Monthly Archives: September 2013

When I Don’t Desire God

This past week was a bit of a dramatic roller coaster ride for Michelle and me – terrible conflict at the beginning of the week, but a wonderful breakthrough on Friday.

Terrible – adj; “adapted or likely to excite dread; formidable; anticipation of things mostly unfavorable.”   The kind of terrible that after it happens, you think, “Did I just say that?” and “S/he is so mean.”  The kind of terrible that causes you to want to give up.  And yes, we did say those things.  And yes, that’s what is down in our hearts.  Ugly. Sinful. Putrid.

Yet the breakthrough was the breakthrough I’ve desired for years – about 5 or 6 years to be more exact.

Since arriving in Uganda I have recognized a sense of contentment in being here in Uganda, but the joy has been elusive.  Do you know joy?  Joy is different from fun.  Fun is self-centered, even with friends or family.  Fun is traveling, seeing new sites, eating at restaurants, attending a professional ball game, going on a cruise, buying a boat, buying a car, going fishing.  The vast majority of the time, that’s all fun.  When fun is finished (especially when its lots of fun) there can be discouragement.  Fun is fun, but it’s so artificial.  It’s a façade, a front, a disguise.

Joy is deeper.  Joy is real because it’s of God.  Yet I cannot seem to get a handle on it.  I seem to be doing ministry in Uganda out of duty, obedience, call, and obligation.  If fun is fun, then ministry should be hard, right?  Not quite.  There’s this desire for depth, for reaching the reality of joy.  The “fire” is not like it should be.  There’s still a strong desire to go deeper.  Serving is good, but I cannot understand why I can’t reach this point, this depth, this plateau of motivation by joy, and motivation by love.

So a few weeks ago I ran across this book by John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy.  It caught my attention immediately and I’ve been slowly reading it.

So after this past week with all the arguing and wondering about where these marital arguments from years past are coming from, and feeling absolutely empty, I read in Piper’s book the phrase “means of grace.”  That caught my attention.

About three years ago at youth camp I was introduced to that phrase, “means of grace” by JR Vassar.  I studied it for days afterward.  It was so eye-opening.  Vassar contrasted grace empowered living to the vastly different concept of self-empowered improvement.  Don’t miss it – grace empowered living (radical transforming power – Christian) against do-it-yourself-empowered improvement (world).  Huge difference.  This sermon was so impactful at that youth camp; I sobbed for 10 minutes afterwards and met JR Vassar backstage to talk to him.  If this topic interests you and you’re tired of trying over and over again and still failing, after you finish this blog, check out this link: http://www.apostlesnyc.com/mediafiles/sermons.xml.  At the website scroll down about ¾ of the way to the message on July 4, 2010 entitled, Grace Empowered Change.  If this subject is intriguing, I think you will appreciate the message.

What I missed or forgot in that sermon was brought brilliantly back to light by the Gospel in John Piper’s book.  Piper describes “means of grace” when he writes, “There are things we must do in the battle for joy.  But if joy is a gift, it can never be earned.  So legalism that tries to earn things from God is excluded.  Not only that, but knowing that joy is ultimately a gift, and not a mere human achievement, also protects us from elevating technique and willpower too highly.  Our strategies must be humble and dependent, followed by ‘May the LORD do what seems good to him’ (2 Sam 10:12). Our strategies to fight for joy are simply means of God’s grace.  And means of grace are always modest.”

Piper continues, “The Bible illustrates the modesty of means in numerous ways.”  Piper then gives the following references:

Prov 21:31 (“The horse is prepared for the day of battle, But deliverance is of the Lord”);

Psm 127:1 (“Unless the Lord builds the house, They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the Lord guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain.”);

Prov 19:21 (“There are many plans in a man’s heart, Nevertheless the Lord’s counsel—that will stand”).

The point being that we don’t earn a specified expected return on our investment with God.  Rather the means of grace relates to God’s gifts.  God decides if He will give a gift.  If so, how much of a gift and the size and the proportion.  Piper continues, “…joy is a gift from God…we will not trust in means, but in God.” Piper, John; When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy, (Kindle Version, 17%, Chap 4, Joy in God Is a Gift From God) Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Ill. 2004.

