An Inconvenient Work

Faith over Fear. That is what we have heard a lot about these last several weeks. We’ve encouraged it as a church, you’ve probably seen it in a social media post from another Christian outlet, or maybe you have even encouraged someone else with that same truth. And for good reason, it is a good reminder during times like these. It is a good reminder that faith is what should be produced in us as we seek the Lord in this season. Pressing into the Lord during this time is important for us all to do. Seeking refuge in the Lord is right. (Psalm 16:1)

But what if the Lord is asking more of us? What if it is not just a simple equation of replacing fear with faith. Or having faith, instead of fear. What if the Lord wants to use this season for something much more?, What if He wants to remove that which stands in our way of faith most often, something that is actually at the root of the fear we often have? What if before the Lord can increase our faith He has to do a much deeper work; a much more inconvenient work in our life?

What am I talking about? Well let me lead you there by way of describing first how the Lord showed me this work just this week.

I was reading Exodus 14. Now this isn’t so much about what I was reading. It is more about how, deep down in my heart, I was reading it.

It is a familiar story. Moses has led his people out of Egypt into the wilderness. The people have watched over time how God has shown up through plaques and miracles, signs and wonders, and now as a pillar of dust and fire. To say that these people have seen some amazing acts of God would be an understatement. He is literally leading them day and night in a pillar of dust and a pillar of fire by night.

But now they have come to the Red Sea, a geographical dead-end. And here comes Pharaoh, hard-hearted and ready to destroy the Israelites. Imagine you are an Israelite, you’ve seen God literally send an angel of death to fight for you. You have seen God overthrow and bring to his knees the super-power political leader of your day. You have spent the last several days watching as God manifest himself in your midst through dust and fire. And at the first sign of trouble you want to run back to Egypt. I mean, I can get you being afraid. I can get there being some trepidation in your voice and heart at this moment. I can even expect the question: “Lord this looks like a pretty tough situation. Not sure how you are going to get us out of this one.” I can understand all that, but No! The Israelites sarcastically mock Moses, basically saying, “Oh so you brought us out here to die. We told you so. We had it better in Egypt.” (Exodus 14:11-12)

And if I am honest as I have told that story to kids, as I have read about it over and over, there are times that, I may not have shaken my head, but deep down in me, I was shaking my heart at least. I was scoffing at the Israelites. “Oh yea of little faith! You’ve just witnessed God fighting for you. And now you doubt him?”, my heart would say.

But this time, during this season, reading that story in the midst of COVID-19 exposed my pride, arrogance, and vanity. I didn’t shake my heart at the Israelites, I sadly identified with them. I asked myself, “How many of your prayers sound like those Israelites?” I may not be staring at the Red Sea, but take a second and look at your calendar for April. Think about the prospect of employment if this season continues. Look into the abyss of what is now our unknown situation and see if you don’t feel a little bit of what the Israelites felt that day.

Which leads me to the inconvenient work the Lord is up to in my own life, maybe your life, and maybe the church as a whole. We have talked a lot these last few weeks about having faith and believing in the goodness of the Lord. But what I have forgotten and maybe you have too, is that belief and faith is a two-step process. Faith’s biggest obstacle is not fear, it is what lies as the source of that fear, sin and idolatry.

John the Baptist comes on the scene and his ministry can be summed up in three words, “Repent and Believe.” Jesus comes on the scene and begins his ministry in Mark 1:14 and his first recorded words in that gospel are this, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Jesus first “sermon” in Mark is to call people to repentance and then belief. “Root out the sin, recognize where you have believed in opposition to my good news, and then believe in the gospel,” Jesus says. Repentance is always the first step in the process of deepening faith. Moving towards God is always accompanied by moving away from and acknowledging false beliefs, false gods, and insufficient idols.

I don’t say this from an ivory tower or some emotionally distant vantage point. I realize our current situation has already seen people lose their jobs. Families are making or will begin to have to make tough choices. Much of what lies ahead of us is unknown. That is why I called what the Lord is wanting to do, such an inconvenient work. Not an insensitive work, but an inconvenient one. In the midst of all this unknown, in the midst of this Red Sea of questions and worry, in midst of this diseases and hurt, the fact that the Lord may want us to repent so that our faith could be made stronger is inconvenient, from our human perspective at best.

But if we want more of God. If what we really seek is to be transformed into the likeness of His Son in the midst of this trial, then it would be foolish for us as a church not to recognize that the greater work of deepening faith may have to come through the road of repentance. We want to be comforted by God, but realizing areas where we have first made God small is often the first step in His comforting work.

