Have you ever noticed how some people disappear after being baptized? Over the years I have seen this time and time again. Someone will start attending church, “get saved”, baptized and never return. I use to think maybe they thought, “well, I’ve been baptized I guess everything’s good now.” Recently I think I’ve come to understand this disappearing act a bit better.
In Matthew 13 Jesus told His disciples a parable about sowing seed. Like many times before, His disciples were a little slow in their understanding so Jesus had to walk them through it again, but this time He spelled it out for them. The parable had four types of soils but for now I just want to focus on one. In Matthew 13:20-21 Jesus said, “The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.” Did you notice it was, “affliction or persecution because of the word” that caused him to fall away? Whatever God’s word is to you must be tested, whether it’s through doubt, ridicule, fear, offense, etc.
Throughout the scriptures you will discover a pattern. God speaks, someone hears and believes or doesn’t. For instance, Adam was told to not eat of a certain tree but he did anyway, right? We are told Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord, so God gave him a commission to build the ark in which his whole family was saved. God called Abraham to leave his home and go where he would show him and he did. So in all of these, and many more, instances God spoke and the response of belief or unbelief brought on consequences in the lives of the hearers.
In Numbers 13 we read about the twelve spies being sent to see what was in the Promised Land and how they came back full of fear and a negative report. They said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.” This of course discouraged everyone else. So much so that they decided to appoint another leader and return to Egypt. The spies had chosen to believe what their natural eyes had seen rather than the promise of God. Even though God had already Promised them the Land.
In the book of Nehemiah, Nehemiah found himself rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.This is what God had called him to do. Even though this is what God has him doing, in chapter 4 we find out many oppose this project. A man named Sanballat became furious and mocked the Jews. In fact he did this in front of others who joined him in the ridicule. They said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day?…if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down.”
I’m sure you can think of other examples in the scriptures but I would like to end with my own personal story. The day after I was born-again I went to work as usual. Of course I was on quite the Holy Spirit high, so I walked into work that morning knowing everyone would see the difference in me and come running to me wanting to know what had happened. Well, that didn’t happen. In fact the guy working closest to me didn’t want to hear about it at all. As I started to excitedly tell him what had happened to me the night before he quickly told me, “I didn’t come to work to hear a Bible lesson!” Right then and there I could have caved. I could have made the decision to shut up and never speak of God again but I didn’t. Instead I shot right back at him with, “Well, I didn’t come to work to get cussed at!” The funny thing is up until being born-again, I had the same, shall I say, “colorful” language as he, but suddenly on this morning it sounded wrong.
After our standoff over the Word, we made an agreement. I told him, “If you quit cussing, I’ll quit preaching the Bible to you.” He agreed and we even shook hands. It wasn’t long before he let out a string of profanity, so I responded by saying, “You know the Bible says…” As funny as this may sound now it wasn’t very funny at the time. In fact it was exactly what Jesus said in the parable. It was opposition or persecution because of the word. The good news is about three months later this same man called me over to his truck during our lunch break, took out a Bible, opened it and asked me, “what should I read first?”
I suppose what I’m long-windedly trying to say is opposition because of the word is not only normal it is to be expected. In 1 John 5:19 we are told “the whole world lies in the evil one.” You don’t think you’re going to receive what God has for you without a fight do you? Besides, a faith that isn’t tested can’t really be faith now can it?
I pray that God would grant you understanding and you would come to know the hope to which you are called.
The fall of man brought about a great deception. Since we were all in Adam, we are all born with a false sense of independence. We think we are our own boss. Even if we have the inclination for good, we actually believe we, independently, can perform it as if in and of ourselves we can. The good news is, the Bible not only reveals our deception, it also shows us the great lengths to which God has gone to restore His former glory to us.
God created man in His own image which means he was covered in God’s glory. When Adam sided with the lies of the enemy, believing himself to be “as God”, the glory departed. Since then, God has been working for His glory to be restored.
Genesis 3 tells us after Adam ate of the forbidden fruit, “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked: and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.” Their glory covering was now gone so they were left to find covering for themselves. Man has been attempting to cover for himself ever since but to no avail.
In Exodus chapter 40, we read about the Lord telling Moses how to construct the Tabernacle and all it’s utensils. Once Moses finished, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” From then on the presence of the glory cloud lead Israel in all their journeying.
Later on after Israel had entered and settled in the Promised Land, King Solomon had the Temple built. When the time came to dedicate the temple and pray, an amazing thing happened. We read, “fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the house. The priests could not enter into the house of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled the Lord’s house” (2 Chronicles 7:1-2).
