Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Help in Our Weakness

image from

An honest examination of one’s self will inevitably reveal the many flaws that characterize human beings in the present life. We are sluggish and sloppy, careless and calloused, ignorant and inadequate, negligent and needy. Yes, we are people fraught with weakness. Even believers, those who have been forever changed through the miracle of regeneration by the Holy Spirit (John 3:8), redeemed by the blood of Christ (Heb 9:12), and who are being kept by the power of God through faith (1 Pet 1:5), must readily confess the weakness of the flesh. Living the Christian life, we experience the tension that exists between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’. The ‘already’ being that we have indeed been created anew through faith in Christ and thus are able to obey our Lord (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 5:25). The ‘not yet’ being the struggles we face in this life, clothed in earthly bodies and longing for future and final redemption (Rom 8:23).

What hope is there for the believer to endure while facing the reality of our weakness? To whom do we turn for help? God has given the believer many and precious promises in His holy Word, and we would do well to consider the promise He makes to help us in our weakness. In Romans 8:26, Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writes, “Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Not so long ago, I found myself wandering through a spiritual wasteland, my affections toward God were cold and I wondered with the psalmist, “How long, O Lord?” It is during times such as this that we are most keenly aware of our weakness and of our utter dependence upon God. We often are distressed in such a way that we do not even know what to pray or how to beseech our heavenly Father. Take heart, believer! The promise of our God is that His Spirit is interceding on our behalf in perfect accordance with His own will (Rom 8:27).

The present life is difficult. We are beset by the numerous weaknesses that dog our steps, but oh what great hope we have! The Spirit of the living God helps us in our weakness. Indeed, the hope we have that God will complete what He has begun in us is a sure and steadfast anchor of our soul (Phil 1:6; Heb 6:19).

Look to God! Look to God! Our Help from above,
Strength in our weakness, steadfast His love!
So often we’re weary and jostled about
Trust Him, believer, He’ll help you no doubt.
His promise to us, He never will leave

Hold fast, dear Christian! To Jesus now cleave.

-Blake Gerber

Friday, April 21, 2017

Friendship with the Lost

Our IMAGE high school group has been discussing the topic of relationships and friendships over the past couple weeks. One of these topics was about having unsaved friends and how to interact with them. I'm very excited for our kids to be thinking about this more as we want to have a youth culture in our church that is reaching out to others with the good news of Christ and inviting them into our group to experience the love of Christ while partaking of our community within the church.

Where do we get the Idea of Relationships?
Relationships were started from the very beginning of time and actually even before that in eternity past. We see in Genesis 1:26 that the triune God has relationship with Himself and from that He creates a man who is meant for relationship in His image (Gen 1:17). That God made man both for relationship with Himself and with other as well (Gen 2:18). Relationship are from God and are "very good" (Gen 1:31). Take a look at Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 if you want more on this.

What is the Purpose for any Relationship?
Christ clarifies this very well in Matthew 22:37-40 giving the first and second great commandments… love. Love is the purpose for your relationship with God and with others. Love God with all you are. Love every human relationship you have as if they were you. It means putting yourself in the other person's place to determine how they would like to be treated and then treating them in that manner. This love is a radical, gospel love that God calls us to on a moment-by-moment basis. It starts in our relationship with Him and is generated out to all others in our life. Its origin is the love we ourselves have been shown in the gospel of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection for us. "We love, because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19). This kind of love means that every relationship we have should not be for what we get out of it, but rather we bring to it. It means not just loving those who benefit you and make you feel better or help you, but loving those who are unpopular, those who don't or can't benefit you in any way, those who actually take rather than give to you. The gospel love of our Savior who, "while we were yet sinners,… died for us" (Rom 5:8). This kind of love is to be applied to every relationship you have, friends, family, the cashier at the grocery store, business associates, neighbors, other drivers on the road, etc. You are here to love them as you have been loved.

What about Relationships with the Lost?
How does a gospel love in every relationship I have translate into my relationship the Lost? Should I be their friend? At first glance there is cause for concern in this…
James 4:4, "You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."
1 John 2:15-17, "Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever."
1 Cor 15:33, "Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals."
So I shouldn't have unsaved friends then? No, on the contrary our Savior was known as, "a friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Luke 7:34). What these verses indicate is that you should not become like your unsaved friend, not that you should not have them. Philippians 2:14-16 states, "Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain." You should not have your thinking influenced by that of the world, nor should your heart be swayed toward loving the things of the world over God. Rather, you are to be a light in the darkness… to live and love differently than they have ever seen, known, or experienced.

