Blog Archives

Tribulation and Glory

“Therefore, I ask that you not become discouraged in my tribulations for you, for this is your glory.”

(Ephesians 3:13)

How is it that Paul’s tribulations are for the glory of the Ephesian church? True, it has been through Paul’s sufferings that the Gospel has come to the city. Yet, there is more to this statement if we read a little deeper. The term θλῖψις (thlipsis) always refers to severe times of trial and distress — persecutions and affliction in the life of the church. Paul faced persecutions throughout his ministry and the Ephesian church, if they proved faithful, would face persecutions as well. And, it is often the model of those who have gone before us that encourages us to face those trials that we find in our paths. 

Our temptation, of course, is to presume that we are the first persons to encounter the kinds of persecutions that we face. Yet, truly, there is nothing new under the sun and the saints of the past have seen what we have seen (and in many cases, far worse). And so, by looking back at their lives, we can draw encouragement for the awful trials that lie ahead of us. Yet, when we neglect to take courage from the past, then we often sacrifice the benefits that come from their example on the altar of our own vanity.

We must make one more note here in terms of the idea of trials and tribulations. Somehow we have fallen into the trap of assuming that the Christian life is one removed from trial. Yet, Jesus said just the opposite (John 16:33). In fact, God has always strengthened his church through times of persecution. Though it does not feel like a blessing when we are enduring such times, it is one of His blessings to the church. The notion that some Christians hold, that God will remove the church in the end times to spare them from tribulation is the notion that God would withhold the blessings of His refining fire. To borrow the language of C.S. Lewis, to ask for less tribulation is to ask God for less love and not more. 

God promises the blessings — even the glory — of rule with Him as His grand bride to those who overcome. Yet, to overcome, there must be something for you to overcome. And such are the tribulations that God permits to strike us. Take courage, Christian, from those who have walked this road before you and from the one who has ultimately paved the path on which you walk. It is a path to glory, but this path can only be traversed while bearing the cross that has been placed upon you.

Walk the Walk

“For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand in order that we might walk in them.”

(Ephesians 2:10)

As believers, God has created us to walk in good works. Certainly, the notion of walking in the Bible is often used to describe the way someone lives. When God is preparing the people to receive the Law, he instructs them that it is by these statutes and laws they are to walk (Exodus 18:20). In contrast, we are told that we are not to walk in the way of the Egyptians or that of the Canaanites (Leviticus 20:23). God promises that if we walk in His ways, he will provide for our needs (Leviticus 26:3-4), but if we choose not to walk in his ways, he will bring panic and fear and disease (Leviticus 26:14-16). King David describes difficult times as walking in the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4) and Habakkuk speaks of the faithful one being made to walk in high places (Habakkuk 3:19). Finally, Isaiah calls the people to follow him into the Mountain of the Lord (Zion, which is the place of worship) so that God may teach us his ways and we may walk in them (notice that an important part of worship, according to the prophet, is to learn the things of God and live them out).

The analogy speaks to the mindset of the Christian. Walking is an intentional act. We don’t always do it perfectly — sometimes we trip and sometimes we get distracted and stumble — but it is something we decide to do. Walking also leads us to an intentional destination. When we get up to walk, we don’t let our feet just take us somewhere for the sake of walking, we walk in a particular direction that is governed by our minds. Even if we are the type to walk in circles or pace a room unconsciously, the walking is still a deliberate act.

For the Christian, the faithful life as a disciple of Jesus Christ is to be a deliberate act as well. Jesus said that we are to obey all that he taught us (John 14:15) and that a disciple is one who does the same (Matthew 28:20). And, to be obedient to a law, you must not only know what those laws are, you must also strive to live them out. Too often people think of Christian obedience as something that is optional. People get the notion into their heads: “I am saved by grace, not by works, so I can live however I want to live.” They forget the statement of Paul that we are saved to a life of good works to the glory of God. Oh, and what are good works once again? They are works that are conformable to the Law of God.

