Last week I gave a talk to an AWANA group to help them understand that no matter how different they feel, God made them special, with a purpose, and doesn’t make mistakes.
People Can Do Amazing Things
Did you watch the Olympics this year? What’s your favourite sport to watch? Mine is hockey, but I watched a lot of the events this year and each one reminded me how amazing God made people. Just look at them! See how fast, and far, and high they can go. How strong they are! What they can do is truly special, truly incredible! And as amazing as these people are, they only scratch the surface of what people can do! Check out these other amazing things.
That’s pretty cool, but that’s not the only way that God created people to be amazing. Think of all the smart scientists who have cured diseases and made telescopes that can see to the other side of the universe. Think of the engineers who created machines that could blast a human to the moon! Maybe some of you are going to become scientists one day.
And that’s not all. Think of how amazing the people are who God created to be able to make art! Right out of their brains they can come up with movies that make people laugh and cry, sculptures from wood or stone that make people think in new ways, paintings that look like dreams or nightmares or something never seen before, they take pictures of places we’d never be able to visit, write music and create instruments that can make us feel happy or sad or excited or even concentrate better on our homework. Maybe some of you will be amazing artists one day.
Or think about the amazing writers and thinkers who help us see what’s going on in the world or explain things ways that everyone can understand. Some people are amazing thinkers who come up with mathematical formulas, hilarious jokes, write books and stories that change the world. Maybe some of will grow up to be great thinkers.
I’m also amazed by how tough God made us. Think about it — humans have the ability to live through some pretty crazy stuff. There are people living in Arctic cold and in desert heat. We build homes on land, in trees, on mountaintops, in caves, and even and floating on water. We can live without food for days. We can suffer great pain in our bodies, minds and hearts, and still keep on going! Maybe some of you will live lives where you get to use the strength of your body to help people.
God Created Us to be Amazing
Why am I telling you this? Because I want to remind you that God made you to be amazing! Genesis 1:26 says that God created us in His “image”, in His “likeness”. That means that He didn’t just build robots that do whatever He wants, but created us to be partners with Him. He gave us creative, ingenious, unique, imaginative minds… strong, delicate, graceful, careful, explosive bodies… deep, powerful emotions… and a Spirit inside of us that has an echo of the Spirit of God. People are amazing because God is amazing!
When You Don’t Feel Amazing
But what about when you don’t feel that way? Some of you might not feel very amazing right now. You’re not the biggest, or the strongest, or feel like you’re the smartest or the most helpful. You try to remember things, but you still forget. Sometimes you try things and they don’t work out. You try to make something and it doesn’t work, so you feel frustrated. Sometimes you break things accidentally. You try really hard to set the table, or help with dishes, or take care of your doll or your special toy, but it accidentally breaks. Sometimes you cry and you’re not sure why — or get really angry, more than other people and you feel embarrassed – or it seems like everyone around can do more than you and you feel left out.
Or, maybe God made you different – you need glasses, or you were born with a part of your body that doesn’t look like or work like some of your friends. Or maybe you have a hard time concentrating and homework is hard, or you are shorter or taller than other people your age.
Sometimes we don’t feel very amazing and maybe during those times you wonder why God built you that way – that maybe you were an accident, or He wasn’t trying as hard when he designed you, or that you did something wrong to deserve to be different. Do you ever feel like that? Sometimes I feel like that sometimes.
I need glasses and I’m always itchy. When I was your age I was shorter, younger, and smaller than any of my classmates. And when I grew up a bit, I had lots and lots of zits and people made fun of me. My family moved around a lot, so I didn’t have very many friends. I was a Christian and I loved computers, but no one else did, and that made it even harder to make friends. Sometimes on the way home people would throw rocks at me and call me names.
I often wondered why God built me the way He did, and sometimes I wished He would have done it differently. But today, I understand that He made me special, and I want to share with you the part of the Bible that taught me that.
God Doesn’t Make Mistakes
Psalm 139:13-16 says,
“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.”
Do you hear what God is saying in these verses? Let me tell you.
First, it says that that God designed you to be exactly the way you are and made no mistakes. He “knit [you] together” and He “saw [you] before [you were] born”. That means He put you together the same way an artist paints a picture and a scientist makes an invention. He chose every little piece of you exactly the way He wanted it. When you do something amazing, God cheers for you because He built you to do that! And when you have a tough time, God isn’t disappointed or surprised because He built you that way.
Second, it says that God made you “wonderfully complex” – that means he made you special, with millions of parts, unlike anyone else, because He wanted you to be that way. From how you brain works, to how fast you can run, to the colour of your eyes and hair, the sound of your voice, to your fingerprints and the things that make you excited – God designed every part. So, when you look at all your parts, no matter how different they are from other people, you can think “That’s there because God put it there, on purpose – and it is wonderful!”
Third, it says that God’s “workmanship is marvelous”. That means that when God looks at you He sees something He specially built with His own hands, and He think’s it’s really, really good. You’d never look at a bouquet of flowers and think, “Those all need to be exactly the same”, right? In the same way, God doesn’t want all of us to be exactly the same!
Maybe you can’t sing, or maybe you can’t jump. Maybe you can’t throw a baseball, or maybe you can’t read very well. Maybe the words on the page are all jumbled up for you, or you don’t see colours the way others do. God never ever, ever thinks, “Oops, I made a mistake! I should have done that better.” He always thinks, “My child can’t do that because I didn’t need them to. I have something else planned that’s just for them!”
How do I know? Because the Bible says, “Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” What does that mean? That God knows exactly what your whole life is going to be like.
Before you were born, God knew exactly how long you would live, what you would look like, gave you the parents and family you have, knew every tear you would cry, everything you would build, every good deed you would do, and every sin you would commit. He knows you better than anyone, and He loves you, very, very much.
How We Should Live
So, knowing that… let me share with you a few things to remember:
1. Know that Everyone is Special. Every baby in every mommy’s tummy is special. Every old person, even when they are tired or sick, is special. Every person is special – even the ones that are mean or rude. Even if they aren’t listening to God, since God made them, they are still special and deserve our love.
This also reminds you that no matter what, you are special too. You are deeply loved. Not because of anything that you do, or any good deed, but even when you were a baby, God loved you very, very much.
2. We should listen to our Creator. If you make up a game, and you write all the rules, then people should listen to you when you tell them how to play it, right? If you make a piece of art, then you know which way it hangs on the wall, right?
It’s the same with God. If God knows us best, loves us most, and has the perfect plan for our life, then it only makes sense to listen to Him, right? That’s why we need to read His book, the Bible. That’s why we need to talk to Him all the time. That’s why we spend time with people in His Church. So that we can hear what God wants to say to us.
3. We should Give our life to Jesus. People are amazing. And we are all pretty amazing when we are born, but God says we have a sin problem. When we are born, we don’t have everything we need to be who God wanted us to be.
So in order to fix that, we need to know Jesus. We need to ask forgiveness for all the times that we have gone against what God wanted, against who God created us to be – and God promises that because of what Jesus did on the cross for us, that He will forgive us. Jesus was extra-super-amazingly-perfect and He never sinned! He obeyed God perfectly, every day. And that means only He could take the punishment for our sin – He didn’t have any! He makes it so that we can get back together with God.
And when we ask His forgiveness for all our sin, and make Jesus our Lord (which means our Boss), then He comes and lives in our hearts, guides us, teaches us and helps us be the amazing person He created us to be.
How Do You Devo?
Devos, Daily Devotionals, Quiet Time, Private Meditation, Time with God, 1-on-1 with Jesus, Daily Prayers — there are lots of names for it and likely as many ways to do it. And I want to know yours!
I recently filled my very first prayer journal and got a shiny new one to celebrate (pictured above). God has been doing amazing things during these times with Him. Every day God answers my concerns, points out new insights, convicts me of sin, reveals my heart, and gives me comfort. My time with God is very important to me and I want to spread the joy by sharing what I do.
But not only that, I want to know what you do! I searched for years to find a personal way to connect with God. I tried dozens of guides, systems, studies and techniques, but none captured my heart. Eventually I came up with my own and it has been truly incredible.
I know I’m not the only one who has struggled with this. Many Christians struggle to have a consistent, daily time with God, and one repeated reason is that they “don’t know how”. The mission of this blog is to “give you the tools and inspiration you need to pursue a deeper, consistent and more meaningful relationship with God” and I believe that sharing how we do our personal devotions is a way to help accomplish that mission. Once I gather some I intend to put together a special training night on “How to Journal Using Scripture as Your Guide” using insights from those who share! Then, for those who can’t be trained in person, I’ll post it on my blog.
Will you join me in helping others to spend more time with God?
My Devo Setup
I’ve made a commitment that the first thing I do when I sit at my desk is to take away the wireless keyboard, put on the isolation headphones (playing classical and jazz music), and open my prayer journal. I begin by writing out the prayers on my heart, asking forgiveness for sin and sharing the troubles that are on my mind. Then, I open up the Bible. I have 5 bookmarks in my tattered NIV and I journal a reflection after each chapter. As I read and pray I search for what God is saying to me for that day. I believe He will speak through His word, and He does!
Sharing Your Setup?
So, what’s your setup?
To share, follow these steps:
- Write a brief synopsis sharing where you are and what tools and methods you use.
- Take a picture of your environment and tools.
- Use the comment section below and link to your picture OR Send the comment and picture to my email (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Pass this post along to your Christian friends so they can contribute too!
Thanks in advance to all who participate.
I’m so proud of our Sunday school kids, and the teachers, for taking the time to memorize the Romans Road to Salvation over the past few months. Memorizing of scripture takes time, concentration, and energy – and it is a way to worship God. That time is never wasted and these kids will be amazed at how many times in their life God will keep bringing these verses up in their minds during times of crisis and trouble. When they are in a tough spot, or need encouragement, God will bring these verses to mind because they have stored them where no one can get them – in their hearts.
In doing this they have echoed the praises of Psalm 119:9-16. Let’s turn there and talk for a moment about what happens when we study, memorize and meditate on scripture.
