Piles of Anxieties

I must say that yesterday was one of the most stressful days of my ministry thus far at Bethel. It seemed as though God had a bulleted list of tests for me to take. Last night as I sat through the church-wide interview with our potential Associate Pastor, my mind was taken to a familiar passage of Scripture, 1 Peter 5:6-7, which says, “Humle yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (ESV)

I thought back to my earliest days of preaching when I would sit nervously on the front pew before approaching the pulpit. I would read these verses and the Holy Spirit would bring a sense of calm over my soul. When these “piles of anxieties” come, we have the ability to thrown them on God’s great big shoulders. That doesn’t mean we don’t have to deal with reality. It does mean, however, that we can trust God to carry us through them, expect His intervention, and allow Him to handle the results.

One of my greatest sources of anxiety is the fear of losing the approval of other people. I find myself looking over my shoulder to see who is looking over it in return. But when we take this anxiety to God He can remind us that He’s the only one “with whom we have to do (give account).” I also feel anxiety when too many tasks compete for my mental and emotional attention. But when we throw this anxiety upon God He reminds us that He gave us exactly twenty-four hours in a day and exactly twenty-four hours of heavenly assignments (including rest). If we can’t do it all, it wasn’t all meant to get done… at least not today.

My favorite part of the passage is the last part of verse seven. “He cares for you.” It’s directly connected to the thought that He wants to carry our anxieties. He cares about the things that stress us out and He wants to teach us the great life lesson that nothing really deserves as much attention in our lives as His Son Jesus Christ. Anxiety provides competition for worship. When we’re stressed, we aren’t meditating on God’s perfect Word. But when we begin with the solitude of silence before God, our stresses are manageable.

Are you stressed out today? Why not test God’s faithfulness to this promise? Cast your pile of anxieties upon Him… He cares for you, too!

A Biblical Recovery Plan

“Remember therefore form where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place – unless you repent.” -Revelation 2:5 (NKJV)

John, writing on Jesus’ behalf to the church at Ephesus, gives them a simple, three-step approach to recovering their first love. It’s a plan that applies to us anytime we turn our gaze from Jesus to something less, base, and worldly. When our heart’s affection turns from our loving Master to the gods of this world, we must follow His action plan to recover.

Remember the grace whereby you were saved to begin with. You were given a new position in Christ and you received an eternal sonship in the family of God. You were washed clean and completely forgiven of sin. Remember that. Repent of sin. Confess it with contrition of heart. Remember that the greatest sacrifice for God is “a broken and contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17). Repentance entails a confessing, but also a turning and forsaking of sin. It means to begin to agree with God about the heinous nature of sin. Then return to your first works. Get back to the growth you experienced and the passion for Christ you had when you were originally saved.

The Ephesian church had preserved right belief but had, at some point, forgotten their passion for the Savior. Anytime we will argue over doctrine but we won’t give up a sin or worldly practice, we’ve replaced our first love. Let’s remember, repent, and return to a life lived with real and lasting passion for Jesus.

Sincere Intentions with Terrible Infractions

Throughout the book of Judges, we see the phrase repeated again and again, “in those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” The word “right” always sounds good, but what was really happening was a postmodern revolution… in the ancient world. Moral and religious relativism pervaded the land.

One such example is the mother of Micah who, in chapter 17, dedicated 11,000 shekels of silver to the Lord (sounds good, might have the approval of many modern Christians) to have a graven image made. She designated an offering for idol-building to the God who said, “Don’t make idols!” Her spiritual confusion transferred to her son who kept the idol and began to mentor a young Levite priest. After several years of training, the tribe of Dan persuaded the young priest to come and be their priest. The spiritual schizophrenia of one mother influenced a son, who influenced a village of people and a young apprentice, who influenced an entire tribe toward idolatrous worship of the one true God.

There are several clear messages from this story. First, not all that seems like genuine worship really is. Micah and the young priest served out of sincerity. They believed in God, they prayed, and they saw themselves as qualified spiritual leaders. The mother thought she was doing a good thing in paying to have an image formed. The Danites thought they were doing a good thing in setting up a new shrine when the real place of worship was Shiloh. All good intentions, but idolatry nonetheless.

Another lesson concerns the lack of spiritual leadership. The mother failed to lead her son to pure worship. Imagine the impact of a different decision. Imagine if Micah had been trained in the truth of the Scriptures (instead of the relativistic truth of the day) to worship God without any graven images. He might have mentored the young priest to know God’s Word as well, who might have influenced Dan to worship in spirit and in truth also.

Yet another lesson, hinted at already, is that the truth of God’s Word must frame our worldview and our worship. We can have church with a positive message, great music, large offerings, and humanitarian acts toward the world. But if the truth of God’s Word is not the foundation of our worship and service to God, we are sure to miss the point of what real worship is all about.

