Recovering our Fear

alex-hockett-42938-unsplash

Advent is a season of waiting… remembering Israel’s wait for Christ to come, and the Church’s wait for his return in glory. As we wait, it is so easy to lose focus and get busied with routine joys and routine troubles while forgetting about Christ at all. This isn’t a new struggle.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor in the days leading up to World War II and was persecuted (and eventually killed at Hitler’s direct command) for his role in opposing the Nazi regime. The following quote comes from Bonhoeffer’s sermon on the first Sunday of Advent in 1935 as Hitler’s power in Germany was increasing. Keep Bonhoeffer’s context in mind as you read this excerpt from this Advent sermon based out of Revelation 14:6-13.

And the speech of the angel is so simple that anyone could understand it: “fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment is come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and the springs of water.” That is the first command of the gospel. “Fear God” and you will have nothing else to fear.

Don’t fear what the next day may bring. Don’t fear other people. Don’t fear violence and power, even when it comes to you personally and can rob you of your life. Don’t fear the high and mighty in the world. Don’t fear yourself. Don’t fear your sins. All these fears will die. From all these fears you will be set free. For they are no longer there. But fear God and him alone. For he has the power over all the powers of this world. The whole world is in fear of God. He has power to give us life or to destroy us. All other powers are a mere game.

God alone is real, seriously real. Fear God seriously and “give him the glory.” He would be acknowledged as the creator, as our creator; he would be acknowledged as the reconciler, who has made peace between God and man; he would be acknowledged as redeemer, who at the end sets us free from all our sins and all our burdens. Honor him and his holy gospel, “because the hour of his judgment is come.” And this judgment is the gospel itself. The eternal gospel is the judge of all peoples.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Remembrance Sunday: Who and What is Babylon?” in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christmas Sermons (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 111.

Bonhoeffer emphasizes throughout the remainder of the sermon that the gospel is the only message of salvation. Even while he states, “The eternal gospel is the judge of all peoples,” it is important to hear the rest of his message about the gospel – it is not a message of damnation, but of reconciliation with God and freedom from all fears. It is only through the gospel that men and women can live with the right kind of fear: fear of God.

However you approach the Christmas season, and much is often made about how difficult this season is for many, let this be a time to reset your fear. Do not fear death. Do not fear judgment. Do not fear all sorts of other fearful things…. fear God. For in the end, when everything else has been subject to judgment, He remains. He is victorious. This is Good News indeed.

Why We Give Up On Prayer

Pray Hat

Christians know they should pray. It’s an expression of worship and confidence in God’s goodness to us. But it’s so easy to give up on prayer for a few reasons.

A low view of what prayer is
We fall into this trap when we think about prayer as “the least we can do.” Most commonly, this shows up when we talk about, “All we can do is pray.” Someone is sick or something threatening comes our way and we feel helpless.

There is no small prayer. Prayers may be as short as “Help!” or “Thank you, Jesus!” But when prayer brings our requests and desires before the almighty, holy God of creation… there is no small prayer.

Impatience with God’s timing
Some prayer requests take years. Decades even. Endure in prayer. I have been reading about the life of Saint Augustine, the most influential Christian pastor/writer outside of Scripture, about his long and hard journey to faith. For decades, he lived in sinful resistance to the things of God, and pursued the pleasures of the world and earthly prestige. But his mother, Monica, prayed faithfully for him even despite his outright rejection of Christianity. Years later, Augustine reflected back on his life, noting the years of steadfast prayer on his behalf by his loving mother.

Don’t grow weary in prayer. God is faithful, and his timeline is good.

Wavering faith in the goodness of God
It’s easy to fall into believing, “If God was good, he wouldn’t allow this to happen.” You’ve prayed and prayed and prayed, but nothing has changed and it seems like God simply doesn’t care. After all, if God is going to do whatever he wants to do anyway, what’s the point in praying? But God is good, and he delights in giving good gifts to his children. Now, that doesn’t mean we will never suffer. What that means is we can know the goodness of God even though suffering and difficulties we endure. Whatever might try persuade you that God does not desire good for you, remember the cross, where God’s love and justice are shown in full measure.

If you are tempted to quit praying, don’t. Christians have become children of God through faith. We do not pray I order to persuade or manipulate God to do what we want. No. We pray as children making our requests known to our Father in Heaven, trusting in his good judgement and timing.

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” Colossians 4:2

What is the Armor of God?

The Apostle Paul encourages Christians to put on the full armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-20. This is a common theme for children’s ministry, but it’s incredibly important for every Christian to consider the meaning and symbolism. In this post I hope to unpack the various pieces of armor along with its relevance today.

Our True Enemy
Take a minute to consider the three greatest challenges facing Christians and the Church today. Now consider this quote from John Calvin:

“Let us remember that our battle is not against flesh and blood when the painful treatment of others provokes us to revenge. Our natural disposition would lead us to direct all our efforts against the men themselves; but this foolish desire will be restrained by remembering that the men who annoy us are nothing more than darts thrown by the hand of satan. While we are focused on destroying those darts, we leave ourselves open to be wounded on all sides.”
John Calvin (Calvin’s Commentary on Ephesians 6:12, slightly edited for understandability)

The Christian enemy is not the fiery arrows, but the archer who is shooting them. If we ignore the arrows then we’ll get struck, but the enemy isn’t the arrows themselves. Instead, we guard ourselves from the devil’s schemes which seek to destroy our faith and witness while remembering the bigger picture.

Armor Continue reading

Daily Living in Light of Eternity: The New Heavens and New Earth

When you think about “heaven,” what comes to mind?