Think back 6 months ago. Would you ever have believed, in the midst of your work and toil, your leisure and spare time, your business and money-making endeavors, that out there in the world somewhere there was lurking a little tiny virus, no bigger then 1/1000th of an eye lash that could bring the world to its knees? Our biggest weapons, all our money, and all our power have yet to stop this thing. At best right now all we hope to do is contain it. Oh but how powerful, whether we realize it or not, did we feel at that time. How little thought did we give of the millions of ways God’s good grace was maintaining our world and keeping us going. How much of our days did we think that we, in our own power and might, happened because of our ability to make it so?

And yet a tiny virus has shown us that we aren’t as in control as we thought we were. One tiny virus has shown up and once again reminded us how fragile, how needy, and how vulnerable we are. And we would be worse off if we simply hunkered down during this time, thought nothing of the different ways, known and unknown, that we have forgotten God in the midst of our everyday lives.

God brought his people to the Red Sea because he loved them. It was easy for God to get them out of Egypt, but it took a much longer time to get Egypt out of them. The same is true for us. We are living a similar exodus story. The Israelites were brought to the Red Sea so that they would feel their need of God. And God has brought us to this point because we need the same. And neediness’ companion on this wilderness journey is often repentance. God may not part every figurative “Red Sea” for us. What God did for the Israelites in the wilderness that day, is not prescriptive for what God will do for you in your family, with your health, or with your job in this season. Not because God doesn’t care about those things, but because God has already parted this sea. He did it when His Son came to this virus infected earth and died on the cross for our redemption. He did it when he raised His Son from the dead because death had no claim on his sinless and perfect life, and he does it today because he is still ruling and reigning in the midst of the pandemic. God has not been dethroned by COVID-19. And as you look to an unknown future, acknowledge the ways in which you are stilled pulled to want to go back to Egypt. Acknowledge where you heart is prone to despair. Stare at the Red Sea of your future and be reminded of Moses words to the people at that day, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord.”

Can a True Christian Lose their Salvation?

In Sunday’s message we explored what it means to blaspheme the Holy Spirit from Matthew 12:22-32, where Jesus heals a demon-oppressed man, and the religious leaders attribute Jesus’ power to the work of demons. We learned that blaspheming the Spirit is settled opposition or resistance to God in the heart. The drift towards final rejection of Jesus is revealed when we attribute God’s transforming work to someone or something other than God or question Jesus’ power to change circumstances or people. This miraculous healing is accounted for in three of the four Gospels (see also Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10). Each account has different audiences (Pharisees in Matthew, scribes in Mark, and disciples in Luke). In each account, Jesus does not say that the audience has blasphemed the Spirit, but rather that unbelief sets a person’s life on that trajectory.

If you haven’t heard the message, I encourage you to check it out. Following the message, I had a couple of people ask me if I was suggesting that a true Christian could blaspheme the Spirit and lose their salvation. While I had hoped I was clear on this point, I thought it would be wise to answer this question with as much clarity as possible.

The answer to this question biblically is a clear, resounding, emphatic “no”. A true Christian cannot lose their salvation. There are several verses that gives us this assurance. In 1 John 5:11, John writes, “This is the testimony that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” God gives us eternal life – not temporary life – by faith. This promise is confirmed in Romans 8:30. Paul writes, “Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Notice the progression. The predestined are called, the called are justified, the justified are glorified. There is no uncertainty here. God’s work of salvation will be brought to completion in us by faith (see Philippians 1:6). In 1 Corinthians 1:8-9, Paul writes, “Jesus Christ will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Those who are truly in Christ will finish the race set before them.

How, then, do we reconcile the reality that we cannot lose our salvation with the warning Jesus gives about not blaspheming the Spirit? This isn’t the only warning offered to true believers in Scripture. There are multiple references in the New Testament where Christians are warned against willful sin against God. Hebrews 6 and 10 could give you the impression that a Christian can lose their salvation. The Apostle John also dealt with these issues in 1 John. He actually tells us that he wrote 1 John to help assure the believers of their standing in Christ (“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” [5:13]).

The person who has blasphemed the Spirit is either unwilling or unable to repent. They have no desire for God, no interest in spiritual things, and nothing but contempt for Jesus and the Spirit’s work in their lives. But the life of a true Christian is a life of repentance and belief. Not just one-time repentance and faith, but a daily posture of repentance and faith. If you have that posture and desire, you can’t blaspheme the Spirit.

