Jim Wilson is the retired director of Community Christian Ministries in Moscow, Idaho. He will be posting regularly, so check back in soon!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Humility

God’s objective for us as seen in Romans 8:29 is that we be “conformed to the image of His dear Son.” In similar passages, we were told to “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24), and that we “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Col. 3:10).

At one time, we were created in the image of God. We lost the part of our God-likeness that had to do with true righteousness and holiness. Jesus came to earth to restore that likeness. We are to be like God. What is that like? Jesus! We are to be like Jesus. He is the “radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Heb.1:3).

To be like Jesus, we must first know Him. One of the most obvious characteristics of Jesus is His humility; He patterned and taught it. Let’s examine this pattern He left for us to imitate.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:3-8)

The pattern began when He left heaven and continued downward, ending at the cross. It was downward all the way.

While Jesus was here, He gave some specific examples and teaching concerning humility, or voluntary slavery.

“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:13-17)

“Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” (Mark 10:42-45)

We are His followers; therefore, we are to be servants. The path to being like Jesus is downhill, towards voluntary slavery. To our knowledge, the path will not turn around this side of Glory. It certainly did not turn around for Jesus.

Apparently, humility can be attained by choice. In fact, that is the only way. Although coerced serving may be humiliating, it is not humility. Choosing to be a servant and continually choosing to do so is following Jesus.

After observing egocentric behavior, Jesus told two stories (in Luke 14:7-11 and 18:9-14) which come to the same conclusion: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” What you do with yourself determines whether you are following Jesus. If you exalt yourself, you are following the enemy. If you humble yourself, you are following Jesus.

Webster’s Dictionary defines humility as “the absence of pride or self-assertion.” You cannot be neutral with yourself; you will either exalt yourself or humble yourself. We must demonstrate our servanthood by action that springs from a humble heart.

Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).

Friday, January 20, 2017

Caring for Casualties

In the early part of the Vietnam War, I visited an officer at Walter Reed Army Hospital. He had been badly burned when his jeep hit a land mine. The Vietnamese soldier who was with him was also critically injured.

These two men were fellow soldiers. When they became casualties, however, a big difference suddenly became evident. The American went to a U.S. hospital and on to full recovery. The Vietnamese went to a Vietnamese hospital, where he was almost certain to die. My friend told me how thankful he was to be in the U.S. Army instead of the Vietnamese Army. He had been a casualty in the Korean Conflict also, so he knew what he was talking about.

The difference lay in the quality of care given to casualties. In other wars, in other armies, at other times, there was an even greater difference in the quality of care: there was no care at all! Casualties were left to die. Their deaths, however, had a significant impact on the rest of the men. They were not willing to risk themselves in combat when they knew nobody cared enough to rescue them if they were injured.

We had to re-learn that lesson the hard way with Navy pilots in the Southwest Pacific in 1942. When a pilot had to ditch because his plane was shot up or had run out of fuel, a decision was made not to risk the lives of more pilots and other planes and ships for one man. The decision was based on economy, not morale. But the morale of the pilots went down so far that the decision was soon reversed. To prove it, the next pilot in the water was rescued at the expense of several other planes. We have not had that problem since in the U.S. Armed Forces. Rescue and care of casualties is given high priority.

I personally observed this fact when, for three years, we kept minesweepers and a rescue destroyer in Wonsan Harbor, in spite of the fact that all the land around the harbor was held by North Korea. We were stationed there to pick up pilots who ditched in the harbor. I spent a small part during each of 1951, 1952, and 1953 on a destroyer picking up those pilots.

Admiral Mitscher’s decision, after the First Battle of the Philippine Sea, to guide his Air Groups home by turning on all the searchlights on all the ships of Task Force 58 was one of the great moral and morale decisions of the Second World War. He risked the lives of thousands to save the lives of a few.

We Christians are engaged in a spiritual war that is far greater than World War II. It includes all people and nations everywhere. We have learned much about the conduct of war on the spiritual plane. We have learned about evangelism; we have learned about training and what is called “discipling,” but we haven’t learned about caring for our casualties. We haven’t learned about caring because we don’t care.

Caring for casualties is not high on our priority list. We have been taught to spend our time with the faithful few, not with the unfaithful ones, who are the casualties. The faithful are a delight to be with, so the “espirit de corps” is seemingly high.

The casualties are many; we cannot hide from them. I cannot exist comfortably in an army where the overwhelming majority are casualties who are not being cared for. I cannot maintain high morale in such an army. It would be fake. To purport to have high morale under such conditions is to blind yourself to reality.

We Christians are not just an army; we are a body. “So that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Cor. 12:25-26).

The few healthy parts have to be suffering too, if they are part of the body. If they are not suffering and caring, it is because they are not part of the body or because they also are not healthy. They think they are healthy, when in reality they also are sick.

The current status of our spiritual army looks rather bad to me, with many casualties and most of the rest not caring.

“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:1-2).

There are at least two reasons for not caring. First is the cost. If we commit ourselves to caring for a physical invalid, then we are attached. Our time is committed. We cannot forsake the ill person. We anticipate that if we lovingly begin to care for a spiritual invalid, we will be forever attached to that casualty. If there is more than one invalid, we anticipate all of our time disappearing. We are not willing for that to happen.

The fallacy in this thinking is assuming that these people will stay invalids. They will not. Loving, gentle care restores them, and quite rapidly. They cease to be casualties.

The second reason for not caring is our hesitancy to use spiritual judgment. The enemy has infiltrated the camp of the believers through a misapplication of Matthew 7:1-2: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Christians say to each other regularly, “Judge not!” The consequence of this peer pressure (which itself uses the Word of God in a judgmental fashion) is to paralyze and intimidate the caring believers so they do not care for the casualties. They are led to pretend that the casualties are not really injured.

Matthew 7:3-5 completes the content of the “do not judge” teaching: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

This commands us to get rid of sin in our lives, so that we may remove the speck from our brother’s eye. That is loving, gentle care. The “judge not” of the previous verses is to keep unqualified people from caring for the casualties. Those people would make the situation worse, so they are not to participate in the care.

Paul says, “You who are spiritual…” (Gal. 6:1), that is, you who have removed the plank, you who see clearly—you are able to judge. When Jesus said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7b), He was keeping unqualified men from taking care of casualties. Then He took care of her: “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).

When we quote these verses at each other, we stop even an attempt to care for the one who is hurting. Why? Because we all have planks in our eyes; we have all sinned. We are not fit either for delicate eye surgery or for capital punishment.

But we are Christians. God has made it possible for us to not be hypocrites. He has made it possible for us to get rid of our planks, to get rid of our past sin. In other words, He expects us to get qualified, to be spiritual.

