Sunday, February 15, 2009

When God Tests Us

Many people don’t think about God testing us, but He does. Many passages in God’s Word speak of God testing us. Consider the following passages:

“The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the LORD your God you must follow, and Him you must revere. Keep His commands and obey him; serve Him and hold fast to Him.” Dt. 13:3-4

“Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Jas 1:3-4

“Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.” Lu. 8:13

“We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.” 1 Thess 2:4-5

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” Jas 1:12

“Before the Word of the Lord came to pass, God tested Joseph” (Ps. 105:19)

When God tests us, He is putting us through an event to see if we will pass or fail. Just like tests in school, if we pass, we show we know the material. If we fail, we show we do not know the material and need to take the test again … after a further period of preparation.

In God’s Word, Joseph is an example of someone who passed a test, and David is an example of someone who failed a test. Joseph passed what I call the test of sovereignty: would he trust in God’s sovereignty despite many unpleasant circumstances? Joseph did pass his many severe tests that took place over a 13-year span. Because he passed the tests, he not only experienced closeness with God, but he also was used to save the lives of many. On the contrary, King David failed the test of purity when he committed adultery with Bathsheba. Though he was personally forgiven and restored to fellowship with God (see Ps. 51), a seed (no pun intended) of sexual immorality spread throughout his entire family. Failing a test resulted in forfeited fruit.

Are YOU being tested by the Lord right now? Perhaps your character is being tested by a difficult situation? Maybe you are being tempted in a moral area. A “hard to love” person may be testing whether or not you will love in a 1 Cor. 13 manner. Whatever test you may be going through, remember how much is at stake, namely your walk with God and your fruit for the kingdom.

In order to pass the tests that God gives you, I suggest the following:

1, Be in the Word.
2. Be vulnerable with at least one godly person for support,counsel, and prayer.
3. Pray for God to help you.
4. Don’t give in to your flesh, but abide in Christ.
5. Depend totally on the power of the Holy Spirit in all of the above suggestions.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this blog.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

We Have Everything We Need

2 Peter 1:3 tells us that we have everything we need for life and godliness. Really? Yes, we already have everything we need. It doesn't say we will get everything we need if we try harder or obey perfectly. No. We have it now in Christ. At the moment of salvation we immediately received everything we need to live an abundant and godly life.

This being the case, what are some of the things we have that are essential for life and godliness?

1. The indwelling presence of Jesus Christ through the person of the Holy Spirit. You see, the Holy Spirit is the One who empowers us to live the Christian life. We cannot live this life in our own strength, and God doesn't even want us to try to do it on our own. He wants us to live in daily dependence on Him. And don't forget, Romans 8:18 tells us we have the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead. Powerful stuff, indeed!

2. The many promises of God in His Word. 2 Peter 1 mentions how we have His "precious and magnificant promises." It is as we know and claim scripture that we can live an abundant and godly life. Here is how it works: we have a struggle or a need. Rather than get frustrated or try to overcome it on our own, we go to God's Word, find a promise related to our situation, pray it, and hold fast to that promise until it comes to play in our life. God loves for us to claim scripture for specific situations in our life. What need or struggle do you have that you need to go to God's Word and find some promises about?

3. The Body of Christ - the church. The minute we receive Christ, we become a part of the body of Christ. His body is filled with people that can help and support us in our walk. God does not want us to be "lone ranger" Christians. He made us to need others, and the wise Christian is the one who intentionally seeks to develop deep relationships with other Believers. The church is one of the most under-utilized resources in the believer's life.
4. A new identity in Christ. I am convinced that one of the things that keep so many from experiencing the abundant life is an unbiblical self-image. Satan is the accuser of the brethren, and he constantly feeds us lies about who we are. He tells us we are no good, ugly, unloved, and worthless. On the other hand, God says we are loved, valued and accepted unconditionally. Our identity is not based on what we do but who we are in Christ. Rev. 12 tells us we overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony. For more truth on this, read Neil Anderson's Victory Over the Darkness.
To conclude, be encouraged today that as a follower of Jesus you already have everything you need for life and godliness. I am sure you can think of more aspects of what we have in Christ that make up 2 Peter 1:3. If so, just add them to the comment section!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Don't Let Your Love Grow Cold

I really enjoy drinking coffee in the morning. There is something soothing about sipping on a hot cup of coffee as I spend time with the Lord. I must confess that I have a pet peeve when it comes to my coffee – I like it hot and I like it to stay hot. However, this seldom occurs. I am amazed how quickly my cup of coffee can get cold. Often I have to put it back into the microwave to reheat it … several times throughout the morning.

Unfortunately, our hearts can be like a cup of coffee – quickly digressing from hot to lukewarm to cold.

