“Consider Your Ways”

As a young person I have sat in numerous churches and looked around wondering, “where are all my peers?” Sometimes going to church and spotting another person my age is like a real life game of “Where’s Waldo.”

There is a plethora of articles online about how the millennial generation has turned their backs on church and are “unreachable” or rebellious. This is not another one of those articles.

But… according to a Barna study on church growth and church attendance amongst millennials (22-35 year olds) given in in 2016 church attendance and impressions of the church are the lowest in recent history.

  • Only 2 in 10 Americans under 30 believe attending a church is important or worthwhile (an all-time low).
  • 59 percent of millennials raised in a church have dropped out.
  • 35 percent of millennials have an anti-church stance, believing the church does more harm than good.
  • Millennials are the least likely age group of anyone to attend church (by far).

These numbers are staggering! What is going on! Where have we as a church fallen short and failed to reach, disciple, and keep young people in our congregations?

Haggai 1:1-11 says,

In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord. You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.”

What do we know about the Jewish people discussed in Haggai?

  • Years earlier they had been conquered and exiled from their land and homes.
  • They had been taken to a foreign land to serve under a foreign king.
  • They were brought out of exile and returned to their ruined land and homes.

The prophet Haggai recorded his messages to the Jewish people of Jerusalem in 520 BC, eighteen years after their return from exile in Babylon (538 BC). Haggai’s prophecy came at a time when the people of Judah were extremely vulnerable. They had been humbled by their exile to Babylon, given hope in their return to their Promised Land, and then discouraged by the reality of what they found.

You might be asking… what does this have to do with college students and young adults? And to that I would respond with, “everything.” Who else is at a more vulnerable time of their life than a teenager transitioning out into adulthood? Who else struggles with schedules, priorities, and agendas more than someone who has just spent the last 18 years of their life being told what to do and when to do it? Who steps out into the world “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed” only to be crushed by the reality of life that is ahead of them?

In a lot of ways our young generations are like those Jews returning from their exile in Babylon.

The book of Haggai records the prophet expressing God’s opinion of the people’s negligence in building his house. In verse 5 he calls them to,

“Consider your ways!”

Don’t get me wrong they were working hard, busy with life and commerce, but they were lacking something… neglecting something… missing the point. They were earning money and resources for themselves and their own agendas and houses and neglecting the house of the Lord and the Kingdom of God as a whole. Think about the relation to our younger generations… these Jews were trying to create “something” from “nothing!” They had been in exile for years and were starting over… the same way our younger generations have to “jumpstart” their lives when entering into adulthood.

But… why were they lacking? Well quite simply they had neglected the divine agenda of “building up” the Lord’s house. The people of Judah had simply neglected what was of first importance and God frustrated their labors. Verse 9 says,

You look for much, but behold it comes to little; when you bring it home, I blow it away. Why?’ Declares the LORD of hosts, ‘because of my house which lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house.

We have in the days of Haggai a very similar scenario to what we face today. People are busy. Through the day-to-day life filled with the day-to-day tasks and agendas often the pursuit of personal advancement is promoted to a position of preeminence. And as a result the agenda of God and His will for his people gets sacrificed on the altar of personal pursuits.

This is where we the people of God come in… the church.

After thousands of years, the book of Haggai remains unique among the books of Old Testament prophets for one key reason: the people of Judah actually listened! Haggai’s message to rebuild the temple was passionate, simple, and straightforward. No one could mistake whether or not his direction had been followed because the results would be evident for all the people to see. Through the physical act of rebuilding the temple, the people began to indicate a shift in their spiritual lives: from devotion to self toward devotion to God.

Haggai had an important message for the Jews who had recently returned from exile. They had forgotten their God, choosing instead to focus on their own interests, so it was time for them to “consider their ways.” Nothing was more important for the Jews than to show that the Lord was at the center of their thoughts and actions, so Haggai directed them to finish rebuilding God’s temple.

However, rather than leaving them alone with the task of rebuilding, Haggai continued to preach to the Jews, encouraging them with the hope of future glory in the temple and a victory to come over the enemies of God’s people (seen in Haggai 2:7–9, 21–22). According to Haggai’s message, if the people would place God at the center of their lives, they would realize the future blessings that God had in store for His people.

How can we as the church draw our youth back? How can we be like the Prophet Haggai?

So many times we say that we are too busy…too busy for people, too busy for ministry, too busy for personal Bible reading/devotion, too busy to pray, too busy to meditate, too busy to whatever…to this God says, “Consider your ways!”

 

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Set the Table

A couple of months ago my wife and I got to do a couple of longer hikes in the Rocky Mountains. To save money and time, we decided to pick up Subway sandwiches on our way each day and eat them in the car before hitting the trails. It was so much fun eating sandwiches and other, primarily unhealthy, snacks picnic-style because there was fresh air, a beautiful view, my wife, and no real expectations or civilized rules regarding how or what I ate. I didn’t have to eat my sandwich before my gummy bears, keep my elbows off the table, or use my forks in the correct order… I mean how many forks can a person possibly need to eat a meal?

Another memorable meal was when I was in college. As a Public Relations class heading towards graduation we went to a conference to rub elbows with some possible future employers, and “professionals” in the field. After that conference there was an elaborate meal with waiters, multiple courses, fine dishware, and tons of utensils. The etiquette and expectations were high and completely different than my previous example.

As a kid we didn’t get out the classy dishware often, probably because my mom was afraid we would break it, and we would, or maybe because we didn’t have any? I’m not sure… but both of those examples paint a picture of my point, the way the table is set can determine the expectations for the meal.

Think about it! The dishware is not the reason you sat down at the table… the food was! But the place settings can determine the context and direction the meal will take.

As worship leaders, we set the mood for what is expected for the worship experience for the majority of the congregation. Obviously, there will always be those who are bold or mature in their faith who we don’t need to bring to the throne because they are already there. But for the majority of the church, we set the table and the layout for what is generally expected during a worship service. We can be the examples of what kind of worshipers we are called to be. I know that a meal with fine china versus a picnic will have two different moods… both are fine and enjoyable, but different. In the same way, a small group setting with an acoustic guitar has a much different feel than a Sunday morning service with a full band. Both are great and both can be incredibly powerful times of worship, but they are different styles. The table for each scenario is set differently.

As Pastors and leaders we are called to do the prep work through prayer, devotion, study, and thought to find out what message we want to convey to our congregation, what place setting and context we want to put before them. I once heard a quote that went like this,

Worship ministry is not about telling people where to go, but about leading them as you go there yourself.

Every week I try to encourage this mindset in the way our team leads. Whether the position is deserved or not, if you are onstage or have a role on the worship team, you are seen as a leader. What you do dictates to the majority of the congregation what is acceptable or inappropriate for the service.

However, as worship leaders, we can’t make the congregation do anything they don’t want to do. Just like a table-setter or host of a meal, I can bring you the finest dishes and cups, decorate the table extravagantly with candles, and set out fancy silverware, but I can’t make you eat the food or even like it, and I shouldn’t try to… that is not my job. If our goal is to lead people to worship and we begin to judge our services based on how many people raise their hands, we will become very effective manipulators. If we take a close look at Scripture, however, we can see that isn’t our job. In Psalm 23, God Himself does nothing more than prepare a table for David in the presence of his enemies, and it is David’s choice whether or not he will partake in the “meal.”

That Psalm says,

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

 

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

What good is an elaborate meal with a way to eat it? Table-setting is about giving people the tools to eat the meal. Likewise, it is our job to prepare the setting for worship and then get out of the way.

I imagine that our experiences are often like Moses’s after he came down from Mount Sinai in Exodus 19.

Exodus 19:7-17 says,

So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord.  And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.”

 

When Moses told the words of the people to the Lord, the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.” So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people; and they washed their garments. And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman.”

 

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain.

In Exodus 19 Moses had a literal mountaintop experience with God and was told to go down and tell the people to prepare themselves for worship… to prepare to have an experience with the Almighty God. Then on the third day, he led them up on the mountain so they might worship God.

Do we realize that when we worship we do so standing before an Almighty God?

One time I was exploring an old train tunnel with a buddy and once we got inside we were immersed in total darkness. As we trudged through the mud and water trying to catch a glimpse of the light emerging from the other side time seemed to drag on and on. After an hour or so I asked, “Have you been here before?” My trust had wavered over time and my primary concern was that he was experienced in the path we decided to take.

As many worship leaders, Pastors, or “creatives” do, we put a lot of time, prayer, and effort into our weekly services. We map out the flow of the songs so there aren’t any distractions, and we tie them together with the topic or theme we are trying to convey. As Moses did, we lead people up the mountain. But do you think the Israelites would have trusted Moses and followed him up the mount had he not gone before them already? He was experienced… he had been there before!

I highly doubt that Moses would have held the trust of the Israelites had he not first been to the mountain himself and stood before God. You cannot lead someone where you have not been yourself.

It is easy to gauge a service by how well the band played, how the tech team did, and if the congregation sang loudly or only a few people raised their hands. I fall victim to this mentality quite often, but leading worship is centered around trust in God. Craig Groeschel once said,

If we blame ourselves when things go poorly, then we will be tempted to credit ourselves when things go right.

The act of table-setting can be scary.

But we can do nothing more than that. So as you plan your service this week, think about what table you are trying to set. We lead our congregation to the table, not by pointing a finger, but by saying, “Come alongside me as we go together.”

Obstacles.

Liu Chi Kung was a magnificent piano player. He was a man of renown in his homeland of China and even had the respect of international performers. But after placing second to Van Cliburn in the 1948 Tchaikovsky competition, Liu was looked down upon by fellow Chinese people. His government, displeased by his failure, imprisoned him for seven years. While imprisoned the once renowned piano player had no access to his instrument of choice. At the end of his seven year sentence Liu immediately began another performance tour even though he hadn’t touched a piano in that time. Stunned, reporters from all over the world traveled to seek the mystery behind his ability to play the same, if not better, than he had before his imprisonment. One reporter asked him, “How is it you are able to play these pieces having not practiced them for years?” Kung replied, “Oh, but I have practiced. There has not been a day that has gone by in which I have not practiced every piece I know entirely in my head.”

Kung faced a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Right at the peak of his career, he was taken away and banned from playing the instrument he loved and was passionate about. What a setback! What an obstacle! Liu could have given up, forgotten about his abilities, sulked at his unfair treatment, and moved on in life. Yet he faithfully practiced his pieces day after day so he would be ready to perform after his release.