Dear Christian, Jesus did not die on a cross to give you fire insurance. He died on the cross to redeem you from the fire and to raise you to newness of life — to make you a different creature than you once were before you were a believer (that is the context of this whole chapter!). And newness of life means that the dead works of the flesh are meant to fall away and you are to go about walking in the good works that God has prepared for you to walk in — most namely in diligent obedience to the Law of God. 

But what does this mean in a practical, and day to day sense? It means that your ideas about what is morally right and morally wrong should align with the scriptures. We should detest as morally evil all false worship, idolatry, blasphemy, sabbath-breaking, dishonoring of our parents, murder, adultery, theft, false witness, and covetousness. And, we should understand those things not only in terms of the letter of the law, but in light of the intent of the Law as Jesus interpreted them. We should love the brotherhood and sacrifice for fellow believers. We should seek to tear down every thought and idea in our own life and in the world around us that stands against the Word of God. This is an active and intentional calling, not a passive one. And, where there is no evidence of striving to walk in this way, there is no evidence of a transformation worked by Christ. True Christianity is not about sitting in a pew; it is about deliberately walking in obedience to God’s ways and not man’s.

Assurance of Salvation

“giving light to the eyes of your heart to know the hope of his calling, which is the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints and  which is the exceeding greatness of his power toward us, those who believe, according to the outworking of his power and might.”

(Ephesians 1:18-19)

And thus, when there is light in the eyes of your heart — when the Holy Spirit has opened your eyes so that you may see with eyes of faith and not with natural sight — what is the end goal? It is that we may know the hope of God’s calling. This is a matter of both confidence and assurance.

Assurance is a question with which many Christians struggle. “How can I know that I am saved?” people often ask. Arguably the two most poignant passages that can be pointed to are in Habakkuk 2:4 and Romans 8:16. In the first, the prophet makes the very clear statement that the righteous shall live by faith. This passage, of course, is quoted by Paul in Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, and then in Hebrews 10:38. The second passage mentioned above speaks of the Holy Spirit testifying to our spirit that we are children of God. Since only those who are elect to salvation are God’s children, if the Holy Spirit so testifies to us that we are God’s children, then that is a mark of the faith we have.

True, these two passages are somewhat subjective. Nevertheless, they give you a clear starting point. Look at your life. Do you live righteously? Or, at least, do you try to do so to the best of your ability? And, when a Christian brother or sister points out sin in your life, do you seek to reform that sin because you want to honor Jesus by the way you live? If this describes you, it is a pretty good indication that you are a true Christian. And, if the testimony of the Holy Spirit affirms with your spirit that you are a born again believer — a child of God — then again, you should take this as assurance.

In a more objective sense, 1 John also offers us a very clear indicator of the mark of a Christian versus the mark of a non-Christian. There are various questions about what one believes regarding sin, regarding the person of Christ, and how one lives out their faith. One of the most striking questions that John asks is whether you love your brothers and sisters in faith. John goes as far as to say that if you see a fellow believer in need and you close your heart to him when you have the ability to help, then God’s love does not abide in you (1 John 3:17). In the verses that lead up to this statement, John addresses things from the other perspective and states that everyone who hates his brother is a murderer and eternal life does not dwell in him (1 John 3:15). So, more objectively, perhaps, you can ask yourself, have you hardened your heart against a fellow Christian and are refusing to help him or her when they have need? If so, you are not a believer according to the Apostle John. Repent and sin against your brother no more.

Faith gives assurance, but that faith needs to be a genuine faith — one that affects not just the perception you have of yourself but also the way you live. And that is where the boldness of hope comes into play. Part of the reason that the Christian does not live in the same way the world lives is because we have a hope of something better. What is the world to us when we are promised both heaven and a new creation? Why would we even want to build our treasure here where it can be spoiled or taxed away from us? No, as Christians we store up our treasures in heaven. We do not allow our churches to function as businesses; we function like military outposts in enemy territory, laboring to tear down every stronghold that raises itself up against the knowledge of God. We have the boldness or confidence to live in that way because we hav the hope of glory. Beloved, if you are a true Christian, you will seek to store your treasure in heaven and not on earth. Be at work building the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.

