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Archive for October, 2012

P B P G I T W M Y

No, this is not an algebraic equation or some leftover letters from a Scrabble game. PBPGITWMY stands for Please Be Patient, God Isn’t Through With Me Yet. Many young people in the last few years have displayed these letters on sweatshirts or large buttons. Mentioning that fact provides an excellent segue into sharing some very important thoughts concerning Christian discipleship.

Mark’s gospel tells us that one of the first things Jesus did upon beginning His ministry was to call four fishermen – brothers James and John, and brothers Peter and Andrew – to follow Him as disciples.  Jesus did not expect them to be fully mature on the first day. Spiritual growth takes both commitment and time.

One of the striking features about Mark’s teaching on discipleship is the honesty with which he describes the failures of the early disciples. All twelve were human beings, and humans make mistakes. They often misunderstood and demonstrated blindness with regard to the things they were taught.  When it seemed logical for them to have new insights born of faith, they often did not.

Sometimes, like so many of us today, they were more concerned with their own prestige and position than in serving others. They quarreled among themselves about who was greatest. Later, they even came to Jesus requesting favored positions in His Kingdom.

Disciples are expected to be filled with love and compassion, but they were not. When small children were brought to Jesus for His blessing, they thought He had more important things to do. At the end of His public ministry they silenced a blind man when he cried out for mercy. Finally, when Jesus said that He must go to Jerusalem, suffer many things at the hands of men, and die, Simon Peter even reprimanded Him.

Disciples are expected to be faithful, but they often were not. Judas betrayed Jesus, and Peter denied that he even knew Him – three times! The inner circle of Peter, James, and John failed to obey their Lord’s specific command to keep watch with Him as He prayed in Gethsemane. And on Friday they were so afraid for their own lives that they ran away and hid during those hours when Jesus hung on the cross.

Years later, when Paul and Barnabas sailed on Paul’s first missionary journey, John Mark, nephew of Barnabas, sailed with them. Few Bible personalities enjoyed greater spiritual privileges than did Mark.  Traveling through the wilderness of Asia Minor, filled with rugged mountains and dark valleys, was more than Mark could take, so he went back home to Jerusalem.

Mark wrote honestly not only about the failures of all of the disciples, but also of his own failures. What lessons concerning Christian discipleship was Mark trying to convey to the readers of his gospel?

First of all, he states that deciding to be a disciple of Jesus does not automatically eliminate old ways of thinking. Nor does it make us immune to temptation. But here is where the gospel is good news.  Jesus knew He did not choose perfect followers. He knew that it would be through walking with Him daily, listening to Him share the principles on which He would establish His kingdom, and depending on Him for guidance, that they would become more like their Master.

Mark knew the meaning of P B P G I T W M Y.  It is a tribute to both his honesty and to his level of commitment. He believed that his failure did not have to be final – indeed, that any disciple who fails can, by God’s grace, make a comeback. So, if you see yourself as a faithless disciple, take heart.  Confess your failure to the Lord. Ask for His forgiveness, and you shall have it (I John 1:9).

When you have done that, you can say with the apostle Paul, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me…in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

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If I were asked to reduce the gospel to a single word, what word do you think I should choose?

Apostle Paul said, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (I Corinthians 13:13). The Bible tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). It also says that we are to rejoice in hope (Romans 12:12). No one should ever underestimate the value of faith and hope. And Paul says that love is greater than faith and hope – individually or combined. I agree with Paul’s estimate of the value of faith, hope, and love. I still would not choose any of them as the single word that most describes the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I believe the one word that most describes the gospel is grace. Grace is often defined as “God’s unmerited favor” – and that is exactly what it is. Grace describes the gospel better than any other word because it accurately describes the gift of salvation that God freely gives to sinful, ungrateful, and unworthy human beings. Despite our tendency to think that everything in the world revolves around us, the grace of God happens to be one thing that we in no way can influence. We can’t earn it. We can’t purchase it. We don’t deserve it. Yet God gives it to us.

Even though God’s grace is freely given, that doesn’t keep many people from trying to earn it by doing things. In centuries past, and even today in some cultures and religious traditions, many people believe they have to perform some severe penitential act as a means of earning God’s forgiveness. In more than one location Christian pilgrims crawl on hands and knees up a hundred steps or more that lead to an altar, all in the effort to please God and gain His forgiveness. God’s forgiveness is freely given in response to only one penitential act – confession of sin (I John 1:9).