Obstacles are a common part of the human life. Christians aren’t exempt. We will all face obstacles that threaten to derail us from living for Christ, running our race, and accomplishing the task He has set before us.

The difference between a successful person and one who fails isn’t the presence of obstacles along their path, but their reaction to those obstacles.

So… when obstacles come our way how do we react? Let’s think together.


  • Don’t Give Up.

I once watched a video of Admiral William McRaven, explaining what he learned during Navy SEAL training that helped him never give up and quit. To this day the idea of never giving in to the easy failure has stuck with me. I went back and found that video and transcribed it below. Take a read through it and apply what he says to whatever obstacle is standing in the way of your faith and everyday walk.

We used to have a saying in SEAL training, “Take it one evolution at a time.” Meaning don’t look six months down the road. Don’t ask yourself or don’t look and say, “My gosh, I’ve got more swims and more runs and more PTs.” If you do that, that event horizon becomes a little too far and I think it can be frightening. If all you do is try to do the very best you can at that very moment, you take it one step at a time and then six months goes by and you took it one evolution at a time and you made it. 

It is easy to quit in SEAL training. All you have to do is ring the bell three times and you’re out. You don’t have to talk to anybody. You don’t have to do anything. You ring the bell, you take your helmet off, you put it down, and that’s it. And you find that in tough times, there’s always kind of a way out and that’s quitting. That’s just deciding you’re not going to tackle this problem — you’re going to let the problem or the situation win.

And so the one thing I’m always asked is, “How do you get through SEAL training?” I had a young man who was going off to SEAL training about a year ago and he was a phenomenal athlete. I had lunch with him and he said, “Well, do I need to run more?” I said, “No, I don’t think so.” He said, “Do I need to swim more?” I said, “Nope.” “Do I need to lift more?” and he said, “What is the key to going through SEAL training?” I said, “It’s simple — you just don’t quit.” 

I wish we would always view it with that simplicity. The way to overcome is to just not quit. At some point we have somehow allowed ourselves to be deceived and convinced that defeat is somehow a viable option.

Not for me.

Romans 5:3-5 says,

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Let’s decide together that no matter what comes before us we will persevere and overcome it with the help of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Philippians 4:13 says,

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

  • Embrace Every New Challenge.

The psychologist and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl once wrote,

Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Now of course, Frankl was talking about embracing physical challenges so severe that we can’t even understand, but he did build a very solid case for the idea that even when going through hell on earth, he had freedom to choose his attitude, to find meaning in his circumstances, and it was this, more than anything, which was to determine whether he would survive the concentration camps or not.

Ultimately, the idea I would like to communicate is that we all have a choice about how we approach difficulties and obstacles in our lives and faith. When we have a literal mountain to climb we can choose to climb it resentfully, reluctantly, fearfully, half-heartedly, lazily, thoughtlessly, joylessly, unenthusiastically, lethargically, unintentionally, and with much dread and complaint. If we take this approach, that mountain does not move or run away, it is still there! We will either have to give up or take our time getting over the mountain, with much struggle.

On the other hand, we can choose to embrace the challenge, and to climb the mountain with energy, enthusiasm, joy, exuberance, focus, intentionality, mindfulness, excitement, determination, perseverance, and courage.

If we are going to have to go over the mountain to continue the story then we might as well try to enjoy it or take meaning from it! Embrace your challenges with a smile and gritted teeth!

James 1:2-4 says,

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Christian faith isn’t all about prayer and passion; real faith takes action and perseverance.

  • Don’t Forget to Ask for Help.

Like we have previously determined, obstacles will come into your Christian life; it’s a fact you can count on. God doesn’t promise the path He has for you will be easy, but He does promise to help you along the way. The devil is a master at causing Christians to feel overwhelmed, discouraged, and doubtful. Have you ever had the devil jump on your shoulder and begin telling you why you couldn’t accomplish something for God, live a faithful life, or continue along God’s path? Don’t listen to him!

Moses faced an obstacle in God’s task for him to lead Israel out of Egypt. God foretold Moses that Pharaoh wouldn’t release the Israelites easily. Moses could have seen this obstacle and given up, gone back to shepherding, and allowed the obstacle to rule his life. But Moses turned to God and trusted Him for help.

Moses faced his obstacle and trusted that the Lord would help him to overcome.

Every faithful Christian has faced obstacles in their Christian life. Whether it was Joseph being thrown into a pit then sold into slavery, Moses having to face the ruler of the land, David being threatened by the king, Daniel being captive in a pagan land, or the disciples facing persecution; every Christian has had their share of battles. Yet the ones who remained faithful were those who allowed God to guide them and trusted Him for help in conquering the obstacles.

What obstacle has come into your life? In what area has the devil been telling you that you cannot be faithful? God knows of these obstacles, and rather than simply removing them, He desires that we would turn to Him to help us overcome them. Rather than listening to the devil’s doubts, believe God’s promise that He will help you overcome the obstacles. Like Moses, allow God to stretch out His hand in your life and do many mighty wonders through you.

Ask for help and trust the guidance you receive.


What mountains are currently in your path? How will you face them… begrudgingly or with gritted teeth? And how will you come down the other side… victorious or defeated? It’s your choice to make.

 

 

Leaving Hurt Behind.

As a young pastor within a decent sized church, I’ve heard and seen a lot of hurt that people carry around like baggage in an airport, afraid to set down because they have been told that they must keep it in hand.

In fact, some of this pain comes from within the very church itself. Last week we discussed how sometimes the offense we receive from “within the flock” seems far more painful that that which we receive from the world. The pain caused by a church is what I would call a “silent killer.” I would compare this pain to a poison. I say that because the initial blow, public or not, isn’t what often kills you… it is a “silent killer” because of what it does deep in the fabric of the mind, heart, and soul after the fact. If not dealt with, it will destroy future happiness, joy, and well-being. The collateral damage of overall negatively towards people and the church affects the ministry and outreach of the church and the person, and sometimes the situation festers into far more than what it really should have.

The church is the bride of Christ and the body of Christ — a people set apart to declare God’s praises to the nations and called to become more like the people of God we are meant to be. The church is the one place almost everyone agrees should be safe, accepting, forgiving, and free from conflict and pain. Yet pain from within a gathering of sinful people is almost always inevitable. I tried to make it clear last week that not every church hurts people, and not every hurt is the church’s fault. Some people are hurt through their own mistakes, others because of sin committed against them, and still others because of failed leadership at home, at the workplace, or sometimes at church. Not every church hurts people… but most churches have hurt someone at some point in some way.

We shouldn’t be surprised by hurt and pain in the church, because everyone in the church is still sinful. But while saving faith in Christ is not surprised by brokenness, it is never content or negligent with it either. 

So how do we make progress in the midst of our flaws? Last week we discussed what our mindset needs to be after we have been hurt or offended. This week we will continue on that same track except we will discuss some actions we should, and should not, take when we have been hurt or offended. Let’s think together!


Take it to God.

Have you ever seen an ambulance pick up a seriously injured person and then stop to go around a drive-thru? I hope not! When a person is injured they are rushed to get help from a physician… one who can heal their pain.

When we are initially hurt here on this earth the very first action we should take is to rush to the “Healer” in prayer. It does us no good to sit in our pain and offense and wait for the healing to come to us. The hurt we feel is real and pretending like we aren’t hurt and not seeking help ultimately isn’t going to bring healing.

As a young man I like to pretend that I never get seriously injured. I have joked around in games of basketball saying, “no blood… no foul” but simply saying that doesn’t take the pain out of your hips when you get knocked to the floor on a drive to the hoop! You might try to “walk it off” and pretend you aren’t hurt, but in reality you are!

Sometimes when we get hurt in church folks like to tell us that we have no reason to feel bad and we just need to get over it. I will give them a nod on half of that statement, because we do need to get over it, but it’s not always true that we have no reason to feel bad. If someone is spewing malicious gossip behind your back and you find out about it, it stings. But, no matter what kind of hurt you’re dealing with, don’t rush into a confrontation with the offender. Take it to God in prayer first. Seek His guidance in what direction to take.

Psalm 50:15 says,

Call upon me in the day of trouble.

That “calling upon” works for a troubled soul just as well as it does any other trouble we could think of. Tell God how you feel and ask Him to heal your wounds. It may be that the Lord is going to deal with the offender directly and anything you say would just make matters worse. Or, it could be that the Lord will give you a graceful way to explain why you feel hurt. If you take it to God, He can give you the very words to say to your offender.

Luke 12:12 says,

For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.

And not only can God provide to you the words to say, but He can also bring conviction to that person’s heart when you approach them with a spirit of humility.

John 16:16 says,

And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.

In order to begin the healing we must talk to the Healer.


Seek the Root.

Have you ever gardened? If you have then you have most certainly seen a dead plant. The interesting thing about dead plants are that their signs of death are on the outside where they can be seen…but nearly always the problem is in the root.

When we are hurt or offended it is important that we turn our focus away from the people involved and identify the root cause of our pain. Honestly identify what you are feeling. Find out what is at the core of your hurt. You’d be surprised how often that it is not what someone said or did to you, but something under the surface that is really causing your pain.

When you truly identify the root of your pain, then search the Scriptures to discover what God says about it. In every case God has a balm of wisdom, compassion, and love to heal your wounds. If you call on Him for help, your focus shifts to Him and off of other people and their actions. You will stop rehearsing the event that caused you harm, and begin to allow yourself to heal.

Proverbs 4:23 says,

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.

We must work on guarding our hearts by carefully choosing our thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and actions. We can guard our hearts in the midst or hurt by refusing to dwell on what happened, refusing to focus on the people who hurt us, and refusing to belabor the weaknesses of the church and killing the issue at the root. Giving up bitterness takes humility, but Proverbs 3:34 says,

The LORD mocks the mockers but is gracious to the humble.

We must be sure to not blame God for how His children behave. Don’t abandon the church, either. There are many more dedicated, grace-filled, loving, and forgiving people than not in most churches. Seek them out. Spend time with them. Ultimately, we can have hope because our healing comes from the Lord. It is now up to us to do the right thing and turn our focus to the Person who will truly transform our life above and beyond the hurt we may feel.

Jesus promised, in Matthew 11:28-30,

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.


Don’t Retaliate.