Many people think about about clouds, white light, pearly gates, and eternal happiness. My mind was completely blown when I discovered that Scripture teaches about eternity as a physical life. I had always imagined that heaven would be some disembodied life, floating around as spirits who are worshipping before God’s throne.

But the Bible consistently teaches about an eternal, earthly kingdom where God’s people will live. The New Testament calls this the “New Heavens and New Earth.” Here just a few places in Scripture that point to our future eternal-bodily life.

Mom2moM Continue reading

Christian Hope is Not a Wish

Sunrise

Hope is more than a wish. It’s a confident expectation that the future is bright and that good things await. A wish, however, is a shot-in-the-dark… like heading into a test that you didn’t study for, and just wishing to do well. Hope is built on a foundation; wishes float “out there” without any real substance.

The Christian life is built on a foundation of hope, not upon a wish.

The Foundation of Christian Hope
One of my favorite people in the Bible is the Apostle Thomas. After Jesus’ death, all the disciples were in the Upper Room when Jesus suddenly appeared (even though the doors were all locked, because they were afraid of being arrested). The disciples saw Jesus, talked with him, and were astounded that he was alive again. They had heard the rumors, but now they saw him with their own eyes. But Thomas wasn’t there. In days that followed, Thomas would insist that he wouldn’t believe unless he could put his fingers in the holes in Jesus’ hands. That week must have been excruciating for Thomas… feeling hopeless while everyone else is full of hope.

Continue reading

Three Ways to be a Faithless Christian

Christians should be people of faith. That seems like a no-brainer. But there are many of us who live without much faith. In a way, we could often be described as faithless Christians because there’s not much need for faith in the way we live. Faith isn’t always easy (it usually isn’t), and God’s provision isn’t always comfortable (it rarely is)… will we shrink away from faith when it becomes difficult and uncomfortable, or will we lean into God because we trust him to provide?

The Bible defines faith this way in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is being sure of what you hope for certain of what you do not see.” That means faith points at something that you don’t currently have, something that is beyond you. 2 Corinthians 5:7 says the reason Christians can live courageously is because, “we walk by faith, not by sight.”

wanderer

Continue reading

Three Things Every Christian Should Know

Evangelism has always been difficult. Gone are the days when even nonChristians generally understood what Christianity taught. Nowadays, even many professing-Christians struggle to articulate the essentials of Christian theology. Because we can no longer assume a general awareness of Christian thinking, evangelism will continue to require us to teach basic theological truths before we can be assured that people know enough to truly become Christians.

Here are three truths every Christian should know and be able to clearly explain to others.

Bible on Table

 

Continue reading

Faith is Not a Good Idea

Jim grew up in church and still believes most of what he learned there, but his life doesn’t look like you might expect. He cusses, drinks more than he should, has been known to sleep around on occasion, and hasn’t gone to church (or read the Bible) in well over a decade. But overall, he’s a good guy who tries to look after his friends as best he can. When Jim hears coworkers talking about religion, he often jumps in to offer the “Christian perspective.” He considers himself a Christian (although he’s quick to admit “I’m a bad Christian”).

While friends like Jim don’t really care what label you give them, it’s worth our time to figure out what’s going on when religious ideas seems to get confused as faith.

Sears Tower

Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash

What is Faith?
The Bible defines faith this way,

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV)

Faith isn’t simply a “good idea.” It’s assurance and conviction in what is unseen. The visible is interpreted through the lens of the unseen – faith shapes life.

  • Because God is holy – I live my life to worship and honor him
  • Because God is merciful and gracious – I am accepted because of his provision, not my performance
  • Because God is the judge – I live according to his law
  • Because God is faithful – I will trust him even in the midst of suffering
  • Because the Bible is God’s Word – I will read it, understand it to the best of my ability, and obey it as the very word of God

Continue reading

What God Doesn’t Promise

Karon Stones

Don’t hold God to promises he never made. God is trustworthy to keep his promise, but it won’t be quick, easy, or fully explained. Will still you trust him?

  • We know God never promised an easy life, but then we wonder why he allows us to suffer?
  • We know God never promised to answer every prayer with an immediate, “Yes!” But we struggle with unanswered prayers.
  • And we know we were never promised perfect health or healing, but the physical pain we (and those we care about) seems more than we can bear.

I’ve seen a lot of people get derailed in life and in faith, because they were holding God to promises he never made… and then life got difficult and God didn’t just “fix” it, so they lost their faith. There’s this verse in the end of Joshua that I read a few months ago that’s been stuck in my head. At this point, Israel has come out from Egypt with Moses, and then Moses died and Joshua led Israel through the conquest where they conquered the people living in the Promised Land and the tribes have now all received their land.

“So the LORD gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their fathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. The LORD gave them rest on every side according to all he had sworn to their fathers. None of their enemies were able to stand against them, for the LORD handed over all their enemies to them. None of the good promises the LORD had made to the house of Israel failed. Everything was fulfilled.”
Joshua 21:43–45 CSB

It’s a remarkable thing to think… “None of the good promises the LORD had made to the house of Israel failed. Everything was fulfilled.” This isn’t pointing back to God’s promise to free Israel from slavery in Egypt; it’s anchored in God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3.

Here are three reminders about God’s Promises.  Continue reading

Can I be Sure I’m Going to Heaven?

My youth group recently began a study on “The End: Hard Questions About Eternity.” In preparation for that series, I sent a survey to students asking for their questions about heaven, hell, along with other issues. The overwhelmingly most common question was this:

What if I don’t go to heaven?
What if I go to hell?

This isn’t a fear that only teenagers struggle with. I’ve talked with many Christians who struggle with assurance of their salvation and eternal destiny. Assurance is simply confidence that something will happen… so the question is this: Is there eternal assurance for the Christian?

Sitting on a Snowy Rock Wall Continue reading