The ease of which our hearts can grow cold concerns me, especially when I read Mathew 24. Of all the signs of the end times, the one that challenges me the most is when Jesus said, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Mt. 24:12-13).

I am bothered that Jesus said “the love of most will grow cold.” This means a higher percentage of people will experience a decline in their spiritual temperature than will experience an increase in their spiritual temperature. Ouch. I don’t know about you, but I sure do not want to be one that Jesus finds with a cold heart when He returns.

On top of this, remember what the book of Revelation says will happen to those who are neither hot nor cold: He will spew them out of His mouth (Rev. 3:16)!

What kind of love is Jesus speaking of here? Since He said the most important commandments are to love the Lord with all our heart and to love our neighbor as ourselves, it is safe to assume He is addressing our love for God and others.

So, if “the love of most will grow cold”, what are some contributing factors to this eternally tragic spiritual condition? I can think of at least six. You may come up with more. Here are my six:

1. Neglecting certain vital spiritual disciplines, such as time with God, meditating on the Word, prayer, fellowship with others, service, etc. If the liquid in a cup is not externally stimulated in some manner, it will get cold. Spiritual disciplines are one way of externally stimulating our heart.
2. Allowing a situational difficulty set our heart against the Lord. When we go through something challenging (i.e. health issue, divorce, loss of job, mistreatment by others, death of a loved one, etc.), we can either allow that difficulty to drive us to greater dependence on God or we can take up an offense toward God. The former will lead to growth, the latter will lead to stagnation.
3. Busyness in life. Here is the one most Americans are vulnerable to – getting so busy with life and demands that we simply neglect our relationship with God. Like any relationship, it takes effort for it to continue growing and deepening.
4. Materialism. Jesus said “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Mt. 4:19). The question to ask with possessions is, “Do I own it or does it own me?” Perhaps the current recession in America is God’s way of weaning us from the grip of materialism?
5. The sins of the flesh and desire for pleasure. We are a pleasure-crazy culture. So much of what people focus on is pleasure, whether sexual, physical, emotional or relational. We spend a great deal of time, effort and money or what gives us pleasure. This can lead to a very self oriented life which will cause one’s heart to grow cold toward the Lord. Josh McDowell once said that sexual sin is the number one cause of people digressing spiritually.
6. Insulating ourselves from the pain of others. Many of us purposefully isolate ourselves from the hurt and pain of others. We don’t want to know what is really going on in other’s lives so that we can keep a safe distance – not having to show real care. However, Jesus wants our heart of compassion to stay hot by seeing real needs and responding to those needs where we are able.

Since these are some of the reasons people’s love will grow cold, what can we do to prevent this from occurring? Like my cup of coffee, I need to repeatedly put my heart in the microwave of the Spirit. How do I do this? I have six suggestions:

1. Hang around others with a hot heart. Fellowship with godly people is so important in our walk with God. Just like a campfire stays burning when the logs are together, so do we burn brighter when we are around other committed Christians.
2. Spend quality time with God. This goes without saying, but I must still say it. No other practice is more important than spending quality time with God every day in the Word and prayer.
3. Read biblically-accurate and Spirit-anointed books and articles. One reason I get David Wilkerson’s monthly mailings is because of how he always stirs my heart.
4. Intentionally expose yourself to needs. One must have balance here. You can become overwhelmed with needs and burn-out trying to meet all needs. Jesus did not respond to every need, but He spent enough time with hurting people to keep a compassionate heart and respond as the Father directed Him. I just learned of a ministry in my area to the homeless, and I am planning to check it out.
5. Deal with sins as they occur. Do not let sins build up. Dr. Bill Bright used to call this “keeping short accounts with God.” In other words, confess and repent of any and all sins as they occur in your life. This keeps your heart honest and tender.
6. Get surgery if you need it. When someone has a heart attack, they need surgery. Some Christians have grown so cold in their relationship with God that they need spiritual surgery from a trusted friend, counselor, or pastor.

We must do whatever it takes to insure that our love does not grow cold. This is more important than our retirement account, job, golf score, weekend source of entertainment, getting the best deal on something at the store, or next vacation. Just as we have to be intentional about staying in good physical condition, so do we have to be intentional about maintaining a vibrant relationship with God.

One final thing I must add that applies to all of the above: We cannot make our heart hot for God. This is not a matter of striving in our own flesh to be hot for God. Instead, it is relying on the supernatural power of the Spirit to keep our heart hot for God (see my blog on the “Exchanged Life” for more on this). God must do a divine work in our heart through the power of the Holy Spirit.

So, with all that I have said, perhaps the most important thing you can do for your heart is to honestly admit the condition you are in – whatever that is – and sincerely ask the Holy Spirit to fill you with His presence. The Spirit “works in us both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:1).

Let me know what you think!