A Pure Path
An old German version of the Bible has a great title for Psalm 119. It calls it “The Christian’s Golden ABC of the Praise and Love of the Power and Profit of the Word of God.” That’s exactly what Psalm 119 is. The author of the psalm uses the letters of the Hebrew alphabet to create an intricate, acrostic poem in thanks and praise for – and commitment to –the Word of God. Each section has its own theme and takes apart that theme in 8 lines – and each line starts with the same letter. It’s a beautiful piece of poetry about the “vital ministry of the Word of God in the inner spiritual life of God’s children.” (Warren Wiersbe – Be Exultant)
“How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes! With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth. In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.” (Psalm 119:9-16 ESV)
Notice it starts with a question. “How can a young man keep his way pure?” The two key words there are “way” and “pure.” The word “way” can also be translated “path”, “highway”, or even “caravan”. The word “pure” can also be “clean” or “clear” or “blameless”.
How can someone without experience, keep their path clean, their highway clear?
The picture the psalmist is painting for us is a young man setting off on the journey of his life, starting out from his door and looking ahead at the horizon to the endless expanse in front of him. He looks back at his parents, knowing he is now too old to be under their full-time guidance and it is time for him to make his way in the world.
He steps forward, opens the gate, and looks up to God and says, “God, how can I make sure the path I’m walking on is the right one? How can I keep from stumbling? How do I keep from getting lost? How can I keep my life pure so that I can hear your voice and know I’m heading the right way? How can I be confident in the way I’m going? How can I live a life where all the problems come from outside me – not from a bunch of dumb things I bring on myself? Lord, how can a young man keep his way pure?”
And the rest of the section – in fact the whole of Psalm 119 – is an answer to that question. See what his answers are.
Setting up Guardrails
First, as we look at verse 9, he says that he needs to guard his way according to God’s word. In other words, for a person to walk in a straight line, not get lost, and be assured of his destination, he must set up safe-guards on the sides of the road; guardrails all the way along, so that when things start to go wobbly in life, there is something there to bounce off of so one’s life doesn’t careen over the edge.
I’ve driven on some fairly precarious mountain roads, and I’ve been very thankful for the guardrails along the sides. They give me a sense of security that if I blew a tire, or lost control that I wouldn’t go over the cliff, but would bounce off the guard rail. Sure there would be some damage, but it wouldn’t be catastrophic. That’s the first benefit of studying, memorizing and meditating on scripture – it tells us where to set the guardrails in our life.
People in this world believe that what really want is “freedom”. They say that in a perfect world there would be no rules and everyone would be able to do whatever they wanted free from oppression and outside influence – and the world would thrive. You’ve probably heard that a lot.
Think of the words to John Lennon’s song “Imagine”. “Imagine there’s no heaven, no hell, no countries, no religion… imagine all the people living life in peace.” That’s the definition of freedom for a lot of people: no God, no government, no rules. But that’s not freedom, that’s anarchy. The human heart is not able to deal with that kind of world – it’s simply impossible. Every nation that has eliminated God didn’t find a time of peace and freedom, but instead saw the rise of oppressive leaders who devastated and oppressed the people. Think Joseph Stalin, Mau Zedong, Pol Pot, or Che Guevera. Their atheism didn’t spawn a life of “peace”, but chaos.
The Broad Road
Jesus would call the kind of “freedom” that Lennon sang about “the broad road”. A life, without walls, without guardrails, without rules. And he says this: “…wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14 NIV)
The “broad road” “leads to destruction”, not life and peace and flourishing. It is the heart that seeks God, which is guarded on both sides by the Word of God that finds life.
Even as I write that I realize how difficult it is to understand, much less apply. To agree with Jesus about choosing the narrow road requires a movement of the Spirit of God. And often, it requires that a person travels the broad road for a while, has their life spin out of control, and then careens of the edge and explodes. That’s the testimony of so many men and women I know.
“I was on the broad road. I was living for myself and I didn’t care what people thought of me. I did what I wanted. And it lead me to sin, and sin more and more, darker and darker, and then I realized what I thought was freedom was actually a trap. I wasn’t controlling my life, it was controlling me. My addictions, my desires, my appetites, my way of life was controlling me. I was captive to my ‘freedom’ and I couldn’t get free. And then things really started to spin out of control. I lost my closest relationships, my friends turned out to be enemies, everything I thought was secure fell apart – and I hit rock bottom. It was only there that I finally looked up and saw Jesus offering me forgiveness and life.”
And their testimony almost always ends the same way: “I’m telling you all of this horrible stuff that I went though because I don’t want you to go through it! Don’t make the mistakes I did. I’m trying to teach my kids not to do what I did. Not to even start down that path. I want them to walk the straight and narrow – to flee the broad road to destruction that I went down.” (Go to “I am Second” for a long list of inspiring testimonies)
In fact, much of the wisdom literature in scripture (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and more scattered throughout the other books) is written to try to warn people away from taking the broad road that leads to destruction. Look at the beginning of the book of Proverbs.
“Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck. My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. … my son, do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths, for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood.” (Proverbs 1:8-10, 15-16)
Can you hear the pleading of the parents to their son to stay on the straight and narrow? The rest of the book of Proverbs is a series of sayings meant to help an immature person find maturity the easy way – without having to crash and burn to learn it. How many of us wish that we would have learned the lessons from our parents and not had to repeat their mistakes?
The very beginning of the Psalms starts the same way, right from the first verse: talking about choosing the right path to walk on in this life.
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:1-2)
All through the Bible you can read the voice of the Prophets, and the voice of God, saying “Here’s how life is meant to be lived. Follow these rules and you will have peace, and flourishing, and joy, and righteousness and purity, and know the heart of God! You will avoid much suffering and pain if you just follow this path.” And chapter after chapter is stories of people looking at the narrow path and saying, “I want to go my own way.” And then walking down the broad road – which leads to their destruction.
The prayer of the Psalmist is:
“With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:10-11)
The first benefit of studying, memorizing and meditating on scripture is that it gives us the guidelines for how to thrive in this life. Having it in our minds keeps it ready for us. Here is how I’m supposed to deal with anger. Here is how I find the will of God. Here is how I flee temptation. Here is what I say when Satan shows up. Here is how I should pray. Here is the kind of friends to have. Here is how I should spend my time. Here is how I should treat my money.
Learning and Teaching
“Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes! With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth.” (Psalm 119:12-13)
The second benefit of memorizing scripture is that as we study and learn and remember, the Holy Spirit uses that time to teach us, and then gives us the words to teach others.
When Jesus was about to be crucified His followers were quite worried about losing their teacher and connection to God. But Jesus looks at them and says something very important. Turn to John 16:4-14.
“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:4-14)
This is what happens when we spend time reading, studying and memorizing scripture. The Holy Spirit of God comes in and teaches us about sin and righteousness. He gives us insight into the ways that Satan works. He expands our minds so that we can tell truth from falsehood. He teaches us how to glorify God and what true worship looks like. And then gives us the words to speak when we are sharing the gospel or in a spiritual battle.
God Breathed Answers
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Some people are afraid to share their faith because they might get questions they don’t have answers to. Others think that there is no real way to know God and they speak as though He is some great mystery. But Scripture, the Bible, has been “breathed out by God” and given to us “for teaching”, so that we can be taught the ways of God, the thoughts of God, the plan of God, the will of God. Between the Bible and Holy Spirit is inside of us, we can have a pretty good idea of who God is. And when we are sharing our faith with others, the Holy Spirit promises to remind us of what God has said about Himself and His plan of salvation.
Some people say they aren’t sure what God thinks about certain things – they can’t really know what is good or bad. Scripture has been given to us “for reproof”, or “for conviction”, or “for rebuking”. That means that within the Bible is everything we need to be able to expose false teachers and expose personal sin. Right and wrong, good and evil, wisdom and foolishness isn’t a grand mystery. Scripture has the power to point out mistakes and clarify how we can make it right.
Some say that they aren’t sure if they can ever know they are truly saved. But the scriptures were given “for correction” which is a word that means it tells us “how to restore ourselves to a right place before God.” In other words – the Bible tells us how to correct this problem of sin and death. It’s only the Bible that gives us the good news of hope in salvation through Jesus.
Some say they don’t know what to do with their life. What should I do? Where should I work? How should I parent? What should I do with an empty nest? What should I buy? The scriptures were given “for training in righteousness” so that we can know how to live a holy life. The Bible is an instruction book for life. I’m convinced that 99% of everything we need to know about how to live in this world is captured within this book – and the Holy Spirit will give us special knowledge about the other 1% when we need it.
That’s why the Psalmist says to God in Psalm 119, “Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes!” He knows that the only way he can live well is if God is his instructor.
Delighting in God’s Word
The third benefit of memorizing, studying and meditating on scripture is that it brings delight! Let’s read Psalm 119:14-16:
“In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.”
This is something that a lot of people simply don’t agree with. Using words like “memorizing”, “studying” and “meditating” in the same sentence as “delight” makes no sense to them because it all sounds like work. And it is work.
But once you have experienced the Spirit of God entering into your life in a new way, guiding you in life, protecting your spirit, battling for your purity, teaching you new things about yourself and God, reminding you about the love you have in Jesus Christ – you can start to see how the psalmist feels.
Psalm 119:97-104 says it this way:
“Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts. I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.”
I like learning – but there’s something special about my time with God. It’s more than learning – it’s experiencing the presence of God. I understand what the psalmist is talking about! The Word of God comes alive for me when I read it in the mornings. There are times when I’m studying for a sermon and insights that I never had considered start flowing into my mind. I start welling with emotion, getting excited, or sometimes it hits me and I feel a terrible sense of conviction, sadness or anger. Reading, studying and meditating on scripture is an experience for me.
There are times where I walk away from a time with God, and I’m literally breathless because of what I’ve just learned from Him. There are times when God brings to mind a scripture and it protects from doing something harmful, and I am so thankful that he did that for me – because I watch others around me crash and burn because of that same error. There are times that reading the Bible depresses me because I start to feel God’s heart on a particular subject – and He shares His grief with me.
