The Misty Path

One of my favorite heroes of the faith is featured here on the blog this week. Amy Wilson Carmichael (December 16, 1867 – January 18, 1951) was a missionary in India. She opened an orphanage, founded a mission in Dohnavur and served faithfully for 55 years without furlough. She wrote many books, poems and devotions. Hear her heart and loving trust in the Father in this excerpt from her book, “Figures of the True”. I pray it is a comforting and powerful reminder for each person weary and confused; each person facing an unknown future, an unclear road – a misty path.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
Psalm 121:1-2

The Mist Will Pass
There was one who was unafraid of any evil that might rise against her, unafraid of even the hint of bad news. Her heart stood fast, believing the Lord, trusting in the tender mercy of God forever and ever.

How often He had arisen as light in the darkness! How often she had called upon Him from the very center of trouble, knowing that He heard her the instant each storm broke upon her, knowing He would come at once and deliver her. He had been so full of love, and she had sung and proclaimed His goodness, saying, “Who is like the Lord our God — who has His dwelling so high, yet humbles himself to take part in things that are far below Him in heaven and on earth?”

But now…

She found herself standing alone, isolated, looking into a great gray mist.

Fold after fold, the hills lay before her, but always in impenetrable mists. She could see no path. Only a little track in the valley below. She felt quite alone. For a while she stood. Listening. Feeling an inward isolation and uncertainty harder to bear than any acute physical pain had ever been.

Softly, voices began to speak within her. Now stealing her courage, now filling her with courage again:

“My heart and my flesh fail….”

“But God is the strength of my heart, and the good portion that is allotted to me —forever!”

“My closest friends avoid me, or else they have no idea what is happening in the depths of my soul. And even my own family does not understand….”

“Nevertheless, I am with you moment by moment, because you have reached out for my strong hand.”

“My tears have flowed day and night, while unbelievers look at me and think, Where is your God now?”

“Why are you cast down, O my soul–and why are you so unsettled within me?”

“Hope in Me, your God! For you shall yet praise Him, who gives the very blush of health to your face.”

“No, the path I’m forced to walk is hidden from God…”

“I know the ways that you must walk. All your ways are before me. As for Me, my way is perfect and I make your way perfect. The people never thirsted even when I led them through the desert. Will you faint, though I lead you through mist-clouded hills?”

When her inner struggle ceased, she looked again at the mist—and saw that a great light was growing in its very heart. At once, she knew that she was not alone, had never been alone.

God was her refuge and strength, present with her, ready to help in times of trouble! (Psalm 46:1)

Suddenly, He was all about her path. He would make good on His promises of lovingkindness toward her, and He comforted her. He would not let any of her hopes be disappointed. Nor could she fear any longer, for those gloomy paths that lay ahead, through the folds of the hills, they were open ways to Him.

So it was enough for her to see only the next few steps. He would go before her and make His own footsteps a way for her to walk in! She was filled again with assurance: The One whom she followed could see through the mist all the way to the end of the path.

And as she walked the misted way, she was given a song to sing: “You, my Lord, never fail those who seek you!”

As she walked and sang, others whom she did not see because the mist lay heavy all about her heard her singing.

And though she did not know it, she gave many comfort and helped them to follow in the path of His footsteps too — all the way to end.

________________
My Father, is the mist around me really the advancing edge of your powerful storm, to drive away my enemies?

I know that you hear my voice when I call for help. Give me courage to stand, through all gathering darkness, so that I can encourage others when your brightness is at last revealed.
________________
Amy Carmichael, Figures Of The True

By: Cherie Camp

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What to Do When You You Lose the Battle: 7 Key Truths

A few months ago I wrote a two part series on “Killing Sin.” In Part 1, I laid the foundation for killing sin; that is, fixing our eyes on Jesus. In Part 2, I gave practical steps on how to realign our value system so that we can successfully make war on our sin.

My brothers and sisters, I want you to know that from time to time, we stumble. Sometimes we lose the battle – and the weight of our grief can be tremendous.

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. [. . .] For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:15, 22-25a)

Several weeks ago, I was before the Lord with this very passage open – my heart sinking into my chest, and my eyes overflowing with tears. Like many of you, I’m just a man – learning to walk the Christian walk day by day. And sometimes, often more times than I care to admit, I stumble (James 3).

