psalm 19:10)?
  2. Is the word of God increasing and multiplying in my family? Am I following the Lord’s command to teach my children diligently the truths of Scripture (Deuteronomy 6:1-9)?
  3. Is the word of God increasing and multiplying in my other spheres of influence (family, workplace, neighborhood, etc.)? Am I the “light of the world” and the “city set on the hill” that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 5:14-16?

Many Christians are lamenting where we are as a nation but I’m much more concerned with where we are as believers and as Christ’s church. We may very well face intense persecution in the years ahead, both verbal and physical. But if believers are saturated with God’s word, if the church holds fast to the Scriptures regardless of which way the cultural winds blow, if we see people the way Jesus did as sheep without a shepherd, if we love the lost and boldly proclaim the glorious gospel, then I believe we will experience what the early church experienced. We will see the word of God increase and multiply throughout this world. And God’s promise is that His word will go forth, it will not return empty and it will accomplish what he intends for it to accomplish (Isaiah 55:11). That is good news!

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The Gospel Is The Key (Reading Notes)

“The gospel must be central to our Christian lives; it is not the ABC’s of spiritual growth, but the A to Z. The problem prior to gospel wakefulness is that we do not see how the gospel can sustain such energies, such longevity. We see it as an entry fee, an insurance certificate. But the gospel is daily bread. It is robust and resilient enough to sustain not just for all of life, but for all eternity. The gospel is the antidote for the human predicament, for all of humanity itself.” (Jared Wilson in Gospel Wakefulness)

Don’t Worry… Yeah Right!

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

(Philippians 4:4-7 ESV)

No_worries_spare

Over the past several weeks, I have been meditating on Philippians 4:4-7. Several things have been landing on my plate and I have struggled with worry and anxiety. My mom has always said that I have an “old soul.” By this she means that I struggled to live in the moment and enjoy the day before me. Paul’s words in Philippians have been balm for my soul over the last few weeks. What I want to do is walk through this passage phrase by phrase and offer a few personalized thoughts that might be helpful if you struggle with worry and anxiety:

“Rejoice in the Lord always”

Be happy in the Lord…ALWAYS. Even when things are crashing in around me I need to rejoice. There are so many difficulties in life yet, I can rejoice. I can rejoice at who God is in my difficulties. I can rejoice that he walks with me daily. I rejoice because he sustains me and works in me through various trials and troubles. He never changes even though my circumstances change – that is why I can rejoice in Him always.

“Again I will say rejoice”

Just in case you did not get it the first time, Mr. Hardhead, REJOICE. Be joyful; give thanks for who God is and his goodness in your life. If you woke up this morning and took a breath, you should rejoice – His mercies are new every morning!

“Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand”

It is easy to get along with others when I am rejoicing…always. This takes on even more intensity when I consider that Jesus could return at any moment. Would I want him to find me fussing and fighting with others or rejoicing?

“Do not be anxious about anything”

Anything? Yes – any single thing. Don’t fret. Don’t worry. Yeah right! There are so many things I need to worry about. What do I do with all the things that land on my plate – things I have to take care of right now? If I can’t worry what am I suppose to do?

“But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God”

I need to lay every single thing I am anxious about before the Lord. I need to do this with thanksgiving. Why? He can handle all of my requests. He can deal with those things that seem insurmountable. He is God! After all, his burden is easy and his yoke is light.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”

God’s peace (the complete opposite of anxiety) is given to me when I lay my cares and concerns at his feet. This is not just any old peace but peace that is unexplainable and uncontainable. Peace that permeates every aspect of my being. It guards my heart, the seat of my emotions. It guards my mind, the seat of my thoughts. It overflows from within.

Journaling And The Christian Life

I began writing in my 3rd journal today but, before I did, I went back and read through the other two. I started seriously journaling in November of 2009 and have journaled at least 3 times per week since then. There is really no method to what I write. Often I write down what God is teaching me in His Word. I also write out prayers that I am praying for specific people, including myself. At other times, I have journaled my goals and dreams or what God is doing around me.

