From One Traveler to Another

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By Brian Sharpe

Have you ever had an “a-ha” moment while at a class or at a conference? I get them, more often than I think I should. I’d like to think it is because I am teachable and not because I need things spelled out for me by someone who gets it more than I do. Martin and I went to Minneapolis to the national office of the Evangelical Free Church (EFCA) a few weeks ago. It was a great time for he and I to meet with other pastors who are trying to lead their churches on a disciple-making journey. It is nice to know that we are involved with other churches that are trying to figure out how to lead this.

It is crazy to think that this journey is a 2,000-year journey and we are still trying to figure it out. You would think by now that we would know better how to make disciples more effectively and efficiently. I guess, in a perfect world, it would be. The reason we are still trying to figure this out is because it is a bunch of fallen human beings leading other fallen human beings on a journey toward the infinite God. The thing that gets in the way is not just how sinful we are, but also the lack of tenacity we have to take this journey with others.

This journey is not an easy one. It is one that is full of twists and turns. The journey is full of unexpected ups and downs. I think one of the main “ups” is success in life. Success is what we search for in life, but I am not sure we understand what success is. Success in our culture means that we make a living wage. We have a nice house. We have kids who will obey. Success is when we are comfortable and potentially happy. I am not sure this is the success that God talks about in the Bible.

Success in the Bible is fully trusting in God for contentment and joy. It is resting in God for your identity. Too often, we find our identity in what we have or what people think of us instead of on what our heavenly Father has said about us. We lose sight of this because of our success or what we feel is success.

For me, how I define success is that I have been faithful to God on this journey toward Him. Success would be that I can point others to Jesus and everyone that I am around would be marked by God through the presence He has in my life. That, to me, is success, and ultimately what I want to pass on to those I invest my life in. Nothing else matters.

Whether in abundance or in want, I want to find my contentment and strength in Christ. I believe that what is what Paul is talking about in Philippians 4. From one disciple to another on the same journey toward our Father in Heaven, let’s focus on God’s definition of success — to find our contentment and identity in Him, and not in what the world defines as success.

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How Do We Look at Faithfulness?

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By Larry Short

Cheryl Weller is very faithful to remind us elders when she needs a Last Word from us. Last week, she told me, “You are on schedule to write the Last Word for next week. Can you have something to me by Tuesday?”

“Sure!” I said, then promptly forgot about it. (I almost said, “of course,” but we’ll talk about that in a moment!)

Last night (Tuesday at 10:20 p.m.) she emailed me and (very graciously!) said: “Hey Larry, do you have a Last Word? I needed it today, as I’m publishing tomorrow. Any chance of getting that by noon ready to publish? Thanks! Cheryl :)”

The bad news is, I didn’t receive her email until this morning. I would hit myself in the head with my shoe, but that’s happened too many times before and my head is already sore from yesterday’s abuse. So here I am, pounding it out guiltily! (Referring to the Last Word . . . not my head.)

The good news is, I have been thinking about “faithfulness,” and this whole situation gives me great ammunition. I in so many ways fall short of God’s standard of faithfulness, and this is just another example. As I’ve been reflecting on this, I’ve been listing in my head reasons for my unfaithfulness. They start out as excuses, but end up migrating toward real-life examples of my own sinfulness.

  • My memory is terrible! That’s a big excuse I use a lot for blowing people off when I promise them something (like a Last Word done by Tuesday) and then fail to deliver. I’m a busy person! I have too much going on! Blah, blah, blah. The truth is, I don’t sufficiently value my word, so that when I promise something, I don’t make it a high enough priority to deliver.
  • I de-prioritized delivering on that commitment because I had higher priorities come along. Cheryl has given me grace before, and I knew she would give me grace again. See #1 above!
  • I didn’t really mean what I said when I said it. Jesus said, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” I interpret this to mean, “God’s faithfulness is known by His Word. Your word should be golden. Tell the truth, mean what you say, and do what you say.” Seems simple, no?
  • Selfishness and other sinful priorities. Here’s where it gets really uncomfortable. What was I doing yesterday that was more important than writing the Last Word? I made three Facebook posts. I did some training for a new job. I made a few bucks driving for Uber. I was tired and took a nap. For goodness’ sake, I apparently (without even thinking about it) prioritized my nap above my commitment to Cheryl to finish this Last Word yesterday!

When I look at the topic of God’s faithfulness, I frequently think it’s a no-brainer. Of course God is faithful, I reason. He has a perfect memory. He has all the time in the world. He has the wisdom to prioritize properly. We may simply take it for granted (I may take it for granted) that God will do what He says!

Obviously, this speaks far better of God than it does of me, but here’s the truth: We should never take God’s faithfulness for granted. It’s a matter of life and death for us! Let’s take a look at some of the promises Scripture gives, related to God’s faithfulness:

Psalm 26:3 – For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness.

There are 170 references to the words “faithful” and “faithfulness” throughout Scripture, and many of them tie God’s faithfulness to His steadfast love for us. His faithfulness is proof of His love, as it were. And it’s His faithfulness that creates a path for us to navigate the challenges of daily life.

1 John 1:9 – If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Without God’s faithfulness to forgive us, we would be condemned to pay the penalty (of death) for our own sins!

