Friday, January 20, 2017, 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM
Our culture has developed different standards. How do we biblically live, love, perceive, and interact with our neighbors, co-workers, friends, family, classmates, & our ...
One of my favorite passages of scripture is Hebrews 11:6. It says, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” This verse has been a powerful word for me in seasons of doubt and unbelief. Our Father knows faith isn’t always easy and graciously reminds us of what happens when we earnestly seek him; he rewards us. It’s important for us to see here that the scripture isn’t just reminding us about the treat we will get if we believe in and seek God; instead, it is revealing to us something about God’s character. God is a rewarder.
Have you ever wondered why God placed a tree in the garden that Adam and Eve couldn’t eat from. I have. On the surface, it seems so arbitrary to give them a choice to obey or disobey such a simple command. Couldn’t they just live blissfully in God’s presence for all eternity? But that understanding misses the point entirely. If God is by nature a rewarder, then it was necessary for Adam and Eve to be given a choice to obey or disobey. You see this theme over and over again in the Old Testament between God and Israel. The whole narrative of Israel is based on blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. Even though Israel ultimately failed to live out God’s commands, like Adam and Eve, you can see the heart of the Father was a desire to bless and bless abundantly: to make them a great nation, give them a land rich with beauty and natural resources, and establish in them an everlasting kingdom. One of the most well-known verses in all of scripture says it outright, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” That is the Father’s heart. God always wanted to bless his people, even if they couldn’t walk in the necessary obedience to receive his blessing. But God would do something about this as well.
So what is this reward and why am I writing about it leading up to a conference dealing with sexuality and identity? I’ll answer the second half of that question first. I’m writing about the rewarding nature of God because I think it is important for us to see that the purpose of walking in obedience isn’t to see how hard we can try and how painful it can get without us giving in to temptation. I’m not someone that struggles or has struggled with same-sex attraction or gender confusion, but I do know that obedience to Christ is costly and painful if you are someone who does. But obedience isn’t meant to be some kind of self-destroying, endurance sport. It’s actually meant to be pleasure-seeking. If God didn’t want us to see obedience in terms of reward, he would have never mentioned the idea. But the opposite is true: he does wants us to see obedience in terms of reward.
But mostly importantly, what is this reward? I believe the reward is two-fold. First, the reward of obedience is complete fulfillment. You see, God made us. He knows us. He knows what we are made for. He knows how we can thrive, and he knows what will destroy us. If we walk in obedience, we will be living the exact way we were created to live. For example, Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount not to worry. Why? Because worry is bad? Well yes. It doubts God’s goodness. But he tells us not to worry mainly because we weren’t made for it! God didn’t make us with the capacity to worry. He made us with the capacity to trust him. The same logic applies with our sexuality and gender identity. If we want to be living a life of complete fulfillment, we have to be walking in obedience earnestly seeking the Lord.
Finally, we get to my main point. The ultimate reward of obedience is God. This is what I realized in my own seasons of doubt and unbelief. If we believe he exists and earnestly seek him, he will reward us with his presence. This was the reward for Adam and Eve in the garden. When they sinned, they were sent out from the presence of God. The reward has always been his presence. What I am not saying is if you are a Christian and you sin, God will remove his presence from you. We have the Holy Spirit and are part of the new covenant in Jesus' blood. But I do strongly believe that in our sin, we miss out on fully experiencing God’s manifest presence in our lives. Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Who wouldn’t want that?
My hope for you in writing this post is not that you would be burdened by the need to do more and try harder. That is the opposite of our gospel. We live knowing that Jesus has done it all on our behalf. He was obedient where Adam, Israel, and we were not. I’m writing this post because I want you to remember your reward. We’re not a people that keep a bunch of rules, so we can feel good about ourselves or use them to judge others. We are a people that have a heart for God and have been transformed by his Spirit to desire him above all things. There is no greater reward than the presence of God in your life. That’s what heaven is about: being in his presence and worshipping him. So be encouraged. Fight the good fight. Finish the race. He’s an inexhaustible resource of goodness for you and is ready to give you a greater measure of himself right now.
Some sins, sufferings, and inclinations to evil just don’t go away, do they? I have found that some of the most discouraging and difficult moments of my life are when I am dealing with something I thought was put to death months ago. Anxiety again, sleeplessness again, youthful arrogance and hardheadedness again, coldness towards my wife again—how come I’m not over these things yet? Sometimes I wonder, “Will I always be like this? Is there hope for me?”