It breaks my heart how distracted most of us are – me included. The cares of the world, finances, fears, entertainment, and so much more, draw us away from the Word of God. We go to so many other things for life, knowledge, peace, joy, hope, help, guidance, and peace. But it all comes up short. Why do we keep going back?
When we lose sight of the word of God, the temptations start to grow, fears start to creep in, unrighteous anger fills our stomach, jealousy and bitterness take root – and a time of meditating on God’s word, in the presence of the Holy Spirit, wipes so much of that away!
Examples of Delight
Consider what the children recited today, and think of the hope, the joy and the wonder that they will have in their hearts for the rest of their lives as the Holy Spirit brings that back to them.
They start to think, “I’m a good person. I don’t need Jesus and all this religion. I don’t need a saviour. I can save myself. God saves everybody because we are basically good and God loves everyone, right?” And the Holy Spirit says,
“Remember Romans 3:23, ‘For all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. and Romans 6:23, ‘For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.’’”
Satan comes in and says, “God doesn’t love you because you sinned. You need to earn your salvation! You haven’t done enough to impress God. You need to be better! God’s disappointed in you! You don’t have enough faith. You need to be a better person and clean up your life before you come to God.”
And the Holy Spirit says, “Remember Romans 5:8, ‘But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’”
Satan tells them to keep quiet. “Don’t share your faith. Keep it to yourself. It’s between you and God. Religion is personal. You don’t have to be uncomfortable. Just keep it to yourself.” And the Holy Spirit says,
“Remember Romans 10:10, ‘For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.’”
And then, when they eventually fall into sin, the backslide, and Satan turns up the heat and starts to condemn them. “God hates you now. You’re dirty. God says He loves you and then you turn around and do that? You let him down over and over! He’s done with you. He’s not listening to your prayers anymore. There’s no point in reading your bible. He’s heard you confess that sin so many times that He’s sick of it! Maybe you were saved before, but you just lost it. And you’ll never get it back.”
And, the end of the Romans road comes from Romans 8:1 and 38-39.
The Holy Spirit says, “Remember, ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus… For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’”
That’s where delight comes from. That’s the power of memorizing and studying scripture. I hope you know that delight.
Valuing the Bible
Do you value having a Bible? How much do you value having study guides and thousands of hours of sermons and books to read about the bible? Can you imagine, for a moment, what it would be like if you didn’t have a copy of the Bible? If you knew Jesus, and were saved, loved the one true God, but you couldn’t read about him every day, how different would your life be? What would your life be like if there was no bible in the English language? Would it be different? I hope so.
We are so fortunate. So blessed. Let’s close by watching a short video, but let me set it up first.
True Christianity is “illegal” in China, but it is spreading like a wild-fire there. Some estimates are that there are 20,000 conversions per day. Police will search homes, confiscate CD’s, bibles, song books and calendars, and then arrest people who have “illegal religious gatherings” (The Empty Cross Pg 14) . I read this week that “In China, believers often share one copy of the Bible. Each person receives a page, and when they have memorized it, they get back together to exchange their portion of the Bible.” (Bible Smuggling) What you are about to see is a group of Chinese Christians receiving a bible in their own language for the first time.
Life is a Battlefield
We’ve all felt it. We all experience it. Life sometimes seems like a war. We are in a daily battle for our family’s security, our personal purity, our relationship with God, our attitudes, our church and the spread of the gospel. God has specially charged men with the responsibility to bear the burden of stepping into the fray for the sake of others – particularly their wives, children and church. In order to win these battles, we need to be close to God (from whom we get understanding and strength) and in the company of other men (from whom we gain support and accountability).
One reason that we started this men’s ministry (PK@BBC) is because we have noticed that too many men are trying to fight the battle on their own and with the wrong equipment – us included. Most men don’t know their Bibles well, so they fall for the lies that Satan is telling them. They don’t know how to pray, so they lack spiritual strength and wisdom to answer the many demands that are placed on them. They are addicted to money and sex, so they live in a constant state of fear and shame. And many are locked in a state of perpetual adolescence, lacking the courage, conviction, and resolve that it takes to be a real man. Our churches are predominately female, run and attended by mostly women.
We want our men’s group to change that. We’ve seen the battles, and we’ve experienced them. It seems to us that the best way we can fight against what this world is trying to turn us into (which is weak, useless, immature, immoral, cowards) is to have a company of good men surrounding us, supporting us, and holding us to the standard for which we fight. Men who will consistently remind each other about the grace of God, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and the provision of the Holy Spirit. Without other men we are lone soldiers, and we won’t last long in battle. PK@BBC intends to answer this need. We want to be a body of troops, a group of soldiers, a brotherhood of men. As Promise Keepers is so fond of saying, we want to be a group where “no man is left behind.”
This week I was reminded, and inspired, by the story of Caleb, from Numbers 14. The way he is described in the bible is the kind of man I want to be – and the kind of men I want around me. You likely know the story.
“When the Hebrews came to the outskirts of Canaan, the land they believed had been promised them by God, after having fled slavery in Egypt, Moses sent twelve scouts into Canaan to report on what was there–one spy representing each of the twelve tribes. Ten of the scouts returned to say that the land would be impossible to claim, and that giants lived there who would crush the Hebrew army. Only two, Joshua and Caleb, returned and said that God would be able to deliver Canaan into the hands of the Hebrew nation. The Bible records that, because of the testimony of the ten scouts, the Hebrews chose not to enter Canaan [and take the Promised Land]: for this disobedience, God caused them to wander in the desert for forty years before being allowed to enter Canaan and conquer it as their home. It is said that the only adult Hebrews allowed to survive these forty years and enter Canaan were Joshua and Caleb, as a reward for their faith in God.” (Source)
After almost the whole nation had refused to take the Promised Land, even saying that they would rather stone Moses and Aaron to death and then go back to Egypt and be slaves rather than obey God and cross into the Land, God says this:
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them? I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.'” (Numbers 14:11-12)
God seems ready to destroy them and start over, until Moses intercedes in prayer and talks to God on behalf of the Israelites. And then, in Numbers 14:20-24, God says this:
“The Lord replied, ‘I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times—not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.”
I want us to be men like Caleb. We are men who serve under the Commander of the Angel Armies, Jesus Christ, and we have been commissioned as soldiers of His kingdom. We are surrounded by cowards and weaklings who have no spiritual fortitude. They are too scared and weak to do battle for their souls, families and churches. They want to be enslaved by sin rather than fight for purity. They would trade the Promised Land for Egypt. I don’t want to be like them. I want to be like Caleb. Let me take apart how Caleb is described.
A Different Spirit
It says he had: “a different spirit” – I want to be different than the ungodly, cowardly men around me – both in the church and in the world. I don’t want to see the giants that we have face in this world (you know what your giants are) and walk away defeated, without even trying to fight. I don’t want to turn tail because I don’t have faith in God to see me though.
I want us to be men who know that listening to God and obeying the Bible will set us apart from the rest of the world – and trust God when He says that we can face these giants and defeat them in His name. The 10 other men who went into explore the land had no confidence in God or themselves. They spread the message of hopelessness and cowardice. Caleb believed… and he set himself apart by saying so. I want us to be like Caleb, who is like Jesus, and follow God’s standard, living differently than the world.
A Whole Heart
It also says that Caleb “follows me wholeheartedly” – I know that none of us follow Jesus like we should. We all sin. But what I want – and what I believe all Christian men want – is to say that despite all the ways we mess up, that we are sold out to Jesus. We don’t want divided hearts, but whole-hearts.
I want to be surrounded by men who are willing to pour themselves into the battle for their lives, families, purity and God’s Kingdom. We are all sick of being around men who can’t be counted on, who stand for nothing, who waffle back and forth never taking a stand, who lack courage and conviction, and who are so distracted by the world that they are no good to anyone. And we don’t want to be that kind of man. Caleb was 85 years old when he said in Joshua 14:11, “I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then.” I want to be like that! A wholehearted, sold-out, warrior for God.
A Dependant Man
Because of Caleb’s faithfulness God promised saying, “I will bring him into the land he went to.” Even though we sometimes struggle to be faithful to God, we know that He is always faithful to us. The Bible says that when we are faithless, He is still faithful. Even when we don’t keep our promises, God does.
I want to be a man who believes in the faithfulness of God and knows that I can’t conquer the enemy on my own. And I want to be around men who are dependent on God. Too many of us try to fight by ourselves.
- We tried to conquer lust and porn – but it still draws us in.
- We’ve tried to change our schedule so we have more time with God and our family – but we keep getting sucked back into work.
- We’ve tried to get excited about reading our bible and praying – but it’s still boring and difficult.
- We’ve tried to come to church to worship and learn – but we are still distracted and frustrated.
- We’ve tried to be the husband that our wife needs – but no matter what we do it still feels the same.
Something inside of us cries out for change, but every time we try, we are defeated and slip back into the old ways. Which makes us want to stop trying.
We have to realize that it is not we who will bring ourselves into the land, but God. It’s not our power, but His. What’s amazing is that God will often show His power by using the men around us. We need to be dependent on God, but we also need each other – it’s built into humanity to need other people. Jesus Christ will never let us down, will always lead well, and will give us every resource to win every battle, if we ask Him, follow him and trust Him. Sometimes God will miraculously change the circumstances to save us. Most often he will change our hearts so that we grow into stronger people because of the problems. And sometimes He will answer our prayers by using others to minister to us – and in the same way – he will use us to answer the prayers of others.
Whatever He does, the absolute truth is that I can’t win the battles or bring myself into the land – He has to do it His way and in His time.
A Future Sight
And here’s something powerful to me. The promise wasn’t just for Caleb, but God say “and his descendants will inherit it.”
We are not an island. Yes, we have our own individual battles, and they are of critical importance – but the fight we fight today isn’t just for us. Whether we have kids or not, we are also fighting for the next generation of believers. We are creating a spiritual inheritance for our children and the believers around us.