A Sincere Trust

Remember those days when you were first learning to swim, perhaps with your father or mother standing beside the swimming pool, encouraging you to jump in and they would catch you? Perhaps it was learning to ride a two-wheeled bike for the first time and your parent (or maybe a trusted older sibling) was keeping you up, saying “trust me, I’ve got you.” Perhaps the thing to which you can relate is stepping out in a business venture and your partner or backers saying, “trust me, you got this!” 

We rely a great deal on trust…and to some extent, if you don’t place your trust in others you end up becoming a curmudgeon and a cynic and you isolate yourselves from relationships. But even though trust is a part of most of our relationships, often we do not spend much time thinking about what trust happens to be. 

The dictionary defines trust in terms of your “belief in the reliability” of another — in other words, it points to someone or something that is outside of you upon which you rely. In many ways, the word is almost synonymous with the word, “faith.” Trust is that recognition that if you rely upon another person, they will not let you down.

And so, when the Catechism, in Question 21, asks about true faith, it speaks of having a sincere trust that the Holy Spirit works in me through the Gospel. What is this all about? The Spirit has many roles in the life of the believer — he is counselor (John 16:7), teacher (John 14:26; 1 John 2:27), and giver of gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-11) amongst other things. But most basically, His role is to conform the life of the believer into the image of the Son. 

How does the Spirit do this? The most basic way he does this task is through the Gospel — through the word studied and preached and applied to the life of the Christian. We might even more simply speak of this in the context of the “ordinary means of grace” or in the context of the “keys of the kingdom,” both of which we will talk about more later in this catechism. 

And so, an aspect of True faith, or saving faith as some would put it, is the trust that the Spirit is at work in me, conforming me into the image of God’s Son (Romans 8:29) — in other words, that tomorrow I might look more like Jesus than I did today. Trusting also implies that we act upon that trust — striving as empowered by the Holy Spirit toward this goal of honoring Christ, whether through applying the Ten Commandments to my life as a way to grow in my sanctification or in seeking to be obedient to the many other commands we would see Jesus, our Lord, set before us. In other words, genuine trust requires an action on my part — a response to that trust — jumping in the pool, riding the bike, entering that business venture. We act in faith in the confidence that the Spirit is acting in us through the Gospel. 

And note one more thing…it is the trust that the Spirit is acting in us through the Gospel — this does not require (or even speak of!) supernatural works (this I would argue, ended at the close of the first century with the close of the Canon). It is through the Gospel — the written revelation of God contained in the Bible. A humble and faithful life, rooted in the Word of God, is a far greater testimony than all the “miracles” that man might like to think he can produce.

Christian Requirements

Requirements? Wait a minute, Pastor Win, I have heard you preach over and over that we are saved by grace through faith. In fact, not just that, isn’t that what Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8? Indeed, that is both what I have regularly preached (and written) over the years, and more importantly, that is the consistent testimony of Scripture. So, back to the question, what are we talking about by requirements?

The answer is simple. We are indeed saved by grace through faith — the work of salvation has entirely been done for us by Jesus himself. Yet, God does expect that his people live in a way that is distinct and different than does the rest of the world. In Old Testament Israel, this was often expressed in the form of the food ways, rules on clothing, and the participation in various festivals.

As Christians, we recognize that Christ fulfilled the law for us, but we also wish to live in a way that is pleasing to our God and Savior. Thus, we again, follow various ways prescribed for us in the scriptures. This time, though, it is focused not so much on food or clothing, but on spiritual elements — we are to forgive as we have been forgiven (Matthew 6:14-15), we are to do unto others as we would have them do to us (Matthew 7:12), and we are to pursue the fruit of the Spirit in our lives while rejecting the immoral ways of the world (Galatians 5:16-26). 