We all need hope for present power and future deliverance from sin, that one day we really will be done with sin; we’ll not just be forgiven but fully and finally healed. And one of the biggest struggles for people dealing with sexual brokenness, unfulfilled sexual desires, and temptations is this: Can this part of me really be changed, and if not, is there any hope for me to live as a Christian?
The great news is that there is hope for all of us—first, to be delivered from the clutches of sin’s power by the Holy Spirit, and then to be delivered fully and finally from sin and to the fulfillment of all our desires in heaven.
Our first hope is the power of the Holy Spirit to convict people of sin, radically change human nature, and progressively overcome sin in the lives of God’s people. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit “will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). The word “convict” in this sense means to convince someone their ways are wrong, to rebuke them with the effect that they are convinced and change their ways. So Jesus is saying that the Spirit has the power to take someone who has embraced a life of sin and rebellion against God, who, as Jesus said, even hates him, and convict them in their hearts that their ways are wrong to the point of change.
How does the Holy Spirit do this? He gives God’s people a new nature. He causes them to be born again into a living hope. He gives them a new spiritual nature that responds to God’s Word, embraces God’s goodness in Christ, and has a newfound love for the person of Jesus Christ. This new nature is imparted sovereignly by God’s Spirit and causes people to trust Christ for salvation and turn away from their lives of sin. They have their hearts of stone (hardened against God and his ways) turned into hearts of flesh (softened and receptive to God and his ways).
This new nature does not all at once overcome all sin in the life of a believer but it progressively overcomes sin from the day of new birth until the day of glory with Christ. The Holy Spirit was purchased by Jesus on the cross for his people’s victory over sin. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). Jesus’ death didn’t just purchase us forgiveness from sin, but power over sin and power to day-by-day die to it.
It does not matter how entrenched someone’s life is in sin. It doesn’t matter how strong their inclinations towards sin are or, particularly relevant to sexual brokenness, even whether these inclinations have been natural and right-seeming to them from the day of birth. God’s Spirit is able to convict, to give new life, and to give a new nature that responds to God’s Word with humility, brokenness, and repentance. Anyone who comes to Jesus can be enabled to die to their sin and to themselves.
Do you know someone who has embraced the LGBT lifestyle or any lifestyle that the Bible would say is sexually immoral? Are you discouraged by the overall sexual brokenness in American culture? No one is beyond the reach of God’s Spirit. Pray for the Spirit to convict them concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. Pray for the Spirit to give them a new nature, to cause them to be born again. But don’t just pray for these things, share these truths with them. Many people are convinced that they are just the way they are, that there’s no possibility for change. Share God’s ability to change people with them.
If you really need to be convinced of God’s power to radically change human nature, listen to this 20-minute podcast about the radical change God brought into Rosaria Butterfield’s life. She was a former lesbian and tenured professor of queer theory at Syracuse University when God saved her through study of the Bible and a relationship with a Christian pastor and his family. She is now happily married to a reformed pastor and is a mother, speaker, and author.
However, not everyone will have Butterfield’s story. There will be some who follow Jesus out of the LGBT lifestyle or any sexual brokenness into a life of unfulfilled sexual desires. The Spirit’s work in the life of a believer provides power over sin’s stranglehold and power to repent out of a lifestyle of sin, but it does not necessarily mean the taking away of all of one’s desires or inclinations toward sin. No passage says that the Spirit’s work in our lives means the end of temptations, the end of sinful desires, or the fulfillment of all our sexual desires. In fact, the Bible warns believers to beware of the sinful desires that wage war against their souls (1 Peter 2:11). In other words, not everyone who follows Jesus out of sexual sin will end up biblically and healthily married or even be freed from sexual desires or inclinations that the Bible calls sinful. Many may follow Jesus into a life of singleness, frequent and powerful temptation, loneliness, and unfulfilled desires.
So where’s the hope? Is the call of Jesus to the sexually broken one of costly repentance but little hope? No—Jesus calls his people into eternal and abundant life in Him and in heaven. Though our culture has obsessively focused on the fulfillment of sexual and romantic desires as the only way to be happy (in the church this can play out with the obsession to get married), the Bible tells us that true happiness and life is found in the presence of Jesus today and then ultimately in the presence of Jesus forever.
Additionally, the biblical worldview is radically heaven-centered. Though there are blessings and gifts in this life in the Lord, the Bible tells us we must die to our desire to find happiness in this life today if we will find it forever (Mark 8:34-38). Though joy in the Lord is possible and commanded today, believers are called again and again to set their hope for life not on today, but on the day when they will see the Lord face to face in heaven.