If you’ve ever been a child with a sibling then you know what retaliation is. I once had a friend punch his brother only to be nailed in the forehead with a fastball hotwheel car in return… now that is retaliation!

When you are injured in church or by another person whatever you do, do not retaliate. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us to turn the other cheek.

Matthew 5:38-40 says,

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.

We are also told to do something pretty radical. Matthew 43-44 says,

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Man… just the thought of those things makes the prideful parts of my heart shudder with anxiety. If you are like me you may be upset a little bit with the fact that our “get even” mentality is sinful and honestly doesn’t make anything any better. In fact, we are supposed to love and pray for our enemies! And not those prayers of demise either!

With those things in mind, we must make it a point to not go around telling everybody what someone did to hurt our feelings and how we are right and they are wrong. This isn’t a game of flag football… so we don’t have to pick sides! We are all on the same time and we should unite and rally around one cause, the cause of Christ. We must own our feelings because they are our feelings, and look to reconcile them with the person we feel has hurt or wronged us. From experience I know that it’s very possible that your offender has no idea that what they said or did hurt you, and never meant to hurt you in the first place. If you approach them in humility seeing reconciliation, your offender may be quick to apologize.


Let the Lord Work.

Psalm 55:22 says,

Cast your cares on the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken.

I find that it is easy to misread these passages to mean that God is a magic problem-solver, a genie whose main job is to make us happy today. It’s easy to assume that casting our troubles on God means He will take our troubles away. Sometimes, though, He doesn’t.

Many of us have heard the phrase, “let go and let God.” But there are times when we aren’t clear what it is we’re supposed to let go of, and there are other times we want to let go of something, and we try to let it go, and it just doesn’t happen. Why is that

Sometimes there’s a difference in what we want to give up and what we need to release.

It’s never wrong to continue to seek God’s will in an area, but there does come a time when we have to let go of what we think is best and simply trust Him to work.

Don’t grip so tightly to your assumptions about the way you think life “should” be. Often we think things ought to be easier than they really are, and don’t understand when we are held to the fire a little. In those times we can either trust God, or fight what we’re being asked to do and effectively resisting taking up our cross the way Jesus commanded in Matthew 16:24.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Sometimes what we must give up are our preconceived notions of how life is supposed to work.

We need to let go of our own will. We even can witness Jesus doing this before the crucifixion in Luke 22:42 where He prayed,

Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but Yours be done.

It could be that the Lord is working something out in you. Maybe you’re too sensitive, too prideful, too independent, too hardheaded or rebellious? We always need to check our hearts. Is the person who we feel hurt us really being hurtful or offensive are we looking at it through filters of past hurts or rejection or anger that cloud the truth? Ask the Lord, and then trust Him to work it out.


How is your pain and hurt limiting you? Did it leave you bitter? Broken? Reluctant to get close or involved again? We must work together to get up and leave our pain and hurt behind.

I’m a weird sleeper. I talk, I make noises, and sometimes, on rare occasions, I wander around. Now imagine sleep walking into a dangerous neighborhood, and suddenly waking up and realizing where you were. You would get out of that place as fast as you could! We should react the same way in our spiritual lives when we discover hurt lingering around and festering into bitterness or something else. Our hurt takes us to dangerous places spiritually that we don’t belong in. We must “wake up” spiritually and kick rocks as fast as we can!

The pain of your past is something you don’t have to continue to carry as you walk along in life. Just set it down and move on. Answer the call to leave your hurt behind.

Our Focus

Sometimes on Sundays I wonder how people perceive the structure of the services they take part in. There have been times on stage where I think to myself, “I hope this is translating and being understood.” The unfortunate fact is that sometimes it isn’t. I have been in services that seemed to have no distinct structure or coherent theme/ message. Maybe there was one intended and I just didn’t pick up on it… but nonetheless it didn’t come across to me.

The truth is that each and every Sunday should start with a plan… a message, theme, or thought that we are going to expound upon. Obviously our plans are just that… “plans” and we all know that sometimes plans change. A statement I once heard fits that thought perfectly. It goes,

Every battle plan seems perfect until the first bullet flies.

But I personally would rather have a plan and have it altered than not have a plan at all and miss an opportunity. We should understand that we have a great foundation or starting point and that it is demonstrated for us in the Bible. Worship isn’t a new thing! In the Old Testament much of the worship that took place centered upon the Exodus event where God called His people out of slavery in Epypt and delivered them to the Promised Land to be His chosen People.

But… we are new covenant Believers and worshippers. Hebrews 9:15 says,

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

We worship on this side of the cross, so our New Testaments worship is centered on Christ. On this side of the cross God has called us out of our own “Egpyt.” Through Jesus God called us out of slavery to sin and has provided us an avenue to Heaven through the work of Christ. We are His chosen people! 1 Peter 2:9-10 says,

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

So… why should our focus be on Christ? Below we will sift through just a few ideas.


  • Christ is our mediator before the Throne.

I almost feel like that point should have ended with an exclamation point! Take a second and think about that… there is no such thing as unmediated worship! In the Old Testament Christians had to have a priest act as their mediator before God to offer sacrifices to atone for their sin. We no longer have to do that because of the ultimate sacrifice made on our behalf by Jesus… the Son of God!

John 14:6 establishes the route to the Father through Jesus. In that verse Jesus says,

I am the way, the truth, the life, no one comes to the Father but through me.

1 Timothy 2:5 says,

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.

Have you ever bought a product because you had the assurance of a warranty? I believe we all have. More than once I have been on the phone for hours jumping from person to person to arrange an exchange or refund only to be told I wasn’t eligible because of some small print or loophole found somewhere. The good thing for us is that in Christ we have full access to God. No hoops to jump through or loopholes to get caught up in! Ephesians 3:10-13 says,

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

We can be assured as leaders and worshippers that Worship Pastors, bands, environments, atmospheres, specific songs, or creative worship planning cannot bring us any closer to God or provide us a more direct or expedient route than the one Jesus already has established!

  • All of heaven worships the Risen Lamb.

We serve a risen King! What other prophet or “god” has claimed to have been resurrected from the dead? Not only did Jesus defeat death and the grave… but He called His shot!

Hosea 6:2: says,

After two days will He revive us: in the third day He will raise us up.

On October 1, 1932, during Game 3 of the 1932 World Series at Wrigley Field in Chicago New York Yankee Babe Ruth pointed his bat towards the center field bleachers during his at-bat. On the next pitch, Ruth hit a home run to the same spot in center field. Babe Ruth’s called shot is said to be one of the greatest home runs in history. Babe Ruth has been forever concreted on baseball history partially because of this event and story. But… the death and resurrection of Jesus and the prophecies that came before are so much more impressive!

The most significant prophecy in the Bible concerning the resurrection of Jesus is known as “the prophecy of Jonah.” It is a symbolic prophecy represented by the three days and three nights that Jonah spent in the stomach of a great fish as found in Jonah 1:17. Jesus himself explained the prophetic symbolism of this unique event on an occasion when He rebuked the Pharisees for seeking a “sign” from Him. We see this in Matthew 12:38-40 where it says,

For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Jesus clearly and distinctly prophesies here, using the example of Jonah, that He will spend three days and three nights in the tomb before His resurrection will occur. Jesus called His shot! That is worth praising! In fact, we know that here on earth we aren’t the only ones lifting up the name of Christ.

Revelation 5:9-14 shows us a glimpse of this. It says,

And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

We should join in this worship when we gather to worship as His Body on the earth!

  • Focusing on Christ in our worship helps us keep the proper perspective.

The world today is very caught up in itself. What other explanation would we have for the drastic things people do in order to attain a certain “model image” or the attention and affection of others? We as worshippers need to take specific measures and precautions to ensure that we make our worship about God and that our worship times do not become man-centered. We live in a self-centered culture where everything is centered on us… our wants, preferences, opinions, etc. The church is even like this! There is a church for everyone! If you like loud music there is a church for you! If you like soft music there is a church for you! If you want to drink coffee in the sanctuary in a seat that semi-reclines there is a church for you! This may seem ridiculous… but deep down we all know it is true.

Some of us leave a worship service thinking that if we did not get anything out of the service the preacher, worship team, or staff did not “fill our cup” or have somehow let us down. I propose that instead we should be asking ourselves how we did in honoring and serving the Lord in our worship. Is Christ our focus or has our focus shifted to include us?


The Gospel of Jesus Christ should always be at the center of all we do in the church including our worship times. We need to be constantly reminded of the cross of Christ and reminded of what Christ has done for us, but we must move past the cross to the resurrection and the power that it provided us to live and worship as Christ has designed for us to live and worship. Let’s focus on Christ and make Him the direction that our worship points!

 

The Value of Presentation

 


From the onset of this article many of you non-musicians or Pastors may feel a little left out. But… in reality this way of thinking can be applied across the board to ALL things done for God by ALL Believers. So read on and apply!


When it comes to church worship one topic that seems to be a tricky one is the issue of excellence. What qualifies as good enough? If the person has the right heart are they automatically eligible to lead? There is an obvious tension that exists between balancing heart and skill.

On one hand, we all know that worship is undoubtedly an act of the heart. But does that mean that we shouldn’t bother putting effort into our craft and offer forth a subpar offering? Colossians 3:23 says,

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.

So the often-heard statement, “Well… it’s good enough for church” holds no water when held in light of the verse above, and the old saying, “It’s the heart that counts” is only partially correct. God is excellent and His desire for us is excellence. Psalm 33:3 says,

Sing to Him a new song. Play skillfully and shout for joy.

As leaders and musicians, we are instructed to do everything we do with excellence and with “skill.” A good question we should ask ourselves is: Why is our need to pursue excellence, and the often lack of such a pursuit, even an issue? In fact, you’d think that Christians would widely embrace the fact that because God is excellent, he has called us to excellence as well, and so we ought to strive to be excellent in everything we are and in everything that we do. But you only have to look at people in our churches and our presentation or “offering” to know that this is not necessarily the case.

But… all of you non-musicians hang in there with me! This is for you too… this exact thought, or pursuit of excellence, can be applied to anything you do in the Lord’s name! What is your offering? What is our method of worship? Maybe it is teaching, working with kids, being a missionary to your community or workplace, sitting with the sick, crying with the broken? The opportunities are limitless!