“I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?” (1 Cor. 6:5)

God has placed the requirement to care on us. We could come up with the excuses as the religious men in the story of the good Samaritan. The casualty was there, and he could not help himself. The same situation exists today, and Jesus, commending the Samaritan, says, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).

In almost every group, there are men or women who have become casualties. In many cases, a Bible study or an annual conference is the means of restoring those believers to full health, to a high stage of “combat readiness.” But there are situations that cannot wait for the conference. “You who are spiritual should restore him gently.” If you are not qualified, then call on someone who is. But do not do nothing!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Loving the Unlovely

You have heard that it was said, "Love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? (Matt. 5:43-47)
There is nothing distinctively Christian about loving those who love you or loving the lovely. To convey this point, Jesus chose a class of people despised by the Jews—tax collectors—and said, “Tax collectors love like that. They are not believers, and they are not moral, but they love those who love them.” When a Christian loves those who love him, all he is doing is something that is natural to man. That is not a Christian characteristic. It is something God created everyone with, including the worst type of criminal.

You exhibit your Christianity or your Christian love when you obey His command to love the unlovely. If you have never loved your enemy and have loved only lovely people, you have been disobedient. Why? Because this love is central to Christian behavior, and it can only be exercised by obedience. You never fall into it. The kind of love you fall into is a characteristic of the natural man. Even your friendships are characteristic of the natural man. Loving the unlovely is peculiar to Christians alone. They have to choose to do it, because it does not happen on its own. Love in the Scripture is always volitional.

How do you love the unlovely? How do you love your enemies?

I became a Christian when I was in my second year at the Naval Academy. I found that one of my first new characteristics was that I loved my roommate, and he was not lovely. Three weeks went by, and he said, “OK, Wilson, what happened? The last three weeks you have been unbearably pleasant.”

I saw my love expand to people I had not loved before, because I had received this kind of love when I received Jesus Christ. He filled me with it, and now I could vent it, by choice. But it had nothing to do with whether my roommate was lovely. I began to see my love expand for more and more types of people.

Then a few years later, I ran into a type of person that I did not like. In fact, I despised them.

I had graduated in June of 1950, had thirty days’ leave, and went right to the Korean War. Our ship stopped at Sasebo, Japan, for refueling. There were 3,000 prostitutes in the first three blocks. You could not walk down the street without being grabbed. It was the same in Yokosuka. I was witnessing on the ship and leading men to Christ. Then they would go ashore and come back with gonorrhea. I hated these women. I had this unlove for them for years, and I knew I had it.

I was on an aircraft carrier in Hong Kong and had some missionary friends out to dinner on the ship. I told them I had this problem of lack of love. The wife said, “You have it all wrong. You are commanded to love those people. It is not something that just happens. It is something you choose in obedience to God.”

I knew what the Scripture said, and I knew that she was right. I went to my room that night in a great turmoil of rebellion. How do you do it? Do you go out and say, “OK, I choose to obey. I will love them if it kills me!” Do you crank it up? Do you put it into effect by sheer willpower? I knew that was not right, because the Scripture requires unfeigned, genuine love. No one would be fooled by my fake love. I said, “Lord, if you want them loved, you will have to love them through someone else. I don’t have it, I can’t fake it, and I don’t know how to obey without faking it.”

But as I prayed that night, I realized several things. If loving is a command, then not loving is disobedience. If it is disobedience, then it is sin. If it is sin, then it is forgivable. We cannot begin to obey until we recognize the issue of sin and receive forgiveness.

I had never considered that this business of not loving my enemies was in the same category as lying. The great commandment is to love God, and the Scripture says, “He who says he loves God and loves not his brother is a liar.” When I do not love others, I do not love God. If I am not obeying the greatest commandment (loving God), how great a sin is it? It is a big sin. If loving my neighbor is the second commandment, and I am not doing it, I am guilty of another big sin. I am disobedient. Does that mean I live in guilt? No, it means I must receive forgiveness. But I must recognize my sin before I can get forgiven.

That night I confessed all my unlove, and God forgave me. Wonderful! That did not make me loving, but it did make me clean. It brought me up to neutral, a position from which I could love. If I had decided to love these prostitutes in the presence of my sin of not loving them, I could not have done it. But I was forgiven. From a clean position, I chose to love those women. I said, “God, You had better meet me before I meet them, or it is going to come out phony.”

When I chose to obey the commandment, God gave me a great love for these people—His love. God’s love does not condone sin, so I did not condone their sin. But now I could see them as those for whom Christ died.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Saturation Love

This is another topic I speak on often to parents. God gives commands to love. These commands are to be applied to wives, brothers, neighbors, aliens, and enemies. This love is the love that God had for us when Jesus Christ died for us. It is sacrificial; its primary expression is giving. It is designed to be effective. It worked for our salvation.

Love requires an object, and love requires expression. “For God so loved the world that he gave…” (John 3:16). The world was love’s object, and giving was love’s expression. This love was not half-hearted or reluctant or “almost enough.” It was complete and more than adequate for all of the sins and sinners in this world. “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more…” (Romans 5:20).

In obeying God’s commands to love, we are to love as He loved. That is unconditional and without reserve or reluctance. We should have and give more love to the person needing love so that his need for love is satisfied. You may think that that is impossible. This person is so starved for love that loving him is like pouring water down a rat hole. You are convinced that you will run out of love before this love-starved person is satiated. That might be true if you are counting on him returning love to meet your needs. But if you get refilled by the Holy Spirit, you are never going to run out.

Now let’s apply this principle to raising children. There are many different problems in raising children that require understanding and applying biblical principles. Here are a few of these problems:
• Lack of obedience
• Lack of effective discipline for disobedience
• Lack of effective training and teaching
• Sibling rivalry and jealousy
• Attention-getting devices such as whining, crying, and tantrums
• Signs of insecurity such as speaking loudly, warts, overweight, scratching, hitting, biting, picking at the body, and hand mannerisms.
Each of these subjects could fill a book; in fact, books have been written on each of them. You may have read some of them and implemented what you learned, and, with some of you, what you applied did not work. It is easy to draw the conclusion that the book was wrong. The book may have been right, and your application may have been right. What went wrong?

Here is the principle mentioned earlier. I will call it saturation love. Saturation love is different from adequate love, quality time, or quantity time. It includes the last two plus undivided attention.

Saturation means that maximum absorption has been reached. A saturated solution is one where the solvent cannot dissolve anymore solute. For example, if you continue to add and stir sugar into a glass of water, the water will eventually become saturated with sugar, meaning no more sugar will dissolve in it. After the solution reaches the saturation point, any additional sugar will fall to the bottom of the glass—the water cannot dissolve anymore.

It is the same with love. It is possible to saturate someone with love so that any additional love is not received. It is not rejected; it is just not needed.