What does a Relationship with my Unsaved Friend look like?
If I'm supposed to have this kind of gospel love in my relationships with my unsaved friends, then what does it look like? 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 gives a lot of help with that…
"Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."
According to Paul, our job is twofold. We are to 1) Pursue Reconciliation and 2) Be Representatives. Reconciliation means we seek to restore the relationship of the unsaved person with God. Paul then uses the term ambassador to add to the idea of reconciliation with that of representing God to this lost world as well as seeking are restoring of relationship.
This picture of a reconciling ambassador is very helpful here. An ambassador's job entails a few very important parts. First, the ambassador is to know his own country and its desires very well so he can represent them to those he is speaking to. Second, the life and actions of the ambassador must match his speech to represent the desires and values of those he represents. Third, the ambassador must live with and seek to best understand and know those he is a representative to.
What does this mean for us in our every day relationships?
The statement is sometimes made, "Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words" (St. Francis of Assisi). This idea, while probably well intentioned, is simply not true. In Romans 10:14, Paul states, "How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?" Just living a good Christian life is not enough. You must be actively telling others the gospel that God is holy, they are sinful and as such under His wrath, but God is also merciful and give a wrath-bearer, His Son, Jesus to deal with their sin,  and finally, God offers that gift to them if they will accept Him as their Savior and Lord. Without someone hearing and believing this truth there is no hope for their salvation. No matter how great a life you lead, your friends need to hear the gospel from your lips.
While we are on this topic, however, there is another side of the coin as well. While Jesus like any thing/one else you love should naturally be a part of your conversation with your friend and be someone you pursue talking about, He does not need to be all you talk about. I'll say more on this in a bit.
While leading a life that honors the Lord is not enough to enable someone to get saved, not doing so is certainly enough to detract from it. Jesus states, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Mat 5:16). Peter follows this in 1 Peter 2:12 saying, "Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation." The life you lead is necessary to validating the message you are called to speak. Your unsaved friend will see hypocrisy and nothing can do more damage to validity of the message you speak then living by a double standard. Holiness of life is key to be the ambassador God calls you to be.
As before, however, it is key to understand how the gospel plays into this as well. God does not demand perfection from you as that is impossible (1 John 1:8). There will be times of shortness or unkind speech, times of selfishness and pride, time of … sin. This issue is not that you don't sin. It is what you do with your sin. Anyone who knows you (or me) knows we sin. The right response is to take it to the Lord and ask His and their forgiveness showing our need of the gospel. Seeking to hide and cover it and acting like it never happened or making excuses is what demonstrates hypocrisy.
Speaking the gospel is necessary. Living a life that validates the gospel is key. However, what earns you the right to share the gospel with someone is love. Those who know they are loved and cared for by you will be willing to listen to you, even if you have to say hard things. What does it mean to love your unsaved friend? It means spending time with them. It means doing activities and things they enjoy. It means having conversations with them and getting to know them and who they really are. It means showing that you value them as a person and for their friendship, not just as your "Christian hobby" to save them. It means you act "normal" around them and be yourself. It means you invite them to join you in doing things you like. It means listening when they share both big and small things with you. … It means doing life and having a relationship with them like you would anybody else. There is really no special action or extra thing you do. You simply love them, living your life with them, seeking to honor Christ in all you do, and speaking about Him as the big focus and part of your life that He is. It's what you should be doing with every relationship you have.

How does this Apply to me?
1) If you don't have anyone you'd call an unsaved friend you either need to be more intentional about the people and places you currently interact in/with or maybe you need to think about picking up a new hobby, place to shop, etc. to be able to start meeting potential friends. Find opportunities; join groups; be creative, but do what you need to in order to make it possible to be the ambassador you are.
2) Take some time to think through whether you are really doing the speaking you need to be doing. Have you been holding back because of fear or worry? Do you just not feel you know exactly what to say? Talk with a fellow believer to help you plan out a gospel presentation you can use and then ask them to hold you accountable. Pray for opportunities to share your faith with your friend. Seek to create opportunities to do so too. A very easy way to start of conversation might be, "hey _______, you know I go to church and feel Jesus is very important to me. What do you think about Jesus?"
3) Is your life reflecting the message you're to be giving? Are their things you need to go to the Lord and ask forgiveness for admitting they are sin? Are their ways you've sinned against or in front of your friend you need to ask his/her forgiveness for and share about how it is so central to your Christian life?
4) Is their someone you need to call on the phone or schedule a meeting or meal with to really get to spend time with them showing them you love and care about them? Are there activities or things you do you should be more intentional in, inviting your unsaved friend to join you and spend time with you?