Someone who is truly in Christ will not remain in a willful state of defiance against God. In fact, that’s John’s point in 1 John. He writes, “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:6). Henry Alford says this about blaspheming the Spirit (the unpardonable sin): “It is not a particular species of sin which is here condemned (like, oh have I done that one thing?) but a definite act showing a state of sin, and that state a willful determined opposition to the present power of the Holy Spirit; and this as shown by its fruit, blasphemy.” Did you notice the key? Willful determined opposition.

A true Christian may experience a season of disobedience. But he or she will not remain there. He or she will not set up long-term camp in a life of disobedience. We can grieve the Spirit and quench His work in our lives, but a true Christian cannot and will not dig his or her heels in the dirt in opposition to the Spirit’s work. God’s Spirit will lead them to repentance. Our very repentance is evidence of God’s mercy to awaken us to our need and set us back on course in our faith.

We must remember that the evidence of our faith is not merely a past decision or past act of faith. Many believers have a false assurance of salvation because the basis of their hope (confession of faith as a child) is not matched but an active, vibrant, present pursuit of Christ. Our salvation is revealed as much by the present expression of faith and repentance as past expressions of faith and repentance. If a person has a kind of hardness of heart that sees Jesus as true, but willingly walks away from his influence, authority, and work in their lives, they are on a perilous trajectory spiritually.

This is why the Holy Spirit warns those on the edge of danger: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Psalm 95:7-8; Hebrews 3:7-8).

More Than We Can Imagine

Three wishes. What would you ask for if you could be granted three wishes? In the movie Alladin, he asked the genie to make him a prince and save his life. For his final wish, he asked that Genie be set free to live a life outside the confines of his magic lamp. It can be fun to ponder what you would ask for if you could have anything your heart desired.

Think of your most extravagant thought. Think of something beyond your wildest dreams. No matter how creative your imagination is, and no matter how insatiable your appetite for pleasure might seem, there is still a limit to what you are able to conceive. There are boundaries around what you imagine happiness and fulfillment could be. There’s a limit to what you can comprehend.

But God does not have the same limitations you and I do. For the past several months I’ve been meditating on Ephesians 3:20-21:

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

God is able to do far more abundantly than what we’ve asked him to do. He is able to do immeasurably more than what we think. There are no boundaries or limitations to his power and work. God knows no earthly boundaries that can confine or confound the work he is pleased to do through the church. Nothing and no one can prevent him from fulfilling his best plans and purposes for his children.

Did you notice where his immeasurable work is accomplished? It is accomplished “within us”. The immeasurable, inconceivable, incomprehensible, unmatched work of God isn’t accomplished as an outside force or power imposed upon us. It is the power of God at work from within us as the presence of Christ dwells in his people (Ephesians 1:13, 3:14-19).

God, who has overcome our weakness and sin and rebellious hearts, who has redeemed us by faith through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, who ensures our endurance through the trials of this life by the power of his Spirit, is capable of far more than we can ask or imagine. Think about it. Who of us thought the latter was possible? Who of us, at our conversion, were as confident in God’s power to set us free from the slavery of our sin, as we are today? We can testify of God’s power to do for us more than we imagined him doing when we first met him by faith in Jesus. He’s done great things in our lives that we never imagined, and perhaps didn’t even ask him to do.

We have every spiritual blessing we need in Christ, and yet, in our experience of Christ, we’ve only scratched the surface of the reality that is promised to us by faith in Christ. God is not just able to do more than we can ask or imagine. Because God’s goal is great glory for himself and our great joy in his glory, he is going to do more than we think to ask or imagine. He understands we are far too easily pleased and distracted because there are limits to what we can imagine. C.S. Lewis speaks to limits on our imaginations in his sermon, “The Weight of Glory”:

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Here’s the thought that has consumed me in recent weeks: we are not asking enough of God. While I can’t wait to share with each of you stories about what God has done and will continue to do in our church in recent weeks in the everyONE Iniatitive, I can’t escape the haunting thought that we’re asking God to do far less than we should be asking him to do. I truly believe he has more for us. More transformation. More discipleship. More freedom. More impact in our city and around the world for the glory of his name.

Will you consider joining me in asking God to help us dream big for Jesus beyond the limits of our imagination? I want a more audacious faith. I want a boldness before God that shamelessly asks him to make Ephesians 3:20-21 real at Community Bible Church. What I want is not more of God’s blessings. I want more of God. I want to know in ways I’ve yet to experience the fullness of joy that is found in Jesus alone (Psalm 16:11). I want us to live full lives in his acceptance and embrace.

