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Monday, May 31, 2010

Impatience with God's Timing

In Mt.4 we see the Holy Spirit leading Jesus into the Judean wilderness to be tempted by Satan. Unlike Adam, Jesus responds righteously to Satan's temptations, demonstrating for us the correct way to react to any temptation we may encounter.

As we walk through the Christian life, all believers find themselves tempted to sin. We're bombarded by a world system opposed to God, by fallen angels, and perhaps most insidious of all, by our own flesh. Scripture informs us we're in a daily spiritual battle, whether we realize it or not. The 3rd temptation of Christ unveils a subtle temptation all believers can face at times. Satan "showed [Christ] all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, "All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me." Satan offered Christ what the Father had already promised Him (Mt.28:18) ... but without the cross. Rather than relying upon God's perfect timing, Satan tempted Jesus to gain God's desired end in different timing. And the price would be heavy... worship Satan.

In the same manner, we might desire some good thing God's providence may have in store for us, but we want it now, rather than in God's perfect timing.  If pursued, we may compromise our obedience to God, our morals, even our faith in order to get it. Consider for a moment. Perhaps we have a desire to marry and have a home, or our heart may yearn for a fulfilling vocation, or we find ourselves craving financial stability or solid relationships with others or well-behaved children or successful ministry or church growth or ... you fill in the blank. While the desire itself may not be sinful, wishing to bring it to pass in our own timing (now!) instead of in God's perfect timing can lead us far from God. If we're not careful we may find ourselves trying to accomplish God's purposes... on Satan's timetable.

So how do we counter temptation toward impatience with God's timing?
Step #1  Remember... Satan always promises more than he can give and God always gives more than He promises. ["...Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us..." Ephesians 3:20] 

Step #2  Worship God... "Worship" is primarily a verb in Scripture. It means to give honor, homage to someone of great worth. Literally it means "to kiss towards". In the ancient Near East, when men of equal rank met they kissed each other on the lips. When those of slightly different rank met, they kissed one another on the cheeks. But when someone of low status met someone of very high status, he bowed down, touching his forehead on the ground or prostrating himself full length and "threw kisses toward" the one of exalted rank. ["Ascribe to the LORD the glory due to His name; Worship the LORD...". Psalm 29:2

In Scripture sacrifice is a key element of worship. NT believers are called to "to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship." [Rom.12:1]  In Hebrews 13:15 believers are commanded to "continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name." We're to thankfully worship the Lord 24/7, to be willing to say to God every day, "Not my will, but Yours be done." Be faithful today to what God has for you... this is true worship!

Step #3 Seek Him in His Word...  Jesus countered Satan's temptation, even his misuse of Scripture, with a right understanding of God's Word. Knowledge and use of God's Word is essential in answering temptation.

If we focus upon worship and God's revealed Word, we can respond correctly to the temptations we face... and God will be honored.

[inspired by a sermon by Dr. Tom Halstead]

Monday, May 24, 2010

7 Ways to "Quench the Spirit"

In 1 Thessalonians 5:19 Paul commands believers, "Do not be quenching the Spirit". To "quench" means "to dampen, hinder, repress, as in preventing the Holy Spirit from exerting His full influence" on a believer. Puritan author Richard Sibbes, in his book The Bruised Reed, points out several ways believers might "quench" the Holy Spirit. It's good to examine ourselves lest we should cling to such behavior!

"My sin is too bad." - False despair of Christ's mercy:
"As soon as we look to heaven, all encouragements are ready to meet us ...None are damned in the church but those that are determined to be... that they may have some show of reason to fetch contentment from other things..."

"Sin now... repent later." - False hope of Christ's mercy: 
"There are those who take up a hope of their own, that Christ will allow them to walk in the ways to hell, and yet bring them to heaven."

"I'm saved... I don't need to pray... read the Bible... sit under preaching... fellowship... submit" - Presuming on Christ's mercy:
"If we are negligent in the exercise of grace received and the use of the means prescribed, allowing our spirits to be oppressed with many and various cares of this life, and take not heed of the discouragements of the times, for this kind of neglect God in His wise care allows to fall into a worse condition in our feelings than those that were never so much enlightened."

"I'll look elsewhere for comfort." - Seeking another source of mercy:
"How do they wrong themselves and Him that will have other mediators to God for them than He!...Let all, at all times, repair to this meek Savior, and put up all our petitions in His prevailing name. What need do we have to knock at any other door?"

"I love Jesus... I just don't like some of His people." - Mistreating the Heirs of Mercy:
" When He is so kind to us, shall we be cruel against Him in His name, in His truth, in His children? How shall those that delight to be so terrible to 'the meek of the earth' hope to look so gracious a Savior in the face?"

"How dare you!" - Strife Among the Heirs of Mercy:
 "Our discord is our enemy's melody...The more to blame are those that for private aims affect differences from others, and will not allow the wounds of the church to close and meet together."

"We need to soften the message so it's not offensive." - Despising the Simple Means of Mercy:
"They carry themselves very unkindly towards Christ who...are ashamed of the simplicity of the gospel, that count preaching foolishness... (who) mend the matter with their own devices so that they may give better satisfaction to flesh and blood."

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Source of Discouragement

Discouragement... we all experience it at times. We throw ourselves into service for the Lord and see little fruit. Poor health  prevents us from serving God in the way we desire. Our path through this world doesn't proceed the way we thought it would/should... financially, socially, vocationally. We repeatedly struggle with a sin issue and fear we'll never be able to conquer it and glorify God.

Puritan Richard Sibbes, in a helpful passage from his book, The Bruised Reed, investigates the source of discouragement in a believer's life. He writes, "Where, then do these discouragements come from?

1. Not from the Father, for he has bound himself in covenant to pity us as a father pities his children (Psalm 103:13)...

2. Not from Christ, for he by office will not quench the smoking flax. We see how Christ bestows the best fruits of his love on persons who are mean in condition, weak in abilities, and offensive for infirmities... And this he does, first, because thus it pleases him to confound the pride of the flesh, which usually measures God's love by some outward excellency; and secondly in this way he delights to show the freedom of his grace and confirm his royal prerogative that 'he that glorieth' must 'glory in the Lord' (1 Corinthians 1:31)...

3. Neither do discouragements come from the Spirit. He helps our infirmities, and by office is a comforter (Romans 8:26; John 14:16). If he convinces of sin, and so humbles us, it is that he may make way for his office of comforting us.

Discouragements, then, must come from ourselves..."

I suspect the primary source of discouragement comes when our personal expectations are thwarted by the realities of life. We develop an idea of how WE think life should proceed, and it's often quite a rosy picture without the realities of pain and struggle. Inevitably our expectations don't materialize... and we become discouraged, perhaps depressed and maybe even angry at God for not delivering on our expectation. Life isn't the way we planned it...and it's painful!

For a believer, the key to moving away from a life of discouragement is to focus instead upon submission to God's hand in our lives, and to replace OUR particular expectations with His. Scripture says we do that by daily denying self and following HIM. We  keep our focus on HIM, saturating ourselves in His Word, meditating on how to conform our lives to the truths found there, communicating with Him through prayer and gathering together for mutual edification/building up to do the work of the ministry. We learn to regularly examine our heart's expectations, changing them as we walk with our eyes on Him, highly sensitive to whatever situation He might bring us into that day. We rest in His comfort, His purposes, His timing... His sovereignty.

"Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:18-18