If you've read through this and think, "I'm doing most of this by God's grace," praise the Lord! Keep going and grab others in the church to encourage them to grow in this way and do it with you. If, on the other hand, you've read thinking, "wow, I'm not really hitting this at all," take heart! The Great Ambassador, Jesus, has brought you to Himself and has made you, "to be strengthened with power through His Spirit" to begin in this journey (Eph 3:16). Start small. Ask the Lord to help you grow in this, bringing people into your life and helping you see and reach out to them. There is very little that brings as much delight as seeing a lost soul brought into the kingdom of light right in front of your eyes through God using you.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Is It a Sin to Be Disappointed?

I just got an email from someone who is going through a bible study workbook. She asked about the veracity of following statement:
               “Every circumstance of life is to be accepted willingly and joyfully, without murmuring,                               complaint, or disappointment, much less resentment. There is no exception”
She raises a very important question. This is a very strong and all-encompassing. My first thought was “Is that really true?” It came from a very respected source and I wanted to be very cautious before I responded. Because if this is in fact true, there’s a significant amount of sins committed by God’s people that are undetected. If this is true, I have a lot of soul-searching to do. So, what does the Bible have to say about disappointment? Is all disappointment sinful?

Defining terms
Let’s begin by defining disappointment. Webster’s 1913 edition defines disappointment as, “The act of disappointing, or the state of being disappointed; defeat or failure of expectation or hope; miscarriage of design or plan; frustration.” I would like to suggest that disappointment is a whole-person, emotional and intellectual response that occurs when one’s desires are unfulfilled, one’s hopes are dashed or one’s expectations are not realized. Disappointment therefore is a universal, human experience. Humans are motivated by desires. In a fallen world, one will experience daily disappointments; life rarely turns out the way one plans or hopes. Disappointment is a natural aspect of living in a fallen world. I would argue that disappointment for a human being in a fallen world is unavoidable. Of course, one is totally responsible to glorify God in his/her response to the disappointment(s). This is an especially painful truth for the believer whose hope is that their loved one will love and follow Christ. However, if God does not in fact choose them and draw them to himself, disappointment will no-doubt be immeasurable. However, they can choose to trust and honor God, even though His sovereign acts cause great disappointment and grief.
Solomon gives us a succinct description of the effects of disappointment:
Pr. 13:12 Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
Pr. 15:13 A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.
Disappointment should be used as a diagnostic tool for the heart. When a person experiences the emotion of disappointment, one should step back and ask, “Was my desire or hope for something that is good and godly? If not, then disappointment is a call to repent and turn from sinful desires. It is a time to praise God that He orchestrated your life in such a way that you were prevented from further sin.
Disappointment Over Good Things is a Part of Loving God and Seeking His Glory
However, if your disappointment has come from an unmet, good, God-honoring desire, hope, objectives or outcomes, your disappointment is a natural outworking of your desire to please God. I don’t believe that the emotion of disappointment is sinful, it is natural and even right to experience disappointment. Of course, one must make a conscious effort to avoid sinning in the disappointment.
God’s people will by nature love the unbeliever, the rebellious, the wayward. I believe this guarantees that a believer will often experience disappointment. Many people we love reject God. Many people we love will pursue their sin to self-destruction. Furthermore, God doesn’t call people to himself within our time-table. When God’s children see others choose sinful life-styles, it brings disappointment, perhaps even sorrow and grief. This is a very grievous experience which is common to many parents, pastors and family members.
Here are some examples in Scripture of people who experienced disappointment over failing to obtain good outcomes or expectations.
Parents rightly grieve or experience disappointment when their children dishonor God and fail to live lives that are obedient to God.
Pr. 10:1 A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother.
Pr. 17:21 He who sires a fool gets himself sorrow, and the father of a fool has no joy.
Samuel loved Saul. Samuel prayed for Saul. Saul rebelled and Samuel experienced deep disappointment. Samuel grieved over Saul’s horrific end.
1 Samuel 15:11 - “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the LORD all night.
1 Sam. 15:35  And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the LORD regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.
Of course, there came a point where God had to confront Samuel because he failed to respond to the disappointment in a timely fashion, however I believe his initial response of disappointment, anger and grief was normal, right and to be expected.
            1 Sam. 16:1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.”
David expressed disappointment time and time again throughout his life, many of the psalmists cried out to God and expressed deep lament and disappointment.
Ps. 39:12-13 12“Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry; hold not your peace at my tears! For I am a sojourner with you, a guest, like all my fathers. 13Look away from me, that I may smile again, before I depart and am no more!”
Ps. 10:1 Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
Habakkuk expressed his disappointment and confusion about how God was dealing with violence and injustice. It was his expression of disappointment that gave us the rich, powerful book by his name.
Habakkuk 1:2-4  2O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?’ Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? 3Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. 4So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.
Paul experienced disappointment throughout his ministry.
2 Cor. 2:3 And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.
2 Cor. 12:20-22 20 For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you    may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility,       slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. 21I fear that when I come again my God may humble me     before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not    repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.
1 Thess. 2:17-20 17But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face18because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us.19For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20For you are our glory and joy.
Jesus expressed what appears to be frustration perhaps disappointment, in his humanity, in Philip for his lack of discernment.
John 14:9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