You see, several weeks ago I felt the pressures of life mounting against me. In the midst of this hardship, my heart became preoccupied with the affairs of this life and my time with the Lord became cold. What resulted was a prime opportunity for the roots of anger and irritation that reside in my heart to lash out against those whom I love the most: my wife and my children.

Therefore, I want to address a very important question: What do you do when you lose the battle? We’re told to fix our eyes on Jesus and to wage war against our sin, but what happens if I fail?

How you respond to failure (because the bible guarantees that we will fail) can mean everything. It can either mean crushing, final defeat or it can be a new opportunity to see God as the Glorious One who saves sinners. So I want to deal with that very question: What to do when you lose the battle . . .

James teaches us to confess our sins to one another, and to pray for one another, in order that we may be delivered from the power of sin in our lives. In the spirit of James, let me share a few words of encouragement and some of the lessons I’ve (re)learned.

1. Remember the Gospel – Sometimes, for various reasons, we lose sight of the experiential magnificence of the gospel: “But God demonstrates his love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Grasp that with your mind and your heart! Our experience of the sin cleansing power of the gospel is not “once done.” There are reservoirs of grace that have already made covering for all of our wicked thoughts and deeds, made available by the sacrificial death of God in the flesh, Jesus Christ. Let us behold that wondrous mystery every moment that God gives us breath.

2. Repent Quickly – When you lose the battle, do not be slow to repent. God has forgiven you, but your unrepented sin still prevents intimacy with Him. The Holy Spirit resides in us, in part, to convict us of sin. However, shame makes us want to resist or hide from His conviction. But trying to hide from God is foolish, impossible, and will only prolong your sense of agony, for “when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” (Psalm 32:3-4)

I urge you that if you are aware of your sin, to quickly confess it to God. His heart is inclined such that He desires to restore intimacy with us. The first chapter of 1 John reminds us that, “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

3. Godly Grief v. Despair – One of the jobs of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of sin. However, there is another who desires to convict us. Satan aims to entice us so that we act on our sinful desires (James 1:14), and then haul us before God and hurl accusations against us. In fact, his name, which comes directly from Hebrew, literally means, “the accuser”. In Revelation, Satan is called “the accuser of the brethren.”

So how do we know which is which? Paul tells us, in the seventh chapter of 2 Corinthians, that the aim of the Holy Spirit is “godly sorrow that leads to repentance.” God’s “end-game” is always repentance, restoration, and renewed intimacy with Him.

Satan’s end-game is to see the opposite: to see you either totally unaware of your sin or so crushed under the weight of your grief that you are crippled, ineffective, and afraid to run back to your Heavenly Father.

4. Eternal Security – Every time we sin, we provide ammunition for our accuser. It’s sort of like a boomerang that he can use against us again and again. Even weeks, months, or years after a sin – indeed, even after repentance – the accuser will speak accusations into our ear: “I know what you’ve done.” “Do you really think God could forgive or love you?” “You make God sick.” “You will never be able to master this.”

Do not listen to him. Do not fall back into despair. He is not known as the father of lies without cause. He is on a hell-bound path and he knows it. Like a child throwing a temper tantrum, he’s breaking as much as he can in his path, just so someone else can’t have it.

We have one – Jesus Christ – who stands before the father making intercessions on our behalf. And He has promised that he will save those who draw near to him – no one, not even the accuser of the brethren, will be able to pluck you from His hand.

5. The Refiner’s Fire – God knows our hearts even better than we do. He knows what thoughts and desires corrode the walls of our hearts, and he loves us too much to allow us to peacefully co-exist with them. To that end, God permits circumstances that are trying, hard, or painful in our lives. Malachi describes God as a “refiner’s fire” or “fuller’s soap.” God turns the heat up in our lives because he knows that those impurities and inconsistencies will make their way to the surface. It is the only way for us to be able to see them, and to be able to deal with them accordingly. It’s a painful process, but allows us to draw closer to God as a result.

6. Know Thyself – Socrates is often given credit for the quote, “Know thyself.” Whether or not he actually said it, I’m borrowing a page from his book. The truth is that God has been incredibly gracious to mankind. He has woven into our human natures, certain “barometers” or “tests” so that we can read the condition of our souls. The things we say (or the things that we do), tell us about the condition of our hearts. In fact, our Lord, in the book of Luke, said, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

In other words, he’s telling us that we don’t have to wonder what’s lurking in our heart. We don’t have to wonder if we have angry hearts, or jealous hearts, or lustful hearts. All we have to do is look at the things we say and do, and diagnose the problem. It really is a blessing to us!

