420:  Faith Always Has a Cost

420: Faith Always Has a Cost

Faith is not free.  In fact, faith costs everyone associated with it something.  No, I’m not talking about saving faith or salvation.  But even then, salvation has a cost.  It costs Christ His life and the Father His only Son.  And it costs each of us who embrace saving faith the one thing we hold most dear.  Us.  Salvation costs each of us who we are.

But the faith we are talking about is the Hebrews 11 kind of faith.  It’s the faith defined as the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Heb. 11:1).  It’s the faith that made the notable men of the Scripture, notable. And it’s the faith that helps us answer the why questions in life.


The Why Questions

Why does God allow bad things to happen to people who love Him?
Why does God allow innocent babies to die?
Why does God allow drug addiction and abortion and rape and child abuse and starvation and disease?
Why, oh why, oh why?

Get the point?  But having the faith to trust God’s answer to these questions will cost you something.  Why?  Because it costs Abraham and Noah and Jacob and Moses and many, many others what it will cost you to know the truth.  Are you willing to understand the cost of faith?  Do you want to know the answer to the most troubling questions in the Christian life?  If so, then keep listening.

The following is a study on the cost of faith.

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415:  The Curse of God’s Abandonment

415: The Curse of God’s Abandonment

There’s a time when the Lord gives us what we want: freedom, autonomy, independence, and to have no authority over our lives but ourselves.  That’s right.  God gives us over to our selfish, carnal attitudes and allows us to experience the consequences of our sins.  It’s like He says, “Ok, you want to go your own way?  Have at it.  I’ll be here when you come to your senses.”  It’s the story of the prodigal son played out in our lives in real time.

This is called the curse of God’s abandonment.  It’s when He removes His protecting grace from our lives and our nation and let’s us see how we like life without Him.  And the results are catastrophic.

Samson, after having his hair cut by Delilah, woke up to confront his enemies still believing he had the same strength as before because his God was with him.  But that was not the case.  He said, “I will go out as before, at other times, and shake myself free!”  But he did not know that the LORD had departed from him (Judges 16:20).  Samson was experiencing the abandonment of God.


God Gave Them Up

In Romans 1 we see three examples of this very act of God’s abandonment:

Therefore God also gave them up – Romans 1:24.
For this reason God gave them up – Romans 1:26.
God gave them over – Romans 1:28.

But who are the “them” in these verses?  The lost?  The unregenerate?  Those nations that reject truth and justice?  Yes.  But if you will study these verses closely you will find the object of God’s curse of abandonment is also the church.  It includes His wayward believers.  It includes you and me.

Does this seem strange to you?  Maybe hard to believe?  Then I suggest you keep listening and find out the truth for yourself.  And remember, “judgment begins at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17).  Are you ready?

The following is a study on the Curse of the Abandonment of God.

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414:  The Blessings of Persecution

414: The Blessings of Persecution

Sometimes there are passages in the Scripture that confound even the most mature Believer.  These are the ones that seem to defy logic, ones that fly in the face of our cherished sensibilities.  For example, in Luke 6:30 the Lord tells us to “Give to everyone who asks of you.  And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back.”  But Jesus gives no qualifier in this verse.  The person who asks for your stuff may be a bum, a greedy businessman, or the government.  How are we supposed to follow that command?

Another example deals with how we respond to a personal attack.  Jesus said, “But I tell you not to resist an evil person.  But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.  If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also” (Matt. 5:39-40).  How does this play out in real life in real time?  If the church followed this command the future of the legal profession would be in great peril.

But one of the hardest teachings in Scripture, especially to an opulent, narcissistic church like we have today, is the idea that suffering or persecution could be a good thing.  That sentiment is hard to swallow, let alone believe.  How could persecution be a good thing?  Ever?  To anybody?


The Church at Smyrna

In the second of our Lord’s seven personal epistles to His church, found in Revelation 2 and 3, He has nothing but kind words to say about the church at Smyrna (Rev. 2:8-11).   And the primary characteristic of this church was their faithful perseverance under extreme persecution that lasted centuries.  We would be well advised as a church, and as individuals, to emulate in our life what brought this church such praise from our Lord.

To find out more about the Lord’s letter to the church at Smyrna, and what we can learn about our own view of suffering, then keep listening.

The following is a study on Jesus’ letter to the church at Smyrna, Revelation 2:8-11.

