The Long-Suffering of God

The God of the Bible has may characteristics. Honestly, one could use a considerable amount of time simply listing the character traits of God, much less thoroughly defining each one. There is one quality, though, that has been on my heart and mind quite a bit lately. I suppose the reason I have been thinking about it so much is because of how often I need God to exercise this particular quality when dealing with me. I am speaking of the seldom used word, “long-suffering.”

I believe the word “long-suffering” was once used more frequently than it is in today’s culture. I find that I run across this word more often in reading than I do in conversations. Observation tells me that people may tend to use the word “patience” where previous generations may have said “long-suffering.” I believe, however, this word does a much better job of describing the character of God. I believe it reaches a depth not found in the word “patience.”

The definition of “patience,” according to Merriam-Webster, is “bearing pains or trials calmly or without complaint.” Now, that is all well and good, but it seems to me this definition would apply more readily to humans than it would the Sovereign God of the universe. Consider the definition of “long-suffering” from the same source. Long-suffering is defined as “patiently enduring lasting offense or hardship.” Now we are getting somewhere. You will notice the word “patient” is used in the meaning of “long-suffering” so there is certainly a connection between the two words. But I believe the distinction is found in the word “offense.”

The Apostle Paul, under the inspiration and direction of the Holy Spirit, reminds us “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24, CSB). Knowing all have sinned is important, especially when considering the meaning of sin and how it alters one’s relationship with God. The Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament defines sin [Greek = hamartia] as “primarily a failure to achieve a standard (whether culpable or unintentional) in the broadest sense, both as deed and as the nature of the deed.” The key word here is “standard” because…whose standard is it? It is the standard of Jesus Christ.

You see, this is why I am constantly (it seems) being reminded of the long-suffering of God. Every time I personally “fall short” and fail to meet God’s standard in Christ I go through this process of conviction, guilt, self-pity, confession, repentance, forgiveness, and gratitude. It truly is quite the vicious cycle. God is abundantly long-suffering toward His children despite the “lasting offense” they keep causing by sinning against an infinitely holy God. It is this realization to which I came this afternoon. I received a lesson from the Holy Spirit regarding prayer, trust, and faith. Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have been taught this lesson. You would think I would have learned it by now. Hence, my reflection on the long-suffering of God.

So the next time you fail God’s standard of His perfect Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, I offer you this counsel: confess your sin, repent, seek forgiveness, and thank God for his abundant grace and mercy. I serve an awesome, long-suffering God and I am so thankful.

Mike. Out.

The Deeper Life

One of the things that brings me the greatest joy is to see followers of Christ growing in their spiritual walk. I love when believers get closer and closer to Jesus. This includes me, too! It is always so exciting when the Lord draws me into His Word and teaches me something I haven’t noticed before. Times like these continue to build up my faith in Christ and encourage me in my walk with Him.

Reading the Bible is an indispensable ingredient when it comes to spiritual growth and walking with Jesus. In addition, it can prove helpful to read other books written by godly men and women who share your desire to go deeper in their relationship with Christ. This is one of the main reasons I frequently include excerpts from books in my newsletter articles. My goal is always to think critically about what I read and do my best to insure the information I pass on to others is both biblically faithful as well as practically encouraging. I hope to inspire others perhaps to want to read further in one of the books from which I quote.

A.W. Tozer is an author I enjoy reading very much. He was a powerful preacher from the 20th Century and his writing has had a definite impact on my spiritual life. In his book, The Radical Cross, Tozer writes about this “deeper life” and why believers should seek it. He explains, “The fact that so many professed Christians should be concerned with a ‘deeper life’ is tacit evidence that their spiritual experience has not been satisfactory. Many have looked themselves over and have turned away disappointed. When they talked to other professed Christians, they discovered that others were no better off than themselves” (15).

Have you ever been there? Have you ever done an assessment of your spiritual life and not been satisfied? If you have, then you are not alone. All believers will inevitably pass through times of self-conscious doubt. The important thing to remember is we do not need to stay in that place. Tozer gives us some direction on seeking a deeper relationship with Christ. He writes, “To enter upon such a life, seekers must be ready to accept without question the New Testament as the one final authority on spiritual matters. They must be willing to make Christ the one supreme Lord and ruler in their lives. They must surrender their whole being to the destructive power of the cross, to die not only to their sins but to their righteousness as well as to everything in which they formerly prided themselves” (16).

