The Idol of Busyness

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You are not too busy. There, I said it. In spite of the impression we give to one another. The response most given to a question of how things are going, or how we have been doing is, “I’ve been busy.” It is our go to answer. But are we really that busy? I am not asking what fills up your calendar or how many hours you work and are committed to activities. This is not a call for you to clear your schedule. I am speaking more about your heart. The truth is even when our schedule is clear we allow busyness to rule our hearts. We have bought into the lie of our culture that our identity is in how much we do, how busy we are. Our hearts, our spiritual lives are filled with as much anxiety, worry, and chaos as our schedules. We seem to try to find our spiritual identity in how much activity we can do for God, how busy we can be for God and in trying to be busy we miss the power of the Gospel to speak the rest of God to our souls.

 

Your schedule is full. You don’t have to defend yourself to me. I believe you have a lot going on. Our culture has formed us to believe this is where our worth is found. But, you are not too busy. You make time for what is important to you. Maybe for you it is sports, maybe it is entertainment, or maybe it is coffee and a quick trip to Starbucks. We will stop the busyness of our schedules for what is important to us. Our time with Jesus should be important to us.

 

The truth is we have marketed and made our “quiet time” something we do for God. We “need” to read our Bible so we cram it in quickly with all of the other activities making up our busy life. We try to work ourselves up, to get our fill of God, to make sure we complete our checklist of spiritual duties. We want to know God, want to know the presence of God in our lives in a real way, but we are busy, we don’t have time for another activity. We need to get on with our lives and schedules. Whether we realize it or not we have declared we have no room for God in our lives until we decide to get angry because He is not there.

 

Quit talking about how busy you are and for the sake of your spiritual health slow down. Find time to remember it is not your activity for God that saves you. Turn off your phone and television and just be, rest in God’s grace and presence. Embrace the silence of the moment. We need silence. We need to rest in the grace of God. In Hebrews 4 the author tells us Jesus has made a way for us to enter the rest of God. I think of this many times with the image from Psalm 23 of the green pastures our shepherd is leading us to. God is leading us to find rest in Him. He has created us for this rest. He created us to find this rest daily through prayer and Bible reading and silence, and created us to find this rest weekly through Sabbath and corporate worship. Our schedules, our lives leave us weary and Jesus calls the weary to come to Him and find rest in Him.

 

 

The Christian life is not about what you can do for God. Your spiritual health is not found in completing a checklist. The disciplines of the Christian life are not ways we earn God’s love. We read our Bible, we pray, we fast, we fellowship with one another because it is in these disciplines we know God, rest in God. God reveals Himself to us through the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life. The disciplines of the Christian life form us into the image of Christ. They are not just spiritual activities to fill out God time on our schedule and we must resist the urge to make them just another activity in an already busy life. Spiritual disciplines are not the ends of the Christian life. They are the means by which we become more like Jesus, the means by which we meet Jesus and rest in Jesus. The spiritual disciplines lead us to Jesus. They lead us to His grace, His holiness, and His love. The spiritual disciplines are activities, but they are activities leading us rest in who Jesus is and what Jesus has done.

 

Therefore, we must let go of the idol of busyness. You are not too busy. Rest in Jesus. Quit trying to be enough for God and just be. Let go of finding your identity in how much you can do, how filled up your calendar is, and how much you can humble brag about how busy you are. Just be in Christ. In Christ you are loved. In Christ you are declared righteous. You are His. You are not too busy to slow down and rest in the grace of God. You must not be too busy to slow down and rest in the grace of God. Your schedule is not god. Your activities are not god. Work is not god. Turn from the alter of busyness and find time, make time, to just be in the presence of the one who died for you. Make time to just be in the presence of God, to rest in the grace of God. You are not too busy.

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The Power of Ordinary Faithfulness

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In a celebrity and social media dominated culture we expect to do something big and to do it now. As Christians we are not immune from this impulse and expectation. In fact, the Christian celebrity culture may breed it even deeper than the secular culture. This notion persists in us that in order to be meaningful Christians we have to do something big for God. We think we have to accomplish a great feat or become a person of massive influence for us to be faithful, to make a difference, to be who God wants us to be. In reading biographies of men and women who were massively influential and in hearing and seeing celebrity pastors and musicians or whoever it may be we think we must do what they do to make a real difference for God in our world. The power of ordinary faithfulness and the power of our everyday obedience is lost. God has placed us in the lives we have with the routines we have for His glory. There is no grand way for us to earn God’s approval, in Christ we are approved and therefore freed to live our daily lives in a faithful, meaningful way.

