A PLACE OF SAFETY
With a world reeling under a pandemic, riots, and the general moral fabric of every society falling apart, where can we find a place where we feel safe? Not just physical safety, but where truth governs what people say and do.
This is a question the king David asked. As you may know, this king started as a young man taking care of his father’s sheep with no problems except a lion and a bear. Most of his life was a series of trials. As a young man, his life was spent running from another king who hated him. Enemies were always pursuing him because he was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14).
At a low point in David’s life, he asked the question, “if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3). You might be asking that question in your own words now. As we pan the chaos in the world today, moral foundations in every segment of culture are being destroyed. Is there anything, we who want righteousness, can do? Look at David’s answer.
“The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven; His eyes see, His eyelids test the children of man” (Psalm 11:4). We can be certain that nothing escapes His eyes and He “will bring every deed into judgment” (Ecclesiastes 12:14).
At the same time, “the Lord tests the righteous” (Psalm 11:5). The danger for us is becoming too preoccupied with the wicked and forget that we too are being tested by Him. As I close this blog, I ask you to hold onto the promise David gives at the end of this Psalm; “For the Lord is righteous; He loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold His face” (11:7). Are you ready to see Him? He is our safety!
ALONE - WITH HIM
As I read again the account of Peter, James and John on the mountain with Jesus when His glory was revealed, I am in awe (Luke 9:28-36). This event left a lasting impression on these men. “The appearance of His face was altered and His clothing became dazzling white” (29). Those familiar with this passage remember that Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus, talking to Him.
What follows is both sleepy disciples and then an untimely suggestion by Peter to “make three tents, one for You, and one for Moses and one for Elijah – not knowing what he said” (33). We could all say a lot about how out-of-touch Peter was with the moment, but what I want us to get to is the way this situation was corrected.
“And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen” (35-36). This is a ‘heavenly adjustment’!
In these days there is a multitude of voices, even some with good thoughts, but if we are not careful, we will become fixated on them and not the Lord. When this happens, we need the voice of God to interrupt our thinking and refocus our attention on what really matters – JESUS!
It is time for all of us to be “found alone” with Him! What really matters is not what everyone is saying about current issues, but what God is saying about His Son and His glory. This will change your words and actions. It will also change your impact on the world.
We can easily understand how Martha felt when Jesus was invited into her home (Luke 10:38-42). The news of Him spread because of His miracles and unique teaching. For Martha, Jesus deserved royal treatment! We are not told details of how she “served,” but it was a major “distraction.”
As many have pointed out, Martha’s serving was not wrong, but she had not weighed its importance in light of this divine visitor “teaching” in her home. Well prepared food, a nicely arranged table and making sure all the guests were ‘at home’ are all good things, but they are meaningless compared to receiving divine instruction that shapes faith.
On the other hand, Mary discerned the she could learn deep spiritual things from Jesus that she could not find anywhere else. It is not that we can live without food, but there are occasions in our lives when we need to make careful choices between what is temporal and what is eternal.
From my years of getting up early and spending time alone with the Lord, gleaning from His Word, and seeking the instruction of the Holy Spirit, I can understand Mary’s choice. These are rich moments I treasure. To make sure those in the house understood Mary’s decision, Jesus defends Mary; “Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (10:42).
I strongly encourage you to rethink your choices. Take a piece of paper and make two columns: TEMPORARY and ETERNAL. Then write down in the appropriate column all the things you do for one day. Would you make any changes in your life? Write down when you will make these changes.
SEEK ONE THING!
Jesus was a man of priorities. In that sense, He clearly set the standard for those who want to follow Him and be His disciples. Without going into detail with each reference, please consider each of these statements made by Jesus and their implication to us today.
Matthew 6:33 – “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”
Matthew 5:24 – “First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift”
Matthew 23:26 – “First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean”
Mark 9:35 – “If anyone would be first, he must be last and servant of all”
Mark 13:10 – “The gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations”
Luke 6:42 – “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly”
Luke 10:5 – “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house”
Each of these references could be a sermon on their own, but what I want us to do in this short blog is to notice that four of these six statements deal with the inner man. What we seek as our highest priority and how pure our motives are will directly impact our relationship with others. When the heart is fixed on God’s priorities first, then we will be reconciled with others and help all men be reconciled to God through the gospel of pure grace.
A THREE-IN-ONE REQUEST
I will get to the Scripture for this blog, but first let me connect the last few blogs with this one. Telling others to “stand firm” is essential, but how do we accomplish that when we are surrounded with so many voices and those who claim to have ‘the truth’ or solutions to problems in this world and confusion in the church?
In some ways, David was a man just like us. He lived in a nation that had rebelled against God over centuries and as a result, they were being mistreated and over-run by other nations. Not only that, he is hired by an illegitimate king chosen by these rebellious people and not God; a mad-man. In such conditions, David asked the Lord for something very unique.
“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4). How interesting that David wraps three requests into one.
The house of the Lord is a place where distractions are removed. In that place, he has the opportunity to give full attention to the Lord, His Word and His glory. There must have been questions in David’s heart that only the Lord could answer. Answers from the Lord would prepare David to face the mess outside. I can personally assure you that being alone with the Lord will equip you for “standing firm” in an evil world.