Pray today for God’s truth to be the basis of modern Christianity instead of an emotionalistic and sometimes shallow, whatever-feels-like-great-worship-must-be-right mentality. Pray for God to raise up godly, spiritual leaders. And pray for the generations to come to worship the true God according to God’s truth.

If You Only Had This Moment

Every leader has to be a good decision maker, and an even better decision manager. We often assume that great leaders are instantly decisive, but often the best leaders take a great deal of time to think decisions through and consult wise people.

Personally, I get a little nervous under a soon-coming deadline on a decision… unless of course the decision is obvious. I sometimes begin to hear the tune to Jeopardy going through my head. When it comes to eternity, however, we have only this life, in all of its brevity, to decide to follow Christ.

With the return of Christ imminent and the reality of death looming on the horizon, today is your greatest opportunity to make the wisest decision you will ever make. If you had only this moment to decide what to do with Jesus, what would your answer be? If you’d say “yes,” shouldn’t you say “yes” to Jesus right now?

To the Bitter End

“And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords (of the Philistines), and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life… And he judged Israel twenty years.” -Judges 16:30-31

The old Testament is filled with stories that seem very disconnected with us culturally and religiously. Samson is no exception. His life seems to be a series of moral failures and yet God sovereignly uses him to punish the Philistines (though never totally subdue them). When we read of one of God’s wild men in the Bible, we may be tempted to convince ourselves that we can live inconsistently and still be used of God. But listen to C. I. Scofield’s observation about Samson’s life…

The character and work of Samson are alike enigmatical. Announced by an
angel he was a Nazarite who constantly defiled his Nazarite separation through
fleshly appetites. Called of God to judge Israel, and endued wonderfully with
the Spirit, he wrought no abiding work for Israel and perished in captivity to
his enemies the Philistines. What was real in the man was his mighty faith in
Jehovah in a time of doubt and apostasy, and this faith God honored.

Because Samson had a mighty faith in God, he was used to temporarily punish the Philistines. But because Samson gave himself to the power of the flesh so often, he was never used to actually lead Israel into national revival or to defeat the Philistines in a final sense. The only tribute to his life was a pile of bodies, including his own. He broke his parents’ heart, disrespected his wives, misrepresented his nation, and devalued his Nazarite calling.

Let us never think that there is any thing good to come of our flesh. Let us instead give our lives to the struggle for consistency. The calling of a Nazarite was to a life separate from the world, the flesh, and the pleasures thereof. It was a picture of the high and holy calling of every believer in Christ. We are not called to compromise, but to consecration. May God use us to subdue the enemy and to lead our nation in revival through a holy and separated life.

Can You Handle the Truth?

And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”—2 Timothy 2:2 (NKJV)

In order for Christianity to triumph in the modern age, Christian truth must be passed on from disciple to disciple. There are two key people involved in the process. First, the one holding the truths of Christianity must be willing to share, to invest into the lives of others. Second, there must be “faithful” people willing to hear and assimilate truth into their lives.

Are you “faithful?” In other words, if given the opportunity to hear and understand Christian truth, would you live up to the responsibility of passing that knowledge along to others? Would you keep the chain unbroken? A better question would be, have you kept the chain unbroken?

If you’re a follower of Christ, then you are both people. You’ve received Christian truth, therefore you must pass it on. And generations to come will give praise to God on high because you cared enough to share.

Oh, To Be Four Again

Today, my daughter Ella turned four years old. We spent part of our day traveling to the Mall at Fayetteville to exchange doll houses (I’d bought the wrong one, of course). While there, we managed to pick up a few rooms worth of furniture for this new house. I couldn’t believe the way the manufacturer had paid attention to detail. Ella chose a kitchen set with mock stainless steel appliances including a fridge (with ice and water dispenser), microwave, and little tiny phone.

While playing with the new little mansion, I let Ella in on a secret. Even though it’s a “doll house,” it’s pretty cool, even to boys because it’s so real. I found myself playing right along with Ella in her imaginary world thinking, “Wow, this is so cool.” Then it hit me. I’m a grown-up with a real house, a real refrigerator, and a working automobile in the real driveway. Why am I so enamored with this play world?

I think it’s for the same reason I liked playing “war” as a child and still enjoy managing a “fantasy” baseball team. We like to simulate real life because we can usually tweak things to be a little better than they seem in reality. I noticed that all of the figures in Ella’s dollhouse smile… all the time. Like giants with ultimate control, the miniature family is under our full control, obeying our every whim.

Real life isn’t like that at all. We aren’t ever in control, and it’s a good thing. What kind of world would we create? After all, we don’t know everything and if we did, we’d use our knowledge for corruption and selfish gain. Thankfully, we serve a God who lovingly watches over us. He doesn’t control us like mindless toys, though He is ultimately sovereign over all. He enjoys us tremendously as we choose to give Him praise and bring Him glory. And at the end of life, for those who’ve known Christ as Savior, we’ll go to a mansion prepared in advance for us by the Master Carpenter, Jesus Christ.