 

This desire may be magnified for those in ministry. We all want to be the next big thing. Ministers come out of seminary or Bible College thinking they will plant the next great mega-church. In order to be “successful” we must have a big platform. The lie of the culture has infiltrated the church. Faithfulness is our calling. Stability breeds faithfulness and stability is found in the ordinary. We need to recover the practice of stability in our Christian lives. It seems we are always looking for the next great thing, the next mountain peak, the next experience and in living this way we miss the ordinary grace and power of God. Our eyes are focused on the coming horizon and not the faithfulness of God we are experiencing in this moment. This is true in ministry. God needs men and women who are willing to plant their lives in small churches and small communities and be faithful. When we do this we are not missing out, we are prospering. Not everyone is given a cultural platform or a mega church. Most pastors are called to be faithful and exert influence where they have been planted and to commit to stability in that context. You are not called to be John Piper or Matt Chandler or whoever else you listen to and read. You are called to be you where you are planted, to be faithful, and practice stability in your church and community. You are called to preach the word, to love the people, to fulfill your calling where God places you. The ordinary is powerful in pastoral ministry. The ordinary is powerful only when the ordinary is done faithfully.

 

This deception is not just one pastors fall for, we are all prone to believe these lies. Many people think they are failing God because they have failed to do something big for God. They don’t sell out stadiums to thousands like Billy Graham did. They don’t take care of the poor like Mother Teresa did. They haven’t run for office. They don’t even preach or lead a Bible study. They feel as if they are a failure in their Christian life and this can lead either to shame and regret or to anger towards those they feel are acting like super Christians or those they feel aren’t serious enough. We must be reminded over and over again that God’s love for us does not depend on how much we do or don’t do for Him. God doesn’t love Billy Graham or Mother Teresa more than you. You are loved and accepted in Christ as much as anyone else. This truth frees us to be us. It frees us to be faithful in whatever job we have and in whatever place we live. Ordinary faithfulness is the calling of every believer. This ordinary faithfulness will lead us to love God and love our neighbor, to pursue justice, to seek the common good, to love our enemies, and ultimately to live lives that matter because they seek the treasure that moth and rust cannot destroy. Don’t believe the lie you have to do big things to please God. Rest in His grace and love for you in Jesus and be faithful everyday to His word and His Spirit and you will do things that matter eternally. Ordinary faithfulness is powerful because it comes out of a heart resting in God’s grace and a heart loving God and neighbor in the place where it has been planted.

 

There is beauty in the ordinary faithfulness of God’s people loving God and their neighbors at their jobs, in their homes, schools, and churches. Let go of trying to be famous or doing big things for God. Love God. Love people. Be faithful where God has planted you and you will be storing treasure in heaven, you will be living for what truly matters.

The Purpose of Exile

What is the purpose of exile in the lives of the people of God? A lot has been made of where the American church finds herself in this day in age. The church is finally waking up to the reality of exile. This world is not our home. We are pilgrims and strangers, citizens of another kingdom in exile in a foreign land. This is not a new reality for the people of God. Israel in the Old Testament found herself in exile and the New Testament is full of the exilic language to describe the reality of the church in the world. So, what is the purpose of our exile, our time here in this broken world? I think we see an answer in Micah 5:7-15. Micah is warning Judah and Israel of their coming exile and in the midst of this warning Micah gives them hope and the purpose for this exile.