In yet another unprecedented move, God revealed His glory but this time it wasn’t in a tent or building made with human hands. This time it was within one particular man named Jesus. In the gospel of John we find out Jesus is the Word and “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Toward the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, He shared with His disciples what God’s plan had been all along. He said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father…” (John 14:9). Then He said something truly astounding. He said, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own initiative, but the Father abiding in me does His works” (John 14:10). Did you catch that? Jesus, himself a man, declared “the Father abiding in me does His works!” In other words, throughout the Old Covenant and all of God’s dealing’s with man, He has demonstrated our inability to obtain His glory independently.
Moses couldn’t enter the Tabernacle, meaning he couldn’t do anything because it was God’s glory, which represents His presence, who would perform all that was required. And again in the Temple, we see the priests couldn’t enter to do “their” work because God’s glory filled the Temple. Are you starting to get the point? Only God can do what God commands.
Jesus, God in the flesh, demonstrated for us how mankind was always meant to operate. He repeatedly told His disciples “the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something he sees the Father doing..”, “I can do nothing on my own initiative”, “I did not speak on my own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent me has given me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak.”
We can’t stop with Jesus though. God intends for His glory to be returned to all who call on Him in faith. Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you…In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:16-20).
While there are many things throughout the Bible which seem a bit obscure, God’s intention to give us His glory is not one of them. In Jesus’ amazing prayer found in John 17, he clearly tells the Father, “The glory which You have given me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and you in me, that they may perfected in unity, so that the world may know that you sent me, and loved them, even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, be with me where I am, so that they may see my glory which you have given me, for you loved me before the foundation of the world.”
After the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the Holy Spirit was poured out. The Apostle Paul wrote extensively about the Spirit dwelling within us. In fact he told us in Colossians 1 the message of Christ “in us” was his message. He said it was a revealed mystery “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
In short, man turned from God’s glory but God is love, and He wasn’t going to let us go without a fight! No matter what it took, God was going to restore His glory in man. Once God’s glory is restored in your life, you will cease from your own works and enter into rest. Entering into rest means we cease from our own works just as the glory cloud forced Moses and Solomon centuries before. Now that Christ has entered man, man ceases from his “so called” independent works and learns to trust Christ in him to perform all of what God requires.
Reading through Romans six and hearing how we have died to sin never gets old. It seems to be just as fresh this time as it has been in the past. Verse 13 jumped out at me recently though, it says, “Do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” The word instrument, as used here, is defined “an implement, or utensil or tool (offensive for war)–armour, instrument, weapon.”
Tracey and I recently watched the movie Thor with Anthony Hopkins playing Thor’s father Oden. In the beginning of the movie Odin, and all the citizens of Asgard, are conducting a ceremony to announce Thor as the new king. For those unfamiliar with the story, Thor carries a large hammer which is where his real power lies. During the ceremony scene, Anthony Hopkins is narrating and makes a statement that applies to this verse. Speaking of the Hammer, Odin says, “it can be used as a weapon to destroy or a tool to build.”
I’m not going to attempt to tell the full mythology behind Thor’s hammer but I wanted to share a few insights with you. The day after Tracey and I watched this movie I sat in a small circle of men at our jail as we worked our way through Romans six. When we came to verse 13 and its description of us as an instrument I couldn’t help but recall Thor’s hammer. In other words, Thor was a god and he wielded a hammer. We too have a God or “god”, either sin or righteousness, and how we operate depends upon who we are presenting ourselves to.
As our lesson progressed we read about how we are always a slave to sin or a slave to righteousness, never are we the master. This means everyday we are either presenting ourselves as a weapon in the hands of the enemy or the hands of our Savior. You see there are times when our God does operate through us as a weapon; after all in Exodus 15:3 we read “The Lord is a warrior”, but at the same time we know from Ephesians 6 “our struggle isn’t against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” So whether we are being operated as a weapon to destroy or a tool to build is decided by the one wielding the hammer not the hammer itself.
There are several examples throughout the scriptures where the enemy finds his way into people’s lives and attacks others. As we discussed how the enemy operates, we read a few verses in the book of Job. Chapter 1 verse 11 we read what Satan said to God about Job. He said, “But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.” Then if you jump ahead a bit to 2:9-10 we read what Job’s wife tells him after his livestock and children have been killed. “Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not adversity/evil?” So Job’s wife was obviously being operated by Satan wasn’t she?