Then it all clicked!  I’ll explain what happened in my next post.

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This Past Week

Your prayers are important and we thank God and you for them.  Our Equip team seemed to be under attack for a few days last weekend and Monday.  Michelle got sick about 3:30 am last Sunday morning and as a caution we kept her in the hospital for one night, then fellow team members had their house broken into while they were at church, another team member had trouble with an incision that just would not heal and got infected, and by God’s grace on Monday as I was taking the vehicle we are using into the garage, a ball bearing went out about 100 yards from the garage.  Had I been on the open road when the ball bearing when out at a high rate of speed about 10 minutes earlier, I would have had a very serious accident.

We’re so thankful for your prayers, especially as more ministry opens up and as we stand up for the name and person of Jesus Christ – that name in whom the Gentiles trust!  The enemy loves to get us focused on anything else besides Jesus, because He is the power of God to salvation (1 Cor 1:24; Rom 1:16).

If Satan can get us focused on our failure, on the peripheral shadows and not the substance, on our problems, on our obedience, on him the devil, or any other thing, he has had some success.  Unveil the enemy by exposing the light of Jesus Christ.  Look to Jesus, the source of our strength.  Abide in Him.  As one song entitled, (click on link to open in a new window and listen) “The More I Seek You” puts it,

“The more I seek You;

The more I find You;

The more I find You;

The more I love You.”

“I want to sit at Your feet;

Drink from the cup in Your hand;

Lay back against You and breathe,

Feel Your heart beat.

This love is so deep,

It’s more than I can stand.

I melt in Your peace,

It’s overwhelming.”

This is the love of Christ – seeking Him, not His blessings; not His gifts.  This is intimacy.  This is sitting at a meal with our Savior, sharing our deepest thoughts, listening to Him and then going out and letting the oppressed go free, breaking every yoke, sharing our bread with the hungry, bringing in the homeless, covering the naked, and not hiding ourselves from our own flesh (Isa 58:6-7).IMG_6149

Look at how the apostle Paul describes the minds of those who are perishing, “whose minds the god of this age (Satan) has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ…should shine on them” (2 Cor 4:4).

That Gospel is not the gospel of Jesus’ Kingdom, it’s the very Gospel preached during this age of the church that is the Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ by grace.

Ask yourself this question, if God would give you a world with no fighting, a world with no problems, a world with no tears, a world with no pain, with no sickness and all your needs satisfied, yet Jesus would not be there.  Would you want to be there?

Your answer reveals how much you love Jesus and how much you love His gifts and blessings.  Which (or better, Who) do you desire most?

What Depth of Intimacy Is Desired?

What type relationship do we desire to have with God?  The Bible describes various relationships that God has with His creation, the relationship corresponds to a level of intimacy with God.  These should not be viewed as complete or authoritative – it’s just my thoughts.  At which level of intimacy do we desire most with God?  Our answers are revealed in how we respond and relate to God.

God as Creator – this relationship is foundational, but not salvational.  This relationship acknowledges God as Creator.  It seems many people in the world are at this level, but God calls us to a deeper intimacy with Him.  Some agnostics perhaps are here, admitting a Creator, but not relating to Him.  They may have been wounded by God and are upset with Him.  A Biblical example is Adam & Eve or Cain.  Other religious people are here, too – acknowledging there is a Creator.  James writes, “You believe there is One God. You do well.  Even the demons believe – and tremble” (James 2:19).  Focus here may be on the moral law (10 commandments) and sometimes religious and/or political activity far outweighs any deeper relationship with God.  Saved people certainly recognize God at this level and relate to Him, but their on-going relationship is much deeper.