 

The first thing we see in verses 7 and 8 is the truth of God’s faithfulness. God will keep a remnant. Judah will be exiled, but God will keep His people among the nations. God will not abandon His people even though they have abandoned Him. He will be faithful even though they are not always faithful. What we can take away from this is even when it seems like our culture has turned against us and we are losing our grip on who we thought we were God will keep us. He will be faithful and because of His faithfulness we can be faithful in the midst of our exile. This is where the promises of God give us hope. Our world is broken, evil, full of suffering and death. This is the reality of living as exiles in this world, living as citizens of God’s kingdom in the city of man. But, in this reality we have the hope of the promises of God. The hope of the promise that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, nothing can snatch us from the Father’s hand. The promise of God working all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose, and the truth of His purpose being conforming us to the image of Jesus. The reality of exile cannot take away our hope. Our ultimate hope is the promise of deliverance. We see this in verse 15 of Micah 5. God will deliver His exiles, His people from the nations of this world and the evil and suffering of the reality of this fallen world. Our ultimate hope is found in the deliverance of God, in salvation. This salvation comes through the promised ruler who is to come from Bethlehem, the peace and shepherd of God’s people, in Jesus who is promised in the first six verses of Micah 5. Because of God’s faithfulness and God’s deliverance we can be people of hope in the midst of our exile. Hope marks the people of God. As we come into the realization of our own exile in this world our first reactions are anger and anxiety, both of which are antithetical to hope. We must not be anxious about our place in the world, God’s faithfulness and His promises fight this anxiety. We must not lash out in anger thinking of taking back what we think is ours. As exiles we must love, we must seek the good of the places we live, and we must do so filled with hope in God’s faithfulness, in His promises, and in His salvation. Therefore, one of the purposes of exile is to turn our hearts to the hope we have in God and His promises and not in the things of the world, which leads us to the second purpose of exile.

 

The main purpose of the exile for the people of God is to cleanse the people of God. Micah tells Judah their exile will be a time of cleansing, of ridding their hearts of the idols they have held on to in order to prepare them to enter the Promised Land once again. We see this in verses 10-14. God will cleanse His people of their idols and He will begin with the idol of worldly power and security. “I will cut off your horses from among you and will destroy your chariots; and I will cut off the cities of your land and throw down all your strongholds.” The military power, the walls you have built, the technology you have will not keep you from this exile, Judah. The things of this world you have put your trust in will be shown to be false. When we trust in the military power of our nation, or the security of our technology we trust in an idol. The purpose of exile is to train our hearts to trust in God. The idol of worldly power and security must be cleansed from our hearts. How true this is of us American Christians. Many times it seems we believe our salvation is found in our national heritage or our strong military and not in Jesus Christ alone. We should be patriotic, but we must not be nationalistic to the point where it becomes idolatry. Knowing we are exiles in this world helps us fight nationalistic idolatry and focuses our hearts on trusting in God. Verses 12-14 points to the idols of images, sorceries, fortunes, pillars, and bending the knee to the work of your hands. God will cleanse His people from their idolatry to the images and work of their hands, to false beliefs of fortunetellers and sorceries. God will cleanse us of our images and idols. We may not make wooden statues or golden calves to bow down to, but we still worship images and false gods. Our culture has different images and idols than the culture Micah was writing to, but they are images and idols the same. One look in a magazine or one evening watching television will prove this point. We worship wealth, nice things, good food, sex, and a host of other idols and images. All of these idols and images promise the good life and salvation. All of these idols and images promise to fulfill the longing in your soul and to give you joy. But, they are false gods. We were not created for the gifts, we were created for the giver. In exile God will cleanse our hearts from idolatry, from our incessant pursuit of salvation in the idols and images of our culture. He will deliver us from this idolatry and will cleanse our hearts to pursue Him. He is our salvation, our portion, what our souls long for, and where our joy is found. In the middle of our exile as we are pilgrims in this land God is cleansing us to bring us home to the Promise Land.

 

The purpose of exile is to change us and transform us to trust God by cleansing us of the idols and images we are holding on to. The promise Micah gives to Judah is when God is done cleansing and changing you He will bring you home. The promise is the same for us as His church. We are pilgrims in exile in this broken world. God will redeem and restore His creation and us. We long for that day, we pray for that day, and as we long and pray God is cleansing us and transforming us to trust Him. This gives us hope in this world, in the city of man as citizens of God’s kingdom. God is with us and God is working in us.

Rejoice In The Truth

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As I have found myself in 1 Corinthians 13 over and over lately from preaching through verse 13 to just spending time meditating and praying over the truth of love verse 6 has become so key. Verse 6 says that love, “does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” Love rejoices in the truth of God and His Word. Love rejoices in the truth. What this means is joy is key to love and truth is key to joy. True joy is found in truth and God is truth. Saint Augustine in his Confessions says, “true happiness is to rejoice in the truth, for to rejoice in the truth is to rejoice in you, O God, who are the truth.” Joy is found in God. Joy is found in the truth who is God.