I believe a major problem we run into with regard to excellence in church is a theological problem that is best interpreted as an underlying “cheap” understanding of grace. People like to embrace the notion that because we are saved by grace, we can just sort of kick back and relax and not be overly concerned about anything. Now of course we would never admit to having that mentality… but the complacency we talked about a couple of weeks ago is a sure sign of it. It seems as if in many ministries laziness, mediocrity, and complacency have become the “norm” and not just accepted… but also expected! Somehow, I believe, we have come to think the pursuit of excellence is incompatible with salvation by grace. Excellence is suddenly not a “spiritually correct” word because we automatically assume that we are seeking excellence for ourselves or to earn/ payback God for our salvation, when in actuality our pursuit of excellence is out of response to a deep-felt conviction of God’s grace that spurs us on to grateful service and a pursuit of true personal excellence for His glory alone!

As Christians saved by grace, we ought to try harder, because we want to bring honor and glory to God through the things he has enabled us to do!

Hebrews 13:16 says,

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

It’s a delicate balancing act between heart and skill… but it is one that we MUST balance. Our offering matters! Our presentation matters!

For example, imagine that your anniversary is coming up and you know that your wife has been admiring a new shiny $300 necklace. You scrounge up all the change you can by flipping over couch cushions and rummaging through the dryer and are somehow able to afford that $300 necklace.

The day of your anniversary comes and goes and two days later you realize that after all the prep work you have forgotten all about it! So… to save face you go to the closet where you hid the necklace and bring it out in the original shopping bag you brought it home from the store in… maybe the receipt is still attached. You hand it to her and say, “Sorry I forgot our anniversary… I got you this.”

What’s the necklace worth? Well, $300! The receipt can prove it.

But imagine if, rather than forgetting that you bought the necklace, you also bought the finest gift-wrap you could find. You carefully and perfectly wrapped the box and topped it off with a beautiful bow, and you give it to your wife with some well thought out words and a smile.

What’s the necklace worth? Well, still $300! The receipt can prove it.

The point is that the wrapping and appearance doesn’t change what the gift is worth. The value is on the inside. But what the wrapping does is communicate to her that you understand what the gift, and the recipient of the gift, is truly worth.

I believe the same is true in our worship services. John chapter 4 makes clear to us the kind of worship that pleases God. John 4:23-24 says,

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

God is after our hearts. This means that real worship of truly reverent hearts doesn’t depend on the quality of music, lights, stage sets, lasers, smoke machines, song selections, or any of the other trivial things we tag along with it. It never has and it never will.

The value of your worship is found in your sincerity.

But… if we view our worship as an offering or gift to God then what kind of picture does the above example paint? What challenge does it present? I believe with all my heart that my unceasing efforts of excellence in my craft, not just settling for “good enough” serves to demonstrate both to myself, God, and my church community, that I understand that very value of worship and excellence. The presentation matters.

Romans 12:1 says,

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

This passage talks about our proper act of worship: taking our whole selves, everything that we can possible offer, and placing it before God as an offering. My love for Jesus should inspire and push me to work exceptionally hard to excel at my craft so that what I bring is the absolute best that it can be… because He deserves it and the presentation matters. When a laborer has a conviction that what they do isn’t just a hobby, but that they are being faithful with what God has put in their hand, then to them that labor is an act of worship!

Our sincerity can be found in our response.

I want to challenge us all to be Worship Pastors who are not willing to focus on skill at the expense of people’s hearts, but not brush off skill for the attitude of “good enough.” Worship Pastors, Christians in general, must know both must be addressed but ultimately realize that worship is fundamentally a function of the heart, and when a heart is transformed in worship, everything else follows including skill and excellence. The more experience I have gained, the more I have realized that my leadership has to become an act of worship that inspires others to worship, my skill has to be at a level high enough to allow me to worship with my presence and leadership without distraction. We become “lead worshippers” when we blend these two functions into one, so that people cannot tell the difference. Psalm 78:72 describes David as a man who led Israel with integrity of heart and with skillful hands. Heart and skill are two primary issues that every worship pastor wrestles with, not just for themselves but also for the people they lead. Both are part of the Biblical mandates that take a central role in the job description of a Worship Pastor.

In all of this it’s important to note that excellence is not perfection. Excellence is an attitude or mindset that drives us to do the best we can with what we have within our ability. Misappropriated excellence creates an environment that is harsh, restraining, and ultimately discouraging. But an appropriate understanding of excellence creates an environment that is fundamentally encouraging as it calls out the full potential of every individual that comes from the Father.

James 1:17 says,

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

Aren’t you glad that when God created the universe, He took a step back and “saw that it was good,” not “saw that it was good enough.” Our pursuit of excellence is purely a reflection of an excellent God.

So, what is it that matters in our worship? Is it heart or skill? What actually matters is that Jesus is honored in all that we do and in our displayed love for Him.

Psalm 96:7-9 says,

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts! Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!

Diagnosing Spiritual Complacency

One of the terrible diseases of Christianity today is complacency. There is a major complacency epidemic spreading amongst the Kingdom. Are you battling complacency in your ministry?

I certainly believe that Satan is a master deceiver and uses many techniques to disarm and neutralize Believers. I wholeheartedly believe that one of Satan’s strategies is to plant the seed of complacency.

I have a friend who served a tour of duty in Iraq. On that tour of duty he worked many road checkpoints and was issued, along with his other soldiers, some very particular gear. Among that gear was the normal body armor and helmet, but that gear also included padding and armor for their upper arms and thighs, as well as a groin guard. All of this gear had one mission in mind: to keep them alive and protected in the event of an IED explosion. As you can imagine all that gear made the already intense heat nearly unbearable. So for that reason many of the soldiers would remove the gear when officers were not around. One particular day there were no officers on site and a newer enlisted soldier was in the guard tower wearing his helmet causing many of the others to poke fun at him. On that particular day an enemy assailant just so happened to be taking aim with a long-range rifle and shot that soldier in the head. The helmet and his lack of complacency saved his life, whereas many of the other soldiers would have been killed. I say all of that to make this point: in combat complacency kills.

In Amos 6:1 the Lord spoke to the backslidden Israel through His prophet Amos. It says,

Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria, you notable men of the foremost nation, to whom the people of Israel come!

The Lord was addressing to the people who were self-satisfied and in their comfort zone. They felt self-sufficient and strong enough in their own power. These people had little desire for God, and little hunger for His righteousness. They were self-confident and self-sufficient. Thus the Lord warned them about the impending judgment upon them.

How often do we fall into this exact attitude? We allow ourselves to grow complacent and live a self-satisfied life. Do we truly live dependent on God or do we try to maintain some independence? Remember, complacency makes us to feel secure in our job, safe in our strength, good about our knowledge, protected in our money and possessions, eventually blinding us and leading us to our downfall. Sometime the strike isn’t immediate. Like the enemy assailant in the story above, sometimes the enemy patently takes aim and waits. He allows us to grow comfortable, and complacent all the while he is disarming us without much effort.

A.W. Tozer says,

Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth.

Let’s get one thing straight. Complacency is a killer that can ruin ministry. Are you battling complacency in your ministry?

Revelation 3:14-22 says,

And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

We see above that lukewarmness is a spiritual condition that apparently, Jesus can’t stand. Another name for it might be “complacency.” Complacency is not contentment. Where contentment is finding joy in the blessings of walking with God, complacency is when we have stopped walking.

How do you know that this killer has crept into your ministry? Here are some telltale signs.


  • Lack of Zeal

One of the most obvious and beginning stages of complacency is a diminishing presence or absence of zeal. We all can probably remember a time in our life when we were passionate about something, maybe you are like me and when you find a new interest or hobby you dive in headfirst and it is all consuming? Hopefully we can all think back to a time when we were like that with Jesus. We didn’t need complex theology or big “spiritually correct” words. Yeah… I just went there.

Too many of us have substituted zeal for knowledge!

I honestly am pretty tired of seeing Bible believing friends of mine tearing each other to shreds over theology on Facebook for the whole world to see. I have been there too! At times I myself have replaced my zeal for pursuing Christ and acting like Him for merely knowing more about Him and maybe letting others know about it. Before anyone gets all tore up please understand that I am talking to myself here! Maybe the dissection of the Word down to the last punctuation mark was just a distraction to keep you from understanding it and doing what it says? In actuality Satan, the deceiver, doesn’t care how much you know the Word if you don’t do the Word.

Please read the Word, dissect the Word, understand the Word, memorize the Word… but then go put into practice!

  • Tradition is Doctrine

Tradition entails so much more than what most people typically think of when it is mentioned. Tradition is more than robes, recited prayers, hymns, etc… Tradition is something that can invade and ultimately take over any church, regardless of its denomination, history, or style. Let’s get this straight, when we depend on tradition for our “religious” involvement, relationship, worship, or gatherings we stop depending upon something else… namely the Bible and the Spirit of God. When that happens, we’re on a rapid descent to destruction. In fact, our gatherings become nothing more than scripted ceremonies that we have rehearsed and polished in hopes of gaining something. We might keep ourselves happy, we might grow our church in numbers or financial security, but we aren’t truly pursuing the renewed work of Christ and the Kingdom of God here in our ever-changing ministry field.

There is nothing wrong with tradition itself. But… there is something wrong with depending on tradition!

C.S. Lewis once wrote,

Security is mortals’ greatest enemy.

But what kind of “security” is he talking about? I believe he is talking about the security that comes with comfort. Maybe your comfort looks different than the blanket that Linus drags around everywhere, but it’s still serving the same purpose. Do your traditions make you feel at “home” or secure and comfortable?

Complacency makes us feel secure, but feelings can lie.

Ephesians 5:14-17 says,

This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

How is it that we can be told to make the most of every opportunity and still pass up so many because they didn’t fit into our idea of “church?” Let’s put it out there, we as a whole have become slothful, habitual, uninspired, secure, and complacent, often doing what we do for traditional reasons rather than because it’s best.

Why is it that we, who have had the precious blood of Christ cleanse our sins, now take such a mediocre and habitual approach to those things related to Christ and His cause? From our outreach, in-reach, preaching, worship, programs, aesthetics, etc… in almost every area of corporate church complacency has unfortunately become the norm.

The message is the same, but the messengers and avenues they take change!

The secular world has caught on to this! Look at the music industry. Songs and albums were once put out on vinyl, then tapes, then cd’s, and now everything is digital. The same songs that were once on vinyl can now be downloaded on iTunes for .99 cents! Businesses don’t always change the product or name… they just change the presentation, method of delivery, or audience. Why aren’t we who have the best “offering” putting forth the same effort in our church activities as we do in our personal activities and businesses?