First, heaven will be a place of complete healing. Believers will be given new resurrection bodies, finally freed from all sin and all the effects of sin. They will be glorified, fully and forever unable to sin, and freed from all of its inclinations, confusion, and temptation. It will be a place where none of us will ever want something we cannot have, where none of us are tempted to despair for loneliness, where we are forever free from sin and sadness and any kind of brokenness.
Second, in heaven God will satisfy all of his people’s desires with good. “At your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11) In terms of sexual/relational/romantic desire: Jesus said there will be no marriage (and therefore no sex!) in heaven (Matthew 22:30). This must mean that heaven is a place where all of the desires beneath our sexual desires—the desire for rapture in another, the desire for physical pleasure, the desire to be deeply known, loved, and affirmed, the desire to have both union and pleasure at once—all of those desires will be so immensely fulfilled that marriage and sex will no longer be necessary! As uncomfortable as it may sound to say today, we will one day see that sex on earth has always been intended to point us to the joy, rapture, union, and pleasure of heaven.
So there is a great hope for all of us and for anyone struggling with sexual brokenness, fallout from a previously immoral lifestyle, or the prospect of looking ahead into a single and lonely future. And that hope is the power of God’s Spirit to change us and for heaven to ultimately heal us and satisfy all of our desires with good.
We have a gorgeous Sanctuary and Worship Center to gather in for the Lord’s Day worship and to sit under the dynamic teaching of God’s word. We have an amazing Welcome Center to serve as the catalyst for lingering fellowship as we build authentic community and receive newcomers to our campus. We see wonderful new signage to help guide us through the building as we connect to ministries that nurture our children and disciple our people. We also have an incredible website accessible at any time for people to navigate through what we believe and who we are as a faith family. It would be very easy to rely upon these gifts (things) to draw people into an encounter with the living Christ and to wrongly assume, borrowing lines from the movie Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.”
No doubt, these things are wonderful tools, but keep in mind that people are drawn by the Spirit of the living God to encounter a need for a Savior and to have their hearts illumined to the truth of scripture. However, for reasons that could only be explained as, “it must glorify God more in doing it this way,” God has ordained those of us who are followers of Jesus to be the conduits to transmit the message of the good news of the gospel and nurture people along in faith as they understand biblical worship, discipleship, and sacrificial service. The reality is, YOUR LIFE IS THE FRONT DOOR TO THE CHURCH and the means by which all these “things” have spiritual significance.
What does this mean? Simply put, and rather cliché, when you exit the church property every follower of Christ is entering the mission field. To be a good ambassador of Christ means you leverage your life to point others to Jesus. You leverage your home, your work place, your neighborhood, your hobbies, your time, your talents, and your resources to bring the gospel to bear on culture. Most of us need to grow in our depth of biblical knowledge and clear articulation of the gospel, but I submit to you that the opportunity to answer these critical questions is preceded by a lifestyle of humility, hospitality, and integrity marked by the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control).
I pray that as you and I begin this new year we will experience an increased measure of the wisdom and knowledge of God as we display greater, humility, hospitality, and integrity. If we pursue these disciplines off campus we will be beautiful, wide, and easily entered doorways to the church.
The topic of identity shows up all the time. In meeting new people, introducing yourself, and getting to know someone we talk about our identity (i.e. who we are). Conversations usually begin with a line of questioning resembling “Hi, what’s your name?” followed by “What do you do?” This, by the way, is a question everyone wants to be able to answer proudly and promptly (as if your self-worth correlated with your profession). But “Who are you?” can be a tough question to answer. The initial difficulty with formulating a proper response is due to how vague the question seems. Do you give your name and show your driver's license? “See? That’s me in the picture.” Do you answer with your line of work? “Oh me? I’m an accountant.” Or do you reply with a general description? “I’m a man. Caucasian. Citizen of the United States.” Of course, in everyday conversation people are not looking for responses like these. But whether we notice it or not, we are constantly working to identify people (ourselves included). For example, we will take a glance at someone’s appearance and begin to form conclusions about what we think they are like. In an election year such as this one, attempts to identify people happen all the time. Those who can vote are categorized as man, woman, black, white, Latino, Protestant, Catholic, etc. But do any of these descriptions actually tell us who we are?
From the outset, the Bible has much to say on the subject of human identity. Genesis 1:27 recounts how “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” This verse speaks volumes more about our identity than a driver's license or W-9 form ever could. If you believe this verse is true, then you believe every man, woman, and child - every single human being to ever exist on this earth, was made by God, in His likeness. And if you understand this truth about who we are, then you understand that every single person is worthy of dignity, honor, and respect because of their status as an image-bearer of God. C.S. Lewis contends, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit.” Lewis goes on to explain that this doesn't mean we are to go through life stern and somber. Instead, those who can recognize the extraordinary identity imparted to human beings by the Creator of heaven and earth are given the opportunity to understand one another in the most honest and genuine terms possible.