The Spirit Illuminates

I’m so excited about our new series titled “Holy Spirit”. If we are going to experience the fullness of God’s work in us as a family of redeemed sinners, it won’t happen apart from understanding and yielding to who the Spirit is and what the Spirit wants to do in each of us personally and our church corporately. The Holy Spirit makes Jesus real to us. The Holy Spirit awakens us to God and what He is doing all around us. The Spirit’s work is vast and vital.

In our message this coming Sunday, we are going to explore three elements of the Spirit’s work in our lives. But He does far more than just three things. I wanted to take just a few minutes to share with you one aspect of His work that we won’t be able to address this coming Sunday.

When I was a kid, I used to love catching lightening bugs (fireflies). How cool is a bug with a bulb on its backside? I recently read a fascinating story about the synchronous firefly, found only in a few places in the world. You can see this rare species with a short drive to the Allegheny National Park (Tennessee) or Congaree National Forest (South Carolina). These fireflies all light up at the same time. One spectator said it was like watching the Milky Way “flash on and then off”. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see the dark sky illuminated all at once by a hundred thousand fireflies showing of their glory in one spectacular mating ritual (that’s why they do it)?

To illuminate something is to “cast light on” or “make something brighter”. That’s what the Spirit does for us concerning the things of God. He enables us to see what we would not otherwise be able to see without His light.

Here’s what we often vastly underestimate about our capacity for God. We have no shot at understanding God or the gospel or what it means to follow Jesus apart from the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit. Paul speaks to this in 1 Corinthians 2:14:

“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

The world – and we are all products of a worldly way of thinking as a natural person – has rejected the Spirit (John 14:17). Consequently, we cannot understand the things of God. Worldly wisdom rejects the wisdom of God revealed by the cross of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:18). This is a by-product of our fallen, sinful nature. In addition, the Enemy blinds us to the beauty of God (2 Corinthians 4:4).

Without the Spirit giving us light, trying to understand spiritual things is like asking a newborn to do calculus. It’s beyond our reach. What this means practically is that our pursuit of God – through spiritual disciplines, by faith, in community – is always a spiritual journey.

We, of course, use our mind when pursuing God. But pursuing God is not only a pursuit of the mind or heart. The Spirit must turn the light on for us. The gracious work of God is to enable us to “see” the Kingdom (John 3:3; Acts 16:14; Ephesians 1:18; Rom 2:29; 2 Cor 3:15-16). The work of the Spirit is to dispel darkness and point us to Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Where we see Jesus most clearly is in God’s Word. The Spirit opens our deaf ears and blinded eyes to see the truth about God revealed to us in the Word of God. Intellect alone will not make us believe in God and follow Jesus. The Spirit must bring His beauty, truth, power, and love into the light and enable us to see it.

What does this mean for us practically as we seek to deepen our relationship with Jesus? It means (at least) two things:

  1. Embrace the reality that your relationship with Jesus requires supernatural intervention. You and I cannot – in our own strength, mental capacity, intellect – rightly understand the things of God. God certainly uses means of grace (prayer, Bible study, biblical community, suffering, etc.) to grow us in godliness, but none of those means of grace can be rightly applied or engaged in apart from the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit. So, we need to ask the Spirit to work through whatever means of grace God provides to make us more like Jesus.
  2. Ask God to open your eyes when you seek Him in the Word. The psalmist prayed, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). Every encounter with God in His Word should be preempted by a humble acknowledgement we are completely dependent upon God to rightly understand who He is in His Word. Ask the Spirit to show you God’s intended meaning for you that reaches far beyond the ink that forms the words impressed upon the pages of Scripture.

I’m praying we would all rightly discover more intimacy with God as the Spirit lights our path to show us the beauty and all-surpassing worth of Jesus.

Seeking the Spirit’s Illuminating Light Together,

Pastor Aaron

A Work of Healing

Have you experienced the death of someone very near and dear to you, whether recently or in months or years ago and the grief seems still as strong as the day they died? Or do you seem to be in a prison of grief that you can’t seem to get out of? For some though there is guilt due to a lack of grief for the loss of a loved one. We all grieve differently and that is normal and ok. We all experience and respond to death in varied ways with varied results and consequences. Some have very delayed experiences of grief. One thing is for sure. We all grieve. And there are consequences due to the way(s) we handle and attempt to deal with our grief. Those consequences can be physical, mental, emotional or spiritual.  Usually we experience a combination of problems and issues in these areas and not just one.