God expects us to be holy as he is holy (to strive in that direction, that is — 1 Peter 1:16) and to strive for righteousness (1 John 3:9-10). Indeed, we are to be all the more diligent to make our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10). Will there be people who go to heaven who make an ongoing shipwreck of their lives — indeed, that’s the nature of grace — but are we given an excuse to set the bar low? Never, how can we who died to sin still live in it (Romans 6:2)? We can have no assurance of faith if we do not live that faith out in good and righteous works (as God defines good works, not as society defines them) — indeed, faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Thus, when our Lord is asked, “What is the greatest commandment?”, he affirms that indeed God requires us to live not as we wish, but as He wishes.

Christian Delight

Question ninety in the Heidelberg Catechism asks, “What is the birth of the new man?” In other words, it wants to know what it is that distinguishes the believer from the unbeliever…or more personally, what distinguishes your life today as a Christian from the way you lived before as a non-Christian. The answer to this question is both telling and convicting. It is simply that we take a “heartfelt joy” in the Lord. So, beloved, up front, does that describe you when it comes to your church attendance, your devotional time, your family worship, and your prayer? If it doesn’t, then you may need to reevaluate your priorities a bit.

Yet, in case we are unclear as to what “heartfelt joy” looks like in our lives, the question goes further. It describes heartfelt joy as taking delight in two things: living according to the will of God and doing good works. In English, “delight” means that we take pleasure in these things — that they satisfy our hearts.

But do we really “delight” in living according to the will of God? You know, this ties in with Jesus’ statement that “if you love me you will obey my commandments” (John 14:15). Is obedience to God something that satisfies our soul and brings pleasure to our lives or is it something we do out of some sort of legalistic obligation? Do we groan on Sunday morning when it comes to getting out of bed and contemplate whether we really need to go on a given morning? Or to we rejoice that Sunday morning has come and look forward to being in the House of the Lord on this day with God’s own? Do we look forward to our personal Bible reading and devotional time, protecting a block of time so that we can practice it undisturbed? Or is it something we do some of the time so long as the “urgent” matters of the day do not distract us? Does our sin create in us a genuine and heartfelt sorrow? Or, do we just brush off our sin as no big deal, figuring that “God will forgive me anyway.” And, if you fall into this category, you may want to read Deuteronomy 29:18-20 just to refresh your mind as to God’s view of those who think this.

And, do we really delight in good works? Perhaps that is one that weighs easier on our souls because we all enjoy those random acts of kindness that we sometimes do. But, wait, the next question in Heidelberg reminds us that Good Works have three characteristics: they are done in faith, according to the Law of God, and are done for God’s glory alone. If all three of these criteria are not met, a work that someone does, no matter how noble, is not truly “good.” So, if we get the credit for it…or if anyone but God gets the credit for it, it is not good. So, do we truly delight in such works as are defined here?

Psalm 37:4 reads this way:

“Delight in Yahweh and he will give you the petitions of your heart.”

Does this mean that God gives us anything we want when we ask him? No. Does that mean that if our heart is in the right place and we pray in faith, God will give us anything for which we desire? No. What it does say is that if we truly delight in God, then our desire will be for a deeper and deeper relationship with God, and that he will give to us. Our error (and especially the error of the so-called “prosperity gospel” and the “word faith” movements) is that we tend to focus on the outcome and ignore the command. We need to focus on the imperative command that we find at the beginning of the verse: “Delight in Yahweh!”

Think about it this way. If you delight in the Lord then you will desire for your life whatever the Lord desires for your life. And God places into your life what he sovereignly designs for your life because it is designed to conform you into the image of Christ (and is thus, for your good). Sometimes that “good” is hard to see when you are in the middle of the “slough of despond” or the “valley of the shadow of death,” but through your delight in the Lord, these things become your heart’s desire and you can embrace them with thankfulness.

A Pure Spring in our Lives

“The last thing, brothers, is that whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is upright, whatever is holy, whatever is lovely, whatever is praiseworthy, if there is virtue and if there is praise, think on these things.”

