Ready. Set. Fight.

1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

(Matthew 4:1-11)

 

There is so much to learn from Jesus’ time in His own personal wilderness, a parallel to Israel’s wandering in the Old Testament. He was tested in an undoubtedly weak state (due to his lengthy fast), and was able to withstand the temptations of the devil.

Because of the Holy Spirit within each saint, we are able to stand strong in the face of vigorous adversity and overcome any obstacle put before us. All of us face trials. In John 16, Jesus clearly states that tribulation is a given. He could’ve ended His statement there, deflating the apostles even further after foretelling His imminent death. However, he gives them hope – “But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

James actually encourages his readers to “count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2).

Testing is good. Those of us who have gone through any education system should understand this. Just as scholastic testing assesses how well one understands the material and can apply it, spiritual testing exposes the effect of our faith. Tests bring about results, and those results are always earned based upon the degree of preparation.

With that said, let’s backtrack to Matthew 4 to evaluate Jesus as He was faced with opposition. What can we learn from Him that can prepare us to thrive under spiritual pressure?

 

#1: Follow the leader (wherever He goes). 

As we discussed earlier, trials cannot be avoided. God ordains them, and we must merely obediently follow Him into the pressure cooker. His goal is not for us to fail (although many times it is necessary), but to grow to trust Him and follow Him more closely from then on.

#2: Know the leader (before, during, and after the struggle).

Jesus was fasting before he was confronted with the temptations that are recorded. Biblical fasting is a twofold process – (1) an emptying of something carnal, AND (2) a filling of spiritual nourishment. During His time in the wilderness, Jesus (who we must remember is the Son of God and of Man) was feasting on the Scriptures, as is evidenced in His interactions with Satan. He knew the Father well, and this empowered Him further to defend Himself, even during a time of physical weakness.

We must cling to God. To know Him is to cherish Him, and to cherish Him is to ward off anything that could prove detrimental to our relationship with Him. Spiritual battles never end in a draw. If you know Him and trust Him, He will win the battle for you.

#3: Fight.

Notice that Jesus fought off the enemy with Scripture. Because He knew the Father and was empowered by His divine Word, He was able to defeat Satan. Jesus didn’t run. He didn’t hide. He was ready to face His opposition head-on.

Satan is a powerful enemy. He knows our weaknesses, and has a battle plan in place to destroy us. In our own strength, we are unable to come out victorious against our foe. BUT God equips us for the fight when we press into Him.

Ephesians 6:10-11 reads, “Finally be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” It goes on to describe in detail the spiritual armor that God has for us, and how each piece is advantageous in the battle.

God knows the enemy’s tricks and wishes to equip us with the tools to stand strong as we journey through life’s hardships. Our God is a Mighty Warrior, who is eternally victorious. Stand with Him, and He will prepare you for the fight…and the victory!

……..

When we trust Him and know Him intimately, we are prepared for the trials that come our way. The fight is coming. Be ready for it ahead of time.

 

-Sean

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The Importance of Marriage

Many of us have experienced weddings. Friends and family of a happy couple get dressed up and file into a church for a ceremony. A minister escorts a nervous groom to the front of a chapel, followed by his buddies. Bridesmaids glide one-by-one down an aisle, building anticipation for the main attraction. Cue the dramatic pause – possibly accompanied by music to build the expectation – and, suddenly, the doors open swiftly to introduce the bride in all her beauty to those gathered, who now are either holding back tears or grabbing for the tissues (unless they are heartless!).

Isn’t that such a cool moment to behold?

By now you may already be asking yourself what this imagery has to do with anything.  The answer: EVERYTHING.

 [31] “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” [32] This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. [33] However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:31-33)

This section of Ephesians 5 should change the way we think during any wedding ceremony (I know it has for me.)! The reason being that its significance is more than meets the eye.

You see, this gathering, which many have become so accustomed to, is meant to portray physically what will one day happen spiritually – that is, the marriage of the Lamb (Jesus Christ) to His Bride (the redeemed). On this day, those who are in Christ, through faith, will be united together with Him forever.

From the time God gave mankind the gift of marriage, He meant for it to model the relationship between Christ and the Church.  