So what is it that causes us to complicate the simplest truths? Perhaps our guilt is so great that we cannot accept the simplicity of spiritual truths such as God’s freely given pardon. So we invent all kinds of conditions to His promise and create a succession of religious hoops through which we feel we must jump in order to receive mercy. In truth, we take those kinds of inane actions to feel forgiven. Being forgiven is another matter entirely.

It sounds hard to believe, but there is nothing anyone can do to deserve God’s grace. What we deserve is what all human beings throughout history have deserved – absolutely nothing – that is, unless you want to get into issues such as condemnation and the ultimate judgment of God. The truth is, in the overall scheme of redemption, human beings can do zero, nada, nothing, to merit the kindness of God. We have often rejected Him, snubbed our noses at Him, and turned our backs to Him – except, of course, when we want or need something.

Still, God keeps on loving us. He continues to offer his free gift of grace to the very people who do Him wrong. He extends His grace not just through the forgiveness of sins, which closes the chasm that sin has created between Him and us. He continues to extend His grace to aid us throughout life, helping us to grow in grace. If grace seems to be too good to be true, in any other realm besides the kingdom of God, it definitely is.

Though no one can earn God’s grace, there are plenty of ways in which we can respond to His gift appropriately. First of all, we can accept it with deep gratitude. Second, we can demonstrate our gratitude by becoming obedient to His will as revealed in His Word. Third, we can be faithful to His church by being present during times of corporate worship, and by being faithful stewards. Fourth, we can serve Him and other people with a sacrificial joy that is contagious.

Is there anything we can do to receive a greater additional measure of grace than we have already received? No. Grace is a gift with no strings attached. And like the grace that initially brought us into fellowship with God, we don’t have to do anything to receive more of it. As has been said, we can’t purchase it – unlike that expensive vacation, that luxury car, the cabin in the mountains, the cottage at the beach, or the trips we make to an expensive restaurant.

God’s grace is strictly on the house – God’s house!

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I had the opportunity to preach in a series of revival services in a rural church in South Carolina in the late 1960’s. Most rural churches in those days held a week-long revival meeting each summer, and the visiting evangelist would generally be invited each day into the home of a church family for a meal. These meals were always more than adequate. In almost every instance they included fried chicken – something to which I never objected in the slightest.

I arrived early one evening in the home of one of the deacons in order to have time for some fellowship before we sat down to the waiting feast. While his wife was preparing the meal, he said he wanted to show me something out at his barn. His real motive, however, was that he wanted to talk about something that had bothered him greatly for many years. He confessed that while he was a soldier stationed overseas during World War II, he had a single illicit relationship with a young woman. Because he was a Christian, this had burdened his conscience for more than twenty years.

I asked him if he had ever asked God to forgive him for violating his marriage vows, and he replied, “Yes I have, many times.” I then asked him if he believed God was both willing and able to forgive him of his sins when he confessed them and asked for forgiveness. He said he believed that. I then said, “If so, why don’t you forgive yourself? Your problem is not that God has not forgiven you. It is that you haven’t forgiven yourself.”

When there are sins in our past with which we have not dealt, we should confess them to God. Once they have been confessed to God, He not only forgives them, but He also forgets them.  When He has both forgiven them and forgotten them, we should move forward, knowing that they have been cleansed.  We should not carry them around with us any longer.  Will Rogers spoke great wisdom when he said that we should not let yesterday take up too much of today.  This is especially true when it involves letting the sins God forgave yesterday rob us of joys we can have today.

The forty-third chapter of Isaiah presents an image of God that is extremely important, for God says: “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake . . . and remembers your sin no more” (Isaiah 43:25). God is saying that He is ultimately the One against whom we sin. He is a Holy God, and we cannot enter into His presence with known sin in our lives. In addition to being a holy God, He is also a merciful God. This means that He can dispense mercy to whomever He chooses. He chooses to show mercy to those who repent of their sins and accept His Son as both Savior and Lord. What God forgives, He also forgets – is there a greater promise than this? I don’t believe so.

God promises to blot out our transgressions “and remember them no more.”  Why would He do that? Why would He be so merciful, forgiving, and kind to those of us who turn our backs on Him?  Believe it or not, He says that it is “for my own sake.” In other words, He forgives us because He loves us, we who continue to fail Him in so many ways.