(Philippians 4:8)

If we were ever to want advice on a way to live out the Christian life, resisting the distractions of this world, here it is. If there was ever a piece of worthy advice that was ignored by professing Christians, here it is. As a young man I used to canoe along stretches of the Patomic River with my Boy Scout troop. At one point along the river is a natural spring that comes up from its source with so much force, that the spring holds back the water of the river from filling it. If one canoes into the well of the spring, an area that was probably 12’ in diameter at the time. one can look back and see what looks like a vertical wall coming up from the riverbed where the muddy, brown Patomic river flows across the opening to the spring without coming in due to the spring’s force.

What Paul is saying is to allow those things that are good and pure…those things of God…to act like that spring in your life, holding at bay the filth of this world and remaining incorruptible.

While we all know that Christians will stumble into sin and disobedience, what is sad is how rarely many Christians actively seek to live this out. And further, when Christians seek to live this out, it is sadder still that other Christians often seek to mock them as being over-zealous in their faith. Beloved, if you are mocked in your faith for seeking to live this out, do not be discouraged from doing so; it is a sign that you are doing the right thing…remember our Lord’s words about acceptance by the world.

It would be a sad thing were that spring to fill up with mud and simply be absorbed by the river…it has been several decades since I have been on that stretch of the river, it may have already filled up, I do not know. But it is a thing, sadder still, when Christians succumb to the pressures of the world around them and fill their minds and hearts with that which defiles instead of that which edifies. Loved ones, hear the words of the Apostle Paul and heed them. Set your minds on these things and allow the force of these things cleanse your life from the muck and the mire of this world.

Colonists Away from the Homeland

“But our country exists in heaven, from which we also eagerly await a Savior — the Lord Jesus Christ,”

(Philippians 3:20)

While many of our English translations will render this, “our citizenship is in heaven,” to do so requires a degree of inference. Literally, Paul writes that “our country” or “our homeland” is in heaven. The language paints a picture of a group of colonists living in a land that is not their own. One must recognize that in Paul’s era, this was a common experience. Rome was expanding its borders and oftentimes Roman citizens would relocate to newly expanded territories for economic reasons and thus found themselves as strangers in a strange land.

Some of our translations, then, infer the language of citizenship to emphasize the permanent connection to where the people of the church belong. This world is not our home. Peter describes us a sojourners (1 Peter 2:11), the author of Hebrews says that we await the permanent city to come (Hebrews 13:14), and Paul contrasts the Jerusalem above with the Jerusalem below (Galatians 4:21-28). Satan is referred to as the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2 — often used as a reference to this world but also a reference to idolatry — vanity of vanities says the Preacher!). Like Abraham, we are travelers amongst a people who are unlike us.

How are they unlike us? Go to the previous verses. They are those whose end is destruction, who revel in their sin and seek to satiate their bellies. They are those who will not follow the model of Christ but who pursue the things of the flesh. In contrast, we live a different lifestyle, pursuing the pattern of behavior that we have observed in Paul and in other faithful believers before us.

I find it interesting that when I travel, everyone knows that I am an American even before I open my mouth. Perhaps it is the cowboy boots and the blue jeans, perhaps it is the way I carry myself, whatever it is, when I travel it is as if I carry a neon sign over my head that says, “American.” And note that I am not complaining about that reality; I am grateful to have been born in this great nation. I simply make an observation that should carry back to Paul’s language here. By the way we live, the people of this world (unbelievers) ought to recognize that we don’t belong to this world. Sadly, for many professing Christians, that is a stretch.

But Paul does not stop with the idea of belonging to a different country. He also speaks that while we are colonists here in this world, we are awaiting the coming of a Savior — the Lord Jesus Christ — the Prince of Heaven who will return to this world in glory and call all his citizens to himself. Therein lies our hope. Our hope is not in simply returning to heaven in spirit after our death, but it is in the physical resurrection, like Christ’s resurrection, that will come when our Savior returns from the homeland to claim his own people. That is our hope. Sadly, too, it seems that many professing Christians do not have this hope in sight either.