Reading back through the past 2.5 years of entries has brought me to this reality: God is at work! I have recorded highs and lows, successes and failures, tragedy and triumph. There are things I have written that describe the most intimate details of my relationship with my Savior and the areas of struggle in my life.

God’s sustaining hand over this time has been unwavering. Reading back through all that has happened helps me gain perspective and illuminates the grand picture that God is painting around me. All too often, I can’t see the forest for the tree that is right in front of me. I get tunnel vision and the most immediate concern seems to cloud out everything else going on at that moment. But reading back through helps me to see God at work.

Perspective is everything. Reading back through my journals helps to strengthen my faith. It helps me trust God more deeply as I head into the unknown. I have seen God work in situations over the course of weeks or months even though I had no idea what He was doing from day to day. The truth is He was always at work but, in the moment, I could not see what He was doing.

The lyrics to “Trust His Heart” by Eddie Carswell and Babbie Mason sum it up well:

All things work for our good

Though sometimes we don’t see how they could

Struggles that break our hearts in two

Sometimes blind us to the truth

Our Father knows what best for us

His ways are not our own

So when your pathway grows dim

And you just don’t see Him

Remember you’re never alone

God is too wise to be mistaken

God is too good to be unkind

So when you don’t understand

When you don’t see His plan

When you can’t trace His hand

Trust His heart

Trust His heart

He sees the master plan

And He holds our future in His hand

So don’t live as those who have no hope

All our hope is found in Him

We see the present clearly

But He sees the first and the last

And like a tapestry

He’s weaving you and me

To someday be just like Him

God is too wise to be mistaken

God is too good to be unkind

So when you don’t understand

When you don’t see His plan

When you can’t trace His hand

Trust His heart

Trust His heart

He alone is faithful and true

He alone knows what is best for you

God is too wise to be mistaken

God is too good to be unkind

So when you don’t understand

When you don’t see His plan

When you can’t trace His hand

Trust His heart

Trust His heart

When you don’t understand

When you don’t see His plan

When you can’t trace His hand

Trust His heart

Trust His heart

The God Of Sesame Street

I had quite a unique experience this morning. My 4 year old was watching Sesame Street as I was getting ready to head into the office and the episode featured Jimmy Fallon as the “Wild Nature Survivor Guy.” Here is a basic rundown of the episode (if you are interested).

Basically, Jimmy Fallon is discussing what it takes to survive out in the wilderness (think Bear Grylls) even though he is in Sesame Street where there is no real need for survival skills. This is the funny part.

The not so funny part is the way Fallon talks about nature as if nature is god. Numerous times he talks about nature providing everything we need (ie. water, leaves to keep warm, food, etc.). Interestingly, in the politically correct world of Sesame Street, there is no mention of God creating this world to function as it does. There is no mention that it is God who provides for our needs. There is no mention that he causes it to rain on this earth or causes food to grow.

I was reminded of the words of Matthew,

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble (Matthew 6:25-34).

I am by no means calling for a boycott of Sesame Street nor do I believe we should expect anything different from a secular media outlet like this. Sesame Street may be a good resource for teaching kids about various things but we, as Christian parents, must recognize that they will not teach our children the things of the Lord.

In fact, they are teaching the exact opposite of what we believe and we must be prepared to train our children in godliness. We must listen to what is being communicated and then correct the errors that are pouring into our living rooms day after day.

Moses reminds us of our responsibility in Deuteronomy 6:4-9,

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

What a challenge! There is no greater responsibility that we have as Christian parents than to train our children when we sit in our house, when we walk along, when we lie down, when we rise, and when we watch Sesame Street.

Living The Christian Life

I read a couple of verses of Scripture one day this past week that seemed to jump off the page. I meditated on them throughout the rest of the day and considered their application in my life. Here are the verses:

And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward. For out of Jerusalem shall go a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the LORD will do this. (2 Kings 19:30-31).