[22] Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. [23] For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. [24] Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.[25] Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, [26] that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, [27] so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:22-27)

The apostle Paul puts marriage in spiritual terms to instruct husbands and wives more fully. If Paul were in marital counseling and were giving advice, I imagine he would begin by asking the following questions to prompt a biblical understanding of marital responsibilities: (1) How does Christ respond to His Church? AND (2) How is the Church to respond to Christ? These questions are crucial because they should shape the way married people interact with one another, assuming they are in Christ.

What God has revealed to me over the years has led me to believe that there might be no greater portrayal of the Gospel message than the relationship between husbands and wives. When marriage becomes less about temporal pleasures and more about the emulation of Love that went to the cross to die on behalf of the undeserving, then we are able to display the work of God in our lives beautifully, in a way that only this particular union can. 

It saddens my heart when I see marriages failing to live out this divine purpose. This holy establishment was set forth by God to be a demonstration of His unconditional, unending, faithful love – a love that was willing to die for His beloved. God has eternally pledged Himself to those of us in Christ, which is the precedent by which our own marital covenants derive. When so many Christian marriages end in separation or even continue in mediocrity, it tells me that we have not grasped the fullness of our vows to one another at the altar. Successful, Christ-centered unions are not the norms nowadays. What a shame this is, because this covenantal relationship has the potential to be one of our most powerful evangelistic tools. 

Marriages, and subsequently weddings, are meant to proclaim the Good News until the day the Church is finally united to its Bridegroom. And we will live happily ever after.

Tell this story to the world. And if you’re married, leverage that relationship for the proclamation of the Gospel! 

 

-Sean

The Forgetful Heart

[4] Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. [5] You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. [6] And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. [7] 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. [8] You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. [9] You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

(Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

 

This passage is a familiar one for many who have been exposed to the Bible for a good amount of their lives. The Hebrew term for this particular section of Scripture is “The Shema”, which to this day is a daily prayer of devotion for practicing Jews. It is named thusly for its opening word, which is correctly translated as “hear”. Further translated, the command is meant to produce obedience through what is audibly heard.

Although many times this particular passage is taught with the intention of instilling within us the importance of being trained up in the knowledge of Scripture, I believe there is more than meets the eye through this instruction. 

Read it again. What is constant?

Throughout these verses, you find that Moses was beckoning the people to REMEMBER the words of God. He longs for each person to internalize God’s commandments (verse 6). I believe the psalmist similarly understood the importance of allowing Scripture to root itself in one’s heart when he declared, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11, NIV). It’s hard to remove something when it’s hidden, right? When we are consumed with God’s Word and allow it to fill us, it will be so deeply ingrained in us that it cannot easily be removed. It becomes a part of our very essence….something that cannot be forgotten. 

Moses encourages Israel to constantly surround themselves with the Scriptures. He instructs the people to keep the law ever before them. “Talk about it. Write about it. Hang it in your homes. Do whatever it takes to keep from forgetting what God has spoken.”

Why do you think he was so insistent? I submit that he, based on personal experience, understood that the sinner’s heart is innately prone to forget God in the hustle and bustle of life.

Flip back a couple of chapters to Deuteronomy 4 and you will find Moses demanding obedience from the people in response to the words that God gave him. While speaking to them he warns, “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life” (verse 9, emphasis added).

Let’s not overlook the fact that he is speaking to people who had, with their very eyes, seen God miraculously rescue them from the land of Egypt and lead them through the wilderness. Even with physical evidence of God’s faithfulness they were spiritual nomads, wandering from the God who lovingly intervened in their lives time and time again. 

If the Israelites, who could physically sense God’s presence in their midst, needed reminders, it should go without saying that we desperately need to be reminded of what God’s Word says to us as well. We are commanded to “love the LORD [our] God with all [our] heart and with all [our] soul and all [our] might” (6:5). How can we express our love if we allow ourselves to forget who He is and what He has done for us (especially through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ)?

We need daily reminders of the gospel. It’s good for our souls to be reminded of the depth of our sin and the glorious rescue mission of Jesus Christ, who ransomed us from the death we had earned by substituting Himself in our place. THAT is something that is worth remembering!

We’re a forgetful people, so we must train ourselves to daily experience the Word of God in order to cling to the Savior and put aside our fleshly tendency to run away from Him. The grace He has for us is too costly to neglect, and we must constantly put ourselves in a position to think upon His goodness towards us. 