Andrew Grove, a founder of Intel, is famously quoted for saying,

Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure.

If we stay the same, for the sake of staying the same, we get left behind and we do the message an injustice! We must understand that our complacency has eternal implications, and I’m afraid that a culture of mediocrity has now become the new tradition.

  • Tolerance of Sin

Last week I asked you to imagine a trashed house full of garbage and the flies that go along with the garbage. Sometimes our lives look a lot like that house, and the natural tendency is to clear out the flies. Sometimes we are successful and manage to shoo them all away, but as long as the garbage remains we are fighting a losing battle and those flies are inevitably going to return and multiply. So, the solution is to get rid of the garbage in our lives. We need to be concerned with the flies, but we also must work to remove the garbage to keep them out! Every trashcan is going to look different… but we certainly all have one. In his strategy of complacency, Satan watches as we clear our houses of garbage and flies…except for one room. It’s more than likely a hidden room, one we keep to ourselves. That room may be continual sin, it might be a relationship, bitterness, or a wound we haven’t allowed to heal. At times the door to that room full of garbage stays shut for a while and Satan allows us to have successes in other areas all the while the flies are just multiplying and building up in this little room. Then, out of nowhere, the door of the hidden room flies open, freeing thousands upon thousands of flies who have been breeding and waiting for just this moment.

Why does this happen? We get complacent and our complacency leads to tolerance or apathy.

Think it doesn’t happen? Take a moment to consider prominent Christian leaders, celebrities, or politicians whose lives and careers have been ruined when they fell in disgrace from one sin or another. We all know them so there is no need at mentioning names. We might look in from the outside an ask ourselves, “how would they allow that to happen” or, “why would they do that with all the success they have?” Rest assured. That fall wasn’t part of the plan when they began their career. Nobody begins a ministry with the goal to ultimately disgrace themselves and God by being brought to their knees by their own hand. Too often the fall comes from complacency. They believed the lie that they could “get away with it,” or, “it’s not that big of a deal,” and when they seemed to have it all together and under control, they grew complacent in their tolerance of sin.

Sin is sin, and all sin is bad. Don’t tolerate it! The church is to be a place of healing for sinners, but a Holy God doesn’t wink at or bless iniquity. He sent His son to die for and erase that iniquity and sin… not cover it up. The only reason the church welcomes sinners is because by God’s grace, sinners can be reborn with Christ’s righteousness. Do not tolerate sin in your own life! Letting a few “little things” slip leads to bigger slip-ups. I recently watched a video of a poor woman who slipped on an icy sidewalk and every time she would begin to regain her balance and composure she would begin to slide and fall again until ultimately she ended up on the ground. We’ve all been on an icy sidewalk… when you begin to slip it is all over. But… you know how you avoid slipping and falling? Stay off the ice.

  • Lack of Pursuit

What is a pursuit? I would define it as an intense chase of something in order to attain it.

My parents have a German shepherd by the name of Obi and he is extremely quick. One afternoon while playing and walking Obi his leash fell off of his collar and went limp in my hand. I looked down in shock only to see him looking at me with the same look of shock in his face that I had in mine. At that point the chase was on.

Why did I pursue Obi the dog? I pursued because I was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t catch him, of what would happen if I stopped pursuing him!

How many of us have stopped pursuing holiness? Lost interest or will to pursue God and spiritual growth?

Spiritual growth is marked by an aggressive intense pursuit of God. We desire His fellowship, His people, and His word. A life that lacks prayer, Bible intake, and neglects spiritual nourishment is a life that has slipped into complacency and that will see little or no fruit.

Mark 11:12-14 says,

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

When Jesus cursed the fig tree for its failure to produce fruit in the verses above He gives us a sobering lesson. Empty religion, lacking fruit, needs to and ultimately will die. In actuality the parable of the fig tree doesn’t end with Jesus’ withering curse, because the very next verse says,

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.

The spiritual complacency or “religion” of the people had reached the place where they were making a total mockery of the temple and of the message. We may not see our situations as that bleak, but if Jesus walked into our churches what things would he need to overturn or shake up?

  • Inward Focus

One of the surest signs of complacency is a church that is self-absorbed or entirely inwardly focused. You might ask, “Tanner, what does than mean?” Let me begin my answer with another question, what is the mission of the church? That question can evoke many answers like: to provide teaching for Believers, to be a place of fellowship, a place of worship. To all of those I would say yes… but what is the first and foremost mission of the church? In Matthew 28:19 it tells us about that mission. It says,

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The mission of the church is to spread the good news and make disciples. In fact we may have to get out of our comfortable and familiar zone to do it! Acts 1:8 says,

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Is your church inward focused or outward focused? Are you so concerned about not “rocking the boat” that you leave it docked? We see in the book of Acts that in order to achieve our mission we have to wander outside of ourselves! Are we so overly concerned about keeping “our people” happy and content that we miss opportunities to reach those that haven’t yet been reached by Christ or the church? I will step out in an unpopular way and say that when a church is absorbed with just its own activities, its own problems, and its own people, it has become complacent and ineffective at achieving the goal and mission.

The primary challenge, and our primary concern, should be, “how do we reach people who don’t have a relationship with Jesus?” Most inward-focused churches are not sensitive to or even aware of this challenge. We might bank on our “friendliness” or position in the community to cut it… but the numbers show that it doesn’t! We can’t simply pray for a harvest and not plant any seeds or till any ground!

So many of us are so complacent that we fear any change or decision that might push insiders away and, frankly, impact the bottom line. Ironically, any organization, including a church, that doesn’t focus on reaching new people has already started to decline and will eventually die. In the book of Acts, James the brother of Jesus, told the Jewish Christians, who were the insiders of the day, they should not make it difficult for the Gentiles, the outsiders of the day, to turn to God. Why is it that this many years later that problem still exists? Are we making it easy for outsiders to turn to God, or are we stuck in the busy complacent work of keeping insiders happy?

Jeremiah 10:21 says,

For the shepherds have become stupid and have not sought the LORD; therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered.

Proverbs 1:32 says,

For the waywardness of the naive will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them.

What is our focus as a church?


Zephaniah 1:12 says,

It will come about at that time That I will search Jerusalem with lamps, And I will punish the men Who are stagnant in spirit, Who say in their hearts, ‘The LORD will not do good or evil!’

Are you complacent? Go to war with the complacency in your life.

 

Weapons of War

Today we continue our series on spiritual warfare that we began three weeks ago. If you haven’t read the blogs leading up to this I encourage you to do so.They can be found below or in the archives.

Let’s begin! So… because the Scriptures tell us that spiritual warfare is real and that we have a part to play in it you might be asking, “What weapons do I have in order to fight this war?” Do not fret. God has given us all we need to overcome the enemy; we need only to go to the Bible.

First, as Believers we are warned to be alert and to resist the devil. 1 Peter 5:8-9 says,

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.

This passage, and those like it, is written for believers. Think about it… the enemy has little reason to attack those who oppose the church, either actively or through unbelief. It’s God’s work in restoring us to Him that Satan opposes. But, if you notice you aren’t alone! 1 Peter 5:8-9 tells us that, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.”  The word “your” that the passage starts with is plural. The devil isn’t our personal enemy! He is the church’s collective enemy! He is one who ultimately wants to oppose the work of God in every church. He will harass, hinder, and bring division and persecution in attempt to hinder the expansion of God’s kingdom here on earth. We must be aware that every step that makes us closer to God or enables us to do more for the kingdom of God will be met with opposition.

When you became a follower of Christ, you made an enemy!

It has often been said that the lion roars to paralyze his prey. Because of that I find it interesting that Satan is referred to as a prowling and roaring lion in the above verses out of 1 Peter. I believe that Satan often uses the tactic of fear in order to intimidate us and make us ineffective as believers. Look at what Paul says to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:7,

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self–discipline.

Timothy is probably struggling with fear about doing ministry, and Paul alerts him to the fact that, that spirit is not from God. Like Timothy we too face fear at times, look at the Parable of the Talents.

Matthew 25:24–25 says,

Then the man who had received the one talent came. “Master,” he said, “I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.”

The man in that story, whom the master had given one talent to utilize, did not do so because he was afraid! He was so afraid of failing that he didn’t even try. Does that sound familiar? How has fear kept you from doing God’s will? What “talent” have you been given that you aren’t utilizing out of fear or complacency? Satan, the “roaring lion,” works through fear. He desires to paralyze us with worries and anxieties about the present, the past, and the future. He roars to keep us from progressing in the things of God… in holiness and service. Let us remember that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but instead of power, love and self-discipline.

Second, we must understand the power of Christ. Christ’s position in the heavenly realms is at God’s right hand and he has all things in this world under his authority. Ephesians 1:16-22 describes this position of Christ… but also our position in Christ. It says,

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church.

To be effective in spiritual warfare we must see and recognize our position in Christ. We must recognize that once we are saved we become seated with and united with Christ. Ephesians 2:1-10 says,

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Third, we must read and know the instructions we are given for standing against the evil one, his minions, and his schemes. Of course we all are familiar with Ephesians 6:10-18. It says,

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.

Now that we understand those foundations we must take note that spiritual warfare comes in two ways: offensive and defensive. Offensive warfare is tearing down the strongholds the enemy has already formed in your mind (or others minds) through deception, temptations, and accusations, and defensive warfare is guarding yourself against those strongholds, tactics, and schemes of the devil to begin with.

Let’s put it out there and make it clear that the difference between deliverance and spiritual warfare is that deliverance is dealing with demonic bondages, and getting a person set free, whereas spiritual warfare is resisting, overcoming, and defeating the enemy’s lies that he sends our way. Deliverance is offensive. Personal spiritual warfare is primarily defensive.

God was, is, and will forever be victorious over the evil one and He takes care of any obstacles in our lives as we abide in him. Our weapons of spiritual warfare are “weapons of righteousness.”

In 2 Corinthians 6:2b-9 Paul mentions these,

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

In the spiritual realm there is God almighty and his entire government of angels in their various roles and ranks, on the other spiritual realm side is the devil and his entire alliance of fallen angels in their various roles and ranks. It is important to note is that we have the entire heavenly government on our side including our Lord Jesus, who stands as our intercessor as Romans 8:34 says,

Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

He is also our advocate in heaven’s highest court. 1 John 2:1 says,

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

Job 16: 19 says,

Even now, behold, my witness is in heaven, and he who testifies for me is on high.