 

When we talk about truth it seems we talk only about fighting for the truth and standing for the truth. We seek to use truth to fight against the world around us. In this way of thinking the truth is a set of ideas and beliefs that must be articulated and defended against wrong ideas and beliefs. There is no doubt we should defend the truth of God’s word in a culture progressively hostile to any truth at all. I don’t think there is much debate here, but is that the primary way we must think of truth or is there a more basic, fundamental way we should understand truth? I want to suggest truth is not first of all ideas and beliefs to be fought for, but a person to rejoice in and to love whose love and joy then flow through us to the world. The only way we should fight for the truth is when we have first of all rejoiced in truth. We must not see the truth only as a hammer of ideas and beliefs to prove ourselves right. The truth must be something, or rather someone, in which we rejoice.

 

To rejoice in the truth is to love the truth. To rejoice in God is to love God. This is one and the same. We take joy in what we love and we love what we take joy in. What 1 Corinthians 13:6 showed me is love is marked by joy in the truth. Where we see truth we rejoice in it because where we see truth we see a glimpse of God. To rejoice in the truth we must know what the truth is and to know what the truth is we must know God who is truth. Once again, truth is not something first and foremost to be defended it is someone to be rejoiced in. Too much of what we do in the name of truth is marked by fighting, but we can only stand faithfully and winsomely when we do so out of joy. To biblically stand for truth is to stand with love and joy. I want to call us back to rejoicing in God as the fountain for our faithful witness to the world.

 

We must be people marked by joy. We must rejoice in the truth, rejoice in God to be the people God has called us to be, to be faithful in the age in which we live, to be salt and light to the world. Joy must mark us, church. Joy must flow out from us. Joy must separate us from a world filled with restlessness and anxiety. A part of this joy is the hope we have in Christ. Biblical joy is filled with biblical hope. Joy and hope are inextricably linked. We have joy because we have hope. We have hope because we have the promises of God, the God who is always faithful to keep these promises. These promises are absolute truth and this truth gives us hope, which breeds in us joy. To rejoice in the truth is to be filled with hope.

 

Hope looks back to see the faithfulness of God to never leave nor forsake His people. Hope looks back to see God keeps His promises, to see what God has done for us. Hope also looks forward. Hope looks to the promises of God that are to be fulfilled. Hope looks to the promises of the New Heavens and the New Earth. Hope looks to the redemption and restoration to come. This world is broken. This world is full of evil and suffering, but it will not always be so and therefore we have hope and this hope gives us joy which cannot be stolen or taken no matter what we face. To be people filled with joy, to rejoice in the truth, we must be people of hope and we are people of hope because of Jesus. We rejoice in Him, we have hope in Him.

 

Instead of hope and joy many times the church is marked by fear. We fear the loss of a cultural place. We fear the loss of earthly power. We fear the other. We fear the future. Our fear ultimately is a lack of joy and a lack of hope. We can only see what is in front of us. Or, we think (whether we say it or not) what we are facing is bigger than God and His love. What combats this fear? Truth. The truth of who God is and what God has done in Jesus produces in us joy to face our fear. The truth of what God will do produces in us hope expelling our fear. Therefore, we rejoice in the truth for the truth helps us face the broken world we live in with hope, with joy, and with love.

 

Rejoice in the truth because the truth will set you free from fear. Joy produces hope and the basis for this hope is the same truth, it is Jesus. Do you see the truth as a hammer or do you rejoice in the truth and find hope in the truth? To be the church we are called to be we must be men and women filled with joy and marked by hope. The wellspring of this joy and hope is the truth. To love as we are called to love in 1 Corinthians 13 we must rejoice in the truth. To be faithful we must rejoice in the truth.