Talk about it. Write it down. Do whatever it takes to remind yourself of the beautiful gospel message, for it is our everything.

 

-Sean

God’s Pleasure and Delight

“A man’s steps are established by the LORD, and He takes pleasure in his way.” (Psalm 37:23)

“He will pray to God, and God will delight in him. That man will behold His face with a shout of joy, and God will restore His righteousness to him.” (Job 33:26)

The Lord God has a plan for each of our lives. It is he who establishes our way by that plan. That plan is not completed apart from our knowing Him. Most time we see this plan as doing something. And yet, over and over again, it is more in obeying and seeing Him work through our obedience. It is then that we begin to understand His pleasure in the way in which we live. How much pleasure do you take in your child that is disobedient and has no interest in what you want as a father or mother.

And then, when we have conversations initiated by our children, it is an absolute delight. How are we any different than the One that created us? We’re not. That is the point; we are created in His image. What kind of a relationship do you have with your Children? Does it resemble the relationship that you have with the Father? In the right relationship there are shouts of joy, there is always restoration of what was lost.

Today, let’s live for the pleasure of our Lord, and give Him cause for delighting in us.

 

-Troy

Priority

Reminders are a big part of my life.  It seems as though the older I get the more reminders I have to set up.  I even have alarms set to remind me the day before an event, an hour before an event, and again for 10 minutes before an event…all so I won’t forget.  Life seems so busy that sometimes we forget just to stop and spend some time focusing.
 
This reminds me of a story I once heard…it goes something like this. 
 
 
He had been looking forward to this moment all day long.  After six days of waiting, it had finally arrived—VISITING DAY!  The man with the keys arrived to swing open the large, heavy doors.   
 
The cold, gray hall springs to life in the warm glow of light.  He can hardly contain his emotions.  The families begin to arrive.  He peers from the corner of the room, longing for the first glimpse of his loved one. 
 
He lives for the weekends.  He lives for these visits.  As the cars arrive, he watches intently.  Then, finally, she arrives—his bride, for whom he would do anything.
 
They embrace, eat a light lunch, and reminisce about how things used to be.  At one point, they break into singing, with interruptions of laughter and applause.  But all too soon its over.  A tear comes to his eye as his bride departs.  Then the man with the keys closes the heavy doors.  He hears the key turn in the lock marking the end of a very special day.  There he stands, alone again.  He knows that most of his visitors will not contact him again until next week. 
 
As the last car pulls away from the parking lot, Jesus retreats into loneliness as he waits until next Sunday—VISITING DAY. 
 
 
I know this is just a “story”, but I think that it’s probably more real than many of us would want to admit.  I pray that as much time as we love spending with our family, our husbands or wives, our children…some of us even get excited about getting home so we can spend some time with our animals. So I ask the question…do we get excited about a daily time with our Lord and Savior,  Jesus Christ?  Is it a priority?  Do we seek him as Jesus sought after the Father in Mark 1:35 where is says, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”
 
I hope we never get to a place where our only communication with Jesus is only on Sundays and Wednesdays. 
 
Lord, help it to never be so! 
 
 
Have a great weekend and I will see you on Sunday,
 
Corey

Following the Leader

On Saturday, I was driving one of our new buses through the mountains of New Mexico. We took lot of winding, out of the way roads that took us through beautiful mountains, lovely fall trees, and by a gorgeous river. As we drove through the mountains, every once in a while someone would ask me what road we were on or where we were. I would have to answer truthfully that I had no idea. I was simply following the bus in front of me. I knew that I didn’t have to worry about what road we were on, where we were, or where we were going because I knew that Jimmy was driving the bus in front and that he knew exactly where we were and where we were going. I could trust his leading and simply follow. I knew that if I stayed right behind him, I wouldn’t get lost and we would arrive at our destination.

In the first chapter of Mark, he tells us that Jesus came up on Peter and Andrew’s boat and called out to him, “Follow me.” He did the same thing when he reached James and John. All four men left everything and followed Jesus. And they continued to follow him for about three years. All this time, they didn’t know where he was leading them (even though he tried to tell them). A lot of the time, they didn’t know exactly what was going on, but they knew that they could trust Jesus. They simply followed where he led. It wasn’t an easy road and they didn’t always understand why he was leading them to the places they were going, but they kept following anyway.