So what’s the application here? Recognize your own sinful tendencies – which will vary from person to person. Don’t rationalize them! Instead, be honest with yourself about your tendencies! What drives you? Be specific! For some, it’s pride, for others it’s anger, or jealousy, and so on. Knowing which sinful tendencies are more prevalent in your life will be useful in your battle against sin.

7. The Grand Scheme – Do not waste your sin. By no means am I encouraging you to dismiss your sin, or to revel in it. Nor am I making the argument that Paul famously rebuts in Romans 6, “Let us sin so that grace may increase!”

No. What I am saying is do not waste the bitter taste for sin that God graciously provides in repentance; do not waste the lessons your war against sin – both successes and failures – will teach you.

Perhaps, most importantly, do not waste the opportunity to see the grand scheme: Our glorious God has chosen – out of the multi-faceted goodness of his character – to make his name the most glorious by providing himself as the means of loving, rescuing, and redeeming sinners like ourselves. That thought should move our hearts toward worship!

I am reminded of the exchange between Lucy, Susan, and Mrs. Beaver in the Chronicles of Narnia. Lucy and Susan asked what Aslan (the Jesus-like character in the story) was like. Mrs. Beaver responded, “He is not safe, but he is good.”

And so it is with our lives as Christians. We face many trials and hardships – some caused by this world, some we cause on our own – but we know from the promise of scripture, and the depth of our experiences of Him, that He is good.

My dear brothers and sisters, our lives are a fight for joy. Fights are hard, but this one is worth it. Keep up the good fight, and remember – one battle does not define your war.

Filling the Storehouse

We are being bombarded by media. Everywhere you turn, brightly colored amusement and entertainment compete for our attention. It’s on our televisions, our movie screens, our radios, our computers, our cell phones, in our cars and now displayed on billboards. In every place and situation there is something or someone “hawking their wares,” announcing the latest and greatest must-have item or dazzling us with storylines that go beyond acceptable limits of morality and decency; people and machines talking at us in decibels too loud for our own good.

In the midst of the din, most of us sit mesmerized and glassy-eyed while our mind drinks it all in; recording it all in a brain that will never forget what we see and hear. On our televisions, blood, guts, gore, war, crime and chaos swirl before our eyes for hours at a time. Inappropriate slang, swear words and useless conversation is being recorded in our mind, only to be recalled at any given moment in our future. We call it something cute like “couch potato” or “vegging out.” In reality our lifestyles have become lethargic and we are alarmingly lax in setting boundaries for what we allow in our homes, hearts and minds.

Probably the greatest casualty in all of this is the collective loss of social skill and the ability to meaningfully converse with others. Gone are the days when neighbors chatted across the back fence or piled the family in the car for Sunday afternoon drives to “drop-in” and visit grand-parents, aunts, uncles and friends. Seldom do we see children outside playing with friends and neighbors until the street lights come on or Dad gives the “time for dinner” whistle. Porch swings and chairs are now simply decorations rarely occupied by chatting men and women in the cool of the evening. What we are left with are the hurting, broken lives of those who are talked “at” but never talked “with.” We are left with people who are hungry for an encouraging word, a listening ear and to know that someone cares for them.

This social deficiency is most tragic among those of us who know the Lord and are commanded to spread His gospel. Now, more than ever, it is important that we guard our hearts and minds and that we judge the things we see and hear by Philippians 4:8, “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things:” or Psalm 19:14, ” Let the…meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord…” or Psalm 101:3, “I will set no wicked (vile) thing before my eyes…” It is even more important that we spend time with our heavenly Father; to abide in His word and talk with Him each day. Then, when we are called upon to share the gospel, we can do so from the beauty of the excellent and praiseworthy things our mind has recorded, instead of the junk we’ve ingested from the media.