Our main concern here is the part we, as God’s servants, play in this war. The Scriptures have laid this out quite clearly. Most of what we see from the scripture is that the battle is Gods and our concern is to focus on Him rather than on Satan. The Bible tells us that we’re more than conquerors in any battle we may encounter. Romans 8:37-39 says,

In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So we are in this fight, and if we remain on Christ’s side until the end we will be victorious. But… as soldiers what weapons do we have to fight with?


  • Truth

The Word of God is also known as the sword of the Spirit and the belt of truth. A sword as we know can be used as both an offensive weapon and a defensive aid and blocking tool. I find it necessary to begin our discussion about what weapons we hold and have in our arsenal with the Word, because all other weapons come from it and their instructions for use are inside.

Truth is our most effective weapon in battle against Satan.

In fact, Jesus stood on the Truth when he was confronted in the wilderness. Matthew 4:1-11 says,

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by Satan He overcame the devil using the weapon of the Word of God rather than his own opinions, thoughts, desires, or excuses. Jesus knew and applied Scripture in his time of “need.” The direct use of God’s Word silenced the enemy and ended the discussion. Jesus used the Word of God once for each of the three temptations He faced.

The apostle John wrote in 1 John 2:14,

I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the Word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one.

Like Jesus, we should do the same in our temptations. Take time and find Bible verses that are particularly meaningful to you… allow the Holy Spirit to help! Lock those verses away in your mind and heart, repeat them often, and use them when fighting in spiritual warfare.

Satan is a master deceiver. Imagine a salesman who has been selling the same product for 40 years… they would probably be pretty good at it. Their skills would be honed, they would know what to say and what not to say, and they would know the right approach to take when dealing with people. Now apply that to Satan. He has been “selling” the same lies and deceptions for his whole existence. He does well at taking the baggage and wounds we all carry and planting seeds of lies and distortions in the fertile and vulnerable soil. In the absence of God’s truth, those seeds can take root and grow, spawning more lies, more deception, and ultimately more seeds. Interestingly enough, Satan’s deceptions and distortions of the truth work in the same way that many cancer cells do in the human body. Within the last few years a team of Swedish researchers have discovered how many cancer cells spread throughout the body: by masquerading as immune cells! They disguise themselves as healthy cells until often it is too late. Satan’s deceptions often mimic Biblical truths somewhat closely. Close enough that many Christians accept them as truth without thinking otherwise… then the vicious cycle continues. False teachings and truths can devastate a Believer and set them up for failure.

Biblical truth shines light into the darkness that is spiritual warfare.


  • Prayer

There is evil that we fight in our spiritual warfare. Jesus told us to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. He told us that the gates of hell will not prevail against the work that God has purposed for us to accomplish, as His will is being worked out in our lives. But we do hit opposition. We need to understand that the battle is not against flesh and blood but against powers in the heavenly places.

The enemy hates intercession because we exercise our authority in Christ when we pray! It is one of the greatest things he will attack. The enemy is on an all out attack to stop prayer, because he knows that there is power in intercession. There is power in even one intercessor that knows his or her authority in prayer.

James 5:16 says,

The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.

In John 14:12-14 Jesus says,

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

Let’s make one thing clear right from the start. Prayer is not a one-time thing… we can’t do it once and check it off the list. Although Satan is a defeated foe, it doesn’t mean that he has accepted that defeat and stopped fighting. At the conclusion of World War II pockets of Japanese soldiers kept fighting unable to accept the defeat or surrender of their homeland. They engaged others in guerilla style warfare for up to 30 years after the conclusion of the war. In 1974, Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese army intelligence officer, finally was persuaded to come out of hiding by a former comrade on the Philippine island of Lubang. Mr. Onoda, then 83, wept uncontrollably as he agreed to lay down his rifle, unaware that Japanese forces had surrendered 29 years earlier. In 1972, Shoichi Yokoi was found on the island of Guam and returned to Japan. Like Mr. Onoda, he had no idea that the war had ended. These are just a couple examples of the large isolated pockets of fighters that held out after defeat. Like those pockets of isolated Japanese soldiers on remote islands in the Pacific at the end of World War II, Satan and his demons continue to fight on, oblivious to or in denial of God’s ultimate victory. You must fight through prayer for the entirety of your Christian life here in earth.

God has promised to help His people. But sometimes that help isn’t immediate. Read Daniel 10. Specifically in Daniel 10:10-14 we see this account,

And behold, a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. And he said to me, “O Daniel, man greatly loved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you.” And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling. Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.”

In Daniel we see that help was sent but delayed. We have to remember the different fronts that this battle is being waged on, and stay aware that we aren’t always seeing the realm in which the fight is taking place. Remember, we exist in a battle zone of multiple levels and realms. Another possible explanation to what we might see as a “delay” to our answered prayers is that God could standing to one side, watching, allowing the fight we’re in to strengthen us.

God has promised to be there when we NEED Him, not when we THINK we need Him.

Do not look at your prayer life as a small ministry of no importance. The enemy knows fully how mighty you are in pulling down his strongholds, and he will try to intimidate, discourage, divide, or defeat you. We must not accept his lies. We must continue to pray from a position of authority! Do not pray from a position of fear, understand and take to heart the truth that you have eternal life with Jesus. He is your strength, and with Him there is nothing to fear.

I also believe that it is important to state that effective prayer for spiritual warfare starts with prayer in general. We have to begin from the baseline of an active prayer life. All of us would agree that before we stepped into the cage for an MMA fight we would want to fight and maybe take a punch. The fight itself would definitely not be the best time to learn! In the same way we must be praying before engaging the enemy in prayer.

Like the military, we train in times of peace to be prepared for times of war.

Our prayer nurtures our relationship, and it’s especially important to draw on that intimate personal relationship with God when engaged in spiritual warfare. A prayer life filled with regular prayers of praise, thanksgiving, confession, supplication, and meditation are what nurtures and grows that close relationship.

We must not only pray for ourselves… but we must pray for others! We see an example of this in Luke 22:31-32 where it says,

Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.

In 1 Timothy 2:1-4 Paul urges us to pray for others! It says,

I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quite and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men be saved and come to the knowledge and truth.

Take note, sometimes we may need to revisit the same prayer over and over… we may need to pray against the same sort of attack more than once! There are many demons, operating at many levels, using many different tactics.

As a child did you ever ask one of your parents for a piece of candy over and over after being told no? If you are like me you probably did in hopes of wearing them down with your nagging, and ultimately getting the candy. Like that pesky child nagging for candy after being told no sometimes we pray and deny the enemy only to have them return, often with their accomplices, and to try to wear you down.

It’s only through the strength of Christ Jesus that we can withstand. Romans 8:26-27 says,

The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

Imagine a trashed house full of garbage. What else is sure to be there? Flies. Sometimes of lives look a lot like that house. We get frustrated at the flies buzzing around and work against them. Sometimes we are successful and manage to shoo them all away, but as long as the garbage remains we are fighting a losing battle and those flies are inevitably going to return and multiply. So, in our spiritual warfare we need to be concerned with the flies (demons), but we also must work to remove the garbage. This might look like a lot allowing past wounds to heal, seeking to restore broken relationships, or terminating relationships that are unhealthy for us. It might mean stepping out of our comfort zone, getting connected with other believers, and renouncing sin in our lives. Every trashcan may be different… but we certainly all have one. Prayer is a good place to start, but it almost always invokes action on our part.


  • Fasting

The literal meaning of the Hebrew word for “fast” is “to cover the mouth.” Fasting humbles the flesh, and that is where we can draw power. Fasting puts us in harmony with an all-powerful God who demands humility from those who wish to be close to Him. When it is done for that purpose, it pleases the Spirit of God.

During a fast, you deliberately let go of that which binds you to this physical world (food) in order to receive all your sustenance from the spiritual world. You determine that for a period of time you will deny your physical cravings to focus on your spiritual cravings. You allow your spiritual hunger to become stronger and more focused. You feed your spirit with the same enthusiasm with which you feed your body. Spiritual hunger takes priority over physical hunger.

If you are like me then you enjoy food! For foodies fasting can be a real downer or struggle… but that is the idea. Food for your physical body sustains it and nourishes it. When we eat food, we literally take the earth and make it part of us. I am fully convinced that God intentionally designed our bodies to be nourished and fueled in this way so that we would have a picture of true nourishment that He speaks of in Scripture. Jesus made this clear when He told the devil in the wilderness in Matthew 4:4,

It is written, man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.

God has represented His Word as food that nourishes our spiritual life in the same way that physical food nourishes our physical life.

Psalm 119:103 says,

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

Jeremiah 15:16 says,

Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.

Ezekiel 3:1-3 says,

And he said to me, “Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. And he said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.

Just as food strengthens and maintains our bodies, the Word of God is designed to nourish, fuel, and strengthen us. You can go a certain distance in God, and experience many things, without fasting much, but the highest, richest and most powerful blessings always go to those who, together with other disciplines, fast. The most significant Biblical characters were all men of fasting and prayer. Jesus, the Son of God, was a man of fasting. Matthew 4:2 says,

And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

The apostle Paul fasted. 2 Corinthians 11:27 says,

In toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.

Moses fasted 80 days. Elijah fasted 40 days. The early church fasted before starting any major work. Luther, Wesley, Finney, Booth were all men of fasting.

Now… don’t get me wrong, fasting is not magic, nor does it twist the arm of God. A Fast doesn’t punch your ticket into the will of God. God wants to do many amazing things, but He looks for those willing to urgently make the corrections needed to come into line with him. God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Psalm 138:6 tells us that,

For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar.

Proverbs 3:34 says,

Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor.

Matthew 23:12 says,

Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Proverbs 29:23 says,

One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.

Fasting is not a way to influence, impress or manipulate God. It doesn’t prove anything to Him. It doesn’t show Him whether you are serious. In fact, He knows your heart better than you do. Hebrew 4:13 says,

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

A fast is not a hunger strike, like the ones abolished in India in 1861, designed to convince God for “more” or to release what He has “held back.” Also… Fasting is not a last-ditch effort to get through to God. Instead, fasting is an effort we make to allow God to get through to us! It is a means of sharpening our spiritual senses so that we can hear and discern the voice, leading, purposes, and direction of God. Fasting gives us Spiritual eyes to see God’s focus for our lives, and it can be a major key to hearing God’s voice. We need focus from God more than anything. The world we live in is working overtime to distract us, to entice us, to win our hearts and minds, our focus, and to determine our vision. Fasting cuts out the world so we can tune into God. In 2 Chronicles 20, we read the account of a fast King Jehoshaphat called for this very reason. He had received a report that his enemies were allied against him and were nearly at his borders, intent on destroying him and the nation of Israel. The earthly perspective was pretty grim… but Jehoshaphat was not willing to limit himself to Earth’s point of view. He knew there was more to the picture that what he could see.