WHY STAND FIRM?
In all my years in ministry and watching the Christian Church from many angles, I conclude that the times we are in are some of the most difficult. God brought us through the painful separation from a cult. He helped us learn how to RETURN TO SCRIPTURE as the anchor of our faith. Through His mercy, we discovered fellowship with believers who really wanted to base their faith on the Word of God. By His amazing grace, I find myself shoulder to shoulder with brothers and sisters who want nothing except help the Church RETURN to the authority of the Bible and power of the Holy Spirit.
As we are being propelled toward the end of the age, we find ourselves among false teachers, deserters of the way of righteousness, and those who “accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Timothy 4:3). Add to this pain, those who preach a political agenda rather than the gospel that “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).
Paul spoke to us for our times. In seven letters and sixteen times, he uses the phrase “stand firm.” He gives different reasons for standing firm, but the main reason in Ephesians 6:10-18 is because we must “be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (6:11). Our day, like Paul’s, requires followers of Jesus to put on “the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (6:13). We are here to help you “stand firm!”
HIGHEST REASON FOR CONFIDENCE
After writing yesterday’s blog, I thought of the few, and you might be in that number, persons serving the Lord who only want His approval, not man’s. It can feel like a very lonely place. If that is where you are, this blog is for you.
Paul knew this place very well. From the very beginning of his ministry, most in church leadership spoke against him and even became severe critics of Paul and what he preached. We see how he felt as he looks back on many people and events in his ministry that were a challenge to him.
“At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So, I was rescued from the lion’s mouth” (2 Timothy 4:16–17). Jesus promised this in a vision to Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:9-10).
To the eleven disciples, Jesus made this promise; “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). They would all face opposition to the point of sacrificing their lives.
We must never build our confidence on what people say about us. Our confidence must stand alone in the Lord. No wonder Paul gives this strong advice; “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13). This attitude gives confidence to finish our work.
SETTING A HIGH STANDARD
If we are all honest, there is a universal problem we all face; seeking approval from others before making sure we have God’s approval. Paul was very careful in training Timothy so that this point was covered. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
The word “approved” means “to be genuine based on testing; sincere, of good quality, or judged worthy.” We see from the context that this is a “charge…before God” (2:14) which raises the seriousness of verse 15. God is the evaluator and puts each person through HIS test to see if they are approved.
As verses 16 to 18 show, there are self appointed leaders whose agenda is to “lead people into more and more ungodliness and their talk will spread like gangrene.” “Gangrene” is the death of body tissue that spreads unless it is treated immediately – spiritual death in the church.
On the other hand, “rightly handling the word of truth” cleanses from sin and falsehood, and produces life in the body of Christ. That is what God approves in those who lead, serve or minister the Word of God. Paul never looked for approval from man (Galatians 1:10) because it would disqualify him as a servant of Jesus Christ and a preacher of the gospel.
We must set this as our standard. There is no other standard! If we use any other standard, we become double-minded and will receive NOTHING from the Lord (James 1:7). Seeking God’s approval will receive God’s reward; never to be ashamed.
PASS ON THE TOOLS
Like many men, I have some prize tools in my shop that were handed down to me from my father and grandfather. Grandpa was a builder who made very unusual homes, and even a library. What is unique about his tools is that they were made well; made to last; durable. Not only that, he taught me how to use them and they do the job right. I have passed a few of these on to my sons and grandsons with stories that will help them appreciate their value.
Paul had the same attitude toward the principles he taught as a spiritual father. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church” (1 Corinthians 4:16–17). Notice what Paul calls Timothy; “my beloved and faithful child in the Lord.”
It is one thing to give someone the right tools, it’s another to make sure they use them correctly. In his last letter, Paul gave Timothy a lot of credit. “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness” (2 Timothy 3:10).
I have a Paul in my life. I wonder if he would say the same about me? Have I learned those critical lessons for effective, fruitful and God-glorifying ministry? It begins with my personal, private and secret walk with the Lord. What would your “Paul” say about you?
"NOT MANY FATHERS"
It is my custom to send an email to my four sons on Father’s Day morning to thank and encourage them to be godly fathers. Early this morning, I asked the Lord to give me a Scripture that would speak to their hearts in a special way. As I prayed, 1 Corinthians 4:14-17 came to mind.
“I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church” (1 Corinthians 4:14–17).
You may recall the “jealousy and strife among” (3:3) these believers and parties had formed around well-known leaders, but they lacked the critical leadership in spiritual fathers. Paul had become a father to them “through the gospel.” The foundation of the gospel gave Paul a spiritual care for these saints that was able to handle some very difficult and sensitive issues. There are so few spiritual fathers who can father like this, but it is possible. Will you?
I will deal with other points that Paul makes in these verses tomorrow, but for now, it is vital to understand how the gospel addresses every issue in raising children, natural or spiritual. If we are not grounded in the pure gospel of grace, our fathering will turn to legalism and demand without grace and love. Without these, we misrepresent God as Father and promote rebellion.
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