God as Provider – this relationship is based on God meeting our basic needs as His creation.  God relates to people at this level by what some Christians call “common grace.”  God provides His common grace to all men and women; things such as rain, growing food, etc.  God clothes the lilies of the field and feeds the birds of the air.  To relate to God at this level is just to receive His common blessings.  The Creation is at this level as the creation depends on God’s provisions.  Thus those who turn from the Lord are confused.   If these people do not move to Jesus as Savior, they will not be saved and will know God in the final sense as a Righteous Judge (Gen 18:25; Psm 50:6; 75:7; Acts 10:42).

Slave or Servant / Master – this relationship varies in the Bible and seems a bit complex.  It seems to include both general believers in “God” (not saved) and saved believers – those trusting Jesus for salvation.  Jesus says about this relationship that a slave does not abide in the master’s house forever, but a son abides forever (John 8:35).  The parable of the talents describes a lord and his servants.  One was lazy and was cast out.  When the disciples desired to have Jesus increase their faith, Jesus gave a parable (Matt 17:5-10) that related to their level of intimacy at the time – a servant does what his Master tells him to do and then he is considered an unprofitable servant. Later, just before the cross, the disciples would be called “friends” (John 15:15).  Paul muddies the waters of my thoughts on this a bit when he writes in Romans about salvation that we are no longer slaves to sin, but slaves to God (Rom 6:19).  Sometimes legalism (letter of the law obedience, which Paul says results in death 2 Cor 3:6) can rule a person’s relationship with God at this level.  Whether that person is saved or not depends on God’s working, which will produce fruit.

Sheep / Shepherd – Welcome to the flock.  The very basic relationship where a new creation in Christ seems to “normally” begin – if that makes sense.  Sheep are not very smart animals and need lots of care.  They are spiritually immature and tend to stray.  They are almost totally dependent upon the Shepherd.  Jesus assures the sheep that if one goes astray, He as the good Shepherd will leave the 99 to go search out the one lost sheep.  He also offers assurance to the sheep, which are easily spooked and scared, that He gives them eternal life, they shall never perish, and no one can snatch one of these from His hand (John 10:28).

God as Friend – James challenges the worldly, immature believer to the level of friend by stating, “friendship with the world is enmity with God.”  At the friend level is where a real relationship is started.  Trust is established and built.  The individual gains confidence in his walk with God.  He talks to God, not just when in trouble, but relates on a more intimate level.  God also relates to His friend on a more intimate level, and provides more revelation.  Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things I heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).  Communication amongst friends is intimate.  Abraham was a friend of God (Genesis 18:17; James 2:23).  Friendships are sometimes tested by challenges that arise.

Child / Father – “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us that we should be called the children of God” (1 John 3:1).  This relationship is one of much deeper intimacy than all the others prior.  Jesus draws analogies of son and Father: in asking for help in Matt 7:7-11; prodigal son in Luke 15; as well as heirs.  Paul does the same by writing, we cry “Abba, Father.” (Rom 8:15).  The term “born again” can be applied here.  Peter describes this relationship as “born (past tense) of incorruptible seed” (1 Peter 1:23).  So following the level of intimacy and analogy, a child is “in.”  While their salvation is secure, discipline and pain will be a reality, too for misbehaving children (Heb 12:5-12).  There can be tendencies at this level of intimacy for the child toward legalism as the child matures.  The child should seek to mature to a much deeper level of intimacy, confidence and trust with the Father.

Wife / Husband – The church in general is referred to as the “bride of Christ.”  The bride has made herself ready.  Hosea.  Paul tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Eph 5).  Jesus came to earth to marry His church / bride, but was cut off.  There will be a wedding supper in heaven for his bride called “The Marriage Supper of the Lamb” (Rev 19:9) where Jesus will drink the final cup of the Passover meal with His bride (Luke 22:17-18).  A bride follows her husband’s lead out of love and focuses on the love her husband has for her (Eph 5:25-27).  The relationship, though founded on legal terms, is not lived out day to day from obedience and the perspective of a legal relationship.  Mutual love and respect make a marriage.  Obedience and legalism destroy a marriage.