I heard the testimony recently of a young woman who had tried every religion known, looking for something to give her life meaning. When asked why she never tried God, her answer was that she didn’t know who He was or that He existed. I watched a talk show host interview people on the street and ask them if they recognized the name of a very well-known Bible character. Of all the people he asked, no one had ever heard the story of Jonah. No one had ever told them! You may be the only person to show Christ to your neighbor, co-worker, the cashier at the grocer or the waitress at your favorite restaurant. You may be the only person to ever share an encouraging and uplifting word with them. And, in providing that word, you have opened the door to a much greater conversation about their need for Jesus. A conversation they may have with you at that moment or with someone else at a later time. You may be the only person to ever share the Gospel with them.

I encourage you during this next week to be aware of what information you allow to be recorded in your mind and heart – your inner man. How much time do you spend viewing Satan’s realm of chaos, murder, violence and mayhem through news channels, television and the internet? How much time do you spend taking in the Word and things of Philippians 4:8? You will only give out (speak) what you’ve taken into your heart. Luke 6:45 states it like this in the Amplified version of the Bible, “The upright (honorable, intrinsically good) man out of the good treasure [stored] in his heart produces what is upright (honorable and intrinsically good), and the evil man out of the evil storehouse brings forth that which is depraved (wicked and intrinsically evil); for out of the abundance (overflow) of the heart his mouth speaks.” If what we take in from the Word measures less than what we take in from anywhere else, we may think we are speaking and giving out good things but the truth is we have no idea what God could use and give out through us if we got rid of the trash and filled the storehouse of our inner man with His Word.

Push away from the desk and turn off the computer. Get up from the couch and turn off the television. Pick up your Bible. Fill your storehouse with the treasure of His Word. Be aware of the people you meet. Strike up a conversation, give them an encouraging word and share Jesus with them out of the overflow of your heart!

The world is full of hurting people and we have the answer they are looking for. Talk with them, socialize and share HIS wonderfully life-changing, love and grace! Because, “…how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone (telling) them? …faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:14, 17).

An Open Letter to My Wife

SPOILER ALERT: The following blog contains large amounts of mildly sappy, personal information and is intended to be an homage to my better half. Nevertheless, I hope others enjoy and are able to glean something useful here. #SorryNotSorry

To my beautiful wife, Ashley, whom I gratefully adore and thank God for. I am a better husband, father, and man because of you.

With the New Year just around corner, and in the spirit of that often bright and reflective season, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on my own life. You see, 2016 is somewhat of a big year for me. Why, you might ask? Ten years ago an awkward, bumbling young man (that would be me) mustered enough courage to ask a pretty, young brunette girl (that would be my wife) out on a date. To my surprise, she said yes.

Not only does 2016 mark ten years of being a couple, but it also marks five years of marriage. While our life together is still a young one, comparatively speaking, and while I wholly admit to having much more to learn, time is not the only thing that matures a marriage. Over the course of our life together, we have weathered a variety of trials – both good and bad: we have been blessed with two of the most adorable heathens imaginable, we have a quaint place to call “home”, and we have a community of supportive friends and family to rely upon.

The blessings are all the more sweeter when I consider them in light of the trials we have suffered as well: we have endured natural disaster and homelessness together, fought bitterly, cared for parents with disability and cancer, and borne the heavy weight of burying a parent far too early. Ashley has cared for a husband with heart problems, and (I’m sure) has worried about being widowed “before it’s time.” I have provided an anchor for her, when she was tossed back and forth in the emotional turbulence of postpartum depression. We have laughed . . . and we have wept. And, to add insult to injury, I know that our sinful tendencies have caused more than a few scars in each other.

I’m not merely waxing nostalgic here. I have a point and a purpose, and that purpose is this: We have not quit on our marriage. Nowhere near close. It is our commitment to imitating Christ that has kept our union joined, and will continue to do so. My wife is undoubtedly an amazing, beautiful, strong, and forbearing person. But the type of love that is needed for a successful marriage cannot be conjured by mere human determination. There is nothing natural about, “consider others more highly than yourself,” “love one another as I have loved you,” or “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, to maker her holy.”

As 2016 approaches, and as I consider the numerous blessings and mercies God has shown me, I will thank God for my wife and all of the admirable qualities she possesses. Most of all, I will thank God for giving us both new life in the Spirit, and a commitment to love and honor one another as we follow Him. New Years is the perfect season for a fresh start. Consider, then, starting off the New Year with me by renewing your resolve to love and honor your spouse with the strength God provides. In other words, to do that which does not come naturally. We are all sinful, imperfect people – but with God, all things are possible.