Therefore, I would conclude that disappointment is a natural response to an unmet hope, desire or expectation. Disappointment is an unavoidable human experience. Disappointment isn’t necessarily sinful. However, as with righteous anger[1], God is extremely concerned about how we respond to our disappointments. Disappointments can quickly morph into sinful responses. One can blame others, fail to take personal responsibility, blame God, shut down emotionally, attack others, and over-compensate with manipulation, etc. The list goes on and on.

Responding to disappointment
God calls us to trust Him, obey Him, and glorify Him as we express our disappointments to him in prayer and supplication.
God calls Habakkuk to wait patiently for what he desired to see take place.
Hab. 2:3 For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.
Mary’s disappointment in Jesus for not being there to save her brother was great, however her hope remained in the goodness, grace, mercy and power of the God-man.
John 11:19-22 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”
Psalm 42 gives us a good theological process and foundation for responding to disappointment. Here, the Sons of Korah show us how to preach truth to ourselves as we turn our attention from disappointments, even though they may be good, to something more sure, more beautiful,  and more satisfying; namely to God himself.
Ps. 42:5 5Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?  Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation 6and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
Ps. 42:9 I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” 10As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” 11Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.

Seeking God and His will in our disappointments
God commands us to turn to him in our disappointments and express them to Him with the intention of placing our hope in Him (Lam 3:20ff), trusting in His character and goodness that He will work all things for our good and his glory (Rom. 8:28-29). He commands us to train our minds to not allow our disappointments to turn us away from Him, but rather think biblically and truthfully about our situation (Ja. 1:2-12; Phil 4:4-19) and respond in obedience and perseverance in our suffering (Heb. 12:1-14; Rom. 11:36-12:3).
The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary has this to say about disappointment,
“In spite of his circumstances, the psalmist learned to trust in God who, in the end, overcame his disappointment (Pss. 22:5; 40:1; 42:5b). Isaiah saw a day when all who were feeble and fearful would become strengthened (Isa. 35:3–4). In the meantime, Jesus commands that those who are disappointed continue to wait on God, pray, and not lose heart (Luke 18:1; cp. Matt. 5:4). Every believer is called to recognize that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces a hope in God that does not disappoint (Rom. 5:3–5).[2]

I believe disappointments are inevitable, but we must first discern if our desires and expectations are God-honoring. If they are not, the sense of disappointment is a call to repent, reject those desires (Jonah 2:8) and exchange that desire for a God-honoring one (Ps. 73:25).
If our desires are in fact God-honoring and yet remain unfulfilled, our experience of disappointment is an invitation to run to God (Ps. 46) and cling to Him (Ps. 63:8), cry out to Him (Ps. 56; 130; 142), persevere in prayer (1 Thes. 5:17) as we wait for Him (Is. 40:31; Ps. 40) with hope (1 Tim. 1:1) and joy (Ja. 1:2) as the trials refine and conform us to the image of Christ (Ja. 1:3-4).

Pastor Kent

[1] 26Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. Eph. 4:26-27
[2] Wright, P. H. (2003). Disappointment. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (pp. 424–425). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.