Over the years, I asked audiences for a show of hands if they thought their parents loved them. Over 95% of the hands would go up. It was never 100%, but it was always a high percentage. Then I asked this question of those who had raised their hands: “Do you think that your parents expressed this love to you adequately?” Only half of the hands stayed up. The third question was, “Of those of you who think your parents expressed their love for you adequately, could you have used an even greater expression of love?” All of the hands remained up.
• No love
• Some love
• Adequate love
• Even more love is wanted.
No one ever thought he received enough love from his parents. Their children will, if asked, say the same thing about them.

What are the consequences of not getting enough love? Disobedience is directly proportional to the shortfall in love. Even if administered correctly, discipline for the disobedience is not effective if the child is not loved enough. He thinks, “The last time I got any attention around here was the last time I got spanked.” Disobedience becomes his means for getting attention. Therefore, your training and teaching is ineffective if you are not giving your child enough love.

The amount of sibling rivalry, competition, selfishness, and jealousy is inversely proportional to the love shown to your children. When all of the kids are saturated with love, there will be little or no rivalry, squabbles, or fights. The more love, the less whining, disobedience, and jealousy, and the less crying and tantrums. Also, the more love, the sooner the child will become a Christian.

“Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” (Rom. 2:14). God’s means of leading us to repentance was to pour on the kindness and show us tolerance and patience even when we were sinners. How much more should we do this for our children!

What are our problems? We do not want to give hugs and attention to a whiner. We do not want to endorse bad behavior. That is true, but doing this is not endorsing bad behavior. It is curing it. This giving is not giving in to the child’s dictations, but to his real need. His perception is more true than your perception. The “whiner” is asking for attention—loving attention. We will give a small baby attention when it cries. There may be nothing wrong; he is not hungry, wet, dirty, or sick; he just wants some loving. When the child is two or three or nine or ten and asks for attention, we do not want to give it. We do not think the child needs it. Believe me, if he asks for it, he needs it. When he is saturated, he will quit asking. (On the other hand, there are some children who need attention but will not demand it. They need and receive even less than the demander. Because they are not demanding, you may think they are satisfied.)

Our problem is that we run out of “give” before the child runs out of demand. We think he will never quit demanding our attention, so we quit giving it before we should quit. If we kept on giving the attention, we would find our child would get satisfied. The child will get full, and consequently he will be very secure and ask for very little in the years to come. This security is of central importance in your child’s obedience to you.

Many years ago, there was a little boy who had warts on his left hand and arm. I think there were eighteen of them. He had had them for many months.

One day his father asked him, “Johnny would you like me to pray to God to take away your warts?”

Johnny replied, “No, they are my friends; I play with them.”

His father knew that these warts were evidence of the boy’s insecurity and that the insecurity was the result of the father himself not giving his son enough loving attention. The father made a decision and followed through with much loving attention. The warts disappeared in a very short time.

Many years ago, I was close to a young family who had four preschool boys ages one, two, three, and four. One day the parents came to see me about their oldest son. He had two major problems that they did not seem able to correct. 1) He was hitting each of his little brothers all day long. He was corrected on each occurrence, either shouted at, spanked, or both. 2) He had picked the skin off of his face in many places so that he had small red scabs all over his face. He looked like he had the measles.

The spankings did not seem to work. Their question was obvious: “What do we do?”

My answer was as follows: “The next time he hits a little brother, pick him up and hug him.”

The mother answered, “I don’t want to reinforce that kind of conduct.”

“Don’t worry. He already has gotten the message that it is wrong. Not only should you hug him the next time he hits his brother, I want you to hug him all day long. He hasn’t gotten enough love since the second son was born, and now there are number three and number four. The only time he gets attention is when he is bad. So he hits little brothers in order to get attention. He picks his face because he is insecure. I guarantee that if you pour loving attention on him with overkill, his face will clear up, and he will quit hitting his little brothers within two weeks.”

She said, “I don’t think I can do that.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t even like him anymore.”

The parents confessed their sin and put this into effect. The predicted results came true.

Another time, a father with a very active 12-year-old son came to me for help. The son had had extensive discipline for misbehaving on small things and did not seem to have learned from the discipline. He also had a difficult time getting along with his peers. The parents were giving him a fair amount of love, attention, and time, but he still would not receive correction or be repentant when spanked repeatedly.

I told the father that he could not pour on too much love. In desperation to see improvement, the father poured on the physical affection and reduced the constant verbal correction of minor things. The father then took the boy to a men’s retreat where he held the son in his arms for the two-hour van ride there and back, plus holding the son during the speaking sessions. Upon their return home, the mother immediately recognized a change in the boy’s attitude and his willingness to receive correction without pouting, as well as his desire to get along better with other children.

In years of asking questions and listening to answers, there is one answer that stands out. “I never heard my father admit that he was wrong about anything. In the meantime, Mom knew he was wrong; we kids knew he was wrong; God knew he was wrong, and he himself knew it, but he would not admit it.” This may be true of some of you fathers whose children are grown and gone. You may be reading this and realize that you did not practice saturation love when they were growing up. In the meantime, they have had all kinds of problems. Others of you have children who are teenagers, not away from home, but not little “lovable” kids.

What can you do about it now? First confess to God all of your wrong actions such as over-discipline, put-downs, ridicule, ignoring, yelling, anger, favoritism, lack of expressed love, etc. After this, you can write to each of your children expressing to them what you have confessed to God. Tell them you have confessed your actions and attitudes to God. You can also admit specific things that you remember. Ask the children to bring to your attention things that they are still hurting about, just as you may still be hurting about how your father treated you. When they tell you, do not be defensive; just be sorry with a godly sorrow. “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (2 Cor. 7:10). Then express love to them in many ways. If your children are still with you, do the same, except it should be in person in addition to the letter. The letter is important because 1) you can get it all said without interruptions, 2) the letter will get read many times, and 3) the letter will be kept.

Remember, both sexes of children need much love from both sexes of parents. If you are divorced, saturation love is more difficult, but still necessary. If you are competing for the love and loyalty of your children by putting down your former spouse or by buying your children’s love, it is counterproductive. Not only is it less than saturation love, it is not love at all.

One of the best ways to express love to your children is by not fighting with your spouse. Fights between the parents is a major cause of insecurity in children. If you do disagree, the children should never hear it. If you already have a history of fighting or disagreeing with your spouse in front of the children, confess your history to God, then to your spouse and your children, and then forsake the fighting.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Relationships with Parents

Of the many talks I frequently give, there are two which have received the most favorable response and the most fruitful application among young and old alike. The first is how to be free from bitterness, and the second is relationships with parents. At Urbana ‘93, I conducted a workshop on the second subject. Only about 50 students attended. The shock, the incredulity, the rebellion, and the impossibility of putting this teaching into effect showed in the tears, the questions, the comments, and the follow-up conversations. That is why I originally wrote it down. If you are familiar with my writing, you may have read this before, but I am posting it here again because it is still needed.