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403:  God Never Waste an Experience, Good or Bad

403: God Never Waste an Experience, Good or Bad

God never wastes an experience in our life, good or bad.  When we sin, for example, God uses our failure as a ministry to help others struggling with the same sin.  He allows us to share the times we fell flat on our face to encourage others who are doing the same.  It seems that’s what Jesus was teaching Peter.

In the upper room, during the last supper, Jesus told Peter He was praying for him.  But His prayer was not to remove the temptation and inevitable fall from Peter.  No, His prayer was that when Peter fell and suffered the consequences of that fall, that once he repented and returned to Jesus, he was to strengthen his brothers by that experience.  Consider the following:

Luke 22:31-32 – And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”

Jesus didn’t tell Peter he would deliver him from the temptation, the sifting.  He promised Peter that after he fell and recovered and returned to his faith, Jesus would use that experience to encourage and strengthen others who were struggling in the same way.  That’s why, in John 21, we see Jesus restoring Peter by saying, “Feed My lambs” (John 21:15).  Even after Peter’s epic denial of Jesus, his ministry was not finished.  In fact, it was just beginning.  And so it is with us.

Does this thought encourage you?  It does me.  If you want to learn more about your usefulness after your failure, then keep listening.

The following is a study on John 21:15-23.

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398:  When Our Blessings Become Curses

398: When Our Blessings Become Curses

One of the greatest blessings the church has experienced has become its greatest curse.  And that is wealth.  Opulence.  The ability to run ahead of God rather than waiting on Him to provide what His church needs and when it needs it.  Then there’s the great blessing that comes with persecution that a wealthy church always views as a curse.  How did it become so upside down?

The early church understood the blessings that come with persecution.  Because they remembered the promise of Jesus when He preached His sermon on the mount where He said, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.  Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12).

And later, Paul would tell his son Timothy that “Yes, and all who (condition) desire to live godly in Christ Jesus (result) will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12).  Do you see the condition and the result?  If you desire to live godly in Christ Jesus, which most Christians would say they do, then you will suffer persecution because of your godly life in Christ.  It’s a given.  A promise.

And the opposite of this promise is also true.  If you are not suffering persecution, then it stands to reason you do not desire to live godly in Christ Jesus.  Sobering, isn’t it?  This is not how the early church lived.  They embraced every opportunity to live godly in Christ, regardless of how they suffered.  Do you want to know more about people who love Jesus that way?  Good.  Then keep listening.

The following is a study on Acts 4:1-35.

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Bring Mark for Ministry

Bring Mark for Ministry

Today, I’ve been thinking about getting older.

Sometimes, when we get older, we think it’s our time to slow down.  “After all,” we reason, “I’ve done my part.  I’ve worked hard and paid my bills and raised my kids.  I’ve done more than my fair share.  Now it’s time for someone else to carry the torch and lead.  I’m just going to kick back, relax, retire, and die.”

But that’s not the example we see from Scripture.

In AD 60, Paul was imprisoned in Rome.  He was treated well and allowed to stay in his own house at his own expense, for two full years “preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him” (Acts 28:31).  It was during this time he wrote his prison epistles: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon.

Paul was in his mid-sixties.  About retirement age.

Paul was imprisoned a second and final time during the summer of AD 66.  The cause of his arrest may be found in a statement Paul made in his final letter to Timothy: “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm.  May the Lord repay him according to his works. You also must beware of him, for he has greatly resisted our words” (2 Tim. 4:14-15).

This time, Paul was not allowed to remain under house arrest, but was thrown among the most vile of prisoners in the Mamertine prison or another such dark and horrid place.  This prison was more like a dungeon, or a pit that could only be reached by a ladder or rope let through a hole in the floor above.  There was little ventilation and sanitation was non-existent.  If the idea was to reduce men to mere animals before they faced trial and execution, then the Romans did their job quite well.

It was in this desperate condition, accompanied only by Luke (2 Tim. 4:11), that Paul penned his last letter to Timothy.  Paul was now in his late sixties, well past retirement age.


Paul’s Final Words

Paul begins what would be his farewell address to his beloved son in the faith, Timothy.  In these final words, Paul urges Timothy to be bold in the face of opposition, knowing his own time was short.

2 Timothy 4:1-5 – I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word!  Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. (why) For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.  But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Paul then turns to more personal matters.  He reflects on his present situation, his past ministry, and the future glory he will share with Christ.