 

Lastly, I’d like to close with a personal note: Ashley, you are my joy, my treasure, my bride. Here’s to – Lord willing – 50 or more years of image-bearing, self-sacrificing, covenant-keeping, Christ-honoring marriage.

 

With Love,

Your Husband

 

BY: Jeff Romine

The Sweetest Name

I sat in church last Sunday morning with my family. They are my brothers and sisters in Christ—men, women and children who share the same heavenly Father as I. They are people who know the Savior personally because they have given him their heart and life, accepted His forgiveness of their sin and His gift of abundant, eternal life.

We’re a rag-tag bunch from all walks of life; tall, short, large, small, old and young. Some bear heavy loads; burdens that weigh so heavily it seems one would break beneath their weight. Some bear hidden wounds within, as yet unhealed. Some battle the enslaving captivity of an addiction. Some hide broken aching hearts behind a smile. Some don’t even try to hide their pain anymore; it’s worn on their face and seen in their halting, stumbling gait of despair. We all battle the enemy’s fiery darts day after day, and struggle beneath our load in life.

But while we all carry burdens, we, the members of his blood-bought church, also carry within us The Truth; the miracle that is Jesus. I never tire of watching eyes dimmed and clouded by the cares and sins of the world brighten as The Truth takes hold in their heart. I love seeing broken lives and wounded hearts made whole. I love seeing Jesus happen in lives that have called on His name, turned from their sin and given Him total control.

I can do a hundred good deeds for my hurting, broken family and friends. I can point them in the right direction. I can tell them what is true. I can help bear their burden, lift their load and give them an encouraging word. I can speak affirmative, feel-good, happy words and tell them to think positive thoughts and all will be better. But all of my attempts to help are only a surface, superficial fix for their hurts and burdens.  It is impossible for me to provide the ultimate and only answer to their problem because I can never forgive their sin, redeem them or give them abundant, overflowing life. There is only one answer.  There is only one name. There is only one who can meet and satisfy all the deepest cravings of our heart.  There is only one who gives us access to The One who created us and knows us more than we know ourselves and brings healing. There is only one who is …the way, the truth and the life; (and) no one comes to the Father except by him. (Jn.14:6) Jesus.

For those of us to whom much has been forgiven, that name will forever be more precious than gold or silver. That name, when breathed in the faintest whisper of dying hope, brings all the power of heaven to our rescue. That name, when shouted above the stormy din of despair, brings the power of peace. That name, when cried out in the midst of suffering and pain, brings the power of healing—Jesus.

There are times in my life, and I’m sure it’s no different for you, when I am tired and weary; knocked down by the enemy’s continual accusations, lies and slander. In those moments, I run to the Savior, sobbing that precious name in desperation. I am instantly tucked under the shadow of His wing. There, hidden away from the world, He whispers His love to me. In those intimate moments He infuses me with His strength so that once again I can stand and face the battle. That name is my fortress, my refuge, my shield and defense.

Jesus. His is the name above every name. Jesus—whether you speak it, breathe it, or shout it, call upon His name. When you do, He will set you free and you will know the power of His presence and the all-consuming, transforming miracle of Jesus. This, brothers and sisters, is all we have to offer those who are wounded, hurting, and in despair.  This is what we must offer to those who do not know Him.

Proclaim it in your classroom.  Speak it in your workplace.  Teach it to your children. Preach it from the street corner. Shout it from the rooftops, “GOOD NEWS! GOOD NEWS!” …there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we can be saved. (Acts 4:12)

By Cherie Camp

5 Lessons on Mentorship from the Middle Ages

A few weeks ago, on October 31, we celebrated a holiday. And no – I’m not talking about Halloween. While it is often forgotten about, Reformation Day marks an important date in the life of Protestants. Now for those of you who might have slept through your world history classes in high school, let’s refresh:

For much of the middle ages (500 A.D. to 1500 A.D.), the Catholic Church dominated both the religious and political life in Europe. It wielded incredible amounts of power, money, and influence, and as what often happens with unchecked power, corruption set in. Eventually, the church turned to selling indulgences (pieces of paper promising that your loved one would be guaranteed entrance to heaven) as a sort of fundraising racket. On October 31, 1517, an incensed German monk named Martin Luther responded by nailing 95 objections to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany in an attempt to reform the corrupt practices and doctrines that had become prevalent in the Catholic Church.