2014 & 2018 were very difficult years as I lost not only three very close companions in ministry but two of my closest and dearest friends Rob Black and Dave Annan. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I came to realize (as my sweet wife knows only too well) that I’m a “stuffer” when it comes to grief.  I want to help others and comfort and assist. But my own grief? It’s so easy to ignore the need to grieve while you are in the midst of comforting others. And so, I went on in the following months and even years not realizing I needed to grieve and do some work in my own life and soul, deep down. But God was gracious, kind and merciful.

Knowing that many in our congregation had experienced much of their own loss as well in the death of loved ones, the Lord put the ministry of GriefShare in my midst. It really resonated with me that this could be a help to many in our congregation who had lost loved ones and were struggling in their grief journey. So, in the fall of 2018 we launched our first GriefShare ministry and the 12 or so of us who were in that first group went down a road together that we’ll never forget. God met us in our grief, new friendships were forged, and God began a real work of healing in each and everyone of us. We cried, we laughed, we learned, we grew, we listened to each other’s stories and we began to heal. We are still healing and many of those in that first group will be there for this next group to continue healing and to be a blessing to others who are where they’ve been. Me included.

God began an amazing work in my own life in that first GriefShare group.  We’d like to invite any of you who are struggling, alone perhaps, to take a step of faith and courage, and join us on Thursday, September 12th @ 6:30pm in room C200 to be part of GriefShare. I promise you won’t regret it. I know the first step is hard but once you take that first step, I don’t think you’ll regret you did.

If you’d like more information on GriefShare click here to learn more and register. We do need you to register so we can make sure and have your personal workbook for you. You can also call me at 336-841-1104 and I’ll be glad to tell you more. I look forward to walking the journey with many of you.

Planting Seeds in a Hurricane

At the beginning of summer, I tried to set up a friendly, reading competition with my oldest boy. I wanted to keep his mind sharp and his nose in a book throughout the summer, so he would be ready for third grade this Fall.  We were going to see who could read a book a week for the duration of his summer break. There would be 9 weeks, with us taking a week off for our vacation. His books average 100 pages and mine are a couple hundred more than his. It seemed like a fair competition. 

The only problem is that my boy HATES to read. It is like pulling teeth to get him to do it. 

This week alone, he is supposed to read Chapter 4.  It’s 22 pages.  How long can that take him?!

But he has put it off and put it off. 

And now. He has consequences. 

No tablet. No TV.

Until his book is read.

And for an 8-year old, it’s the end of the world. And basically, the end of the world for my husband and I, too, because now our parenting really gets tested. 

As his Momma, I have been SO frustrated with him. “Just stop whining and pick up your book and READ.” “Just do it.”

Ugh.

And then the Holy Spirit gently pricks my heart.

I’m the same way.

When it comes to my Bible reading and time alone with God, I put it off and put it off. I let myself become distracted with everything else that I push my Bible reading to the side and don’t do it. I want to do SO many other things, than sit and read my Bible. 

Why is that?

  • I’m tired.
  • I’ve made other things a priority over my quiet time with the Lord.
  • I don’t love God’s Word.
  • I’m a sinner.

The truth is, we can’t live our lives for ourselves without consequences.

Same for my boy. Same for me. 

My boy has lost his tablet and TV time. I’ve lost my peace and joy and strength that comes from being in God’s Word. My brain is mushy, and I get emotional.  I don’t have right perspective on my circumstances or God’s character. I look to other things to bring satisfaction when my soul will only be filled through God and His Word. 

Spending time with the Lord is a choice. Same as my boy has a choice to obey or not, so do I. 

In the summer Bible study, Firmly Rooted, with Susan Black, she said, “being in God’s Word is like a marriage- there are not always fireworks, but we don’t pull away.”

Pastor Aaron prayed during our Leadership Meeting this week, “help us to fulfill our duties until our duties become joyful.”

Being in God’s Word often feels like a duty. There are not always fireworks or big “Ahh-ha!” moments.  But let’s not pull back. Let’s continue in our duty until our duty becomes our joy!

The beautiful part is that God is our Everlasting Father.  And unlike me, He is patient and long-suffering with us. He doesn’t grow tired or weary. He continues to work in our hearts to grow us and shape us into His image. Just as I feel like I’m planting seeds in a hurricane as I parent my boy, the same is true for God in my life- He’s planting seeds in the hurricane of my life.

If this is for you, if you are struggling to be in God’s Word- you’re not alone. I’m there with you.  But it’s not okay. We’ve got to make the hard choice.  Carve out time. Make God’s Word a priority. Let’s confess our sin to the Lord and safe people in our lives. Let’s invite others to hold us accountable. Let’s get into His Word and allow it to work in our lives.

Maybe I need no Instagram until my time in the Word. What about you?