The Tide of Grief

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Grief is a funny thing. It is like a tide. Sometimes it is low tide and grief barely makes it upon the shores of your life and you go about your routine and daily tasks with barely a thought to the loss in your life. Then, sometimes it is high tide and grief washes ashore so violently you can’t help but to cry and feel the deep hole the loss of a loved one has left. The tricky thing is you never know when high tide will hit. It has been two years today since Mom passed away. I haven’t always been very good about dealing with the grief her loss brings. I have tried to be strong and detached from it and in many ways it has hurt me. I felt like I had to be strong, like I couldn’t show much emotion. Frankly, I didn’t know how to grieve. I am used to being the one comforting families through grief and I never learned to allow myself to grieve. I went right back to preaching and pastoring the next week after her funeral. I didn’t take many Sundays off the next year, just kept right on going. There were times I broke down, especially once little Evahlyn came into the world and Mom wasn’t there to enjoy her. Finally, last Christmas it all finally caught up to me. I came down with a mono like virus that put me out of commission for a month. It laid me out. I ran fever for 4 weeks. I spent two nights in the hospital. I couldn’t get out of bed for 2 weeks. Much of it was induced by stress my doctor told me. It all came about, in my opinion, because I tried to press on, because I would not let myself take the time to grieve, because I thought I had to be strong. The Lord made me slow down. The Lord made me rest. The stress of grief and loss overwhelmed me. I realized grief must be dealt with and time must be taken.

Knowing this truth does not mean I have lived this truth. This week reminds me again of the great loss not having Mom in my life truly is. I still think to myself, “I need to call Mom and tell her about this” multiple times a week. I hug Evahlyn and wish she could know her Grams everyday. I see Mom in the way Evahlyn laughs, the way she folds her hands when she sits, the way she pats on my back to let me know she loves me, and in so many other ways. Grief still rolls in like high tide every few days. Instead of suppressing it I try to accept it, let it wash over me and remember the hope of eternal life Mom is experiencing in this moment. Grief is ok, it is more than ok, it is healthy, it reminds us of the loved ones who meant so much to us, it reminds us of the good times we shared, and it reminds us of the brokenness of this world and the restoration to come in Jesus Christ. I write this to say, grieve. When it washes up on the shore of your heart, let it come. Cry. Take a moment and cry. Admit you struggle. Admit it is hard. Talk about it. I say this mostly to myself this week. I need to grieve. I need to let the high tide this week brings to wash over me. I need to hug Evahlyn even tighter. I need to tell her about her Grams. I need to tell her I love her “a bushel and a peck, and that’s all you can love.”

The Lord is so good. I plan sermons out 6 months to a year in advance. This coming Sunday I preach on hope in the life of the Christian. The Lord knew what I needed this week. We have hope. I carry the hope of eternal life, the hope I will see Mom again, the hope Evahlyn will one day know her Grams. Grief leads me to hope because our hope in Christ is that death leads to life. I am not dealing with an eternal loss. Missing Mom is temporary. It is hard, but it is temporary. So, as the waves of grief crash in on my heart this week I have hope. I have hope in Christ. I have hope that these tides of grief will always be a part of my life on this earth, but they point to an eternity where there is no more grief and no more death. Grief will come whether you want it to or not. It will wash upon the shores of your heart and if you try to be strong and just move past it eventually the waves will bring you down. Let the waves of the tide of grief wash over you, talk through it, pray through it, and know it is normal, it is healthy, and it points us to hope in Christ. Strength is not found in suppressing your grief. True strength is found in grieving. Hope is found in accepting the tides of grief and allowing these tides to point us to our eternal life found in Christ alone. When the tide rolls in let the waves point you to Jesus, to His death that defeated sin and death forever and His resurrection the first fruits of our resurrection and eternal life found in Him. Death will give way to life and grief will give way to joy and reunion. This is our hope when the tide of grief rolls in on our hearts. This is our hope in the midst of feeling personal loss. Our hope is Jesus, always Jesus.

Fear Not

The most given command in the Bible is to fear not. God knows the tendency of the human heart to fear. To fear others, to fear the situations we face, to fear the future. We can be a fearful people. In many ways this is due to our limits as finite beings, as created beings. We do not know it all. We cannot know it all and, therefore, fear is a natural response to our limits. The problem is fear becomes the enemy of faith. So, God gives us the command “do not fear” over and over in His word and gives us His promises and presence to help us obey this command. I want to look at 4 areas in which we show fear as believers and think about the Gospel remedies for each. The basis for each Gospel answer is the truth “perfect love casts out fear.” 1 John 4:18. There is no more perfect love than the love of Jesus Christ. His love casts out all ungodly fear. We need this love when we fear our past, our present, our future, and others.