God as Intimate Lover – seeing God face to face (Psm 27:8; 17:15; 41:12; 105:4; 1 John 3:2-3).  Intimacy (SS 1:1-4); A betrothed virgin waiting for her husband to return. The rose of Sharon; the lily of the valley (SS 2:1); being filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18); Rejoicing in the Lord (Isa 61:10; Psm 33:1; Phil 4:4); Gladness in the Heart; Getting to know Jesus very intimately and sharing in His suffering (Matt 5:12) – He becomes treasured above everything else.  His voice is easily recognized (SS 5:2); His features well known (SS 5:10-16 & Rev 1:13-18).  Perhaps some of these won’t be attained until we’re glorified.

These are created from my own thoughts, although years ago I read something that vaguely referenced some of these levels of intimacy, but I honestly do not remember where.  I’m sure these levels are different and do not match what I read.  Theologically, I’m sure it’s quite scattered and dangerous, but might provide a bit of insight.  All the best!

Jesus Was No Sabbatarian

Luke 6:1-11 For purposes of this blog, a Sabbatarian is defined as a person who obstinately holds to the 7th day Sabbath command so much as to define who a true Christian is.  Jesus was no Sabbatarian.

In my experience as I have watched xCG’s they always have within their organizational walls those people who watch carefully to see who is breaking the Sabbath.  The Sabbath in Jesus’ time was the core religious belief, the identifying sign.  For the Pharisees the Sabbath was a complex set of rules.  Those extra Biblical laws they created resulted in the Sabbath becoming the worst day of the week.  In the Bible the 4th commandment, the Sabbath, was simple:  Keep it holy by no work.  That’s it. Simple.

The 4th commandment is silent about attending worship service.  Does that not imply 7th day worship service was a tradition or ceremonial?  And does that not imply worship should be a 7-day-a-week practice?  There is no command in the 10 commandments to go to synagogue or church on the 7th day, although that was certainly done by Jesus, and it was commanded in Leviticus 23.  Paul went to synagogue until Acts 18:6 when the Jews opposed him and blasphemed.  Paul shakes his garments and he says, “Your blood be upon your own heads…from now on I will go to the Gentiles.”  From this point forward Luke no longer records the Christian leaders going to synagogue on the 7th day Sabbath.

One thing that bugged me when I was in Worldwide Church of God (WCG) was that I knew I was a Christian because I went to church on the 7th day.  The 4th commandment is rest, not church attendance.  Yet my ticket to salvation was 7th day church attendance and rest.  That was my security.  That was my salvation – my obedience.  The other six days, I needed to live a moral life and be a good person.

Now read carefully, after Jesus heals another man on the Sabbath in John 5, Jesus says in John 5:39 to the Jews who sought to kill Him, “You search the Scriptures for in them you think you have eternal life.”  Stop right there.  I thought my security for eternal life was in Sabbath observance – that identified me as a child of God similar to how the Jews thought their eternal life was in the Scripture.  What does Jesus say?  And these (the Scripture) are they which testify of Me.”  The purpose of Scripture and Sabbath is pointing to the reality, the One who possesses and gives eternal life.  The purpose of the Scripture and Sabbath is to point to Jesus.  When we elevate either to eternal life security, we fail and miss the fulfillment; the Savior and the relationship with Him.

Jesus comes along, and He doesn’t just crush the extra-Biblical laws the Pharisees created, He uncovers their deceit by actually fulfilling the shadow of 7th day Sabbath observance and presents Himself as the reality and fulfillment of the shadow – the Lord of the Sabbath who says, “Come to Me all who labor and I will give you rest.”  This was prophesied in Isaiah 30:15.  You want true rest?  “Follow Me,” Jesus says.  Then your salvation will be a delight.  “The one who comes to Me, I will by no means cast out.”  “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:37, 47)

But Sabbatarians ask, doesn’t following Jesus require observance of the 7th day Sabbath? Herein lies the crux of the issue:  if you didn’t keep the 7th day Sabbath, you were not a true follower of God.  In the new covenant there is no problem resting or worshipping on the 7th day Sabbath.  If the Holy Spirit leads you to do that, you should obey the lead.  The problem exists in denying the work of the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ in the lives of other people whose lives and work evidence fruits of repentance.  That problem was the same problem the Pharisees had – they could not, would not, let Jesus work in their hearts and minds because they myopically limited the very work of God.  They stubbornly and obstinately refused the work and life of Jesus Christ.  They held to their 7th day framework.  Jesus said, “you will know false teachers by their fruits.”  To deny Jesus and the Holy Spirit working in lives of sinners outside the 7th day observance, that is borderline blasphemy.  It is denying the work of God through Jesus.  It is the same sin the Pharisees had.

