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The Focus of Our Faith

The Focus of Our Faith

The context of Psalm 3 deals with David’s great betrayal at the hands of his own son, Absalom, whom he dearly loved (2 Sam. 18:33).  Absalom had driven his father from the holy city, Jerusalem, and was seeking to usurp his kingdom and take his life.  David’s guilt as a failed father towards his rebellious son must have been unbearable.  Adding to that the guilt of his own sin with Bathsheba and the murder of his close friend, and her husband, Uriah the Hittite (2 Sam. 11:15), may have caused David to feel Absalom’s actions were justified, a fitting penalty for the sins of David’s past.

The future looked bleak.  There was division within his own family.  To regain his kingdom he would have to wage war against his own son, forcing him to repay evil for evil to the one he loved.  God was grieved and David was unsure as to what to do.


Our Focus

There is much for us to learn about God and our own problems in this psalm.  Note, for example, what happens when we, like David, focus on our problems and what others say about our situation:

Psalm 3:1-2 – LORD, how they have increased who trouble me!  Many are they who rise up against me. Many are they who say of me, “There is no help for him in God.”

But now, the focus has shifted from what is before us to our God and all He has promised.  You can almost feel David’s faith begin to grow:

Psalm 3:3-4 – But You, O LORD, are a shield for me, my glory and the One who lifts up my head.  I cried to the LORD with my voice, and He heard me from His holy hill.

As Corrie ten Boom once said, “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.”

David realizes God has not abandoned him.  He has cried out to his Lord, our Lord, and his voice had been heard.  God was still on His throne and He still loved his son, David, no matter how desperate the circumstances.  The same truth applies to each of us when we get our focus off our problems— the immediate, the overwhelming, and focus instead on what lasts— the Eternal, the Lord, the Sovereign One.

And the result of that change in focus?  No more fear.  Rest and peace in the face of turmoil.  Confidence in Him and Him alone.  “God’s got this. I’ve nothing to fear.”

Psalm 3:5-6 – I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the LORD sustained me.  I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.

After all, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).  Great question.  Answer, no one.  Not even Absalom.

This thought brings great courage to David.  God is not finished with him yet.  Today and tomorrow are just setbacks.  But God’s plan endures to all generations.

Finally, that confidence is expressed in action.  David, and each of us, find our prayers going from “Help me, please, for I am dying” to “Arise, O Lord” and do what You promised to do for your children.

Psalm 3:7-8 – Arise, O LORD; Save me, O my God!  For You have struck all my enemies on the cheekbone; You have broken the teeth of the ungodly.  Salvation belongs to the LORD.  Your blessing is upon Your people

Did you get that? “Your (God) blessing is upon Your (God) people.”
 

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Day Two:  Sending Me to You in the Form of Him

Day Two: Sending Me to You in the Form of Him

Today is the second day of a 40 day adventure with the Lord.

Yesterday, day one, was a good day.  I experienced much peace and was able to pray more than I have in a long time.  It seemed like my prayers were effortless and more natural and I had a deeper sense of His presence with me.  I know this is only the beginning, but I am greatly encouraged.  I was able to spend more time in prayer and meditation on His Word as my mind seemed to be more in tune to spiritual things, rather than carnal things.  I find it amazing that after just one day, I can already see changes in my life.

Today I arose early, a little before 6:00am.  For some reason I couldn’t turn my mind off.  I was thinking about our conversation yesterday, how the Lord wants to speak with each of us, with me and you, in a more personal, intimate way that maybe we have not allowed Him to do in the past.  I am convinced He wants to reveal His heart to us in ways we’ve never understood or experienced before.

This is what my desire is with Him.  And this is what I have been praying this time with Him will accomplish.


My Fear of the Holy Spirit

Then I started thinking about my fear of the Holy Spirit.  No, you heard that right.  To be completely honest, I’ve always been a little frightened of the Holy Spirit.  Why?  Because I don’t understand Him.  I find it difficult to get close to Him.  I can’t get an image of Him in my mind and He’s hard for me to relate to.

God the Father, not so much.  From the Old Testament, I see Him as unapproachable, fire and smoke and thunder from Mt. Sinai erupting like an active volcano (Ex. 19:18).  When I think of His voice, I see it booming from the heavens, loud, frightening, much like I viewed the Wizard of Oz when I was a young child.  To me, He seems more like a boss, or a ruling monarch, and less like a father.  I know much of my caricature of God is based on my own dysfunctional and somewhat abusive relationship with my own father.  And I know I’ve imposed character traits and motives on Him that belonged to my earthly father, and that’s unfair and wrong.  But that’s something we’ll have to talk about at another time.