I would first like to draw your attention to two passages in the Old Testament. I will first comment on them, and then I will make a few suggestions for applying these Scriptures in your life.

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to thousands who love me and keep my commandments. (Deut. 5:8-10)

Yet you ask, “Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?” Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live. The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him. (Ezek. 18:19-20)

When we read in Deuteronomy 5:10, “punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,” we could conclude that this is not just. However, in the whole eighteenth chapter of Ezekiel we see that children are not held responsible for the sins of their fathers. Then what is the second commandment saying? It is saying that sin flows downhill, and the sinful influence of our ancestors affects us, overlapping and passing through several generations. This is generational bad news.

However, the sentence does not end with verse 9; it continues with “but showing love to thousands who love me and keep my commandments.” This word “thousands” is really “thousands of generations,” in contrast to three or four generations. How do we know it is “thousands of generations”? For two reasons. First, it is the only way the sentence makes sense, and, second, two chapters later we have an explicit statement to that effect: “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands” (Deut. 7:9).

Sin and hatred of God cause the downward movement to three or four generations, and obedience and love of God cause the upward movement to a thousand generations.

I have heard this many times: “I decided I was not going to be the kind of father (or mother) who raised me. I would become a Christian, marry a Christian, and do it right. I became a Christian, married a Christian, and I am doing it wrong, just like my parents. I am in the second bad news generation; do I have to wait for two more bad news generations before there is a possibility of turning this descent around?”

No, you do not have to wait, but unless you change your relationship with your parents and grandparents you will have to wait two more generations. Becoming a Christian and preaching the gospel to your parents does not change the relationship. Home, with parents, is one of the places where Christians think that they are allowed to lose their temper. The relationship then gets worse.

About 400 years before Christ, the prophet Malachi gave a negative, conditional prophecy. It is found in the last two verses in the Old Testament: “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse” (Mal. 4:5-6).

The angel Gabriel alludes to a portion of this prophecy in Luke 1:17: “And he [John] will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Notice: To stop the curse from happening, hearts must be turned both ways. Although most of my illustrations are speaking to and about children, I am really speaking to parents about their relationship with their own parents. If you are a Christian parent, turn your heart toward your parents, and turn your heart toward your children.

Now we will look at the second instance in the Ten Commandments that speaks of generations: “Honor your father and mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Deut. 5:16).

Application is next: 1) love God (Deut. 5:9); 2) obey God (Deut. 5:9); 3) honor your father and mother (Deut. 5:16); and 4) turn your hearts to your fathers (Mal. 4:5-6).

Because we have not obeyed the two passages in the Ten Commandments, we may be in the third- and fourth-generation promise, and we will not live long on the earth (cf. Eph. 6:1). The land is in danger of being smitten with a curse. The Malachi text is a call to repentance, a turnaround of the heart.

I will now offer a few suggestions on how to have a heart repentance that will 1) stop the curse, 2) cause long life, and 3) turn the three or four generations of bad news around to a thousand generations of good news.

First, there are a few things that are very important in this turnaround, but they alone are not sufficient for true repentance. Though they are necessary to repentance, they alone bring no automatic guarantee of halting the curse.

1. Become a Christian. Without a conversion to Christ, it is impossible to love and obey God.
2. Marry a Christian. Without a Christian marriage, you have no assurance that you will have Christian children.
3. Stay married “To the married I give this command: … A wife must not separate from her husband…. And a husband must not divorce his wife. (1 Cor. 7:10-11)

Without these three, you can expect more bad generations. However, even with them, the bad generations may still happen. Why? Because your prior generations still affect you and your children. Leaving your father and mother and cleaving to your wife does not mean that you have turned your heart to your father. Until that happens, you are asking for another generation of bad news.

In turning your heart to your father, four elements are necessary. Preaching the gospel to him is not one of them; do not do so, for this subverts his authority over you. Instead, you may write him a letter that conveys each of these four elements. I recommend covering one element per paragraph as follows:

1. If you have confessed to God your previous rebellion to your father or mother, also confess it to your earthly father with no excuses or accusations.

2. Tell your father how much you respect him. If you do not respect him, then of course you cannot write this without being hypocritical. But you must write it. How? First confess to God this disrespect for your father. “Why should I?” you ask, “for he has not earned it!” The Scripture says, “Honor your father and mother.” It does not add “only if they deserve it.” Your father is to be honored because he is your father. You are commanded to honor him. This is not optional. If you do not honor him, then you have sinned. The same is true with your mother. Sin is forgivable, and repentance is required.

After you have confessed your disrespect or the lack of honor for your father and you are sure you are forgiven, then choose to respect him. You may ask, “How? He is not respectable!” Respect has nothing to do with the respectableness of the person to be respected. It has to do with the respecter and the respecter’s close fellowship with and obedience to God.

Now with freedom and sincerity, write to your father how much you respect him in this second paragraph.

3. In the third paragraph, tell him how much you love him. If you do not love him, that has to be corrected first. Your reply may be, “He did not love me, so I do not love him.” If this is the case, it is true that as a father he should have loved you so that your response would have been a loving one. But we cannot go back to childhood and start over. Even if we could, that does not mean that your father would do it any differently the second time. We address the problem from where we are, not from where we should be. You are now an adult, and as a Christian you have an unlimited access to love and forgiveness. If you do not have this access, there is a very real possibility that you are not a Christian. As a Christian, you may have to confess this lack of love for your father to God. Is it sin? Yes, it is sin. It is disobedience to God’s command. He has commanded us to love our neighbors, the brothers, and our enemies. If you do not think your father fits into one of these categories, then perhaps you should study the unconditional quality of love and the biblical relationship of obedience and love.

After you have confessed and have been forgiven, choose to love your father. This love requires expression, so tell him in this paragraph.

4. The next paragraph is the place to express your gratefulness to him. If you are not grateful, then as with respect and love, it is your problem, not his. The procedure is the same. Confess your unthankfulness to God. When you are forgiven, express your thankfulness to your father.

These four elements are necessary and required. The next two are suggestions for further ways to convey respect.

5. Ask your father to tell or write you his life history. He might not do it, but he will be glad you want to know about him.

6. Ask him for advice and counsel, in general and specific matters. This is part of honor.

Write the same kind of letter to your mother, but with one change. The first paragraph should express your love to her, and the second paragraph should communicate your respect for her. Both sexes of the human race need love and respect from both sexes. Of the two, women need love more than they need respect, and men need respect more than they need love. However, each needs both, and they should not have to earn it in order to receive it.