Folks, this is a tall order. It is incredibly challenging. All I can tell you is that it is totally worth it. To find grace and forgiveness from the One who shed His own blood for our sins, the Lord Jesus Christ has every right to require of us anything He chooses. He also has the abundant love and mercy to bless us with anything He chooses. Jesus has never failed to keep a promise. He promises eternal life to those who believe in Him. Trust Him. Follow Him. Seek the deeper life. You will be so glad you did.

Mike. Out.

Depart from me…I never knew you

I observe. I reflect. I analyze. I ponder. Typically, I am slow to conclude. In other words, I often see things and develop a particular opinion, but sometimes I hesitate to settle on a final conclusion due to the necessary implications of that conclusion. Perhaps I do not want to believe the inevitable. Perhaps the obvious truth causes me discomfort. I know what you may be thinking as you read: “What in the world are you talking about?” I’m glad you asked.

I have a growing concern as I observe the culture of Christianity around me. I once heard a statement attributed to Billy Graham saying he believed as many as fifty percent of the people attending local churches on a given Sunday were not truly followers of Christ. This is not to say they lacked the outward appearance of “good church folks,” but it speaks more to the idea that many people may be trusting in something or someone other than the finished work of Christ for their salvation. Now, they may never admit such a charge outright, but their behavior may paint just such a picture. This begs the question, “What does true biblical Christianity look like?”

Almost three years ago I was teaching through the book of Colossians for the student ministry of the church I served. One particular evening we were considering the first portion of chapter two in which we read the key verses of the letter. “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority” (Col 2:9-10). Paul’s central theme here is the supremacy of Christ over all creation. It is this supremacy to which followers of Christ must appropriately respond. A truth central to Christianity surfaces in this passage: a Christian must BELIEVE Christ in order to FOLLOW Christ.

There is, in my opinion, an apparent disconnect between the way Scripture describes a true follower of Christ and the way the American church describes a true follower of Christ. In fact, there appears to be disagreement on what constitutes true biblical conversion. I believe there is no other logical explanation for the growing cultural perception of the church as both impotent and irrelevant. David Platt explains:

According to research (Barna Group, April 10, 2009), many “Christians” no longer believe that God is the supreme Creator and Ruler of the universe. Such “Christians” believe that everyone is god or that maybe god is simply the realization of one’s human potential. Over half of “Christians” don’t believe that the Holy Spirit or Satan is real, and tens of millions of them don’t believe that Jesus is the divine Son of God. Finally, almost half of “Christians” don’t believe the Bible is completely true.

I put Christians in quotation marks for what I hope by now is an obvious reason: such “Christians” are not Christians. It is impossible to follow Jesus yet disregard, discredit, and disbelieve his Word. Simply put, to follow Jesus is to believe Jesus (emphasis mine) (Platt, Follow Me, 77).

Jesus has never lied. His Word is always completely truthful. In addition, the Word of God is the standard by which all truth is judged. This is the critical point which I labored to drive home for those students that night. There is practical value for this truth as well. Friends, we are called to be true disciples of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we cannot afford to cling to any beliefs that are inconsistent with Scripture. It matters not whether we must struggle in order to process certain portions of biblical truth. It does, however, matter whether we are willing to submit to the complete Lordship of Jesus Christ.

This lesson is difficult. I am still in the process of learning this lesson myself, but it must be learned. If I am to claim the name of Christ, then I must submit to His Lordship in every area. This includes, not only my actions, but also my beliefs concerning salvation, justification, sanctification, discipleship and so on. I must always remember that in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3). I do not know better than Jesus, nor will I ever.

Mike. Out.