Jesus, on the other hand, I understand much better.  I see Him walking the dusty roads of Galilee in the New Testament and I long to be there with Him.  I see Him having endless patience with people like Peter and Thomas and me.  I greatly admire His compassion for the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11), and His love for the Samaritan woman He met at Jacob’s well (John 4:5-30).  I wonder what it must have been like to minister with Him as He unselfishly met the needs of people He didn’t even know when He multiplied the five loaves and two fish and fed them all (Matt. 14:13-21).  And I see Him encouraging His disciples into a deeper life of faith when He beckoned Peter to step out of the boat and walk on water with Him (Matt. 14:28-32).

Jesus I like.  Better yet, Jesus I love and want to emulate my life after Him.  I want to devote my life trying to walk like Jesus, to live like Jesus, and to love like Jesus.  Why?  Because He’s left me a tangible, written example of who He is in the Scriptures.

But the Holy Spirit?  I’m not so sure.  He’s wispy, like an apparition, and hard to get a reading on.  I know He’s an equal member of the Godhead, fully God, yet I’ve always viewed Him as some sort of power that emanates from God the Father or is used by Jesus the Son.  Like He was some sort of possession of the Father and the Son, and not co-equal with them.

I’m not sure why I feel that way about the Holy Spirit.  Maybe it’s because I have a hard time getting close to something I don’t understand.  For me, at least, my mind rules most of my life and my emotions and passions are left subject to what I think.  When my mother died a couple of years ago, for example, I remember sitting at my desk asking myself how I was supposed to feel about what just happened.  What’s the proper emotion?  In other words, I was going to mentally determine the proper response with my intellect and then allow my emotions to feel what my mind gave them permission to feel.  It’s no wonder I’ve had such a hard time relating to the Holy Spirit.

So, what’s the Holy Spirit like?  How can I learn to relate to the One who lives in me when I often see Him like a ghost, or something like a mist or a force that emanates from some other being— that being God.
 

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Day One:  Learning to Hear His Voice

Day One: Learning to Hear His Voice

Today is the first day of a 40 day adventure.

No, this adventure is not about a mission trip to Haiti or a hike down the Appalachian Trail.  This 40 day adventure is a time specifically set aside to discover more about the Lord and to specifically learn to hear Him speak.  That’s right, it’s my desire during this adventure to draw closer to the Lord than I’ve ever been before and to learn to hear His voice.  I’m not talking about hearing Him speak to me through His Word, which is wonderful.  But I long for something more personal, more intimate.  I long to hear Him speak to me personally as He has others in Scripture, and as He has also done for me several times in the past.  In fact, those time of hearing His voice are some of the high points in my spiritual life.

I know what many of you may be thinking.

“Oh, here we go again.  It looks like somebody else is wanting to move beyond the sufficiency of Scripture.  I guess Scripture’s not enough for Steve and now He wants more than God has already provided for him.  Maybe he wants an encounter like the one described in The Shack or to hear God speak like Sarah Young claims in Jesus Calling or something like that.  Doesn’t he know that God only speaks today through His Word?”

No, I don’t know that.  In fact, I see many places in Scripture where God speaks to His children in other ways than through the Scriptures.  Let me give you a few examples.


The Damascus Road

In Acts 9, we find Jesus verbally speaking to Paul on the Damascus Road.  It wasn’t just a command or some proclamation declared from heaven.  It was a conversation where both He and Paul spoke to each other.  And in this conversation Jesus did not only speak through the written Word, which for Paul would have been the Old Testament.  Instead, He verbally communicated His personal message and will to Paul that could not be found from reading, for example, the Psalms or Isaiah.

Acts 9:4-6 – Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”  And he said, “Who are You, Lord?”  Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”  So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”  Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

“Got it,” you say.  “But that’s the apostle Paul.  He was an apostle and could therefore hear God speak to him verbally in ways He doesn’t do today, to anybody, ever.  You and I are not apostles.  We don’t even have apostles anymore.  So how God spoke to Paul back then was just for Paul— and not for us today.”

Really?  So how do we explain God speaking, just a few verses later, to a non-apostle named Ananias?  He was not an apostle like Paul.  He was just a faithful disciple of Jesus who lived in Damascus that God had chosen for a specific task.  And how was Ananias to know what specific task God had in store for him unless, somehow and in some way, God spoke to him personally.
 

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The If / Then in Repentance

The If / Then in Repentance

We have previously talked about the importance of understanding our responsibility regarding the if / then passages in Scripture.  In these, the promise of God (then) is contingent upon some completed action on our part (if).  One always precedes the other.  One is always contingent upon the other.  When the if is satisfied, the promised then is realized.  But the opposite is also true.  If there is no if, there will be no then.  If no condition is met, there will be no fulfillment of the promise.  It’s Contract Law, 101.

For example, when Peter preached his powerful sermon on the day of Pentecost that ushered in the birth of the church, he closed his message with an if / then promise.  Let’s look at this in context.  First, Peter concludes his message with a statement about Jesus and their guilt in rejecting and crucifying Him.