We learn a bit more about the enemy’s tactics when we look at how he tempted Jesus in the wilderness. At the root, all of Satan’s temptations were attacks on Jesus’ identity. He said, “If you’re the Son of God then…” Then throughout the gospels we see the exact same tactics coming through the religious leaders of the day. Most of, if not all the times, Jesus was confronted by them they were attacking His identity saying something like, “If you’re the Son of God, what sign will you show us?” Even all the way up to Jesus’ death on the cross the enemy shouted “If you’re the Son of God why don’t you come down from there? Save yourself and save us!”
At the root of all of this seems to be accusation, manipulation and condemnation. Once we start to recognize the enemy’s tactics we will be quicker to respond effectively. Paul told Timothy in his second letter “Refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. The Lord’s bond-servant, or hammer, must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.” In other words, pray that they may come to see they are being used as a weapon in the hands of the enemy, come to their senses and begin to present themselves as a weapon, or tool, for righteousness instead.
The news had a report about prescription pill abuse and addiction in our society and one man was asked what he thought the reason was. His response shook me. He said, “Americans in general don’t like to suffer.” Now of course I would venture to say no one likes to suffer but the thought occurred to me that as a Christian I am actually called to suffer.
In the ninth chapter of Acts the moment of truth for Saul, later known as Paul, came when he met the risen Jesus Christ. Jesus stopped him on his way to Damascus to persecute and incarcerate Christians and confronted him about it. He said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Saul at first didn’t even know who Jesus was; but Jesus went on to explain that Saul was in fact persecuting him if he persecuted Christians. As the story progresses Jesus tells, another disciple Ananias to go to Saul and pray for him. He tells Ananias to say, “I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
Later on in Paul’s life he comes to see suffering as part of being a Christian and in fact he embraces it. In Philippians 3 he said, “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” Paul loved Jesus Christ so much and wanted to know Him so intimately he said, “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Did you catch that? He knew that if he wanted to have real fellowship with Christ it meant he would have to sink into the sufferings of Christ. How else could he really “Know” him?
Back to my opening point about the epidemic of prescription drug abuse let me just say I know addiction is an escape hatch. Of course doing drugs doesn’t really get us free of our problems but at least it can ease the pain momentarily, right? The big question is what are we avoiding and what’s the answer? In a word I would say the answer is Jesus! I have found him to be the only real path to freedom but as we can now see going with him is not a life free of suffering, in fact it’s filled with it. So it seems whether we are on drugs or not suffering is simply part of life. The options we have then aren’t whether we suffer or not, but do we suffer with or without Christ.
Today in Sunday School we read Matthew 26:36-46. This is the passage of scripture where Jesus and his disciples are in the Garden of Gethsemane praying just before Jesus is arrested and taken to the cross. Jesus knows his horrible future of being spit upon, mocked, whipped, punched and nailed to a cross; so he is justifiably bothered. The scripture says, “he began to be grieved and distressed…even to the point of death.” Jesus knew the pain and torture that awaited him so he prayed and seemed to be wanting out of what the Father had in store for him. He asked three times “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” Jesus himself was struggling with suffering and we know he never sinned, so that tells me we too may have moments when we feel distressed and don’t want to go through what God has for us. Because in the end the question is are we going to do it or not. Of course we know He did finally say, “If this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” Therefore he was obedient, even to the point of death on the cross.
It seems there are times of immense suffering in life but in this case, like many others, the glory that was waiting on the other side far outweighed the pain. “For the joy set before him he endured the cross.” Paul himself said, “For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us.” You see Jesus and Paul both came to understand something most of us are slow to catch on to and that’s suffering and glory are two sides of the same coin.
Apparently the cross has two sides or functions as well. While the pain, suffering and death is one aspect of the cross; life comes through the other side. The Apostle Paul defined this cross principle pretty well in one short verse found in 2 Corinthians 4:12 He said, “So death works in us, but life in you.” I once heard someone explain this using the illustration of a tree. They said, “Trees take in carbon dioxide from their surrounding atmosphere which is poisonous and somehow the tree processes it and turns it into oxygen.” As a Christian, like Paul, we do our part of taking what is distressful in this world and processing it by way of the cross (death works in us) and releasing it (life in you) for others. Paul said it like this in Colossians 1:24–“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of his body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.”
In conclusion let me just tell you as one who has used the drugs to avoid suffering and now as one who is joined, spirit to Spirit, with Jesus Christ in His sufferings, the drugs don’t and can’t compare to a life lived for Jesus Christ! He’s so great he takes those sufferings and transforms them into glory not only for ourselves but for others too.