The Pharisees missed both the Savior (God) and God healing the man with the withered hand!  They overlooked God and the miraculous healing.  Why?  In order to differentiate and reject Jesus from themselves and their religion.  They denied the work of God in Jesus in order to protect themselves, their positions and their religion.  They had control and they were not about to humble themselves and lose it for God’s glory.  After all they were God’s people.  They followed Moses.  They were children of Abraham.  Yet, Jesus came and messed all that up and they would kill Him because they hated what He brought – God’s fulfillment.  They didn’t need Jesus’ salvation, theirs was secure in their religious framework, heritage, obedience and Scriptures as opposed to being secure in Christ.

What about you?  Have you missed the healing today – I’m referring to the spiritual healing of sinners outside the walls of 7th day Sabbath observance?  Is it because you refuse to acknowledge that Jesus heals spiritually outside of the 7th day religious framework?  Sinners lives are being dramatically changed.  If you deny Jesus works outside of 7th day observance, it’s not a simple mistake.  You are denying the very work of God Himself to draw people to Himself.  That’s dangerous ground.  The Pharisees did the very same thing – denying that God would even work in a sinners life.  Those sinners never measured up.  The Jews  could not answer the healings, but in turn they refused to believe Jesus’ work and miracles in other peoples lives so as to stubbornly hold to their history, heritage and framework.

Think about it.  When the early church received news of the salvation of Gentiles, the true believers rejoiced.  The problem came from those hypocrites and Pharisees who wanted to burden the new converts with requirements of circumcision, Moses laws, eating clean meats, and 7th day Sabbath observance (Acts 15).  Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath.  The Sabbath was made for man to point man to the true salvation rest found in its Maker, Jesus.  Jesus is the true, pinnacle fulfillment of the 7th day.  It’s Jesus who calls the shots on the Sabbath, not religious leaders or churches.  It’s Jesus who decides who is saved and He secures sinners.  Did He not say, “I will lose nothing” (John 6:39) and “neither shall anyone snatch them from My hand” (John 10:28)?

Don’t miss the symbolism in Luke 6:6-11.  This man’s right hand was withered, probably from paralysis.  The right hand represents the strength of a man, work.  It was withered.  The Pharisees watched carefully to see if Jesus would heal this man on the Sabbath.  They knew He could heal.  Was the paralysis healed on the Sabbath so the man could do Kingdom work?  It’s an interesting thought, but the text reveals Jesus did this healing defiantly, right in front of them as a witness and testimony of who He is.  The result was rage!  It got them mad enough to kill Him!

xCG’s always have within their walls those people who watch carefully to see who is breaking the Sabbath.  Why?  They don’t want to lose that identifying sign.  That sign is their security, while Jesus is minimized; secondary.  They cannot and some will not, see Jesus as their salvational security.  They essentially don’t trust Him.  “If I mess up, make a mistake, God is so harsh He may kick me out,” they reason.

Isn’t that the idea of the man who received one talent, who did nothing with it because he knew Jesus to be a hard man?  Matthew 25:26 Jesus says of this man, “you wicked and lazy servant.”  This man didn’t work, he physically rested.  His hand of work you might say was withered because he was paralyzed with fear of God as opposed to joy; obstinately holding to what Jesus had given him, hiding the gift and ultimately denying the Lord and Savior, the true Jesus.