Acts 2:36 – “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified (now it’s personal), both Lord and Christ.”

Then, under the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, the people cry out for an answer.  They long and seek for salvation, some deliverance from the guilt of their sin.

Acts 2:37 – Now when they heard this (the words Peter just spoke), they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”

Peter answers their question with an if / then promise regarding repentance and salvation.  They must do something (if) to receive salvation and the forgiveness of their sins (then).  If they fail to do what is required of them (if – repentance), then salvation does not follow (then). Watch how this plays out.
 

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The If / Then Promises of God

The If / Then Promises of God

If your resolution this year is to “understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God” (Prov. 2:5), then you must begin this vision quest by understanding how the if / then passages in Scripture work.  Simply put, you do the ifs, and God provides the thens.  One is contingent upon another.  One comes first, and the other follows after.  One is a condition that must be met, the other is the result of meeting that condition.  One is your responsibility, and the other is His.

Consider this passage from Proverbs 2:

Proverbs 2:1-5 – My son, if (condition) you receive my words, and (if you) treasure my commands within you, (to what extent) so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; Yes, if (condition) you cry out for discernment, and (if you) lift up your voice for understanding, if (condition) you seek her as silver, and (if you) search for her as for hidden treasures; then (result of meeting the condition) you will understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.

As you can see, the promise of understanding the fear of the Lord and finding the knowledge of God only comes after the if conditions are met.  One is contingent upon another.  Meeting the if condition is the key that unlocks the then promise,  If I want to understand the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God, then I must meet the condition set forth to receive that promise.  It is foolishness, according to this passage, to assume we will receive the promise without meeting the condition.
 

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Who Are These Guys?

Who Are These Guys?

Before we look at the book of Acts, let’s step back a bit and examine those chosen by the Lord to be His disciples.  Let’s look closely at the cast of unlikely characters Jesus assembled to make up His church.  Let’s see if we can determine what it was about them that He used to build His church (Matt. 16:18) and what it is about us that needs to change to be more like them.

First, unlike us today, Jesus did not spend His time building an army of half-hearted, mega-church followers whose spiritual lives were a mile wide and an inch deep. Jesus wasn’t interested in creating multi-campus institutions, church brands, best-selling books, popular podcasts, blogs, or prime-time television shows. He could care less about how many Twitter followers He had or His likes on Facebook.

Jesus focused His ministry on a handful of common men that He poured His life into, 24/7.  And He entrusted these men to faithfully share His message after He was gone.


Least Likely to Succeed

None of those Jesus chose were rich nor educated.  None of them were well-trained.  Some were fishermen, some probably merchants.  Others were common, day laborers.  One was a tax collector.  Another a closet revolutionary, a zealot.  They were just ordinary, blue-collar people from rural Galilee and the surrounding areas.  The only thing they had in common was that they had very little in themselves that would point to future success.

But Jesus called each of them unto Himself.  And as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”
 

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Our Permission to Dream

Our Permission to Dream

What if God was bigger than the box in which we try to place Him?  Wouldn’t that be incredible?  You and I both know that He is bigger than anything we can imagine.  But nevertheless, we have a tendency to always try to place Him in a box that allows us to understand Him on our terms.

Think of the boxes in which we try to place Him.  We have our experience box that rejects God moving in any way other than what we have experienced in the past.  This box makes our experience with Him as the defining element of His character and the full expression of His will.  God can never be bigger than He has been in our past. He becomes one-dimensional, myopic, and is not allowed to do anything that makes us feel uncomfortable or stretches and expands our faith.

We have our denominational box that limits God to the tenets of our theology, our sacred creeds, or our agreed upon statements of faith.  But this box assumes we know all there is to know about the Unknowable One, the One who defies human description.  This box cannot be true.  For how can the created know all there is to know about the Creator, no matter how infested the created is with pride and arrogance and self-exaltation?

Then we have our spiritual maturity box.  This box states that the way God is dealing with us right now, at this present moment, at our current level of maturity, is how He deals with everyone.  Why?  Because we can’t accept the fact there may be others who are more mature than we are in the things of the Lord.  That would make us feel uncomfortable.  Or, worse yet, convicted.  And there are other boxes we conjure with different labels.  We have our faith box, our feelings box, and the like.  But God cannot be contained by the constraints of our fear or insecurity.

God is beyond all that.  He’s incredible.  He’s beyond comprehension.  He cannot be understood or described by mere human words.  It is foolishness to assume we can know the Almighty and all His ways.  Why?  Because He says about Himself in Isaiah,

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD.  “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Often we find ourselves hamstrung and impotent in our spiritual lives, when compared with Scripture, because of the limitations we place on our God by the box we try to force Him into.
 