Fasting has a way of revealing the bigger picture… the perspective of heaven.

In Ezra 8:21-23 we see Ezra the priest fasting for God’s protection while carrying valuable items for the temple. It says,

Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.” So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.

Like Ezra, we too can fast for God’s protection.

Matthew 6:17-18 says,

When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

We are commanded to fast for God and God alone and that our fasting will be rewarded. Notice that verse 17 says, “when” we fast… not “if” we fast. Fasting can actually break barriers and strongholds that sometimes prayer can’t handle by itself. We see evidence of this in Mark 9:28-29 where it says,

His disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven  out by anything but prayer and fasting.

If we desire to be successful and victorious in spiritual warfare then we must add the discipline of fasting to our arsenal.


  • Praise

I believe praise plays a huge part in our response to the attacks of Satan and his aids. In fact, did you know that there are more verses in the Bible that refer to praising God in some way, than there are that refer to praying! Therefore, I believe that praise is essential to success in spiritual warfare.

Praise takes our focus off our problems and places it where it should be: the Lord. Praise has a way of lifting our spirits and our confidence. Praise reminds us of what God has done for His people, and what He has promised to do for us in the future. And guess what? When you praise the Lord, you’re also reminding Satan and his workers of how many times they’ve been beaten before. Think about it! When I was a kid and I would wrestle with my friend, who was much bigger than me, I would get so frustrated at the lack of effort it looked like he was putting forth, and when he would laugh at my feeble attempts to take him down. In the same way Satan hates hearing about his defeats. How would you like it if, when you were about to attack someone, they started singing songs that reminded you of how many times you’ve lost similar fights? You wouldn’t, and neither does the devil! So make a joyful noise! Praise the Lord and His holy name!

My personal favorite reason that we sing is to silence the enemy. Singing throughout the centuries was used as a battle tactic or a way to prepare soldiers for battle. We see in the Bible that singers and musicians were just as big of a part of the army as the soldiers themselves. They led the fighters into battle! Tribes in Africa will often sing and shout before heading into war as a way of intimidating their enemies with the size of the army and the volume of their voices. In Korean and Vietnamese history soldiers would rush into a battle with loud shouts and songs to intimidate and overwhelm their enemies. In American history music played a large role in both the Revolutionary and Civil wars as both a moral booster and communication technique.

We can apply this strategy to our own lives. We enter into spiritual warfare each and every day. When we accepted Jesus as our Savior we basically put a target on our back for Satan and the world to shoot at. But, when the enemy tries to attack your life or church, the raised voice of faith in the promises of God will drive him away. Psalm 68:1-6 says:

God shall arise, his enemies shall be scattered; and those who hate him shall flee before him! As smoke is driven away, so you shall drive them away; as wax melts before fire, so the wicked shall perish before God! But the righteous shall be glad; they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy! Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the Lord; exult before him! Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God settles the solitary in a home; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.

Sing truths to yourself and to the face of the enemy. A simple reminder is often all it takes! 1 Samuel 16:23 says:

And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him.

Refresh yourself and others. Sing to yourself and with others. Prepare yourself to fight and let the devil know who the victor will be!

My favorite song to sing in times of spiritual warfare in my own life is “Always” it goes like this:

My foes are many, they rise against me, but I will hold my ground. I will not fear the war; I will not fear the storm. My help is on the way; my help is on the way.

Oh, my God, He will not delay, my refuge and strength always. I will not fear His promise is true. My God will come through always, always.

Troubles surround me, chaos abounding, my soul will rest in You. I will not fear the war; I will not fear the storm. My help is on the way; my help is on the way.

Oh, my God, He will not delay, my refuge and strength always. I will not fear His promise is true. My God will come through always, always.

I lift my eyes up; my help comes from the Lord. I lift my eyes up; my help comes from the Lord. I lift my eyes up; my help comes from the Lord. I lift my eyes up; my help comes from the Lord.

Oh, my God, He will not delay, my refuge and strength always. I will not fear His promise is true. My God will come through always, always. Oh, my God, He will not delay, my refuge and strength always, always.

Our song can be used as a sword as well! In 2 Chronicles chapter 20, we see the Moabites, the Ammonites, and the people of Mount Seir coming against Judah to destroy them. Jehoshaphat knew that his people could not defeat the combined armies of his enemies, so he went to the Lord for aid. Through Jahaziel, the Lord said, “Be not afraid or dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God’s.” So when the morning of the battle came, what did the children of Judah do? They went to the field of battle and began to sing and praise the Lord.

2 Chronicles 20:22-23 says,

And when they began to sing and to praise, the LORD set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, which were come against Judah; and they were smitten. For the children of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of mount Seir, utterly to slay and destroy them: and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, every one helped to destroy another.

The people of Judah never lifted a weapon! As they were praising the LORD, He turned their enemies against each other, and finally against themselves!

Psalm 8:2 says,

Out of the mouths of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength, because of your enemies, that you may silence the enemy and the avenger.

Another example is found in Acts chapter 16. Paul and Silas have been beaten and thrown into prison because they cast out a spirit of divination from a young girl who was following them, thus angering her masters. In the middle of the night, in prison, this happened to Paul and Silas, Acts 16:25-26 says,

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.

If we go on in this story though we can see the power of praise in the spiritual realm and in breaking down strongholds and throwing off bondages and chains. We see the lives and attitudes of inmates changed when Paul and Silas are in captivity singing and praying. When the doors swung wide open and the bonds fell off nobody ran away. Nobody even tried to escape! What changed their hearts? God did. Through what avenue? Most likely the truths being expressed through Paul and Silas. We see change not only in their testimonies… but also in the response of the prison guard ready to take his own life to avoid punishment and the disgrace to his family’s name.

Acts 16:27-34 continues,

When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

Praise can change lives. We must strive to sing truths that will infiltrate hardened hearts, and sing challenges to those of us who already know Christ. We can worship, teach, and evangelize through the songs that sing on a daily and weekly basis to others and ourselves.

Philippians 4: 4-7 says,

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance.  The Lord is at hand.  Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

1 Timothy 2:1 says,

I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for all men.

Psalm 95:1-2 says,

O come let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation: Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving.

God centered praise silences the enemy. How many of our problems would be solved if we could only drown out Satan and his demons.


So what weapons are you employing? God has provided and empowered us through His Son, call yourself equipped and wage war against the enemy!

Rejection: It hurts!

On February 17, 1963, in Brooklyn, New York, a young man named Michael was born. His family moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, when he was very young and he was one of 5 siblings. His father worked as a General Electric plant supervisor, and his mother worked at a bank. Young Michael, like many young men, loved sports but despite his attempts he failed to make his high school basketball team as a sophomore because of a “lack of skill.” Not swayed long by the rejection he continued to practice as if his very life depended on it and he made the team the next year.

His determination and resilience paid off. The same young man who “lacked the skill” to play 10th grade basketball not only finished out an impressive high school basketball career, but he also accepted a basketball scholarship to the University of North Carolina, where he played under head coach Dean Smith and became the ACC Rookie of the Year in 1982.

Obviously the Michael we are referring to is now acclaimed as the “best basketball player to have ever played.” He is Michael Jordan. He left North Carolina after his junior year and was selected by the Chicago Bulls as the third pick of the 1984 NBA draft. Before joining the Bulls, Jordan was a member of the Summer 1984 United States Olympic basketball team that won the gold medal in Los Angeles, California. Michael Jordan would play 15 seasons in the National Basketball Association and win various titles and awards.

A man that could have let his rejection define him is now known as one of the most clutch and iconic basketball players ever. He turned his rejection and disappointment into determination and later success.

There are numerous stories that unravel just like this!

  • TV personality Oprah Winfrey was fired from her job as a reporter because she was “unfit for TV.” She later became the host of her own program “The Oprah Winfrey show” which aired 25 sessions before launching her own TV Network. Oprah Winfrey Network.
  • Author JK Rowling was sacked as a secretary because she was a “day dreamer.” 12 publishers then rejected her after writing her first “Harry Potter” novel. That very novel would later make her a billionaire.
  • Director Steven Spielberg was turned down 3 times by the University of Southern California School of Theater, Film and Television. Undeterred he carried on and earned his BA and became one of the most influential filmmakers in the history of cinema with Academy Awards for Best Director for “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan.” He also achieved Box Office records for “Jaws, E.T, and Jurassic Park.”
  • Musical icon Elvis Presley was told by the Grand Ole Opry manager, Jimmy Denny, “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to driving a truck.” Yet Elvis became an American singer and is now referred to as “the King of Rock and Roll.”
  • Lastly, composer Ludwig van Beethoven was referred to as “hopeless” in his early life by his music teacher. Beethoven would later become one of the most famous and influential of all composers whose best-known compositions included 9 symphonies, 5 concertos for piano, 32 piano sonatas, and 16 string quartets.

The point of all of those stories is to point out that we all experience rejection, and nobody is exempt or immune to it’s countless forms. I personally believe at the core of all rejection is a desire to feel valued. We can’t feel rejection unless we first want something that we feel like we don’t already have whether it is attention, success, achievement, praise, perceived worth, confidence, to feel connected, etc… At the core of our desires is a longing for a sense of stability or feeling of importance. Rejection keeps us from what we want. We can turn rejection is the enemy, or that obstacle we can’t move past. We can allow rejection to define us.

Rejection wants us to give up… and if we do then rejection has won. It has defined us.

I found it interesting that in a recent University of Michigan study they found that physical pain and intense feelings of rejection “hurt” in the same way. The study demonstrates that the same regions of the brain that become active in response to painful sensory experiences are activated during intense experiences of social rejection. This study went on to show that higher levels of rejection in a person’s life result in “more negative self-feelings and reductions of self-esteem.” Repeated rejection can literally change our brains. When we face rejection one too many times, our brain learns to protect us. How many of us have experienced this? We’re rejected and suddenly we’re afraid of trying again.