Discipleship vs. Selfishness

What is the essence of discipleship? What did Jesus intend when He gave us the great commission? I have been feeling for some time now that the church at large has somehow gotten sidetracked from its original purpose. I suspect there could be a variety of reasons for this happening. However, among all the potential causes for the church’s derailment, my gut instinct tells me there was a chief culprit. It is no small coincidence the prime suspect is also the root cause of most, if not all, sin. Selfishness. Somewhere along the way, a little bit at the time, the church has gradually become more and more selfish. Individuals in the body of Christ have gradually given in to the temptation of thinking more and more about themselves and less and less about others. This paradigm shift has many consequences, but there is one aspect that seems to have become more prominent of late. That one aspect is the selfishness that breeds spiritual immaturity and delayed growth. The reason this one aspect of selfishness has become more prominent, in my opinion, is because it affects many other aspects of the church. Let’s examine for a moment how this works itself out in real life.

Have you ever heard of any churches having issues with their music style? Why do you suppose this happens? I’m glad you asked. Every generation has a particular style of music that is contemporary to that particular generation. Many years ago, a church attempted to introduce an instrument into the church to aid in the music program. It was called an organ. This instrument was met with such opposition that after the organ was installed, a group of people sneaked into the church, dismantled the organ from its place in the sanctuary and dumped it into the river. This, by the way, is the same instrument so many people in recent years have fought so vehemently to keep in its place in so many churches. The irony is rich. With the passing of each generation, there is a shift in position. One generation tries to innovate and realize progress while the previous generation fights to keep things as they are. After a few years pass, the generation that was once innovative and progressive becomes the generation fighting against those very things. Why does this happen? Selfishness. People may refuse to let go of things that don’t even belong to them because they would rather be comfortable than reach people with the gospel of Christ in new ways.

Have you ever heard of any churches having issues with their Pastor or staff because they decide to make some changes in the way the church does certain things? Why do you suppose this happens? I’m glad you asked. Whether or not a church is intentional about it, every church is in danger of developing rituals or routines in the way they do things. The true danger here is the longer something is done a certain way, the harder it becomes to evaluate it objectively. When this happens, people get attached to the particular method of ministry instead of getting attached to the mission of making disciples of Jesus. This attachment becomes something of a security blanket of which many people simply refuse to let go. When changes are either proposed or implemented in an area to which they are personally attached, things suddenly become very heated very quickly. Selfishness, in this case, prohibits objectivity in evaluation. Therefore, people begin resorting to rumors, gossip, or personal attacks in an attempt to protect their “pet” ministry because they are simply too selfish to let go of something regardless of how ineffective or out of date it may have become. It is always unfortunate when leaders who have been called and ordained by God are painted as the “bad guys” simply because some people are too spiritually immature and selfish to see the big picture. On the flip side, however, it is equally unfortunate that there have been many ungodly pastors over the years who have gone about making changes in the wrong ways. They have not taken time to build relationships and love people. They have communicated poorly or not at all. The unintended consequence is that now it is sometimes difficult for God’s people to trust their leaders.

These are just two examples, but let me go back to where I started. I began with two questions. What is the essence of discipleship? What did Jesus intend when He gave us the great commission? I believe their answers are inseparable. The essence of what Jesus intended when He commissioned the church was exemplified with crystal clear clarity by the Savior Himself during His earthly ministry. He chose twelve men. In Lecrae’s song “After the Music Stops” he puts it this way: “The teaching is a process it’s not overnight, and it’s not a stage and a mic, it’s life on life. Christ walked with twelve, ate with twelve, taught the twelve, shaped the twelve, invested in them well, you could say that He made the twelve, who made many more, who made plenty more, now it’s on you and me if there’s any more.” You see, the great commission is not about making converts to Christianity. It’s about making disciples of Christ. This means conversion is not the destination, it’s the origin.

Here are the fundamentals of the great commission. Jesus doesn’t command us to go anywhere. He presumes His followers are already going to be on the move. This is explained by the word translated “go” being an aorist participle, which means “having gone,” that is related to the main verb of the sentence. The imperative command of the great commission is to “make disciples of all nations.” Once this is established, Jesus delineates how we are to go about fulfilling His command. We are to baptize those who have professed Christ as Lord in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are then to teach them to observe all that He has commanded us. He gives us the confidence we will need to carry out this task by reminding us He is with us always, even to the end of the age. Having a clear understanding of the specific task given to the body of Christ, I should draw a few closing conclusions.