But as it stands, most of us go through life incognito, having our true identity concealed by culturally-imposed values such as our appearance, our job, and even our sexual orientation. In a delightful (and easy to read) book entitled Awe, Paul David Tripp says, “If you forget who God is (i.e. you misdirect your awe), you will not know who you are as his child (i.e. you will lose your identity), and you will look horizontally for what you have already been given vertically.” This is what the identity issue comes down to: forgetting who God is means that we will fail to understand our true identity which will lead us to find our value in the things of earth rather than the One who created the earth and everything in it. We see this happen throughout the Scriptures as well. Adam and Eve exchanged the promise of God for the false hope of some fruit as told to them by the serpent (Genesis 3:1-7). Paul, writing to the Romans, explained that people (despite seeing the plain evidence of God) exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1:18-32). This is something we must continue to deal with. We wake up each morning with ambitions, desires, and demands (either self-imposed or culturally-influenced) that compete for our time and attention. The man who believes his ultimate happiness can be found through his bank account is the same as the woman who believes her true purpose can be found in getting pregnant. The two of them are not much different from the teenager who believes they can find satisfaction and fulfillment through a sexual relationship. In all of these examples, the hoped-for source of joy (idol) is not the problem. It is the misplaced hope of false identity.
Jesus tells us that, “The thief [Satan] comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). Exchanging the truth of God for cultural lies and false hopes and finding our purpose and identity anywhere outside of the understanding that we were made in the image of God will always lead to ruin. But, here’s the good news. Jesus came so that “they may have life and have it abundantly.” Understanding that your identity is based on the infinite, eternal, and unchanging nature of who God is will change the way you live your life, help you interact more authentically with others, and give you a better understanding of who you are than anything else the world might offer.
At Christmas we give to missions through the Lottie Moon World Christmas Offering which supports 4500 missionaries with the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Charlotte Diggs (Lottie) Moon was a young woman who grew up in a privileged home in Virginia and received an outstanding education. She was known for her brilliance in languages. She learned Latin, Greek, French, Italian, Spanish, and would eventually speak Chinese (Mandarin) fluently. A professor who was six years her senior wrote of her: “She writes the best English I have ever been privileged to read.”
This professor, Crawford Toy, became a very dear friend to Lottie Moon. He would eventually teach Hebrew and Semitic languages at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Toy developed a deep fondness for Lottie Moon and they corresponded regularly for a number of years before and after she went to China in 1873 at the age of 32. While in China as a single missionary, Lottie Moon experienced incredible loneliness. She would eventually serve in that country from 1873 until her death in 1912. Several years after arriving in China and after a prolonged time of correspondence, Crawford Toy asked Lottie Moon to marry him. He told her he would gladly serve with her on the foreign mission field. Moon was thrilled and honored with her upcoming marriage. But as she read his articled and books that he advocated, she realized that Toy had moved theologically from a solid evangelical position to a more open/liberal position. Because of his theological drift, she broke off the engagement and Toy was also asked to leave Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1879. The next year Toy became a full professor at Harvard College where he taught Hebrew and Semitic languages. Eventually Professor Toy rejected the deity of Christ and the Trinitarian nature of God which led him to a full embrace of Unitarianism. Toy lived out the last years of his life denying the faith he had once zealously defended and preached. Lottie Moon would die in 1912 and Crawford Toy died in 1919.
This tragic story underscores the vigilance, orthodoxy, and godliness of Lottie Moon. I’ve often pictured her sitting in a substandard dwelling in China during the bitterly cold months of the Chinese winter, living in isolation and loneliness while yearning for the companionship of marriage. And in the midst of this loneliness, this brilliant, handsome professor (who served as a chaplain with the Army of Northern Virginia with Robert E. Lee and was a prisoner of war after being captured at Gettysburg) proposed marriage. He even underscored the fact that he would love to serve on the foreign mission field with her. The joy that must have ensued in her heart was broken when she understood where he had drifted theologically. And because of his lack of orthodox beliefs in the truth, she realized that she could not be married to him.
And so Lottie Moon, in the midst of a foreign culture living a life of loneliness, said no to companionship with Crawford Toy because she wanted to honor the living Christ.
So during this Christmas season, I salute the memory of a woman who lived with diligence and fidelity to the Word of God. May we live with a resolve, purpose, and calling that is profoundly biblically centered and character-shaping.
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