We want to be men they can look up to, so when they do, we can point them to Jesus. We want to be men who hand down a life of faith that isn’t full of holes, and that we can be proud of, because we are living like Jesus.
Most of us have scars from the poor heritage we inherited from our own earthly fathers. Some were absent, others angry, and others were addicts. Most fathers don’t pass along any kind of spiritual inheritance to their children – and we don’t want to be like that. Whether it’s next generation of our own family or to the men and women that we are actively mentoring at work or at church, we don’t want our descendants to be lost. We want to fight the battles, take the land, and hopefully win them a time of peace. Let ours be the body that is scarred in battle so they can inherit the land. Or, if they are not to have peace, then we want to be the kind of men who train our spiritual children to be good warriors of God.
Let’s start with a couple of short stories:
I remember, a while back, going to a fancy restaurant on my parent’s 25th anniversary. We had a great meal, and my brother had bought a bottle of Dom Pérignon, which was pretty good too. After the appetizer we were served a small bowl of orange sorbet. I thought, “Wow! An appetizer dessert! That’s a good idea! I love this restaurant!” My mom told me that the reason they served it was not for dessert, but because a citrus based sorbet would cleanse the palate so I could properly taste the main entrée.
Another short story: A while back, my wife and I were shopping for perfume. We went to the store together to try a bunch of different scents and see what we would like. They took the sampler, sprayed it on a little piece of paper, and then we would smell the paper… and we did this a whole bunch of times. By the 10th little piece of smelly paper we were both getting a headache, and everything was starting to smell the same anyway.
The problem was something that is apparently called “Nasal Fatigue”. Our brains and bodies were overcome by too many scents and it was hard to discern what was good and what was not so good. Then I saw a small container of coffee beans on the counter. I remembered reading somewhere that coffee beans are good at cleansing the palate between smells. So I took a deep breath of the coffee beans, and gave my wife the container. And sure enough, it worked. I could smell again.
A Calloused Heart
Why am I telling you this? Because within these two short stories is an important lesson. If we don’t take the time to cleanse our senses with a purifying agent, they get dulled and everything starts to taste and smell the same. They get overloaded with stimuli and lose the ability to discern the subtle differences in our environments. Left unchecked it could become dangerous because we wouldn’t know the difference between good and spoiled foods, good air to breath and bad air. We need to keep our senses sharp.
I think the same thing can happen in our spirits. We are inundated with stimuli all the time. Between our online life, the TV, books, magazines, newspapers, friends, coworkers, teachers, preachers, sportscasters, billboards, and every other voice and attention grabber around us, I believe it’s easy to get overloaded and lose our ability to discern things in a godly way.
Things that used to be considered to be sin, become normal, even celebrated. Things that used to make us flinch and recoil, don’t affect us anymore. News that should rend our hearts and bring us to tears has no effect, or worse, becomes a joke. Our relationships become more distant as virtual things become our preference. Our ability to trust falls away as we listen to voices that tell us to distrust everything. Our greed and pride grows by inches, and lust becomes common place. A callous grows over our heart.
Consider the “normal things” you’ve seen this week… things you might not even notice anymore. Television commercials and programs continually sexualize younger and younger men and women. You watch your favourite comedy show and ¾ of the characters are sleeping around and having sex outside of marriage. You watch your favourite action or drama and you tune-out the foul language, get used to witnessing murders, find yourself cheering for the corrupt police officer, and hope that the married character will leave their spouse so they can finally be with their “soul mate”. If you hear these kinds of sins enough times, they start to become normal… and excusable. That husband is a jerk… she belongs with the other guy.
Consider how many times you’ve been told how much “you deserve” this week. You deserve fast, excellent service, great taste, multiple choices, a great body, happiness, success and the car / house of your dreams. If you hear that you are the centre of the universe enough times, you start to believe it.
Consider how many things you’ve been told to be afraid of. They start the news by telling you that there are at least 4 horrible things happening right now, and they will tell you more soon. With dramatic music and graphics, and a clever title like “The end of everything you’ve ever known…” they explain about 10% of the problem. Then they squeeze in some “experts” that were available today who tell you how bad it’s going to get. Then they tell you that they will “bring you more as the story develops” – or they might completely drop the story and never mention it again if it turns out to be nothing.
Then, because they need you to keep watching, the next segment starts to tell you why you need to be afraid of your veterinarian, how the global economy is collapsing, why you should never by hot-dogs, and how your toothbrush could be killing you. It doesn’t matter if it’s all misinformation and half-cooked stories because you’re watching. And — if you’re told enough times that you need to live in fear, then you’re going to start believing it.
Spiritual Palate Cleansing
What we need is a spiritual palate cleansing. We need to have some way to reset our hearts, minds and spirits so that we can tell the difference between right and wrong, distinguish wisdom from foolishness, and be able to see, hear, and experience things as they really are.
During my devotionals this week I came across a book by Andrew Comiskey called “Naked Surrender” where he talks about this very thing. He says,
“I believe that we are living in a time of unprecedented… idolatry. The moral ozone layer has burned off. … We used to flinch…. We stopped flinching. Idols sear our skin, and we no longer feel it. Desensitized by all manner of evil…. Idols empower all the wrong things; they awaken lust and deaden conscience. We then act badly, in ways that rob us of clarity and virtue and leave us unfit for real relationships.”
Our damaged palate, our desensitized soul, our callous hearts, have deep effects on our lives, our families, our church, and our relationship with God.
Our Spiritual House
Why am I making this a big deal? Because I believe this is a big deal to Jesus. Turn to 1 Peter 2:1-9. You’re going to notice a similar theme to what we talked about during the Christian Integrity series, but I want to take it from a different angle.
“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’”
Once again we are talking about what makes up our spiritual house. And in this scripture we are reminded that Jesus is the capstone, or the foundation stone, the One on whom we are built. He is precious to us, necessary. If He moves, we all move. And, as we said before, He cares very much, and takes an active role, in how we are built. Peter says we “are being built up as a spiritual house”. In 1 Corinthians 3:9 we are called “God’s Building”. In Hebrews 3:6 we are called “God’s House.”
Let’s keep reading from verse 7:
“So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,’ and ‘A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.’ They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Unbelievers stumble over Jesus, the cornerstone. Instead of building their lives on Him, they see it as a hindrance. Maybe you’ve felt this too. Before you were saved you saw a relationship with Jesus as a hindrance – something that would get in the way of your life. Too many rules, too much baggage, not enough freedom. So you avoided Jesus and Christianity because you saw “the cornerstone” as a “rock of offence”.
This is what we are like before we are saved – and it’s what we do when we sin. People try to find a good, solid foundation to build their lives on, right? So they start digging down and searching for something solid. All at once they hit a huge, gigantic boulder under where they want to build! That’s Jesus. Some people see that and say, “Wow, that’s awesome. I’ve never found anything so stable, so secure, so helpful, so perfect in it’s ability to keep my house secure.”
But others look at it and instead of building on it, they try to dig it out. They resent its placement. They want their house over here, not over there. They don’t like the shape of it, and they want to form it in their own image, but it’s too strong. Having a stone like that as a foundation means they won’t get the life they want, so they try to chip away at it with bad doctrine and excuses. They get the large backhoes of world religions to try to dig it out, but they can’t move it. This huge foundational stone goes on and on and it forces them to either build there or leave it altogether. This stone, that should be their foundation, becomes a hated thing to them. But for those who have been chosen, who were destined to believe, that is the most precious stone in the world.
You are a Holy Place
Listen to Ephesians 2:19-21 as it echoes what Peter is saying:
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
You see, this image is all over scripture. It’s corporate – we are God’s house – and it’s personal – you are God’s House. There are many ways to describe a believer, but one way scripture uses is to call us God’s Building, God’s Temple. The church corporately is God’s Temple. But also, each individual Christian is a Temple, built stone by stone, by the Holy Spirit as a special place for the person of God to indwells. That makes the soul of each believer a holy place, just like Mount Sinai when the bush was burning, or the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle. You’re heart and mine – all believer’s hearts – are a holy tabernacle.
Listen to 1 Corinthians 3:16-17:
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”
God takes you, His temple, very seriously. If someone tries to corrupt His temple with false worship, with idolatry, with false doctrine, they will be destroyed. Anyone who takes on a believer will face the wrath of God. He loves His People, His Household, His Children, His Holy Place where He dwells. Within you.
Cleansing the Temple
Now, having established that we are the Temple of God, and I want to turn to how seriously God takes His temple — which is your body, your spirit, and this body of believers, let’s watch this.
This is the big idea that blew my mind this week. That I can get so plugged up with what the world gives me, things that I’m unquestionably shovelling into my life, that I lose the sensitivity to the voice of God, and the Holy Spirit inside me. I allow things into my mind and heart which pollute my relationship with God, and offend Him deeply. To the point where I don’t never know what’s right and wrong anymore. I can’t tell the difference between things that God finds offensive, and what pleases Him. I can’t tell an idol from the true God. I can’t understand His will, and I am indifferent to His presence and His word.
The money changers and those selling the animals for sacrifice had become a common site in the temple. In fact, even after Christ cleansed the temple at the beginning of His ministry, they moved right back in and He did it again at the end. It had become normal and excusable! People needed to exchange their foreign money for local currency. People needed to buy animals for sacrifice locally, instead of bringing them from far away. This made sense. No one cared. No one made a fuss. Not the religious people, not those buying, certainly not those making a profit. Who cares?
The Cathedral of our Heart
Let me another part of Andrew Comiskey’s book that really struck home for me,
“One of my favorite passages involves Jesus cleansing the temple. Here [Jesus] is at his least tolerant and inclusive. Here his radical love rids God’s house of all within that does not manifest him. Jesus does not dialogue with these detractors—he whips both man and beast and drives them out, overturning tables and shouting: ‘Get out!’ He cares about what goes on in the temple because the temple represents God to others. It is, after all, the house of the Creator.
[Now listen to what he says next because it’s the point that we’re making here.]