2 Timothy 4:6-8 – For I am (present) already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand.  I have (past) fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Finally, there is (future) laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.

And then amazingly, in the midst of his deplorable conditions, Paul encourages Timothy to come to him, to the Mamertine prison, to help him continue in ministry.

2 Timothy 4:9 – Be diligent to come to me quickly.

Why would Paul ask that of Timothy?  What possible ministry could Paul be undertaking?  The Scriptures don’t say. But we can see that Paul clearly understands his time is not over and there’s still more work to be done.  He knows there’s no retirement plan in the Kingdom of God.  Paul’s not ready, like many of us, to kick back, relax, retire and spend the rest of his days cruising the Caribbean or watching reruns of the Andy Griffith Show.  Even in the midst of unspeakable filth, in the throes of pain and suffering, Paul realized there was still ministry to perform for his Lord.

2 Timothy 4:10 – For Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica— Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia.

The sad news is that Demas has forsaken Paul and abandoned him and the faith.  In doing so, Demas will forever be remembered as one who did not finish well and inevitably suffered the certain fate that awaits all who reject the One who came to save them.  The good news is that Paul, even in prison, seems to be directing missionary endeavors to support and encourage the churches in Asia minor.  Paul is saying that “Creschen has departed (or, has been sent or dispatched) to Galatia and Titus (has been sent or dispatched) to Dalmatia” (2 Tim. 4:10).  Paul later says he sent, or dispatched, Tychicus to Ephesus (2 Tim. 4:12).

Think about it. In the middle of Paul’s prison cell he is still ministering to others.  Paul’s physical circumstances may have changed for the worse, but not his calling nor his faithfulness to that calling.  Paul, in prison and approaching seventy, facing trial and death, in unspeakable filth, continues ministering to others.  He remains faithful even when he has every reason not to.


Bring Mark

We then have the verse that communicates more to me about the heart of Paul than any other in this passage.  Here Paul asks Timothy to bring Mark with him when he comes.  That’s the same Mark, by the way, that deserted Paul early in their first missionary journey (Acts 13:13).  And it was the same Mark that caused Paul and Barnabas to exchange such sharp words with each other that they split as a team and headed in different directions (Acts 15:36-39).

2 Timothy 4:11 – Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful (profitable, to furnish what is needed), to me for ministry (serving others, showing benevolence).

Note, Paul did not say Mark would be useful to him to meet his own personal needs, which must have been great.  Nor did he say Mark would be useful to take care of Paul, or lessen his burdens, or comfort him while he suffered and languished in the Mamertine prison.  No, Paul said Mark would be useful, or would furnish what was needed or lacking, in the lives of those Paul himself was ministering to— his fellow cell mates and possibly a guard or two.  It was always for Paul, even in this late hour, about his love for Christ manifested by his ministry to others.

He continues:

2 Timothy 4:13 – Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come— and the books, especially the parchments.

The cloak I understand.  After all, it was probably quite cold in the prison, especially for a man of Paul’s age.  But why the parchments?  What did Paul need with them?  They were for teaching, for his trial preparation, for the opportunity he saw to present Christ to those who would render judgment against him and decide his fate.  He remembered what Jesus said about him, spoken to Ananias so many years ago, “he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15).  And even in the midst of prison, at his final curtain call, Paul saw one more opportunity to fulfill his calling and faithfully serve his Lord.

At the age when most of us are tired and want to quit, satisfied and content with the memories of yesteryear, Paul urges forward.  As long as there’s breath in his lungs, he will continue to proclaim the glories of Christ to anyone, anywhere, in any situation, no matter the costs.  For Paul, his best days are from this day forward, no matter how dire this day seems.  Even if this day begins chained to a wall, standing in human excrement, facing certain death, in the bowels of a Roman prison.

Convicting, isn’t it?  Especially when you realize how we view aging and retirement today.

It’s my prayer that I will be more like Paul as the day of my departure approaches (2 Tim. 4:6).  And I also pray I will not mimic most Christians I’ve seen in church, who have worked tirelessly for their retirement and, when it comes, when they now have all the time in the world to serve the Lord they claim to love, instead choose to spend that precious time for themselves, and not for Him or for others.

That’s not the New Testament model.  Pray it doesn’t become the norm for each of us.

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