Like Abraham before us, we are sojourners and aliens in a land not our own. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, we are a church moving through the wilderness on the way to the promised land…but we are not there yet. Yet, let our lifestyles reflect the land to which we belong.

Bread and Circuses

Let me paint a picture for you of a culture where the Senate ruled over the people and the “commoners” had little say over what laws were enacted in the land. The culture that I am describing was one where many flocked to the cities of jobs, though they would only earn poverty level wages. Healthcare was available, but only for those who had the wealth to afford it; most suffered under whatever folk remedies happened to be available. Infectious disease was rampant in the poor sections of the cities and the government did little more than turn a blind eye to their situation. About the only thing that the society could expect in terms of assistance was a little bit of free grain and free tickets to an occasional arena even — “bread and circuses.”

I am trusting that this description sounds fairly familiar, but I am not talking about our own society, but am instead talking about the first century Roman empire. For the elite, it was a comfortable time in history: there was art, culture, relative order in the empire, abundant access to wealth, and there was rule of law to keep the “rabble” in their place. For the poor, it was a life of hard labor, starvation, and death. The bread was meant to keep the poor working and the tickets to the games was meant to keep the poor from revolting — the ancient precursor to television, one might argue. And it is into this world that God chose to send his Son, taking on flesh and living not amongst the rich, but amongst the poor.

It has been said that compassion is a character trait that is learned, not one that is natural to us. Our default is typically to take care of “ol’ number one” first and others second. If that is the case, and I think that there is merit to the idea, then the ultimate teacher of compassion is God himself. In both Hebrew and Greek, the same word is used to describe both compassion and mercy, and that is what God was doing when he sent his Son to come into this world, to live amongst us, and to die to atone for our sins.

But the question of compassion must not end with the compassion of God. We need to ask the question as to whether or not we have learned compassion from His example. You see, compassion cannot be modeled by the pagan gods, which are made of wood and stone — they neither move nor see nor hear, so how can they extend compassion to any? Compassion cannot be modeled by the gods of nature, for nature is cruel and only the strong survive. And compassion is not modeled by the god of the atheist, for their god is their own mind and reason, thus any action taken will be self-serving. If the God of Christianity, then, has modeled compassion to us, shouldn’t then we who have received the compassion of God also be the most compassionate people in the world?

In ancient Rome, that became the case. One of the first things that Christians did in ancient Rome was to establish hospitals that welcomed all, rich and poor. These hospitals were staffed with doctors, pharmacists, teachers for the children, caretakers for orphans, nurses, people to care for lepers, surgeons, cooks, priests, laundry women, and pallbearers. Never in the history of the world had such institutions been established and the Roman elites looked at the Christians and just did not understand why believers were doing what believers were doing. And Christianity thrived even in an empire where professing Christians were persecuted and sentenced to death within those circuses that everyone attended.

Something has happened though. Today, it would seem, Christians are often seen as self-serving and insulated from the pain and misery of the world around them. Pagans no longer shake their heads in disbelief at the compassion we are willing to show to the poor and suffering, but describe Christians as being just as “self-seeking” as the next group of people.

So what is the solution? The solution is not to win more political elections and gain power to enact laws to protect the “Christian way of life.” Such laws are not bad, but legislation cannot transform a culture. The early Christians turned Rome inside out without ever getting a seat in the Roman Senate. The early Christians turned Rome on its head by sacrifice and compassion for those in need. If we, as modern Christians, desire to see America turned on its head, this is the model that God himself has set for us — radical compassion, grace, and mercy. Such is what God demonstrated when he sent Christ to us as a baby in that manger and such is the kind of compassion that we ought to emulate as we live our lives amongst a people who reject the truth for which we stand.


Stressed or Desserts

It was pointed out to me recently that if you take the word “stressed” and spell it backwards, you get, “desserts.” At first, I did not dwell too much on the idea beyond the idea that  isn’t it interesting that one of the ways we humans deal with stress is with what we sometimes call, “comfort food.” And desserts are one of the great, equalizing, comfort foods. Of course, in the English language, there are lots of words that when spelled backwards are other words (live/evil; tort/trot; and denim/mined to name a few), and such words are called “palindromes.” Yet with most palindromes, the two words have very little relationship to one another, which makes this pair a bit of an exception.