Many of us fear our past. We look back at who we used to be or what we used to do and we feel shame and guilt. We feel as if our past disqualifies us from our present. We feel as if God cannot really love us. If other people found us out we would be shunned. The past hangs on our necks like a heavy chain, a burden we cannot unload because we are so tangled. But, there is freedom. Because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ the apostle Paul tells us in Romans 8:1 “ there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The Gospel takes our past and it forgives our sin. The shame and guilt we carry around is ours no longer in Christ. He takes the burden of the past and He gives us His life, His righteousness. There is now no more condemnation. God’s love is greater than our past. His grace covers all of our sin. Fear of the past washes away in the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on us in regeneration and renewal. In Christ our past does not define us. At the cross our sin is taken away from us as far as the east is from the west. We do not fear our past because we know the power of the blood of Christ to forgive our sin and to make us new. The love of Christ casts out our fear of the past, it erases our shame and guilt, and it makes us new creations.

It is not just our past able to strike fear in our hearts, but our present situations and trials as well. In the present our fear presents itself in worry and anxiety. This worry and anxiety can be about money, about health, about work, or about our family. It can be about anything we are facing in this moment, today and tomorrow. Our immediate concerns can produce fear in us. This fear keeps us from trusting in God for today’s and tomorrow’s provisions. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount confronts this worry and anxiety head on. In Matthew 6:25-34 He tells us, “do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.” Jesus commands us against anxiety and fear. The power to fight this anxiety and fear is faith in the goodness and provision of God. We fight anxiety by looking around at how God has taken care of His creation all around us and knowing without a shadow of a doubt our Father knows exactly what we need. We seek His kingdom by faith instead of allowing fear to run our hearts today. Our money troubles, our health troubles, our family troubles are nothing compared to our God. Faith must erase our fear. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:6, “ do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Our faith works itself out in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving. Fear of today and tomorrow, fear of the present, is fought with faith through prayer. Fear of today is fought with thankfulness for who God is and what God has done and promised to do. Do not fear today. Do not be anxious about anything today or tomorrow offers.

Another fear paralyzing many people is the fear of the future. In fear of the future I am not talking about tomorrow, I am talking about years and decades down the road, what this world will become, and ultimately this fear plays itself out in a fear of death and the end. We fear our death. We fear where our world is heading. Many of us who are Christians look at the world around us and we feel as if we are losing the future. Things are going downhill very quickly. We fear what it will be like for our children and grandchildren to grow up in this world. But, this fear must not overwhelm us. It must not control us. We must be a people of hope first and foremost. The church will always survive. The church will endure. We know the end of this story. We know where this world is heading. Death will not win the victory. The sting of death will be defeated forever Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15. We do not fear death because eternal life is ours in Jesus. We do not fear the future for our children because we know God will keep His people, will guard His church. We cannot look back into history with rose-colored glasses and think there was a golden age. We must look forward with hope towards the reconciliation of all things in Jesus Christ. Heaven will come down to earth. All of creation will be reconciled along with those in Christ. All sin, all death, all evil will be cast out into hell. We should stand for God’s truth and disciple others to live lives that glorify God into the future, but we must not be paralyzed by fear of death or fear of the future to come. We must be marked by the hope of the Gospel, the hope of reconciliation and renewal.

One last fear I want to think about is the fear of men, or fear of others. This comes in many forms. One way we fear others is by needing their approval. We live to please other people and therefore live in fear of their disapproval. We let others feelings, thoughts, and actions towards us define us. We battle this fear of men by remembering the truth of the love of God and our adoption into the family of God by our faith in Christ. If God is for us who can be against us? If God adopts us, loves us, accepts us in Jesus Christ what does it matter what anyone else says? “We have been given a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry Abba Father!” Romans 8:15. This spirit of adoption casts out the spirit of fear. We do not fear the disapproval of other people. We rest in the approval of our Heavenly Father in Christ. Other people do not ultimately define us and their approval or disapproval cannot change our identity in Jesus.