Follow the letters up with other personal letters, hugs, and physical expressions (e.g., handshakes, if they are warm, firm, and exuberant). These letters can be followed up with an explanation so long as the explanation does not include excuses or accusations. Here is a suggestion for an explanation: “Dad, I know that you love me very much. You have not been the best expresser of your love. So growing up I did not think you loved me. Even now I have had to take it by faith. If you wondered why I was boy crazy from junior high through college, it was because I was looking for male affection. Of course I did not get it. I was getting taken. Now you are wondering about my letter to you and all of the hugs you are getting from me when I come to visit. Although I now have a husband and children, I still need my father and you need me. That’s why I am here hugging you. I thought I would prime the pump. I’m giving to receive.” Adjust this example to fit your situation.

When your parents receive these two letters, several things will probably happen. The letter will be read more than once, it will not be thrown away, and you will receive some sort of favorable response.

If you do not receive a response, do not think that you did something wrong. Be patient and keep on giving. Some cultures are not expressive with their emotions, except for lost tempers. This kind of expression from you may be embarrassing for your parents. But they still want to receive this love even if they do not know how to return it.

One man in his late fifties wrote this kind of letter to his father. His mother replied: “I have been married to your father for sixty years. When he read your letter, it is the first time in our marriage that I saw tears in his eyes.”

In the early 1980’s, we held a summer school of practical Christianity at Delta House of the University of Idaho. About 40 students attended. Respect for parents was one subject that was taught. The following fall in a noon Bible class at Washington State University, I was teaching on the same subject again. One of the students spoke up. He gave us a story that went something like this:

“I learned this last summer at the Delta House. When I was sixteen, my father kicked me out of the house and told me to leave, saying that he would never see me again. I left home. I later became a Christian and married a Christian. Now I am a graduate student in economics at WSU. In the meantime, I had not seen my father. My parents were on the brink of divorce, living in separate bedrooms at home (in one of the Great Plains states). When I learned this, I wrote two letters, one to my father and one to my mother. It took me several days to write each one, so they were sent several days apart. For some reason, the letters arrived on the same day, and both my parents were at home. Seeing that the letters were addressed separately, my mother took her letter to her room, and my father took his letter to his room. After reading the letters, they exchanged them and went again to their separate rooms and read. When they came out, my father had tears in his eyes and said, ‘I’m flying out to Pullman to see my son.’ I have seen my father since last summer, and my parents’ marriage has been saved.”

There are two problems—the heart problem and the action problem. The heart problem is first. Your lack of love, your disrespect, your ungratefulness has to be taken care of in repentance toward God. To write a letter without being forgiven by God only means that your letter will be insincere and hypocritical.

You may have a long wait if you are waiting for your father to turn to you first. You cannot afford the wait.

After you are clean, write the letters. Then continue letter writing, telephoning and visiting, expressing respect, love and thankfulness.

Doing these things will change you. You will become a better husband, son, and father or a better wife, daughter, and mother. Your love and obedience will bring love for a thousand generations.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Positive Obedience

Having learned how to refrain from disobedience, we are now ready for active, positive obedience. Start out by learning how to recognize positive commandments in the Scriptures. They are almost always expressed in superlatives. For example, Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

A positive command is not a suggestion. It is a requirement. Because these commands are so complete and all-encompassing, it is easy for the Christian to think of them as “ideals” and not realistic requirements. Before we can consider how to obey, we have to know and accept the commands as they are. The Scriptures do not qualify these commands, and we do not have the freedom to qualify them, either.

There are several wonderful means of obeying these commands. All of them are effortless on our part. The first is the death of Christ. We all know that Jesus died so that we could be forgiven. Few of us realize that He died so we could be obedient. Romans 6 teaches the efficacy of the Cross to accomplish obedience. It does not discuss forgiveness at all.

The second means of obeying is the fruit of the Spirit. The qualities necessary for our obedience are given freely to us when we receive Christ. The fruit of the Spirit is given to us (Gal. 5:22-23). Each of the fruits is also commanded in the following passages:
Love: Matthew 5:44
Joy: Philippians 4:4
Peace: Colossians 3:15
Patience: 1 Timothy 6:11
Kindness: Ephesians 4:32
Goodness: Psalm 34:14
Faithfulness: 1 Corinthians 4:2
Gentleness: 2 Timothy 2:25
Self-Control: 1 Corinthians 9:24-25
The third means of obedience is the prayers of others for us. Colossians 1:9, Philippians 1:9 and Ephesians 3:14 are all examples of praying in the will of God for believers so that they will be completely and positively obedient. Wouldn’t you like to wake up in the morning “filled with the knowledge of God’s will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding, pleasing God in every way and bearing fruit in every good work,” all because someone prayed this for you?

The fourth means of obedience is by an act of our will, but not by an act of willpower. This is as effortless as the first three. It is clearly taught in Colossians 1:29: “To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” Although Paul says that he labors and struggles, he does it with all God’s energy, which powerfully works in him. This labor does not use any of Paul’s energy.

Paul also says in Colossians 2:6-7: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” The three important words in this passage are as, received, and continue: as you received Christ Jesus as Lord. How did we receive Christ Jesus as Lord? Was it by our effort, our goodness or merit, or was it by grace through faith with no effort on our part? If it was by grace through faith and not by trying, then we are to continue to live just like we started. In other words, the obedient life is like being born again continually. Grace and faith with “no trying” got us into the kingdom, and kingdom living is by grace and faith with no trying.

We cannot trust and try at the same time; they are opposites. The book of Galatians was written to people who wanted to try after they had trusted Christ for salvation. Paul calls them foolish. One of the common expressions I hear from Christians after they have fallen is, “But I tried.” That is the reason they fell. They tried.

The positive, obedient Christian life is based on 1) the death of Christ, 2) the fruit of the Spirit, 3) the prayers of others, and 4) our choosing to obey by trusting, not by trying. God’s standards are high, but His provisions to meet those standards are consistent with His standards. His work on the Cross, His fruit of the Spirit, and His answers to prayer take the effort out of obedience.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

A Clean, Clear Conscience

Each Christian should be ruled by a conscience that is clean, clear, and consistent with Scriptural teaching. Sadly, though, many Christians dull their consciences by not confessing sin—even to the point where the conscience becomes warped or seared.

We begin our new life in Christ by having our conscience cleansed from guilt. It is very clear in Hebrews 9:14 and 10:22 that the blood of Jesus Christ is the means of this cleansing. Once our conscience is clean, Scripture then describes it as good or clear.