So, I began to reflect on this connection, wondering how it applied to the Christian life. Certainly, there is no question that we use food to relax us and ease the pressure of a conversation. There is a significant difference, for example, the tone of a business meeting around a table at a restaurant is entirely different than that of a meeting around a board-table. In addition, I have it on good authority that stress can raise hormone levels in the body, thus creating cravings for various things, often salty or sweet food.

So, how do cravings and distractions apply to the Christian life? To begin with, we must recognize that there is a spiritual aspect to pretty much everything we do, we cannot separate one from another. Thus, solutions to ease our troubles, stress included, need to include a spiritual component. In other words, dealing with stress purely on a physical level is not the most effective way to deal with stress, but instead, we must also deal with it on a spiritual level. Certainly, prayer is a tool that God has given to us as Christians, to aide us in managing our stresses (as well as the rest of life). The Holy Spirit’s indwelling us is a second help that we are given, for he is God dwelling in us. But third, and this is what I wanted to focus on, God also gives us the Scriptures to help manage our lives.

The psalmist words it this way:

How they are sweet to my mouth,

your words are honey to my tongue!

(Psalm 119:103)

Such is the sentiment of much of scripture, God’s word is for us to feed our spiritual needs and to provide our spiritual nourishment and not only is it rich, but it is sweet to the tongue of the one who loves the Lord.

So, how do we apply God’s Word to the managing of stress in our life and how does this tie back to desserts? To begin with, just as having a meeting over food can reduce the stress of said meeting, so too can beginning a meeting with God’s Word reduce the stress felt at that meeting, particularly if Scripture is used within the meeting to season the conversation (pardon the pun). Even when such meetings are not held formally as a “Christian” gathering, such wise counsel as the scriptures offers, in my experience, can be appreciated by Christian believer and unbeliever alike. Years ago, I used to purchase materials from a non-Christian gentleman who built his entire philosophy of doing business from the book of Proverbs; his interest was not in the faith of the Bible and he obviously was not proselytizing, he simply recognized the wisdom for life the Bible contained. Christians especially have reason to salt their conversations with Scripture, especially when speaking to other Christians. Can you imagine the church strife that could be avoided were all Christians to intentionally seek scriptural support for all they would say and do? Sadly, it seems that many if not most Christians have fallen for the lie that we need to do things the way that the world does them, and the word of God is never brought to bear on the problems found in life or business.

The second, and most critical element for Christians to grasp is this idea of craving. When we get stressed, we typically crave comfort food–particularly sweet or salty items. Just as we have physical cravings, though, we sometimes have spiritual and intellectual cravings as well. I have shared in other contexts that I enjoy science-fiction novels and movies—there are times when I just get an itch or a craving to put something on (one of my favorites is Dune). As we deal with stress in our own lives, we need to work to engender a craving for God’s Word. Jesus, in the Beatitudes, speaks this way:

“Blessed are the ones who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness,

For they will be filled.”

(Matthew 5:6)

Recognizing that the Scriptures teach us the meaning of righteousness according to God’s standards, the implication is that we will have this hungering satisfied as we give ourselves wholeheartedly to a pursuit of God’s Word. How then do we engender this craving in our lives? To begin with, you must recognize that it is sweet to the tongue—sweeter than anything this world can offer, as the psalmist is pointing out and you must intentionally use the Bible as a means of relieving stress (trust me, it is better than chocolate or television), and thirdly, you must seek God’s face within it (and he will reveal himself to you), recognizing that this book we call the Bible is no dead text from an ancient religious tradition, but that it is living and active, sharper than a two edged sword, and that it will be able to not only cut you bone from marrow, but also suture you back up to the glory of God on High.

Stressed? Yep, this life is full of it. Dessert? Well, you may look to the delicacies of this world; I commend to you the one true delicacy of eternity—the very word of God, breathed out through faithful men for our edification and growth.