Another way this fear of man plays itself out is what I simply call a fear of the other. This is a fear of people who think and believe and live differently than we do. We see this most clearly when we ascribe evil motives to all who disagree with us politically or theologically. Just because someone doesn’t believe exactly like you does not mean they are then evil. There is no room for this kind of thought in the life of a believer. This fear leads to paranoia and when we live with this paranoia and fear we cannot love our neighbor as ourselves or seek the common good of all people. When we live with this kind of fear of others we look more like the Pharisees and less like Jesus. All people, whether they look, think, or believe like us are created in the image of God and are loved by God. When fear and paranoia rule our hearts this is easily forgotten. We must fight this fear by continually coming back to the truth of our own brokenness, the truth of the image of God in all people, and the global and sweeping offer of the Gospel. We are just as broken as every other human being. The problem is we think too highly of ourselves and forget we once were rebels opposed to God as well. We must remember the importance of the image of God in all people in order to see them as equal with us before the cross of Christ. The Gospel is not for those who have it all together and believe and think rightly. It is for those who need forgiveness and salvation and therefore it is for all. Fear of others leads us to erect barriers to the Gospel the Bible doesn’t allow. We must fight against this fear. We must get to know those who don’t think or believe or look like us. The Gospel demands it and God has called us to it.

Fear can cripple Christians. We must fight against the fear of the past, the fear of the present, the fear of the future, and the fear of others. We fight against fear with the truth of the Gospel. We fight against fear with the freedom found in the Gospel, with the presence of God that is ours in the Gospel, with the promises of God to reconcile this world, and with the love of God in the truths that we are accepted in Him and the ground is equal at the cross. Perfect love casts out fear. When this love overflows into our hearts it casts out the fears paralyzing us and frees us to love God and love our neighbor. This love frees us to live with hope. The Gospel truth sets us free and when it sets us free we are free indeed.

The Salt Of The Earth

Last week at our mid week Bible study we began the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. I have read through it so many times and every time the Lord shines a light on where I need to grow in Him. We had a great discussion on Jesus’ call for His disciples to be the salt of the earth. This is not a suggestion. He boldly tells us we ARE the salt of the earth. This is our identity as disciples in the world. So, the question is not will we be salt, but what kind of salt will we be?

The issue is not will we be in the world, the issue is as we are in the world, where we live and work and play, will we be an influence of the Kingdom of God upon the kingdom of this world? Will be flavorful? Will we live in such a way to show the joy of life in Jesus against the bland, fleeting, pleasures this world offers? Will we be salty? I don’t do much cooking, but when salt is missing from a recipe you can definitely tell in the flavor of the food. The dish is just not nearly as enjoyable as it is meant to be. Salt that loses its flavor can no longer perform the function it was created or made to perform so Jesus says it is better it be thrown out and trampled on.

Where this has worked in my own heart through the week and into today is thinking through how to keep our flavor, how to be the church and the Christians we are called to be in the world. We do this by the habits and virtues the Lord forms in us through our daily relationship with Him through His Word and prayer and our daily relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. God’s word, time in prayer, and relationships are the means by which God forms us and molds us. They become our habits and they produce in us virtues or fruits consistent with life in Christ. We are being formed by habits in our lives whether we know it or not. We are being formed by what we read and listen to or watch and whom we spend time with. God created us with wills and minds and hearts that are being formed. The question for us is formed by what or whom? God is the one who forms us and makes us salt. We are formed by His Word, by His presence, and by His people. To be the salt of the earth, full of the flavor of the kingdom, marked by the fruit or virtues of the Spirit, God must form us through our habits and relationships.

One other thought from this passage has stayed with me. Salt subversively flavors the food in which we put it. Too much overpowers the flavor. I think we are called to live in the world humbly and gently. We are to be subversive and influence all around us in the world through sacrifice, love, and courage. We don’t have to beat anyone over the head we just have to be faithful, flavorful. We don’t have to wait for big cultural or political victories. We love where we are planted, we are faithful where we are planted, we serve where we are planted, and little by little we sprinkle flavor in the world around us and others see our joy, our hope, our faith, and our love. Being the salt of the earth opens doors to share the Gospel and to seek the common good. Within being subversive we stand boldly for God’s truth and we call others to repentance, but we do this from humility, respect, and gentleness, always.

You are the salt of the earth Christian. You are either full of flavor and influencing the world around you or you have lost your flavor and are a worthless witness. Which one describes you?