Piper

Desiring God above His Gifts

Turn to Jesus, our true rest.  Leave your salvation in His capable hands.  He will cause you to rest, but also do His work.  If you are convicted by the Holy Spirit to observe the 7th day rest and gathering for worship, do so.  Just do not commit divisions, disunity and borderline blasphemy by rejecting the work of God amongst other Christians who follow Jesus within the Body and have fruits of righteousness and lives that glorify God.  This is what true atonement means – being at one with God because of what Jesus has done for us.  Jesus will never disappoint.  If Jesus were to ask you, “Why are you saved?” and you answer, “Because of my obedience,” you’ve got the cart before the horse and you’re resting in failure, for He is the power to repent, love and obey.
Some of the thoughts and ideas from this blog and it’s title come from John MacArthur’s sermon on this piece, as well as my own research and experience.  See http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/42-70/

From Samuel: “How to Keep Your Faith in Time of Tragedy”

Regular blog readers here know about Samuel (see May 2013 Archives for the full story).  Samuel is a young pastor in Jinja who lost both his parents this past summer.  His mom and dad were brutally attacked during a break-in of their home back in May.  His father died that night and his mother lived for about two months and then she died.

I meet with Samuel weekly.  He does most of the talking when we meet.  Though hurt, his faith and confidence have been strong through these last few months.  I asked if he would be willing to write out his thoughts about how to keep faith in time of tragedy.  I will type his notes as he wrote them to me.  Here’s Samuel:

Why I lost my Dad in a murder by our own relatives inside the house at night on Saturday, May 11th 2013.  It was a horrible thing I have ever heard, and it was unbelievable at that time.  As I started to panic a lot but as soon as possible I realize my weakness by that time, then I rush with no words, kneeling down, and I ask God, please this is not normal God you know, but I need your strength and comfort.

But still there’s a lot of panic, and I started to speak of God’s attributes – e.g. God’s all powerful, all knowing, all wisdom, is Almighty God is loving, etc. and I started to gain my strength and sense by letting the Scripture speak to me more than my feeling – e.g. Psalm 139:1-6; 91:1; etc. which is the hardest thing to do at that moment.  But I have to accept the Scripture to tell me what to do, not my feeling.

And there I found my self encouraged and continue to stand on the ground still loving God and thanking God for all had happened.

So I had to overcome the fear, worry and the feeling of tragedy by seeing God through it, that nothing happens by mistake without God’s knowing.  Romans 8:27-30.

A month after my mother was also badly hurt in the night of the murder of my Dad, she also died and I had see my self standing on open ground of no one along side me.  Both have gone, who I had loved them so much because the truth is ever since I was born now 28 years of age my dad has never beaten me once [Note from Mark: parents beating, caning and even burning or cutting children as punishment is too common in Uganda].  And they were part of my life every day I live.

Really I have loved them to see the fruit of their labor on me but God in his plan did not allow what seem right in his sight to be done, for he is God, and in my mother’s death accepted God’s will to be done, but letting him be first in everything good or bad (Colossians 1:18).  Never won’t I allowed to be threaten by any storm (Psalm 23).  God is God.  I will trust him.

What encourages me is that my parents died Christians (born again) and they will continue living in Christ and one day God’s will shall I see them again.  Life is not [about] flesh that has died and rotten by our soul and spirit that no man has power over them except the author, our Lord God (Genesis 2:7).

So I overcome or deal with the tragedy of losing my two parents by:

– accepting God in all situations;

– letting God control every step;

– allowing God’s word to speak to me by telling me what to do in every situation, not feelings;

– running before the throne of God of mercy and love for comfort and encouragement, wisdom and victory over every situation.

The devil will use your weakness to put you down but God will use your weakness to lift you up in Grace and Mercy.  Be wise in time of any tragedy by having God’s mind (scriptures) for the devil is so close to you at that moment of tragedy (temptation, test), but remember the good LORD will never leave the situation beyond your strength (1 John 1:10).

Nothing shall obstruct me from the love of God (Romans 8:31-39).

Glory be God our Father in Jesus.

Samuel’s faith strengthens my faith in the Lord, and I trust his faith strengthened your faith as well.  God’s word supports us.  Thanks for reading.