Everyone encounters rejection in this fallen world, and as painful as rejection can be, it doesn’t have to work against us. Rejection can actually work for us if we use the experience as a positive opportunity to create a new season of success in your life or allow God to speak to us through it. Our rejection, like our pain, is not meaningless. (You can find a previous blog on this topic here: https://tannerroyalty.com/2015/12/02/damascus/)

John Piper said this in a message on pain, but I believe it can be said about rejection as well. He said,

Not only is all your affliction momentary, not only is all your affliction light in comparison to eternity and the glory there. But all of it is totally meaningful. Every millisecond of your pain, from the fallen nature or fallen man, every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that. I don’t care if it was cancer or criticism. I don’t care if it was slander or sickness. It wasn’t meaningless. It’s doing something! It’s not meaningless. Of course you can’t see what it’s doing. Don’t look to what is seen. When your mom dies, when your kid dies, when you’ve got cancer at forty, when a car careens into the sidewalk and takes her out, don’t say, “That’s meaningless!” It’s not. It’s working for you an eternal weight of glory. Therefore, therefore, do not lose heart. But take these truths and day by day focus on them. Preach them to yourself every morning. Get alone with God and preach his word into your mind until your heart sings with confidence that you are new and cared for.

So… as leaders, church members, and believers in general we are guaranteed to experience rejection in one form or another. Rejection isn’t always easy to deal with, here’s a few quick ways we can respond when we experience rejection. Let’s think together.


  • Ask the right questions.

Most of us are well-acquainted with disappointment. All of us, at some point, will battle feelings of disappointment when life goes wrong. I think it is almost natural for us to believe deep down that because of our faith and salvation we should have a special immunity against trouble.

We see an example of a version of this thinking in Mark 10:23-31 where it says says,

And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Peter tried to remind Jesus, “We have left everything to follow you.” Peter was asking the wrong question.

After all, it’s hard to ask the right question when you’re feeling disappointed! It’s hard to ask “what now?” or “what else?” when your dreams have been shattered or your heart hurts from pain, disappointment, or rejection. But I believe that our lives will begin to change when we start asking God, “What would you have me do now?” when we come up short or something doesn’t come through like we feel it was supposed to. Now obviously the correct question or response doesn’t and won’t take the pain away, but typically we will find that God is eager to show is what He wants us to do next.

Sometimes we need to stop talking and just listen and obey.

If you are like me, my natural tendency is to complain when I feel disappointed or rejected. But unfortunately for me, complaining to other people never helps solve the issue… typically it just makes it worse and intensifies the pain. But, in His grace, God asks us to take our heartaches to him.

Matthew 11:28-29 says,

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Psalm 55:22 says,

Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.

Philippians 4:6 says,

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Casting our burdens on God is wise because He’s capable of doing something about it, while we are not. God has the power to change us, our situation, or both. He knows all the facts, He knows the future, and He has the perspective that we lack. When we learn to respond correctly and ask the right questions when rejected or disappointed we will begin to have answers revealed to us.

  • Don’t allow rejection and discouragement to define you.

Life is a journey. In the same way many of our ideas, goals, and relationships are journeys as well. Rarely do we end up where we saw ourselves being twenty years ago. The problem with long-term goals is that they can change.

Many things take a process to get it to where they need to be… us included! If you had asked me 10 years ago if I ever envisioned myself working for a church I would’ve answered with a bold “no!” Having an idea turned down, a vision rejected, or a goal changed doesn’t mean we have failed. Ultimately it means that we have received feedback, guidance, or correction and we now can adapt and overcome by approaching in a different way.

We mustn’t allow ourselves to be sensitive when we get rejected. We must learn to not place your identity in what you create, or goals, dreams, or visions and whether or not they turn out or happen according to plan. Here is an exerpt from a previous blog of mine (you can find it here: https://tannerroyalty.com/2015/05/13/who-are-you/),

Too often, people base their identities on what they do or in the acceptance of others, and the perceived expectations that come along with that acceptance… whether it is a job, hobby, relationship, or even positive or negative remarks from peers.

Traditionally, we’ve been taught to find the answer in one place…we are what we do. If I write, then I’m a writer. If I play music, then I am a musician. If I play a sport, then I’m an athlete. The world creates easy definitions of people and we look to those definitions far too often. We like to define ourselves based upon what we do. Somehow we have been deceived and allowed the things that, for the most part, we have dominion and control over to define us as people. We are allowing our identity and self worth to be found amongst the things of the world.

Are you being controlled or limited by the things that you allow to define you?

The truth is that God intends for all people to find their identity in Him alone. Our effectiveness as pastors and worship pastors is hinged upon us becoming comfortable with the people God has created us to be. Our identity is found and secured in Christ alone when we begin to follow him… we must simply accept that identity and pursue it wholeheartedly.


Ultimately, rejection is part of the process that we all go through in this thing called life. Don’t be discouraged when it happens. Understand that it’s not an attack on you personally, but use it as an opportunity to grow and develop. Allow God to guide and shape you. Don’t allow the things you control to define you. Take time to stop talking and listen to what He has to say.

Damascus.

I’ve never been a fan of pain. I don’t know many people who are.

If God is SO good then why do we suffer?

We hear that question a lot nowadays and I fear that much of it spawns from a misunderstanding we have about our God. Our God’s goodness isn’t inter-related or dependent on current events, politics, national or international affairs, the money in our bank account, our successes or failures, or our sickness or health. Or God’s goodness is connected to one thing only… Jesus Christ.

Since God is the source of all goodness, then what God does for his own sake ultimately benefits us. Therefore whatever glorifies him is good for us. This includes both or good times and bad.

What do we do in times of suffering? What is God accomplishing?

Below we will discuss some things to keep in mind in times of suffering.


  • God may be creating you into who he wants you to be.

We have heard it said that our stories and experiences have shaped or made us into who we are today. I wholeheartedly agree.

Think about it… it is common sense that we learn from our past experiences and sufferings.

The first time I touched a hot stove burner or a sharp razor edge I learned that I didn’t want to do that again. Many of the things we are going through currently are shaping us into something that can be used by God. Only God can take the ugliness we are currently in and create something beautiful from it.

We see this in Scripture with the story of Saul. Saul was an angry man who persecuted, tortured, and killed Christians. Saul of Tarsus was a Pharisee in Jerusalem after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He swore to wipe out the new Christian church and destroy the Christian movement.

One day Saul was on his way to Damascus to arrest any Christians that were in the synagogues and an amazing thing happened. Let’s pick up this story in Acts 9:3-19,

Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.

Saul encountered the very God He had been persecuting and was never the same again. Something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. He arose and was baptized into the Christian faith. After his conversion, Saul’s name was changed to Paul, and he spent the rest of his life serving Jesus and teaching people about him. He became a missionary to people all over the world. Suddenly, instead of being the person who hurt other Christians, Paul became persecuted himself for Christ’s sake.

What are your experiences doing within you? Is God using situations and circumstances in your life to make scales fall off your eyes?

What is your suffering causing you to see?

  • God may be using your pain.

It’s hard to imagine that God would have to use something like our pain to accomplish His purposes and to achieve proper glory for Himself… but we see it Biblically displayed. John 11:1-16 speaks of a story that may be all too familiar to many of us. In this story a man named Lazarus is sick and dying and His sisters are begging for his life to be spared from death. John 11:1-16 says:

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

How many of us have had a loved one die unexpectedly and we just don’t understand why?

Many of us may read that passage and say, “Why did Jesus say that this illness wouldn’t lead to death.” Was Jesus wrong? Did he underestimate the severity of the illness that had befallen Lazarus? Absolutely not. Pay attention to how He follows up the statement,

“This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

God desired to receive glory through that miracle. Its purpose was not so much for the life of Lazarus, or for the love of Mary and Martha, as it was for the glory of God.

We see the glory of God in the remainder of the story. John 11:39-44 concludes,

Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Ultimately, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead so men might recognize Him as God through His display of divine power.

God may be displaying His power through you and your life!

  • God may be “trimming” you up.

My grandma has bushes and flowers in front of her house. They look nice… but like any plant they have a tendency to get unruly. What does she do to solve this problem? She prunes them. She trims them up and shapes them into what she desires or sees as “fit.”

What would you say if I told you that we are a lot like a rose bush? We have the ability to made into something beautiful… but we have to be pruned or trimmed up.

John 15: 1-8 says,

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

A gardener prunes to what they see as fit, a painter paints to their liking, and God uses our circumstances to mold and shape us to what He sees as fit and acceptable.

Michelangelo didn’t leave the statue of David as a block of stone. He took his chisel and pounded on it with his hammer. He chipped away at that stone until he created something wonderful.

What is God chipping away from you?

Isaiah 48:10 says,

Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.

God refines us in our suffering and explains why in the following verse when He says that it is for His own sake that we are refined.

It is important for us to remind ourselves that our suffering or pain, the chaos we see all around us, the things put upon us that we don’t understand aren’t because God doesn’t love us or because He is a sick twisted God. In actuality, God is like a dentist or doctor who sometimes has to inflict pain on us for the betterment of us or our bodies as a whole.

C.S. Lewis wrote in his book, “A Grief Observed” about this very idea. He said,

But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless. … What do people mean when they say “I am not afraid of God because I know He is good”? Have they never even been to a dentist?

In our suffering God may be making us better… refining us, and making us stronger through the darkness that we may feel that we are in.

We are pruned for God’s glory and for our ultimate good! What good is a half pruned rose bush? Don’t stop the process because it hurts a little… see it through and make the pain mean something in your life.


I would like to close with this excerpt from a message given by John Piper.

Not only is all your affliction momentary, not only is all your affliction light in comparison to eternity and the glory there. But all of it is totally meaningful. Every millisecond of your pain, from the fallen nature or fallen man, every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that. I don’t care if it was cancer or criticism. I don’t care if it was slander or sickness. It wasn’t meaningless. It’s doing something! It’s not meaningless. Of course you can’t see what it’s doing. Don’t look to what is seen. When your mom dies, when your kid dies, when you’ve got cancer at forty, when a car careens into the sidewalk and takes her out, don’t say, “That’s meaningless!” It’s not. It’s working for you an eternal weight of glory. Therefore, therefore, do not lose heart. But take these truths and day by day focus on them. Preach them to yourself every morning. Get alone with God and preach his word into your mind until your heart sings with confidence that you are new and cared for.