“…I am God’s house. …My ‘cathedral’ is still vulnerable to housing… idols: … gods and goddesses that have power to defile the temple and cripple my capacity to love others well…. ”
I love that word He uses – “My ‘cathedral’.” When was the last time you thought of yourself as a cathedral built for the honour and glory of Jesus? When was the last time you looked into a mirror and saw a cathedral? A beautiful work of art full of halls and rooms and intricacies that only few have ever seen, intricately planned and uniquely made, infinitely precious and incredibly powerful, the home of many holy things. When was the last time you considered yourself to be a house of God?
That’s how God sees you. Jesus is within the walls of your heart. And I believe He is just as passionate today about the condition of your heart today as he was about the Temple then. I believe He is just as angry, ferocious and violent about the sin that is housed in our hearts, and all the corrupt things that distract us and keep us from Him.
We don’t think it’s a big deal. It’s just a tv show. It’s just one night. It’s just a joke. It’s my culture.
But Jesus sees them as very big deals. We embrace the sin, play with it, roll it around our tongue, caress it with our hands, gaze at it with our eyes and store in our minds… as though it’s no big thing. We keep it in a special place in our cathedral. And Jesus sees it and wants to destroy it because it is corrupting His Father’s Temple!
How I wish that I had the vision of sin that Christ has. I wish I could hate it as much as He does. But I’m steeped in it. I’m used to it. My palate is too clouded to discern the things of God very well. My heart is still to calloused, my eyes and ears too used to profanity, my mind so full of garbage it’s hard to distinguish the sacred from the worldly. Sure, I can see better than I used to, but I still don’t see it the way Christ does.
We excuse it. We talk to others and they say it’s no big deal, that it’s part of our personality, that everyone is doing it… and because because we haven’t been cleansing our palate with the pure Words and Spirit of God, it doesn’t even taste wrong to us … so we ingest more and more, and we grow sicker and sicker.
This is why a season of fasting, repentance and renewal is such a critical time in the life of a believer! This is why the church fathers created the season of Lent as a time to practice giving up lesser things and cleansing ourselves from worldly influence. It gives us a chance to evaluate how we are treating our body, mind, eyes, hands, feet. It makes us look twice at what we put into our mouth, what we read without thinking about it, what we touch every day. And we realize that it’s a very big deal to Jesus, because it may be profaning His temple.
Now let’s read 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. Before we start, I want you to notice all the quotation marks in the first few verses, this is Paul quoting back to the Corinthians some of their favourite slogans and excuses for why they don’t need to worry about what they are doing with their bodies.
“‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other.”
In other words, the Corinthian church had separated their spiritual lives from their physical lives. They disconnected their bodies from their souls and figured that you could do whatever you want with your body and it wouldn’t affect your mind, heart and soul. Have you ever heard that? “It’s just physical?”
They said, “Since I’m saved by grace, and everything is God’s, I can do anything I want.” Paul says, “Sure, but not everything has benefit”. They said, “But I’m free from religion and my soul is secure forever and now I can enjoy all the pleasures of this world!” Paul says, “Yes, but don’t let it dominate you. Don’t let it become your god… your idol… your master.”
Then it goes deeper and more sinister. You’ve heard this before. They said, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”, or in other words, “if my body says it wants it, then it’s obviously what I need to do.”
“My body says, ‘Eat!’ and I need to eat, therefore I’ll eat what and when I want to. It’s just food.”
“My mind wants distraction because I’m tired of concentrating. So I can watch whatever I want. It’s just TV.”
“I’m angry and my body wants to hit something. It’s not my fault that’s how I’m built. I’m just a violent person. I’m just doing what comes naturally.”
“My body says has natural, sexual desires and wants release, therefore I’ll get it wherever I want however my body wants it. It’s not my fault if I have natural desires! It’s just sex.”
And Paul replies, “And yet both are from God, and God can destroy them if He wants to.” In other words, “God designed you with desires. You get hungry so you can feed yourself — but that doesn’t mean you should eat addicting garbage. And you have sexual desires too, but that doesn’t mean you can fulfill them however you want. He gave them as good things, but wants you to use them in a healthy way. He wants you to experience joy and love and pleasure and grow closer to your spouse. He created it. He designed it. He knows how it works. Don’t use it in a destructive, sinful, harmful way.
Continue in verse 13 and see how this ties into what we’ve been talking about with our bodies as Temples of God
“The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
Any kind of sin is incompatible with our unity in Christ – they all divide us from Him – but sexual sin is particularly evil. The word there is “PORNEIA” which includes all sexual activity conducted without your heterosexual marriage partner. That includes everything from adultery to masturbation. God brings out sexuality as special because sex has a uniquely spiritual component. You literally become “one” with the person. It’s not just physical. It’s not just a biological release – it’s a spiritual tying, and emotional connection. That’s why adultery – whether it’s with another person or in your mind though sexual imagery or sexual stories – is so damaging. It tears the soul – divides the oneness of the marriage.
And it profanes your body, which is a temple of the Holy Spirit.
A Disgusting Sanctuary
Think of it this way. You would be very surprised if you came in next week and found pornographic posters hanging all over the sanctuary, right? You would be offended, distracted, and probably never come back. Then why do you hang them in the temple of your mind where Jesus dwells? It’s the same to Jesus.
You probably wouldn’t bring your favourite porn star, pin-up girl, or someone who you are in an adulterous relationship to church with you because you’d be ashamed how people would look at you… but you’ll take someone online, or in a book, or at work, or in an old memory, and fanaticize about them – which lets that person into your heart – which is the Temple in which Jesus dwells. What’s the difference?
You’d probably have a problem if you came into church one day and the walls looked like a truck-stop bathroom stall… full of dirty limericks, swear words, filthy pictures, and profanity. And yet you will readily accept much of that into your own heart, and into your own temple. You might have a problem if the decorations in here were tributes to dollar bills, bloody violence, and revenge… all surrounding a golden recorder full of all of the gossip and bitter slander you could ever want to hear…, but is that what the walls of your personal cathedral look like? When Jesus walks through the cathedral of your heart, what does He see?
When he comes to sit with you at the communion table in your heart, does He have to sit next to a pile of your money and favourite possessions? What is there to eat? Good, healthy spiritual food, or do you only offer him the same bitter root that you’ve been chewing on for such a long time? Is your personal cathedral dedicated to comfort? No rough edges, nothing to bother you, no annoying people, no annoying rules, and at the centre is a you on a pillow – and Jesus can come in as long as He’s quiet, doesn’t disturb anything, and only gives you things that make you more comfortable?
Perhaps, in the cathedral of your heart is a cross – the symbol of the Christian faith. What other symbols are beside it, competing for importance? Maybe the make of your car, or your favourite technology? Is there a sports-team logo next to the cross? You identify yourself, in the cathedral of your heart, as Christian – and what? Is there a place of worship next to the cross, where you spend your time, your money, your energy, and your attention. Jesus gets part of your worship, but the other idols demand a sacrifice too.
You’ve been to lots of people’s houses and they all have sayings on their walls, on the fridge, in their bedroom. So, as Jesus wanders the halls of the cathedral, what is written on the walls of your heart? The scripture you’ve memorized, the prayers you repeat, the lyrics to a worship song pictures of your family and friends, concerns for your community and the world … right beside the dirty jokes you’ve been reading on the internet and the lyrics to hundreds of songs that celebrate hate, money, alcohol and sex, and all of the harmful, lying, abusive self-talk that you are so used to speaking to yourself as you call yourself stupid, ugly, worthless, and hated. Not the words of God on the walls of your cathedral, but the words of Satan, and you read them over and over.
And in a special place, all on its own, is the ornate carving of your favourite four-letter-word? The one you use in your mind constantly, and which slips out when you feel stress.
Has Jesus found the room you have dedicated to memories of your old girl or boyfriends where you like to spend time when you feel rejected or lonely?
What inhabits the cathedral of your heart?
Maybe you’re feeling convicted right now and you need to talk to God about the mess in your heart. You need to ask forgiveness and ask Him to start clearing that stuff out. You’ve tried, but it only gets worse. You need to ask Jesus to do it, and start replacing all of that garbage with holy things.
What the Church is Made Of
Here’s something you’ve perhaps never thought about: Whatever makes up your cathedral, is what our church is made of. This church is not made of stone and wood. It’s not decorated with paint and pictures. Our church isn’t our music or preaching style, the size of the building, or a weekly event. If we think that any of these things are what bring glory to God, improve our worship, or draw people closer to him, we’re dead wrong.
Our church is built out of the hearts and minds of the people that attend it. We have built this church day by day, deed by deed, decision by decision, sin by sin, idol by idol, fight by fight, prayer by prayer, sacrifice by sacrifice, act of love by act of love, over the history of this church. This is what we are made of, what inspires our worship, what God judge us by, and determines our blessings or need for discipline.
What we see when we are here together and behaving ourselves for an hour on Sunday is only the tiniest part of what we would call “church”. The church God sees, and is really concerned with, is the cathedral of our hearts. He’s concerned about what we are doing in our minds as we sing the songs and listen to the sermon. He’s concerned about what we think when we see the people around us, or think of the one’s not here. He’s concerned with the things we do when we are alone in our room, what we do when we hear of a need, what we communicate in our phone calls and e-mails. That’s what makes up our church.
Our church is built seven days a week out of our private thoughts, our actions and inactions, our secret good deeds, our personal worship and devotion, our love for one another, our sacrifice for each other and God… and it’s built from our private sins, our personal idols, our prejudices, our hate and our hypocrisy. That determines whether we are living by the power of the Holy Spirit, or are grieving Him. That’s why we need to take care of each other.
Jesus Hates Hypocrites
Jesus had some incredibly harsh words for the Pharisees who looked good on the outside, were amazing in their religious obedience, were pillars of the community and great church goers — but were absolutely corrupt on the inside. He said,
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence…. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:25)
“Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me…” (Matthew 15:7-9)
There are so many scriptures against hypocrisy that it is truly overwhelming.
Looking at Your Cathedral
Let me close with this question: What does the cathedral of your heart look like? Listen to Jesus speaking into your heart about your faith. Listen to what the scripture says about having your insides match your outsides.