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Just Say No

Just Say No

The Nike slogan, Just Do It, was reportedly coined in 1988 in an advertising agency meeting and was inspired, according to Dan Wieden, by convicted killer Gary Gilmore’s last words before he was executed by a firing squad at the Utah State Prison on January 17, 1977. And this classic slogan, Just Do It, has been the most recognized and successful trademarks in the history of athletic footwear.

The loving father in Proverbs 1:10 is also coining a phrase for his naive and inexperienced young son in regards to sin. And just like the Nike slogan, the father’s words are crisp, pointed, and direct. “My son, if sinners entice you, Do Not Consent.” Or, to put it in Nike terminology: Just Don’t Do It.

Don’t Give In. Don’t Give Up. Do Not Consent. Just Say No. Just Don’t Do It.


Do Not Consent

This is one of the classic statements in Scripture regarding man’s free will. For decades, for nearly a century in fact, there has been much debate regarding the Sovereignty of God versus the Free Will of Man. This debate has basically centered on the question of “Where does the Sovereignty of God end and the Free Will of Man begin? Or, “How can God be sovereign in all things yet give free will to men?” For to us, seeing only what fallen men can see, sovereignty and free will appear contradictory. Like polar opposites. Different sides to different coins.

And this is never more true than in trying to understand the doctrine of salvation.

Does God, as the Scriptures teach, “choose us in Him and before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4) and then give us faith to place in Him based on His choice of us and not our choice in Him? In other words, was Jesus truthful when He said “you did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain”? (John 15:16). Or do we, by carefully examining the claims of Christ, freely choose Him as our Savior and, in doing so, secure our salvation by our own free will? Does the gift of salvation come by our choice in Him or by His choice of us? And if the latter, what is that choice based on? Our merits? Our future potential? Maybe our standing in the community? Or maybe it’s our ability to comprehend and understand all the facets of the atonement and therefore choose, based on our own inherent intellect, to believe His claims about Himself and place our faith in Him?

That all sounds good. But none of it is really true, no matter how true it may seem to us.
 

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The Inevitability of Temptation

The Inevitability of Temptation

In the church today, especially in the West, we peddle the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the “good news” as it is known, yet conspicuously fail to tell our young, trusting converts the “bad news” that comes along with the total package of salvation. And that “bad news” is that right now, as a believer, as a Christian, as one redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, you have an enemy. And your enemy is powerful, numerous, well-equipped and an experienced, battle-hardened veteran ready to fulfill his evil mission for your life— to “steal, and to kill, and to destroy” you and all Christ has done for you (John 10:10).

And our enemy, Satan, works tirelessly, 24/7 to accomplish his task.

In fact, the neglected truth of the Gospel is that once someone passes from death to life, once they’ve been “delivered from the power of darkness and conveyed into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Col. 1:13), a huge bulls eye is placed on their chest inviting and directing all the evil in the world to come and test this new Man of God.

But this reality should be of no surprise for someone who knows the Scriptures. For they promise us that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Tim . 3:12) and that we shouldn’t be surprised by or “think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you” (1 Peter 4:12). Why? Because Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18) and because “I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). Jesus then continues by assuring us we will face persecution and suffering because “if they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20) and when these times of testing come, we should “rejoice and be exceedingly glad” (Matt. 5:12).
 

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No Equality in Heaven

No Equality in Heaven

We live in a time where people fight for equal rights.  The right to vote, the right to work, the right to say what we want, marry who we want, do what we want, the right to live, and the right to die.  It seems like we all want to be equal in our own eyes with everybody else with no one standing out among the crowd and no one having more than another.

This drive for equality has now invaded almost every facet of our lives.  We don’t give trophies to the winners in Little League Baseball anymore.  Why?  Because everyone must be equal, which means no winners and no losers.  So everyone gets a trophy for just participating, for simply showing up, for buying a glove and a pair of cleats.  And by not honoring the winners, the ones who deserve the honor, who earned the recognition, it’s somehow supposed to make us all feel special.

We have to dumb down the tests in school because some students work harder than others and are more concerned about their grades and future.  And others… well, not so much.  So we make the tests easier and more generic for the less motivated students so they won’t feel bad or marginalized when others are rewarded for their diligence and study.  After all, everyone should get an A.  Everyone should feel good about themselves and no one should do any better than anyone else.  Why?  Because we’re all striving for equality.  And equality always tends to settle at the lowest common denominator.

But that’s not how life functions in the real world.  It’s the best and brightest, the ones who work the hardest, the ones who put in the long hours, and the ones who continually strive to learn more who are rewarded with the raise, the promotion, and the corner office.  It’s not the sluggard, the lazy, the half-hearted that’s honored in our society for their accomplishments.  The rewards and accolades go to the few who work diligently for them, and not to the many who don’t.

And as sobering as it may sound, the Kingdom of Heaven functions in much the same way.
 

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