1 Corinthians 10:13 – No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Because God is faithful, we can resist temptation, knowing there is ALWAYS a way of escape.

Psalm 86:14; 119:75 – But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. . . . I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.

God’s faithfulness establishes His mercy and grace as constants in our lives; even when we are “afflicted” (sometimes because of God’s discipline), we can bank on God’s faithfulness to us!

Psalm 89:14 – Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.

God’s faithfulness, once again acting in concert with His steadfast love, is based upon the foundation of His righteousness and absolute commitment to true justice.

2 Thessalonians 3:3 – But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.

Like Job, we may be assaulted by the onslaughts of the evil one. But God has promised to establish and guard us in the midst of those assaults. Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world!

Psalm 31:5 – Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.

These were Christ’s very last words as he died on the cross and gave up His spirit into the hands of the Father He loved, whose faithfulness He trusted so deeply. At every moment, and at the very end of our lives, each of us will be confronted with a choice to do the same. Do we trust our souls to the One who created us and promises to redeem us for all eternity?

When I think about it, neglecting to deliver a Last Word at a promised time may be among the least of my acts of faithlessness. Every time I cheat somebody something I owe them or am faithless to my wife with my eyes (by fancying a passing pretty girl a little too longingly, etc.), or “stretch the truth” in my conversation, I am demonstrating my own faithlessness.

Thank God He is faithful and just to forgive, and that His faithfulness is a sign of His steadfast love for me! Let’s pray together that faithfulness, one of the fruits of the Spirit presented in Galatians 5:22, would ever more clearly mark us out as those who are called children of the Father.

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What Did We Get Ourselves Into?

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By Martin Schlomer 

In this political season, cynicism, confusion, and fear reign among people from all generations. In my personal experience, the emotions and turmoil are unprecedented. How did we get here? More importantly, how do we, whose core identity is that of citizens and representatives of our Father and His Kingdom, navigate this political season? How do we live as salt and light at this time in history? We must begin with prayer!

Pray for discernment. As Christians, we need to be brutally honest regarding how we have arrived at this place. In my observation and opinion, the evangelical Church has unwittingly embraced a watered-down and corrupted understanding of discipleship. We have embraced what Kendra Creasy Dean and others call a moralistic therapeutic deism.[1] This has left this nation with far too many “believers” who are like the adulterated salt and dim lights Jesus warns against in Matthew 5:13-16. As a result, our voice has little to no credibility in the public square. Society readily points to the American Church’s corrupt leaders and hypocritical “followers.” More recently, voices from the public square are confronting evangelical leaders for an alliance with corrupt politicians in our effort to re-enter the halls of power. They’re asking, “How can you do this? How can you live with yourselves?” More and more, I’m asking the same question.

Pray for a repentant heart. The American Church must repent of its shallow, corrupted understanding of discipleship and rediscover its Jesus mission, which is to nurture passionate disciples who love Jesus, obey His teachings, and are eager to be transformed into His image. We must pursue holiness by becoming a people who love Jesus more than anything or anyone! Then we will be compelled to repent from our sins of rebellion; moral and sexual compromise; lukewarm hearts toward our God; broken relationships that are menaced by anger, unforgiveness, and slanderous hearts toward those who are made in the image of God; sick, dysfunctional marriages in which one or both individuals blame the other and resist taking responsibility for his/her actions; racism and misogyny … need I go on? Our friends, neighbors, coworkers, and peers see all this taking place. Peter admonishes believers, “For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household” (1 Peter 4:17). Repentance must begin with the family of God, of which I am a full participant. “Lord, start with me.” This may be the start of a revival that may reverberate throughout our land.

Pray for the courage to confront our leaders and would-be leaders. Instead of the evangelical Church forming an alliance with corrupt, self-seeking politicians (with the misguided hope that something good and beautiful might come out of such alliance), we must call our leaders to account. We must call our political leaders to be men and women of sound character who have a moral compass they’re committed to, because character matters a lot! We must be willing to be like Paul, who spoke to the Roman governor Felix about issues of righteousness, morality, ethics, and the coming judgment. As Paul spoke, the Holy Spirit brought such conviction and fear upon Felix that he told Paul, “That’s enough for today. I’ll call you back when it’s convenient.”[2]

Pray for the Church’s willingness to persevere if/when those in power require the Church to compromise the gospel and accommodate government mandates. As we read the news, we already see the movement among government legislators and the courts to require accommodation from the Church, especially in the areas of sexuality and gender. The Church will need great wisdom and discernment in order to navigate these moral quagmires.

Finally, on October 30, I will address the question, “How do we think biblically about the election issues that are before us in our civic life?” We must wrestle with these issues. God has given us the privilege (for the time being) of having a voice in this process. In addition, we have scheduled two opportunities to pray for our Church and our nation. On November 1 and November 8, from 6-8 a.m., Elim will be open so that you can come and pray. More information will be forthcoming.

As we move forward, pray for our Church and our nation. Secondly, rest in our Father’s sovereign grace. His purposes will be accomplished, regardless of who occupies the White House. He always has and will continue to “turn the insanity of the nations to serve his purposes.”

http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/this-is-the-best-of-times-and-the-worst-of-times

 

[1] Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling Us About the American Church, Oxford University Press, 2010.

[2] Acts 24:25 in The Message

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