“The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Tim. 1:5)

“…holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith.” (1 Tim. 1:19)

“They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.” (1 Tim. 3:9)

The relationship between a good, clear conscience and a sincere faith is very important. But when the deep truths of the faith are held in a dogmatic, argumentative manner, the conscience may not be clear. In addition, when faith is abandoned altogether, the conscience becomes not only unclear but seared.

“The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.” (1 Tim. 4:1-3)

As Paul writes to Timothy in this passage, we, too, can see that an abandoned faith and a seared conscience go together. This results in legalism (i.e. commanded abstinence) because the legalists’ consciences are dulled to the point of being completely warped.

However, it is not enough to have a clear conscience before God alone. Several different times Paul spoke plainly of his having lived with a good conscience before God. The first time he said it, he was hit in the mouth (Acts 23:1). The second time, before Felix, he added a qualification: “So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man” (Acts 24:16).

This second standard, before man, is important. When Paul writes to the church at Corinth about the way he conducts himself with the presentation of the gospel, he says, “Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 4:2).

God is the author of every man’s conscience. Even when man has deadened and distorted his own conscience, he is still able to appreciate the truth set forth plainly. This is the reason that an unbelieving man may criticize believers who play loose with ethics, are greedy, stretch the truth and sexually misbehave. Whether or not he follows God’s laws himself, he recognizes that these truths ought to be evident in the lives of Christians.

For this reason, Paul writes of his manner in presenting the gospel in 1 Thessalonians 2:3-6: “For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.” Notice that he did not seek to please men, but he did commend himself to their consciences. Without seeking praise from men, he is seeking to avoid legitimate criticism.

We see Paul living this out by the way he handles the money he collected at Corinth to distribute to the poor believers in Jerusalem. “We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men” (2 Cor. 8:20-21).

In 1 Corinthians 8 and again in Romans 14, we find that a conscience geared strictly to a knowledge of absolute right and wrong still does not please God. Not only must we keep a clear conscience before Him and unbelieving man, but our actions should also be determined by the Christian whose conscience isn’t working correctly.

“Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.’ If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience’ sake--the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience?” (1 Cor. 10:25-29)

This Scriptural requirement is alien to the one who insists on his rights or insists on walking in what he calls liberty or freedom. He may be walking in freedom, but he is not being considerate of, or loving toward, his fellow Christians. Our love for each other should be far more important than our expression of personal freedom.

If this latter requirement is foreign to your way of thinking, it might be because your conscience is not clean, good, and clear. In order to bring it back to normal working order, ask God to reveal to you compromises you have made.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

By asking God to search the heart, the believer is protected from introspection, which leads to self-condemnation. He also is protected against a complacent refusal to search, which may result in self-justification.

When you are shown sin from the Scriptures or from the Holy Spirit, immediately confess it and forsake it. Continue to do this until your conscience is very sensitive. From then on, you will feel more guilt whenever you do sin. This is good, because it encourages confessing and forsaking sin as it arises, and it helps keep the conscience what it ought to be.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Big and Little Sins

Have you ever wondered how men who have been Christians a long time or who are leaders in the church fall into sexual immorality, get divorced, or are dishonest or unethical in their conduct? One of the answers that Christians have given to me is that these leaders are special targets of the Enemy because they are so greatly used.

I have difficulty with this answer (although it is possible) because of 1 Corinthians 10:12-13: “So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

In this passage, there are statements about man, temptation, and God. If a man sins, it is not caused by the greatness of temptation; that is common. Nor is it caused by God’s unfaithfulness; God is faithful. So what is the problem? Man thinks he is strong. He is not careful. He is caught off guard and sins. This is true with the little sins as well as the big ones. However, the little ones precede the big ones.

We see this in the case of Peter and Susan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when they are trying to figure out why Lucy is telling such “whoppers.” The answer from the old professor points us to the projection in Luke 16:10 when he says, “Which is more truthful, Lucy or Edmund?” They both answered that Lucy was more truthful. The conclusion was that since Lucy did not normally lie about little things, she would not be telling big lies now. It is more likely that Edmund is telling the big lie because he was accustomed to telling little ones.

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much” (Luke 16:10). Jesus makes it clear that the way to test for trust or dishonesty in big things is to observe trust or dishonesty in little things.

We see the same sort of progression in Psalm 19:13: “Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression.” This is a progression towards being innocence of great sin. It is guaranteed by two prior victories: first, not being controlled by willful sins; and second, prior to that, being kept from willful sins by God.

If we are kept by God from willful sins, we will not have to be worried about the big ones.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Refraining from Disobedience

The first broken command was worded negatively: “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Most of the Ten Commandments are also worded negatively. Starting with Deuteronomy 5:8, “You shall not” occurs eleven times in the next thirteen verses.

Disobedience is doing, thinking, or saying something we have been commanded not to do or think or say. It is also the opposite: not doing, not thinking, or not saying what we are commanded to do or think or say. For example, “Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment’” (Matt. 22:37-38). Neglecting to love the Lord in this way is a violation of the first and greatest commandment. It is easier to measure disobedience by what we do rather than by what we do not do. This, however, does not keep the latter (sins of omission) from being sin.

The first means of refraining from disobedience is to know the commandments. Ignorance does not keep your acts from being sin. Contrary to the view of many Christians, not knowing does not constitute a justification for sin. Not knowing you were not supposed to marry an unbeliever does not make it right.

Leviticus chapters 4 and 5 are given to the subject of unintentional sin. “If a member of the community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD’s commands, he is guilty” (Lev. 4:27). It is important to know the commands and obey them.

The second means of refraining from disobedience is to know God’s character so well that anything that comes across your path that does not have His characteristics will be recognized as from the enemy.

The devil is a liar. “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44b). A liar does not say, “Do not listen to me because I am lying to you.” He says, “Listen to me; I am telling the truth.” Both the liar and the truth teller say, “I am telling the truth.” Therefore, you must know the truth teller so well that you will recognize a lie by the character of the teller.

There is a good example of this in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Both Lucy and Edmond had been to Narnia. When Lucy told Peter and Susan about the wonders of Narnia, she expected Edmond to back her up. Instead, Edmond said that Lucy was playing make-believe. One was lying, and one was telling the truth, but both said they were telling the truth. Peter and Susan went to see Professor Kirk for advice. After hearing the story, the Professor replied, “Does your experience lead you to regard your brother or your sister as the more reliable? I mean, which is more truthful?” Peter said, “Up till now, I’d have said Lucy every time.” The Professor asked Susan the same question. “Well, in general, I’d say the same as Peter.” The Professor replied, “You know she doesn’t tell lies, and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then, and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.”

Do you know God’s character as Peter and Susan knew Lucy’s? You will find His character revealed in the Scriptures.

The third means of refraining from sin is to avoid temptation. Temptation is not the act of the enemy only. You also have a part. Your part is mentioned in James 1:14: “But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.”