Jesus asks the same thing of us. Even though we may not know where he is leading us, we can trust his leading. It’s not always easy to follow him. In fact, most of the time, it’s pretty difficult. And a lot of the time, we want to ask those same people that the passengers on the bus were asking me. Where are we? What road are we on? Where are we going? What time will we get there? But even though we want to ask all of those questions, and often do, we can always trust that the direction Jesus is leading us is what is best. We may not understand it at the moment, but we can still trust Jesus and keep following wherever he leads, because when we reach the destination, it will always be worth it.

 

-Sarah

This is Awkward….

[15] Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! [16] Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” [17] But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. [18] Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. [19] Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, [20] for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:15-20)

Sex. It’s one of those words you hope doesn’t get brought up in a church setting all that often (unless, of course, you’re a husband and the pastor is encouraging spouses to have more of it).  I don’t know how we got to this place, but it is often so taboo, and honestly quite awkward, to explicitly discuss the topic of sex in our services, small groups, and one-on-one conversations. Across the board, there seems to be a lack of healthy, honest, and sanctifying conversation around this exceedingly important issue. This is not good…at all.

We are sexual beings. Don’t believe me? Go turn on any channel on your television and you will find sex used as a primary marketing tool (even if the context doesn’t make one bit of sense). We live in a sex-craved world. With today’s advancement in technology, people don’t have to even try very hard to “fulfill” their sexual desires.

For those of us in Christ, we know that sex was created by God as an intimate gift to be shared between one man and one woman in the confines of a marital covenant. God gave humanity this gift to be enjoyed in this manner alone. However, as sin entered the world, this ever so important establishment was perverted along with the rest of creation. The misuse of sex has been prevalent from the Fall, and many have found the results of such sin to be devastatingly destructive.

I wish I could say that Christ-followers were immune from the sin of sexual impurity. It would bring me great joy to write this with the assurance that this is one area of sin we would no longer have to endure. However, a statement resembling either of those statements would be misleading (to say the least).

The sad reality is that the greatest arena for Satan to make a mockery of the beautiful union set forth by God is within our churches. Our enemy comes at us hard with sexual temptations in hopes of ruining lives, marriages, and homes. And sadly, he succeeds more than we would like to admit.

I am not foolish enough to think that our rows on Sunday mornings are full of unblemished people, especially as it relates to sexual impurity. If you think you are doing well in this area, think again. In fact, let’s remember what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount:

[27] You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ [28] But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. [29] If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. [30] And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (Matthew 5:27-30) 

Jesus sets an unattainable precedent that most likely deflated the ego of anyone who wasn’t having a “physical affair” and somehow thought they were doing well. He demolishes their idea of the standard for sexual purity, and sets the bar higher. This isn’t to be cruel, but to make it crystal clear that what is unseen is just as destructive as the outward sin. In fact, many times these “unseen sins” can be the breadcrumbs from which you trace physical acts of adultery.

It is not unlikely that in almost any church you would find people who are addicted to sex in various forms. Some may have a porn addiction. Others might struggle with masturbation. There could even be people who are in the middle of an ongoing extramarital affair, or meddling with the idea of one. Still, some may just “innocently” find themselves anxiously catching glances of others they find attractive.  Regardless of the circumstance or extent, sexual sin is real and in our midst.

This is a constant battle that we must fight to win. Our churches must raise up men and women who would be discontent with anything less than magnifying Christ in their bodies, because (as the passage in 1 Corinthians mentions) they are temples of the Holy Spirit. Christ has claimed victory over sin and death, and He has given us that same Spirit that we may overcome our fleshly desire to sin sexually. It is possible, but only through complete and total surrender to Christ. Opportunities abound for us to sin in this area, but we must discipline ourselves for holiness. 

By abstaining from sexual sin, we prove that our treasure is in Christ. The world may not physically see you setting yourself apart from sexual exploitation, but I guarantee that you, in turn, will be a more effective witness to the grace of God in your life. 

Sex sells in our world. And it is going at a cheap rate. May we count it as magnificently costly, that we might display the worth of the gospel in our lives.

 

-Sean