What’s important about Reformation Day is not the man, or the fact that his actions were instrumental in spawning the Protestant faith. What matters is that God used Martin Luther in incredible ways to help His people rediscover His Word, and to help His church return to true, biblical Christianity. However, it is not Reformation Day (or even Martin Luther for that matter) that I want to focus on, but Luther’s lesser known mentor, Johann von Staupitz. 

Martin was born to Hans and Margaret Luther in 1483. Hans was a miner by trade and, wanting to spare his son of the same life, encouraged Martin to enter law school. By all accounts, Martin disliked law school and had a natural bent for theology and philosophy, but he nevertheless obliged his father. One day, while on a trip back home, the young Martin was caught in a thunderstorm and was nearly struck by lightning. Terrified that he might die and go to hell, he made a promise that he would become a monk. So in 1505, Martin left everything behind and went to a monastery in Erfurt, Germany to do just that.

It was in Erfurt where Martin Luther met one of the most influential persons of his life – his mentor Johann von Staupitz. Not much is known about Staupitz, but he served as an overseer and superior to young, aspiring monks – including the young Martin Luther. Even though Martin was going through the process to become a monk, it is clear from his own admission that he was still unconverted when he first came to the monastery. Martin was constantly plagued by a guilty conscience and fear of hell. To alleviate his conscience, he frequently made pilgrimages, fasted, prayed, and spent hours in confession.

“If ever a monk could get to heaven through monastic discipline, I was that monk. And yet my conscience would not give me certainty, but I always doubted and said, ‘You didn’t do that right. You weren’t contrite enough. You left that out of your confession.’ The more I tried to remedy an uncertain, weak, and troubled conscience with human traditions, the more I daily found it more uncertain, weaker, and more troubled.” -Martin Luther

For much of Luther’s time in “seminary”, Staupitz faithfully mentored and counseled the troubled young man. Seeing Luther’s obsession with his own sin, Staupitz frequently counseled him to look away from his own sin, and towards Christ who was able to forgive sin and grant a change of heart. It was because of Staupitz’s advice, as well as being washed by the scripture, that Martin Luther was finally converted and tasted grace.

Luther had a great respect and fondness for his mentor. By his own admission, Luther said of Staupitz: “If it had not been for him, I should have sunk in hell.”  It was nothing other than the stirring of the Holy Spirit that saved Martin Luther. Nevertheless, Staupitz’s godly advice, mentorship, and personal investment into a young troubled soul made a critical difference – not only for Martin, but eventually for all of Christendom. Even though history remembers Martin Luther, let us not forget that we are benefactors of Staupitz’s faithful, behind-the-scenes mentorship. That said, what can we take away from their examples?

1. Awareness of our sin is a gift of God

Ephesians clearly states our salvation is a gift from God, and that no one has any grounds to boast. Likewise, an awareness of sin – which is necessary for repentance that leads to salvation – is also a gift of God. Luther, for much of his life, saw the deadly reality of his own sin, but he didn’t know what to do with it. He, like many still do today, turned to doing religious things in order to gain favor with God. But, as Ephesians says, there is no way that man can gain favor with God by doing good things. We must be aware of our sins, repent of them, trust that Christ’s death is the only means for God’s forgiveness, and subsequently lead a life of submitting to the Holy Spirit.

What should I do if – like Luther – I am suffering from conviction and an awareness of my sins? First, recognize that God is showing you mercy. God is opening your eyes and ears and granting you godly sorrow that leads to repentance. Secondly, know that although sorrow and fear from conviction are necessary, they do not comprise repentance and faith. As Jesus said to a number of would-be disciples, you are close to the Kingdom of Heaven, but you have not found it yet. Thirdly, and most importantly, because God is convicting you He is giving you the opportunity to repent and believe. Therefore, in light of His mercy, use the opportunity he is giving you to repent and trust in Christ’s death as the atonement for your sins.(After all, there is no guarantee that you’ll get another such opportunity. Only by repenting and trusting Christ do you find the Kingdom of Heaven.)

2. Wallowing in conviction can become an idol

As I said before, Luther was clearly under conviction of his sin for many years of his life.