The first way to avoid temptation is your own will: choose not to feed your evil desires. The second way is with God’s help: God will keep the evil one from tempting you. When temptation is cut down, sin is cut down. God’s part is in answering the prayer Jesus taught us to pray: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matt. 6:13)

The fourth means of refraining from sin is do not be over-confident. “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Cor. 10:12).

Sin is like falling off a cliff. Christians do not want to fall, but they do want to admire the view. They get as close to the edge as they can with over confidence and carelessness, knowing that they will not fall. Do not be confident or careless, and do not desire to admire the view. Stay away from the edge!

Sometimes it is necessary to get close to the edge when you are helping someone who has fallen or is about to fall. There are two strong texts in the New Testament referring to this action.

“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). Notice that only spiritual people should do the restoring, and they should watch out, not to keep from sinning, but to be kept from being tempted.

“Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear--hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh” (Jude 22-23). You must abhor sin if you are in the rescuing business.

A good, stout fence at the edge of a cliff is much more valuable than keeping an ambulance parked in the valley. Both may be necessary, but the rescuer at the bottom is not in as much danger as the rescuer at the top. Fences are made of the Word, prayer, and fellowship with other Christians. In addition, a support group of Christians in prayer for you is like having a safety line around your waist which is anchored to the Christians who are away from the edge. Do not be over-confident!

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor. 10:13). We know of God’s faithfulness before temptation occurs and after sin occurs (1 John 1:9). This verse speaks of God’s faithfulness during the temptation. God’s faithfulness does not mean He will physically or spiritually pull us out of the temptation; He limits the temptations by their nature (“common to man”), by their strength (“not beyond what you can bear”), and by providing a way out. All of these require a decision on the part of the Christian.

The fifth and sixth means of keeping from sin go together. The fifth is to make a stand against the devil, and the sixth is to run away from him.
“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)

“But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” (1 Tim. 6:11)

“Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (2 Tim. 2:22)
Either the devil flees or you flee. One of the two should run. You should not sit around and chit-chat with the devil.

Resisting is by far the best way. Then the devil does the running. It is the way Jesus handled temptation in the wilderness (and other places where He was attacked). He turned the defense into an offense. The devil attacked first, and Jesus counter-attacked with the Word of God.

There is a condition that is necessary before you can resist and counter-attack. James 4:6-7: “But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” In order to resist effectively, you must submit to God in humility, whereby you receive grace.

In Ephesians, there are two conditions to our resistance of sin. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Eph. 6:10-11). Our stand against the devil is effective only when we have God’s armor and God’s power. It was the same with Jesus.

Prior to the stand, the resistance, and the counter-attack, you must submit to God in humility. You must have God’s power and God’s armor. If you cannot meet these conditions, then you must run.

Even if you are able to resist, there are certain temptations you must always flee from, such as the desire to get rich, the love of money, and eagerness for money.

“But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” (1 Tim. 6:11).

You must flee the one and pursue the other.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Response to "Why Is Obedience So Hard?"

This is from Rob Cheeley, a medical doctor in China.

Jim,

A quick thought—

I like what you wrote on this, but have been pursuing something beyond what you wrote. By that I mean a more specific answer as to the HOW of obedience. Though I completely agree on what you said, I am finding that people are passing over passages in the Word (or not reading them at all) which would equip them to find the life of Christ within them and satisfaction in Him as the foundations of implementing our freedom unto obedience which you described. I think our words of freedom unto obedience sound empty to them until they can obtain some victory through implementing the promises of God to be their strength in the process. How to utilize His strength is very clearly described in many places in the Bible. The Puritans called such things the “means of grace” or “means unto grace.” I believe we need to return to considering this body of promises in Scripture in order to equip the saints to realize their freedom in Christ to be obedient and the provision of God’s strength which He has already placed within us.

I think Christians sometimes desire obedience but don’t know how to approach it. I find this topic quite helpful as something to offer them. Not a “12 steps to victory” sort of a thing, but rather a deep reliance on Scriptures which state a means of securing the graces of God which produce obedience. Here are my thoughts.

Settling for Sin? Or Satisfied with the Saviour?

Listen to the words of the old hymn “My Jesus I love Thee”:

My Jesus I love Thee, I know Thou art mine,
For Thee, all the pleasures of sin I resign.
My gracious Redeemer, my Saviour art Thou
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus ‘tis now.

Do any of you remember that song? Do you remember the words to be different than the way I sang them?

Yes, many years ago, someone, thinking themselves to be more enlightened than the author of the hymn, changed the second line to: "For Thee, all the follies of sin I resign." They didn’t think it correct to say that sin held pleasure. But what they missed was the fact that the line had come directly from Scripture and that the exact point of that portion of Scripture was that someone had renounced the pleasures of sin for something better.

Do any of you know where that verse is found in Scripture? I’ll give you a clue - the person said to have renounced the pleasures of sin was Moses. Hebrews 11 tells us that:

24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter;
25 choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin;
26 considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.
27 By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen.

The point missed by the person who changed the words to that hymn was a very important point.

Sin is often just the thing in which we are satisfied. It does indeed often give us pleasure, but that pleasure is, as the verse I just read says, “fleeting.” The pleasure passes.

Are you being satisfied by sin or stuffed with God’s goodness?

David says in Psalm 17:15, “As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.” David was satisfied; the word means filled up to the point of being unable to take in any more. David says that in rising up in the morning and beholding the face of God, he was satisfied—he was filled, he had no desire of anything else or any more of what he had.

We just got back from furlough and were able to spend some time with our families and enjoy them for a few months. One of the ways in which my father and I enjoy spending time together is hunting pheasants in the rolling wheat fields of North Idaho. We were able to spend several days doing this last fall. The greatest pleasure of the whole thing is being out in such a beautiful place and enjoying each other’s company while enjoying God’s creation at the same time. And in the process we shot a few pheasants.

Now that leads to another shared joy. A roast pheasant dinner shared with your loved ones is perhaps the ultimate in eating satisfaction. We have mashed potatoes and apple pie and green beans from my dad’s garden, to add some peripheral saturation to the delight quotient, but we basically eat to satisfaction on the pheasant. We enjoy each other’s company while enjoying God’s creation in one more way. We become satisfied—filled until we can want no more.

Have you ever had such a meal? Filled until you can want no more?

If you have, then you understand the meaning of satisfied. The meaning of the word here in this verse is no different.

David was satisfied with God’s presence. Do you know this satisfaction?

Is your Spirit being filled to satisfaction with God’s presence? If so, you are enjoying one the greatest graces a saint on earth can experience. There is no room for sin in a soul satisfied with God’s presence.