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (James 1:22-25)
Some of us need a palette cleansing today because we have so filled ourselves with compromise and sin that we no longer even know right from wrong. The only way to know the condition of your heart, and to purify your cathedral, is to cleanse your palette through repentance and confession, and seek purity. Look deep inside for that which is dividing your heart.
Or in the words of 2 Timothy 2:20-22, which speaks about cleaning up the cathedral of your heart:
“Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”
This week people all over the world celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. For many it is a time to pretend they are Irish, get drunk on green beer (or Guinness for the purists), take in a parade, and dress like a leprechaun. Ironically, though they celebrate with a passion, most people have long forgotten the actual story of St. Patrick. (For example, most people think he was Irish – but he wasn’t!)
St. Patrick has been one of my heroes for a long while, and what I want to do today is remember this story. St. Patrick was one of the most successful missionary pioneers in history and his story is full of lessons for us to remember and reminds us of the power of depending on God. His impact is still being felt today around the world. And I believe that the secret to his success wasn’t just about the work he did, but in his relationship with Jesus and the attitude of his heart.
Taken as a Slave
Early in the fifth century, a young man and his family walked along the shores of Roman Briton. As they walked together they noticed a fleet of fifty longboats weaving their way toward the shore. He was only 16-years-old, the son of a civil magistrate and tax collector, but even he had heard stories of the Irish raiders who would storm upon the shores capturing slaves to take with them “to the ends of the world”. As his eyes scanned the longboats, there is no doubt that he began imagining the worst.
The Roman legions had long since deserted Britain, so there was no military to protect them – and Patrick knew that his town was woefully unprepared for attack. The Irish warriors, wearing helmets and armed with spears, descended on the pebbled beach with a furious, terrible shout. The braying war horns struck terror into Patrick’s heart, and he started to run toward the uncertain safety of town.
With hardly an effort the warriors quickly demolished the village, and as Patrick darted among burning houses and screaming women, he was caught by one of the men. He struggled, but there was nothing he could do against the huge barbarian who dragged him aboard a boat bound for the east coast of Ireland.
Faith as a Slave
He was now a slave without any rights or freedoms, able to be sold to the highest bidder. And he was. Patrick was sold to a cruel warrior chief, whose favourite decoration was his opponents’ heads which sat atop sharp pikes on the fence surrounding his land.
Patrick was to take care of his master’s pigs. There was no comfort in this position or care from his master. He lived like an animal himself, enduring long bouts of hunger and thirst. Perhaps worst of all, was the loneliness. Not only was he a slave in a foreign land, but he was isolated from other human beings for months at a time.
His father was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest, but Patrick was, by his own admission, only a nominal Christian. As his situation grew more desperate, the hunger pains worsened, the loneliness grew, and the days wore on, he finally turned to the God of his fathers for comfort.
“I would pray constantly during the daylight hours,” he later recalled. “The love of God and the fear of him surrounded me more and more. And faith grew. And the spirit roused so that in one day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and at night only slightly less.”
Patrick changed in remarkable ways, growing physically and spiritually in his time there, but as God’s love grew in his heart – so did his love of the Irish Celtic people. He learned their language and their culture – and he even came to love his slave masters. He began to identify with them and to hope and pray for their reconciliation with God.
After six years of slavery, Patrick heard a mysterious voice, a supernatural messenger, saying. “You do well to fast. Soon you will return to your homeland.” Patrick obeyed, and fasted and prayed even more fervently. Before long, the voice spoke again saying: “Come and see, your ship is waiting for you.” Patrick knew that this was his moment to escape and so he fled. He ran 200 miles to a southeastern harbor where he saw a ship, probably carrying Irish wolfhounds to the European continent. With some difficulty he convinced the traders to take him with them.
They sailed for three-days, Patrick recounting his story and sharing his deep faith with the men. They landed in Gaul (which is modern-day France). When they stepped from the boat they found only devastation. Goths or Vandals had so decimated the land that no food was to be found in the once fertile area. They walked for days trying to find something to feed themselves, but there was nothing.
“What have you to say for yourself, Christian?” the ship’s captain taunted. “You boast that your God is all powerful. You tell us of his great provision for you! Now we’re starving to death, and we may not survive to see another soul.” Patrick answered confidently. “Nothing is impossible to God. Turn to him and he will send us food for our journey.”
And at that very moment, a herd of pigs appeared and blocked their path. The men shouted, and Patrick instantly became “well regarded in their eyes,” — but to his sadness, his companions offered some of their new-found food in sacrifice to their pagan gods. Patrick, of course, did not partake in the sacrifice.
After a few years wandering the continent, he made his way back home to his family in England, and Patrick set his heart toward becoming a full time minister. He was trained to be a priest, immersed his mind in the scriptures, and grounded himself in theology. He served for some years as a faithful priest to the congregations of England.
It was during this time of faithful service, at age forty-eight, that Patrick had another vision. This one was like the apostle Paul’s at Troas, when a Macedonian man came to him in a dream and pleaded, “Help us!”
Patrick describes what happened this way: “I had a vision in my dreams of a man who seemed to come from Ireland. His name was Victoricius, and he carried countless letters, one of which he handed over to me. I read aloud where it began: ‘The Voice of the Irish.’ And as I began to read these words, I seemed to hear the voice of the same men who lived beside the forest of Foclut, which is beside the western sea – and they cried out as with one voice, ‘We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.’ I was deeply moved in heart and I could read no further, so I awoke.”
When he awoke he knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that God had called him to take Christianity to Ireland. Now, Ireland was a deeply pagan land. There is only one record of a Christian missionary to Ireland, a man named Palladus, who was unsuccessful in converting anyone and may have been martyred there.
Patrick appealed to the Bishops and to Pope Celestine to send him and a group of priests, seminary teachers and a few others, to Ireland. They affirmed his vision, ordained him as a bishop, and he returned to Ireland, this time as a missionary of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The mission was hard, and Patrick showed himself to be wise, brave and faithful. After beginning his mission he wrote back, “I dwell among gentiles, in the midst of pagan barbarians, worshippers of idols, and of unclean things.” He loved the people, and spoke to them in their own language, but all the time he faced opposition from the druids (priests and magicians of the Celtic religion) who were very well educated and politically connected to the Irish kings. Much of Patrick’s time in Ireland was spent trying not to be killed by the druid priests.
The Celtic warriors were a difficult bunch as well. Before a battle they would strip bare and rush at their enemies wearing only their sandals, carrying a sword and a shield, while howling as possessed by demons! During the battle they would decapitate their enemies and perform human sacrifice to their various gods.
“Daily I expect murder, fraud or captivity,” wrote Patrick, “but I fear none of these things because of the promises of heaven. I have cast myself into the hands of God almighty who rules everywhere.” There is a prayer of protection on the famous “Patrick’s Breastplate” which perfectly expresses the very prayer he may have repeated over and over:
“God… save me from… every fierce merciless force that may come upon my body and soul; against incantations of false prophets, against black laws of paganism, against false laws of heresy, against deceit of idolatry, against spells of women and smiths and druids.”
Patrick was as fully convinced as the Celts were that the power of the druids was real – but that it was a demonic power – and that the God he served was stronger. At one point Patrick had a powerful confrontation with the druids (though most scholars doubt that it was as magical as the stories recount) which was something like when Elijah contested against the prophets of baal on Mount Carmel, or Moses against the magicians of Egypt. It happened in a place called Tara where each side worked to outdo the wonders that the other was working. Legend says that Patrick “won” as God killed several of the druids and soldiers. The king was greatly enraged because of this, but Patrick said to the king, “If you do not believe now, you will die on the spot for the wrath of God descends on your head.”
In that moment “the king summoned his council and said, ‘It is better for me to believe than to die.’ And he believed as did many others that day.”
Patrick almost seemed to delight in taking risks to spread the gospel. He once wrote, “I must take this decision disregarding risks involved and make known the gifts of God and his everlasting consolation. Neither must we fear any such risk in faithfully preaching God’s name boldly in every place, so that even after my death, a spiritual legacy may be left for my brethren and my children.” And what a legacy he has.
From Kingdom to Kingdom
He spent much of his time moving his missionary team around the country’s one hundred or so tribal kingdoms. He knew that if the king became a Christian, the druids would lose power and the people would be more open to the message.
But Patrick didn’t come in as a conquering hero. He came in with humility. He would ask the king for permission to camp near their settlement and then gradually send team members to engage the people in conversation and help them in their daily lives. They would pray for sick people, help the demon possessed, give counselling and mediate conflicts. Patrick would take questions from the people and then speak publicly to give the answers. They would do open-air speaking, telling stories and parables, singing songs, using visual arts, and even drama to capture the Celtic people’s remarkable imaginations.
The most famous of these visual arts is the Shamrock, the three leafed clover, which is said to have been used to illustrate the doctrine of the Trinity. This doctrine, with God as the unity of three persons, bound together in love, became a foundational model for the Celtic Christian model. God was a family of persons and invited us to join his family. God in the Trinity, is always a companion, a friend, a partner.
This strategy was a success. As kings and townspeople converted, they would give their sons to Patrick, in an old Irish custom, for educating. They became his disciples. Eventually, many of the sons and daughters of the Irish were persuaded to become monks and nuns, priests and missionaries.
Patrick moved from kingdom to kingdom working much the same way. Once he converted a number of pagans, he built a church – not a large, Roman church, but a Celtic one. He was always sensitive to the needs of the people he had grown to love. He wasn’t trying to turn these “terrible barbarians” into “good Romans”, but used their beautiful culture to share the good news of Jesus Christ. His style of ministry almost cost him his position as bishop when some of the British bishops were offended that Patrick was going beyond his “role” and spending most of his time with “pagans”, “sinners” and “barbarians.”
One of his new disciples would be ordained as a deacon, priest, or bishop, and left in charge of the new church. If the chieftain was gracious enough to grant a site for a monastery as well as a church, it was built too and functioned as a missionary station. Before departing, Patrick would give the new converts (or their pastors) a compendium of Christian doctrine and the canons to guide them.