Teacher John MacArthur considers the truth found in Isaiah 43:25 to be the “high point of grace” in the Old Testament, and I believe this is true. Once our sins have been confessed, we have the assurance that God will never again dredge them up and parade them around the neighborhood for everybody to see. The fact that God makes the intentional point of forgetting our transgressions is so unlike what we often do – and is nothing short of, well divine.

This promise is reiterated in I John 1:9, where John says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  This doesn’t mean that we will one day stand before the judgment bar of God as those who have never sinned. It just means that our sins will be hidden under the shed blood of Jesus. God will have totally forgiven them . . . blotted them out . . . made them go poof  . . . non-existent . . . forgotten.

All of us forget certain things . . . but so does God! It is an occasion for great rejoicing.

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I checked a book out of the New Hanover County Library recently that dealt with the study of dreams – how we dream, why we dream, and what dreams mean. Most of our dreams come during what is called the REM period of sleep. REM is short for “rapid eye movement.” When the closed eyelids of those who are being studied in the laboratory reveal that rapid eye movement is taking place, they are waked up and asked what they were dreaming about.

Do you dream very often? What kind of dreams do you have? Imagine that after you go to sleep tonight you begin to dream, and in your dream you find yourself face to face with the unseen enemy, the big bad one, the devil himself.  Like a twenty-first century Bruce Lee – or Buffy, the TV vampire slayer – you kick, punch, throw a right hook, followed by a left hook, and show off several other impressive moves. Your offence is so effective, so successful, that Satan cowers and slinks off with his tail between his legs, promising never to bother you again.

What kind of dream would that be? For one thing, it would be fantasy, for Satan isn’t afraid of you – or anybody else either. He doesn’t give up that easily. Check out James 4:7 – “Submit yourselves, then to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” It says nothing about a person’s ability to deal a hammer blow to the enemy. Nor does it say anything about engaging in a one-on-one combat with Satan. What it promises is that Satan will retreat, run away, make a break for it – in other words, to skedaddle (which means to flee in panic). All you have to do is resist him.

But why does Satan flee? Are you so threatening to him that he is frightened? Does he, not to mention his many minions, tremble at the very sight of you?  Don’t believe it, for it isn’t true.  It is the presence of our always victorious Lord who causes him to back up and hightail it.  Look at the rest of James 4:7 – the promise takes effect . . . when we have completely submitted ourselves to God. Without God, we are puny weaklings. We can rant and rave at the enemy until we are ready to collapse, but he will just stand his ground, mocking, jeering, and making a demonic nuisance of himself.

Resistance implies a force pushing against something. When that force is Satan, and that something is you, you can be certain he will be pushing hard.  How will you handle temptation when it comes your way? Will you recall the promise of God found in James 4:7? If so, you will not have to fight Satan by yourself. The moment you became a Christian, God became your shield and rampart (Psalm 91:4), an impenetrable wall that does not give way, no matter how much force comes against it. God provides for you an invisible barrier of supernatural energy, a fail-safe repellent that sends invading marauders in the opposite direction. With God behind you, you have a perfect formula for resistance.

When you genuinely and totally submit to God, you relinquish to Him all control of your life. You say to the Father, as Jesus did, “Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). In submitting to God, you give Him permission to fight your battles for you.  In fact, the word translated “submit” in the original Greek implies being under the command and authority of a military leader. When you have submitted to God, you step aside and God, your Commander-in Chief, comes to stand between you and your enemy – whether that enemy is Satan or a flesh-and-blood person.

There are some things about Satan and the way he operates that Christians should never forget. He first likes to make friends with parents in order to make it easier to get their boys and girls. He doesn’t care what we worship, as long as it is not God. He is not afraid of a Bible that is covered by dust. He uses vacant minds as dumping grounds. He is never too busy to rock the cradle of a sleeping Christian, and there are lots of sleeping Christians – therefore, he never sleeps, nor is he unemployed. He is perfectly willing for us to confess Christianity as long as we do not practice it. He can quote lots of Scripture for his purpose. For every sin he is ready to provide you with a good excuse.

If you haven’t met Satan lately, it could be because you are going in the same direction he is going. If you are serious about serving the Lord, you will definitely run into him big time. When you do, don’t try to fight him by yourself – resist him, and let the Son of God fight for you. And know this: Satan is on the losing side. Do you wonder how I know this is true? I’ve read the end of the story. It is found in the book of Revelation.

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