What are the sins you tend to struggle with? Is it anxiety? Is it lack of faith? Is it anger at the world and the people in it? Is it lust? Is it pride? Whatever it is, it can only be there for you to struggle with when you are not satisfied with God.

Listen to some of the ways this satisfaction is expressed in God’s Word, and the blessings which come from such satisfaction:

“How blessed is the one whom Thou dost choose, and bring near [to Thee] to dwell in Thy courts. We will be satisfied with the goodness of Thy house, Thy holy temple.” (Psalm 65:4)

“I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow. And I will satiate the soul of the priests with fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, says the LORD.” (Jer. 31:13b-14)

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matt. 5:6)

Are you settling for the passing pleasures of sin? Or are you satisfied with God?

What does the passage above say that Moses did to convince his will to reject the passing pleasures of sin in order to find his satisfaction in God? It says that he was looking to the reward, and that he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen. Then just a bit further we are told how to apply this same approach in our own lives. The beginning of the next chapter says:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Heb. 12:1-3)

Moses looked at the grace that was to brought to him in the future. He found his satisfaction in that which was unseen. Vs. 27 says he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen. Moses looked to the unseen and found his satisfaction. In doing so, he was sustained. He found his sustenance in Him who is unseen. He was satisfied and looked away from the passing pleasures of sin that he might know the satisfaction of promised grace.

We are told that we are enabled to lay aside sin by fixing our eyes on Jesus. We are told here that if we will only spend our time considering Him who is faithful, we will not grow weary and lose heart.

We have a choice to make every day, every hour, every moment. We may be satisfied each moment through looking for the reward of God’s promised graces, or we may settle for sin. That is the choice. Whether you like it or not, you are making this choice every moment of every day.

Are you settling for sin? Do you find anxiety, pride, lust, anger, fear, greed, resentment, bitterness, criticalness, self-gratification, envy or some other sin occupying your mind? Or, as Hudson Taylor used to put it, are you looking off to Jesus?

Satisfy your heart in Him. Delight yourself in Him, and He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4). Obedience to His every wish is surely one of those desires. If so, simply satisfy your heart with his presence.

Is He not gracious, loving, forgiving, comforting, powerful, wise, all-knowing, pure and Holy? Is it not just what your heart desires to dwell in the presence of such a One as He? Is not this the means of satisfying ourselves in Him?

Run the race with endurance, laying aside every sin by considering the riches of the grace which is found by the heart which is satisfied only as David’s heart was satisfied—by looking to the likeness of your Father in Heaven, your Lord who endured the wrath of Heaven out of love for you, that you might enjoy with Him for eternity His glory and His Holiness.

One of my favorite books is On Christian Sanctity, written by Handley Moule a hundred years ago. In this wonderful little book, he placed a poem which I find appropriate to leave you with here:

“My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for He shall pluck my feet out of the net.” (Psalm 25:15)

A voice, a call from glory, cries
“Watch, Christian, watch, at eve, at morn,
Lest open violence, or surprise,
Defeat thy soul forlorn.”

My Saviour, Master, it is Thou!
Thy voice awakes me to the strife!
Yes, let me watch—each passing Now,
Each conscious pulse of life.

Yet how can this my human will
At once at every point repel
The fleshly weakness, hounded still
By energies of Hell?

A sinner’s watch against his sin
I keep, with weary sighs, in vain
When fixed on weakness deep within
This aching gaze I strain.

But now a better hope is mine;
Jesus, ‘tis Thou, my life, my own;
Bid through the Word Thy Spirit shine,
And show Thyself alone.

To see the glory of Thy Name,
Eternal Son for sinners given;
Embrace Thy cross, despise the shame,
Thy gift, of peace, of heaven.

To welcome Thy great light at length;
Thy love unknown to trust, to know;
This brings a tenderness, a strength,
Nought else can give below.

Then in my soul each anxious morn,
Each toiling noon, each wearied eve,
The sweet, the blissful thought is borne,
“Christ lives - I do believe.”

By this I know Your glorious power,
Within me felt, yet not of me;
I meet the foes of each new hour,
By looking unto Thee.

- H.C.G. Moule

Why Is Obedience So Hard?

There are several reasons why obedience seems hard. I will comment on some of them and then speak positively on how obedience is easy.

We think:

1) Obedience is an infringement on freedom. Since we are free in Christ, and obedience is somehow contrary to that freedom, we conclude that obedience is not good. Yet we know it is good. Thus, we become confused about obedience and are not single-minded.

2) Obedience is works. We who have been justified by grace through faith are opposed to works; therefore, we are opposed to obedience.

3) We have tried to obey and have failed—frequently. Therefore, the only solution is to disobey and later confess to receive forgiveness. It is easier to be forgiven by grace than to obey by effort.

4) We confuse obedience to men with obedience to God. Although these are sometimes one and the same (see Romans 13, 1 Peter 2-3, Ephesians 5-6, Colossians 3, and Titus 2), sometimes they are not the same (see Colossians 2:20-23, Mark 7, 1 Timothy 4:1-5, and Peter’s great statement in Acts 4:19-20). Confusion occurs when we reverse the texts and equate obedience to men, described in the second set of Scriptures, with obedience to God.

If these statements were accurate, obedience would be hard. However, each statement is a misconception; each hides a subtle lie. Here are the corrections:

1) Obedience is freedom. It is a voluntary act of the will which can only take place if the will is free. “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

2) Obedience is not related to works. It is related to faith.

“By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” (Heb. 11:7-8)

“Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.” (Rom. 1:5)

“…but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him.” (Rom. 16:26)

When we obey, we are acting by faith, not works.

3) Trying to obey is the opposite of trusting to obey. When we try, we are self-centered, not God-centered. When we trust God to do His will, God provides the strength to obey, a much better alternative than depending on ourselves for obedience.

4) Confusion is avoidable when we know the Scripture well enough to differentiate between the commands of men and the commands of God.

Here are positive reasons why obedience is easy:

1) The Scriptures were given to us in order to prevent sin (1 John 2:1).

2) God provides a way in every situation so that we need not sin (1 Cor. 10:13).

3) We are indwelt with the Holy Spirit, and the fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5:22-23. Obedience is the natural quality for the life controlled by God’s Spirit.

4) Jesus died that we might be dead to sin.

“By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?... Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.... The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.” (Romans 6:2, 8, 10)

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)

God commands us to obey. But He also provides for our obedience via His death and resurrection, and His gifts of faith, grace, the indwelling Holy Spirit and a new and glorious nature.

Sin is based on two things: a lie and rebellion. Many Christians, like Eve, believe a lie. Once we buy the lie, rebellion is the consequence.

“But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” (2 Cor. 11:3)

If you would like to read more on this subject, check out Dead and Alive: Obedience and the New Man.