One ancient document called “The Annals of the Four Masters” says that, through Patrick’s team, 30 or 40 of Ireland’s 150 tribes became Christian, 700 churches were planted and 1000 new ministers were ordained.
But no matter how much success he had with the kings, Patrick saw the greatest enemy as one he was intimately familiar with – slavery. He was the first Christian to strongly speak out, and fight against, the practice. But it wasn’t just the Irish who were taking British slaves – but also British who were stealing people from Ireland. Patrick himself wrote a letter excommunicating a man named Coroticus who had carried off some of Patrick’s own Irish converts into slavery.
“Ravenous wolves have gulped down the Lord’s own flock which was flourishing in Ireland,” he wrote, “and the whole church cries out and laments for its sons and daughters.” He called Coroticus’ deeds “wicked, so horrible, so unutterable,” and told him to repent and to free the converts.
We don’t know if Coroticus ever did free his slaves, but we know that within his lifetime, Patrick ended the entire Irish slave trade.
Self-Doubt and Great Faith
One thing that comes as a surprise to many is that despite his amazing legacy, success as a missionary, his bravery before the druids and kings, and his deep faith in God, Patrick was terribly self-conscious and never felt adequate to the task – especially regarding his educational background. He once wrote about the frustration he felt when trying to explain things to more educated people, “I still blush and fear more than anything to have my lack of learning brought out into the open for I am unable to explain my mind to learned people.” But he didn’t let his lack of education, or inability to articulate his thoughts stop him. He gave thanks to God, “who stirred up me, a fool, from the midst of those who are considered wise and learned in the practice of the law as well as persuasive in their speech and in every other way and ahead of these others, inspired me who is so despised by the world.”
Over and over again, Patrick wrote that he was not worthy to be a bishop. And he wasn’t the only one with doubts. Despite how difficult the mission was, and how successful Patrick was being, at one point, his ecclesiastical elders in Britain sent some men to investigate his mission. These men brought up many concerns and accusations – including a rash moment of (unspecified) sin from his youth. These concerns may have even been made public to his missionary team. Patrick reeled from the accusations. But he wrote back about God’s provision during that time, “Indeed he bore me up, though I was trampled underfoot in such a way. For although I was put down and shamed, not too much harm came to me.”
These men didn’t have to tell Patrick that he wasn’t fit for the position – he knew that. He never felt that he was truly equipped for the job God had given him. But what he lacked in formal training, he certainly made up for with a strong prayer life, a deep dependence on God, and a real sense of God’s presence in his life. He wrote, “I have known God as my authority, for he knows all things even before they are done. He would frequently forewarn me of many things by his divine response.” His self-doubt kept him closely dependent on God.
In fact, Patrick recorded eight dreams which he saw as personal messages from God. Scattered throughout his writings are tributes to God’s goodness to him during times of trouble, confusion and fear. He would say things like, “Tirelessly, I thank my God, who kept me faithful on the day I was tried, so that today I might offer to him, the Lord Jesus Christ, the sacrifice of my soul. He saved me in all dangers and perils….So, whatever may come my way, good or bad, I equally tackle it, always giving thanks to God.”
We don’t know for sure where or how he died, but according to the recorded history of Ireland, Patrick’s mission to Ireland ended in his death in 493. He would have been in his seventies. There are three different Monasteries that claim to house his remains. The day we know as St. Patrick’s day, March 17th, has been a day of feasting in his honour since as early as the year 797.
Though it is sometimes to separate fact from fiction in the stories of St. Patrick, everyone agrees that he has an amazing legacy. He was the first great missionary to bring the gospel outside of the boundaries of Romans civilization.
He was the ultimate model for Celtic Christians who would follow him in his work. Hundreds of Irish monks left their homeland, just as Patrick had, to spread the gospel to Scotland, England and Europe. But they didn’t just model his mission – they followed his faith.
Patrick was a man of continuous prayer, enraptured by God and deeply in love with Scripture. That love didn’t stay with the book, but was lived in service to others as a preacher, teacher and practical missionary. He had a rich, poetic imagination, and a special openness to listen to God in dreams and visions. He appreciated and enjoyed nature and creation.
He is most worthy of the title “saint”, which means “set apart”, because certainly had a divine mission and became an inspiring example. Let us take his example, as he ran the race well, following the footsteps of Christ, and become men and women of courageous faith.
Note: My seminary profs would have my hide for this because of the way I adapted and outright copied from the sources below (though I noticed they did the same to each other, so I don’t feel too bad), but if I sited every single part I used then this post would have become an unreadable mess of punctuation. Let’s just assume that I assembled the story, adapted some of the language to make it easier to read, but I will take credit for none of the research.
- “Patrick The Saint – The Story Behind The Legends”; by Mary Cagney – CHRISTIAN HISTORY MAGAZINE
- Galli, M., & Olsen, T. (2000). Introduction. In 131 Christians everyone should know (p. 230). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
- George G. Hunter. (2000), The Celtic Way of Evangelism, Abingdon Publishers
This is the final week we will be spending on Psalm 15. We have been going through it for nine weeks now, and it has been a challenging, and hopefully encouraging, piece of scripture to study. I know it has been for me! And from the responses I’ve heard from some of you, God has been working on your heart too. And for that I’m glad.
Let’s open up to Psalm 15 together, and let’s read it one more time from beginning to end.
“O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?
He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and
does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord;
who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be moved.” (ESV)
Throughout the series, we’ve been using the illustration of a house that God is building our spiritual house (our lives) into. If you remember, each part of the psalm speaks about a different column that holds up the roof, which is our Integrity. All of this is built on the foundation of our relationship with Jesus Christ.
If we are going to have Christian Integrity, then these 5 characteristics will describe your life: You will Speak the Truth, Love Your Neighbour, Honour the Faithful (which included Rejecting Hypocrites (Part 2)), Be Trustworthy and Generous (which means we Use Wealth Well).
The Psalm says that “He who does these things shall never be moved.” In order for this house to be secure, all of these parts have to be there holding up the walls. You cannot build your life on another foundation other than Jesus Christ because all other foundations we build our life on, no matter how strong we believe them to be, will falter and fail when the storms come.
At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, which is the longest recording of a sermon Jesus preached to His followers, He tells this story:
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27, ESV)
There are so many foundations out there that people will build their lives on – where they will seek to find hope, strength, security, and peace: Their Government, The Economy, Themselves, Other Religions. But all of these things are insecure. The only solid foundation is Jesus Christ. He is the only immovable, unchangeable, all powerful One who can weather all storms. Therefore, before all else, we must make sure that we have a strong relationship with Jesus Christ.
But to have a strong spiritual house, the pillars must be there too. Jesus doesn’t move – He will never leave you, forsake you, and you can be sure in your salvation – but our pillars can shift. We call this sin.
A person of Christian Integrity wants to be a fully functioning, healthy disciple of Jesus. And God works in them to build them into a strong spiritual house. But when we lie, act in an unloving way, embrace hypocrites, ignore fellow Christians, don’t keep our word, hold onto our money like Scrooge, or waste it on frivolous things, we are willfully making our spiritual house insecure. We are shaking our pillars, shrinking them, and chipping away at them.
What this series has been about is causing us to evaluating our relationship with Jesus (are we built on the right foundation) and then to test strength of our pillars. If we want to people who “stand firm”, “never be shaken”, and “never moved”, then it means we must be diligent about keeping our Christian Integrity.
I hope you understand this. We talked about it in the first sermon and referenced 1 Corinthians 3:11-17:
“If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light [that is the day where we all stand before the judgment seat of Christ]. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”
God will test our spiritual house. He will judge our eternal destination – heaven or hell – based on our foundation, our relationship with Jesus. Then He will judge Christians based on their obedience to His word – he will judge the columns.
When you sin, it doesn’t mean that you have lost your faith, or lost your salvation. No, the biggest difference between someone who is a follower of Jesus is that when they fail in these areas, they are convicted of their sin, come to God for forgiveness, and then ask Him to change that part of their life to be more like Jesus. A non-believer doesn’t see their sin… and if they do, they don’t hate it. They excuse it or blame someone else.
Testing the Columns
So I want to do something a little different today. What I want to do is go through some of the questions we’ve been asking for the past number of weeks, and give you a chance to talk about them together during the week. My hope is that over the next week or so you will gather together with a Christian friend, your spouse, or your small group, and go through these questions together. To reflect on them and test the strength of your spiritual house.
But before we do that I want to tell you why this is important.
Not Be Shaken
The reason I want to do this today is because of that last line in the Psalm. “He who does these things will never be shaken.” I don’t want you to be shaken. I want you to be able to stand firm no matter what happens. I want this church to be able to stand firm, and I believe the secret of the strength in your life as an individual, in your relationships, in your work life, in your home life, and in this church, is found in Psalm 15. If you get just this psalm right, you will be a huge step closer to living a life without regrets, without fear, without doubts, and without worries. This is the formula. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good. “He who does these things shall never be moved.” That sounds like a promise from God to you and me.
It reminds me of another favourite passage of scripture of mine and many others: Ephesians 6:10-19. Would you turn there with me and listen to what it takes in order to be able to “never be moved”.
Listen closely because this isn’t about gritting your teeth and trying to do your best. This isn’t about showing God how holy you are by how miserable you can make your life. It’s not about thanking Jesus for saving you and then saying, “Ok, I’ll take it from here.” This is about depending on Jesus every day, living by His strength and not yours. It’s about putting down your own ideas about how life should go, and picking up His plan and putting Him in charge of how to build your house. It’s about not doing things in your own strength, but asking God to use His strength through you. There’s a huge difference between doing things for God, doing things with God, and letting God do things through, for, in and around you.
Fight the Right Battle
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” (vs 10-11)
Do you see that? The strength comes from “the Lord”. The “might” comes through a closer relationship with Him. The “armour” comes from God and is given to every person in His kingdom who asks for it. And your primary enemy is not you, or the world – the enemy is spiritual, it’s Satan.