Not of This World (John 17:16)

“They are not from the world just as I am not from the world.”

(John 17:16)

St. Augustine wrote his classic work, The City of God, originally to refute the idea that the Christians were responsible for the barbarian invasion and sacking of Rome, though the work grew into something much larger and fuller.  In his work, he compared two cities, the city of God and the city of men, and ultimately that which marked your membership in each was which you loved more, God or self.  C.S. Lewis, in his book, The Problem of Pain, similarly argues that the most important decision any human can make is whether or not you will love God more than you love self.

We have already discussed how God’s word marks believers as having a citizenship in heaven and not on the earth—again, the Christian does not belong to the world, but belongs to God.  Thus, just as Jesus’ kingdom is not an earthly kingdom, neither is ours and our primary patriotic allegiance is a heavenly allegiance, not an earthly one.  Does that mean we should forsake our nations?  No, as believers, we have been called to be a blessing to the nations in which we live (Genesis 12:3, 1 Peter 3:9).

So what does it mean for us to not be from this world?  The first thing is that should mark us as somewhat different and recognizable.  For example, at this point in my life, I have made several trips into eastern Europe to teach, primarily in the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.  At this point, I can get my way around the grocery store and the downtown area so that I can find some of the things I need while I am there.  At the same time, I am obviously American.  Even apart from the language barrier, the way I dress, the way I look, and the way I carry myself all proclaims that I am not from there—people know that I am different.  Such should be the same with our Christian identity.  People should not have to interact with you for very long before they realize that there is something different about you—and that something should be winsome; it should attract folks not so much to you but to the God who has made you different.

This does not mean that Christians have to go out to the local Christian book store and buy the t-shirt, the cross necklace, and the WWJD bumper sticker all of a sudden; it means that in your quiet demeanor, you are different.  It should be visible not only in the things you abstain from, but your faith ought to be visible in the way you do the things you do.  For example, for what purpose are you going to church?  For too many Christians, church tends to be more about going through the motions and not about coming into the presence of Christ in the company of other Christian believers.  Often our worship seems more like ritual entertainment than a sacrifice of praise.  Similarly, how is it that we spend our money.  Often it seems much easier to spend $50 going out for a meal than to put an additional $50 to support the ministry of the church.  How much time each week do we spend watching television and then claim that we are too busy to spend an hour at a prayer meeting, Sunday School, or in Bible study?  My goal is not to lay a guilt trip on you, but to raise the question about how Christianity marks your life and then allow the Holy Spirit to do the rest.

So, your life should look different and your primary allegiance should look different and frankly your thinking should be a little different (as you should be setting all things up against the plumb-line of the Bible), but what else should mark you as being different?  There is one more thing that I think that we need to put on the table—that is that not only should your life be different, but your death should be different as well.  Christians can have confidence and even peace in the midst of great trial and suffering, all the while, never lose hope because of who they belong to.  Christ has bought us as his own and has promised never to let us out of his hand.  We need not fear the grave for our Lord has already been there and has already sanctified it before us.  And he rose!  As a young man in my teens, my grandmother moved in with us due to health issues; in my early twenties she was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and would die about 11 months later.  During that year, I had the benefit of watching her through the good days and the bad days (at least humanly speaking) and I never saw her faith waiver.  I have said many times before that I learned more about living as a Christian by watching her die as a Christian than I ever did watching the saints in church around me.  Beloved, what a wonderful ministry opportunity we have as we get older and go toward the end of our earthly lives—hospitals and nursing homes should not be seen as places to be feared, but as another form of mission field!  How many doctors and nurses and other patients might be longing for what we have?

Beloved, we do not belong to this world—such is our Lord’s prayer even.  Just as he is not of this world, but has his citizenship in heaven, so too, we should intentionally think, live, and die with this in mind.  Thus, the question remains, what needs to change in your life so that your life honestly proclaims that you have a citizenship that lies in an eternal kingdom of grace and not in these temporary nations that so quickly rise and fall in history?