First, the blame for the presence of baby Christians in the church must be laid squarely on the church itself. We have become so preoccupied with making converts (and sometimes not even concerned about doing that) that we have neglected to make disciples. Second, something can and must be done to intentionally re-engage the disciple making process. Finally, the primary solution, I believe, for a problem of this magnitude is the powerful Word of God. I am reminded in Hebrews 4:12 that “the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” I am further told in Hebrews 5:13-14 that “everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.”

I believe it’s time for a change in the menu of the church. I believe it’s time for believers to pray earnestly for the church that it would be actively engaged in fulfilling its divine purpose of disciple-making. Ultimately, I believe it is time for people everywhere who claim the name of Jesus to start feasting on some solid food and grow up. One way this can happen is if men of God will plant their feet, square their shoulders, and proclaim “thus saith the LORD.” In other words, I believe it’s time for Pastors everywhere to preach and teach the whole counsel of God without backing up or backing down.

I have decided…I will.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Mike. Out.

In Step with the Spirit

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions,21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  -Galatians 5:16-24 (ESV)

The life of a Christ-follower proves to be filled with challenges. One could make merely a cursory review of the Apostle Paul’s epistles to see some examples of these challenges. Perhaps the word “battles” would be more appropriate. Paul, in the seventh chapter of Romans, speaks of “another law” in his members “waging war against the law of [his] mind” (Rom 7:23). He refers to this constant struggle against sin whereby he labors to do good in the face of fierce opposition. I must confess: I can sympathize with his struggle. I often find myself engaged in a battle wherein I know what is right. I know what is good. It is precisely at this moment, however, that I am opposed most vigorously by the enemy of my soul. So how does one navigate through this battlefield victoriously?

Paul poses this important question in verse twenty-four. He states, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Paul then answers his own question in the first portion of verse twenty-five. He concludes, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” He elaborates in the first two verses of Chapter eight, saying, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (emphasis mine). This mention of the Spirit becomes crucial to the believer’s spiritual battle plan. This plan is brought into specific relief in Paul’s inspired words to the Galatians.

How can one say no to the sinful desires of the flesh in favor of the glorious desires of the indwelling Spirit of God? The believer must walk by the Spirit. In other words, the believer must daily, hourly, even minute by minute, make a conscious decision to submit to the power and leadership of the Holy Spirit. This is how one is able to “walk by the Spirit,” as Paul says in Galatians 5:16. This volitional act is facilitated by continually and consistently feasting on the riches of the Word of God. Foolish indeed would be the believer who presumed he could “walk by the Spirit” without daily taking up the “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Eph 6:17). I firmly believe a direct correlation exists between one’s personal devotional habits and one’s ability (or empowerment) to “walk by the Spirit,” thus experiencing the victory secured by the blood of Christ on their behalf.

I base this firm belief on the truth of Scripture, but also on my own personal experience. I have found, in a very real and practical sense, I am most equipped to face the daily battles with sin when I have spent the most time feasting on the abundant riches of Scripture. Conversely, I have found I am ill-equipped to face the daily battles with sin when I have spent the least time in the Word of God. I can tell you from personal experience how heart-breaking and gut-wrenching it is to choose the lie of sin over the truth of Christ. I suspect, while reading this blog post, you have called to mind unfortunate instances in your own life in which you “have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). Moments such as these are no fun.

The stark contrast Paul describes between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:19-23) should give us sufficient motivation toward obedience. The works of the flesh only result in condemnation and separation from God. Paul explains, “Those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:21b). There is no law, however, against the fruit of the Spirit since there is no law against living a godly life. The bookends framing this passage of Scripture are quite instructive toward keeping in step with the Spirit. To walk by the Spirit provides a great benefit to the believer. Paul explains, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal 5:16). God calls each believer to demonstrate their faith and repentance in word and deed. While this sounds like a herculean task, we must remember by whose power we are strengthened to walk by the Spirit in the first place.

Paul ends this passage by reminding the believer of the forensic truth of Christianity. He concludes, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24). You may be wondering, “When have I ‘crucified’ my flesh?” I am glad you asked. Paul already reminded the believer of their standing before God in Christ. He declares, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal 2:20).

Take heart, believer. You have been crucified with Christ.

Walk by the Spirit. Live in His victory.

By His grace and for His glory,

Mike. Out.