That’s critical to realize or you will spend your life running from column to column, trying to hold up your own house, and feel like a complete failure when your life ultimately collapses. And if you think this is a battle against yourself, or against your enemies in the world, then you won’t even be on the right battlefield! However, if you realize that this is a spiritual battle, and your strength comes from a spiritual source, then you will come to God for the weapons you need to build, rebuild and defend your house.
Fight the Right Opponent
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (vs 12)
That’s important to know. When it comes to your Christian Integrity: being truthful, loving people that are different, knowing the difference between right and wrong, keeping your vows even when it’s hard, living generously… we have to realize that the enemy hates that, and He will fight tooth and nail, pulling out every trick in his book to stop you. And you don’t have the power to withstand him. All of the decisions you make to be truthful, loving and the rest are all made in your spirit, way before they happen in the real world. The battle doesn’t happen when you are faced with something that tests your integrity. The battle is fought before you ever get there – in your spirit – as you contest with pride, jealousy, covetousness, idols, and the temptation to put yourself in the place of God.
If you have the chance to lie, that’s not the first strike – it’s the final blow of the battle. That question has already been answered. Did you come to God and commit yourself to Him? Are you living in His spiritual strength? Are you feeling weak and entitled and selfish? Have you asked for the strength to be truthful, and told the devil that you are not one of his people – you are not a liar! Either way, you already know how you will answer the question.
The battle whether or not you will keep your vows has more to do with your view of God then it does with the circumstances that happen to you or the person you made promises too. The decision to break your word isn’t just a human decision, it is one that is fought in your heart. The spiritual forces of evil are seeking to corrupt you, through temptation and fear, to break your vows, and they are giving you every excuse in the book. And when you break them, they know it has ripple effects that will harm many people, mar the image of God, and hurt the reputation of Jesus and His church. It’s a spiritual battle that happens way before the bad days come.
It’s the same with the decision to be generous, or loving. It’s not based on whether or not the person is worth our time, worth helping, worth our money… it is about whether we are seeing through God’s eyes. Do we recognize the generosity and grace that has come from His hand? Satan doesn’t want you to see that, so he will do everything he can to distract you from it. He will fill your mind with reasons why you don’t have enough, why you deserve more, why you’ve already loved enough and it’s someone else’s turn. He’ll tell you that people aren’t worth the trouble, that it won’t make any difference, that you’re too busy, and that you don’t need to love them if they don’t love you back. I know you’ve felt this spiritual battle.
And so Paul says this in verse 13. Since it’s a spiritual battle…
“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” (vs 13)
The only way you will be able to stand against all of these schemes, to see straight, and to have the sensitivity to know what’s really going on, is to have the full armour of God on. When the day of evil, the day of temptation, when that spiritual battle rages in your heart about who you are, who God is, whether to be obedient, selfish, generous, loving, honest… if you are not wearing the full armour of God, you will not be able to stand.
Be careful to see how it is written. Who puts on the armor? Does God put it on you? No, you put on the armour. The day of evil is coming – the day of temptation, of fear, of anxiety, of death – and you stand your ground because you chose to put on God’s armour. He’s willing to suit you up, make sure the armor is strong, and give you the power to fight, and when it’s all over, to “stand firm”. But He wants you to come to Him to put on the armour. It’s called dependence.
What’s the difference between the one standing, and the one who is lying dead on the battle field? It’s not who was carrying the sharpest sword, or biggest gun. It is who had the best armour. The one who could take what the enemy dished out, and then turn the battle around. Satan is a coward and a bully and fights like a terrorist or a sniper. You don’t often get to see the battle coming before he’s on you. You won’t have a chance to take a swing with your weapon – you’d better have your armor on.
There’s an old sports quote that says: “Offence sells tickets, but defense wins championships” Our spiritual armour is the difference between having a strong spiritual house, or a weak one. It’s the difference between being “moved” or standing firm.
Testing the Pillars
Let’s talk about these pillars.
For a long time my father worked as a pipefitter at the mill in the town where I grew up. It was his job to fix the pipes that were broken. Then they gave him a different job: he was in charge of maintenance and safety. Instead of fixing things, his job was to make sure things didn’t break and no one got hurt. He would inspect machines, check the fire suppression system, order parts in advance, make sure things were up to code, shut things down that weren’t working properly, and schedule time to fix little problems before they become big problems.
That’s what I want to do for the rest of our time here. Let’s do a maintenance and safety walk around our spiritual house – using Psalm 15 as our guide. Let’s inspect these five pillars that hold up Integrity and see what we need to work on, what we need to pray about, and what areas of our life God is going to be challenging us in over the next while. Maybe some parts need a little fix, and maybe some need an overhaul.
What I’ll do is give you a quick intro, some questions for you to discuss, and then a little time to consider your answer – maybe even write it down.
Are You Truthful?
The first pillar of Christian Integrity is to be Truthful: “Who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue.” Here we talked about how people really don’t like “right and wrong”, but instead like to talk about “differences” and how nothing is ever anyone’s fault. In contrast, Christians should realize the importance of truth, and be able to speak the truth in love to one another.
We said that truth is under attack from Relativism, Scepticism and Pluralism… and that people who tell the truth are probably going to get into trouble at some point. Jesus told nothing but the truth, and he was hurt, rejected, slandered and murdered.
So, here are the questions:
- Do Christians have the right to enforce the standards of scripture on one another? How have you handled this responsibility?
- Which attack on the truth do you encounter most? Relativism – there is no absolute truth. Scepticism – we will never really know the truth. Pluralism – all truths are equally valid? Which do you struggle with?
- Do you struggle with always telling the truth? In what ways have you been hurt by lying or being lied to? How have you been because you or someone else told the truth?
Are You Loving?
The second pillar of Christian Integrity is to Love people. “Who does his neighbour no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman.” Here we learned we need to love everyone! We believe that all people are created in the image of God, that they are objects of divine love, and there are no divisions between us based on race, nationality, culture or social status. We have no reason to hate anyone simply because of how they look, where they are from, or what their customs are. Specifically, we are to do no wrong (no evil) to anyone, or slur (meaning despise or dishonour) someone. Especially other believers!
This is where we looked at Bikers, Goths, Emos, Rappers, Hip Hop Culture, Body Builders, and Metal Heads, and said that in Jesus’ eyes, these people are also objects of grace, and can be Christian ministers within their own culture – and even went as far as to say that we are missing out when we have so much division in the church.
So here’s some questions:
- What does it mean to love every member of the human race? Is that even possible? Do you?
- Have you, or someone you know, ever been discriminated against because of your race, nationality, culture, or social status? Has it ever happened among Christians? Did you respond in a godly way?
- Do you think you could go to a worship service at a biker church, a goth church, a hip-hop church? Which would be hardest / easiest for you? Why?
Are You Honouring?
Next we took a couple of weeks to look at the third pillar which was based on the part that says a Christian “despises a vile man but honours those who fear the LORD”.
Here we spent some time looking at what it means to reject the person who claims to be a believer but has clearly rejected what God is saying in His word – and to give weight and respect those who obey God and treat Him as Lord of every area of their life. On one hand we give VIP status to other Christians. Love them, serve them, forgive them, speak kindly to them, and do all the other “one another” verses to them.
We said, based on 1 Corinthians 5, that there are 3 ways we get this wrong. First are those who are claiming to be Christians, but who are openly sinning and don’t care. Second is the group that is enabling, or even encouraging that person to sin. And third are those who know about it, know it’s wrong, but who avoid dealing with it because they don’t want to get involved.
This is where we brought in Matthew 18:15-17 where we learned that Jesus commands us to get into the business of other Christians who are sinning. And if they don’t listen to us, to take some friends along and try again. And if they still don’t listen, to get the pastor and elders involved. And then if they still are unrepentant, to turn them over to Satan and treat them like a hypocrite and an unbeliever.
So here’s the questions:
- Are you an Unrepentant Sinner, Enabler, or Avoider? What do you need to do about it?
- Have you ever gone through the Matthew 18 process? What was it like? If not, is it because you’ve avoided doing it?
- Why would God command us to treat a hypocritical Christian like a non-believer? What benefit could come from being “handed over to Satan?” How do you deal with hypocrites?
Are You Trustworthy?
The fourth pillar of Christian Integrity is to be Trustworthy. “Who keeps his oath even when it hurts.” The concept here is simple to grasp, but sometimes hard to practice. Jesus said that we need to take what we say very seriously – and follow through, even when it hurts. He said we should let our “yes be yes and our no be no” and that “anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” We should have the kind of reputations that when we say something we don’t have to add disclaimers for why might not do be trustworthy.
So here are the questions:
- Can people trust you? Do you struggle with trusting others?
- Do you ever add a bunch of disclaimers, explanations and excuses to things you say because you’re not sure if you’ll follow through? Why?
- What vows have you broken, and what are you going to do to make it right?
Are You Generous?
The final pillar of Christian Integrity is Generosity, or Using our Wealth Well. “Who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent.” Here we talked quite a lot about the Amazing Grace of God, and how His grace and generosity should be the driving force for us to be gracious and generous with others.
We said that this has two sides. Those who have more should not take advantage of the people who have less by being selfish or using their resources to harm those who are poorer than them. And those who have less should not try to get money in a way that harms someone else. We then talked about some ways we can be selfish like: not tipping, valuing a possession over a person, or trading physical, psychological or emotional health for worldly wealth.
So here’s the questions:
- In what ways have you acknowledged the Amazing Grace of God this week?
- Have you ever taken advantage of someone by being selfish or using your wealth to cause harm?
- Have you ever done something wrong in order to get (or keep) more money or stuff?
That concludes our walk around our spiritual home. It is my deep hope that you were helped, and that this week you will draw closer to God, depend more on Jesus, and have a new understanding of the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life. For the areas that you have done well, thank God and give Him praise for helping you. In the areas that you have sinned, talk to God about that this week, ask forgiveness, receive forgiveness, and then spend more time putting on your spiritual armour so you will be able to stand firm.