I would encourage you to read the chapter and get a feel for the context of what is going on in the story. God’s people are facing a tyrannical ruler (Sennacherib) who has promised their destruction and, in these verses, God promises that His remnant will survive and even thrive. He says that they will “take root downward and bear fruit upward.

This phrase hit me like a ton of bricks. I sat back in my chair and thought, “This should be true of every believer.” We should take root downward and bear fruit upward.

But, what does this look like practically? Here are some things that came to mind as I meditated on these verses and, specifically, this phrase.

Take Root Downward

We must be connected to the vine. Jesus said, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5). In a real sense, abiding in Christ is taking root downward. This means we must make a conscious effort, daily, to ensure that we are connected to the vine (Jesus) by spending time in God’s Word and in prayer.

We must have a marathon mindset. For some reason many of us have the mindset that spiritual growth will happen overnight. We believe that we will wake up one day and suddenly have a deep and growing relationship with Jesus Christ. After all, we live in the world of microwave dinners, fast food, and instant oatmeal. The truth is that spiritual growth does not magically happen overnight. It takes time. We must approach the Christian life and our own spiritual growth with a marathon mindset. Day after day, month after month, and year after year of walking with the Lord, immersing ourselves in His Word, and living in obedience to His Word is needed if we are to take root downward.

Bear Fruit Upward

We were redeemed for a purpose and that is to bear fruit. Paul, after unpacking the amazing reality of salvation, wrote, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). The expectation for every believer is that he or she is bearing fruit (ie. doing what we he/she was redeemed to do). What does bearing fruit look like practically? There are several things: (1) We should be making disciples (Matthew 28:19-20), (2) The fruits of the Spirit should be evident in our lives (Galatians 5:2-23) (3) We should demonstrate love to our neighbor (Matthew 22:39, Matthew 25:35-40).

We will be known by our fruit. Jesus said that his disciples would be known by their fruit (John 15:8). How do you know if a tree is an apple tree? It produces apples. How do you know if a tree is an orange tree? It produces oranges. One of the greatest testimonies to the power of the gospel message at work in this world is for people to see it changing us! Our goal is not to live under the radar but to display gospel power and gospel change by the lives that we live.

*God’s Word is rich and His Spirit is active!

God Is For God

The title may seem a bit harsh but it is true. God is no sharer of glory, nor should He be. God is for God. His purpose in creation and redemption is ultimately the glory of His name.

Psalm 138 was one of the chapters that I read this morning as I work through the ESV Bible reading program in 2012. I was freshly reminded of the truth that God is for God. He is for the furtherance of His name in this world. Though we are objects of His affection, we are by no means the point – He is.

Consider Psalm 138:1-2:

I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise; I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word.

There is no doubt David worshipped God because of His steadfast love and faithfulness. But it is evident David recognized that God’s steadfast love and faithfulness was based on one thing – God is for God. God’s steadfast love and faithfulness did not point to David’s worth but to God’s desire to exalt, above all things, His name and His word.

Here are some things I was reminded of:

  1. My worth is based on Christ. I am a worthy object in the Father’s eyes because of Jesus. In the same way that David recognized he was not the point; I am freshly reminded that I am not the point. Jesus Christ is the point. His saving grace and the glory of his name, proclaimed in this world, is the point. Jesus saved my soul and my greatest privilege in life is praising Him for who He is and what He has done.
  2. My personal kingdom pales to compare. So often I find myself concerned with the furtherance of my kingdom. Will I succeed? Will I be noticed? Will things go well with my ministry? I am freshly reminded that these are the wrong questions. Here are the questions that I need to be asking: Will I be faithful, week in and week out, to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ? Will the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ be evident in my daily life? Will Jesus Christ be the point of my ministry and will I be Spirit-led instead of Michael-led? Why would I waste time building my own pitiful kingdom when God allows me to be used by Him as He builds His kingdom?
  3. God’s Word is fresh and His Spirit is active. Even though my heart can be cold and distant in the mornings, I am grateful that God’s Word warms it every time. I am grateful that His Word is fresh. I am grateful that His Spirit is active. I echo with the writer of Hebrews: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).