Instead of turning to Christ, Luther turned to doing empty (albeit good) religious things such as making pilgrimages, fasting, praying, and confessing as a tool to gain favor with God and make atonement for his own sins – an impossible task.

Religious activity is good. God indeed wants us to pray, to confess, to seek Him, and to do good works. However, when they are used as tools to tray to gain favor with God – without trusting and valuing Christ – they too become empty human traditions.

Therefore, don’t repeat Luther’s mistakes. Do not let wallowing in your despair and punishing yourself become an idol to you. Don’t focus so intently on your own faults and sins that they become an insurmountable burden. Don’t try to make atonement for your own sins. Your sins are indeed grievous to a holy God. However, He is also loving and desires to give you only what He can give you: repentance and a new heart that values Him above all else.

3. Being religious is not the same as being converted

A problem that affects every human heart is that we want to be made much of. For many, that involves giving others the illusion that we are more spiritual and  religious than we actually are. We may even genuinely do religious things, like what I have listed previously. However, such “worship” does not honor God. God frequently addresses humanity’s false religiosity. It is a stench to Him. In Isaiah He says that, “they honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Likewise, Jesus frequently rebuked the Pharisees (religious leaders of the Israelites) for being “white washed tombs” – having the appearance of being religious on the outside, but on the inside they are spiritually dead.

What is more important than attending church and fasting and praying is having a converted heart that now values God above everything else, and that trusts in Christ’s death as the appeasement for its sins. And as far as doing religious things? “You should have practiced the latter [religious actions], without neglecting the former [conversion].” (Matt. 23:23)

4. Mentorship matters

People often like to make separate little boxes. One for evangelism, one for discipleship, one for mentorship, and so on. The truth is, regardless of what you call it, they are all part of the same scale. The activity and the end-goal is one in the same: to get people to become more like Christ. And so, if the person you are mentoring is unconverted – we happen to call it evangelism. If the person you are mentoring is saved – we happen to call it discipleship.

Mentorship is incredibly important work. The stakes are high, as it is the difference between eternal life and eternal death. We must be serious about grabbing as many lives as we can – unconverted and saved alike – and faithfully help them to treasure Christ. As you mentor people, you are not affecting just one life, but the thousands and millions of lives that would have been touched by that one life. Little did Staupitz know the effect he would eventually have on the course of history by mentoring that young, nervous, German monk.

5. Behind-the-scenes ministry is not meaningless

Generally speaking, mentoring is a ministry that often goes unnoticed and unthanked. There is no spotlight or adoring audiences – as you might find with the preaching and teaching ministries. Instead, it is often a day-to-day, one-on-one kind of work. But just because there isn’t a spotlight, doesn’t mean that there isn’t joy in it or that the work is meaningless.

Not all ministries and gifts are the same. But all are useful for building up the body. So regardless of what ministry you are involved with – please know that your work is not meaningless. 

3 Observations on Sexting and the Gospel: The Fruit of a Post-Christian Culture

A November 7, 2015, Associate Press story out of Canon City High School in Denver describes how a large number of athletes on the football team are apparently involved in a sexting (that is, sending pornographic text messages through mobile phones) scandal that has caused the school to forfeit at least one game while the investigation of illegal activity is underway. Law enforcement is involved, as sending of nude photos of minor children constitutes child pornography—a felony. When school district administrators discovered the illegal activity, apparently centered in the football team, they asked the coach to do a fast, preliminary investigation to determine how many players were involved. The Friday night game would proceed if reasonable assurances could be made that enough players were not involved that they could field a team. Stunningly, no such assurances could be made. It appears the vast majority of the team is involved in what the law will view as felonious actions. High school students may enter adulthood as felons and be required to register as sexual offenders.

 

Three immediate thoughts:

 

1. Teens are openly, without shame or sense of inappropriateness, engaging in self-made porn. This seems a logical step forward for those who have (A) been told that there are no moral absolutes and you are free to determine what is right in your own mind and heart, (B) have seen unrestrained sexual behavior from their parents, politicians, and purveyors of entertainment, and (C) believed porn use is normal, acceptable, and productive. Welcome to post-Christian America.

 

2. There is a moral crisis occurring on the side of those who promote sexual rights and freedom (that is, the idea that any sexual behavior is acceptable if any individual says it is). It is evident that certain sexual behaviors and ethics are destructive. I’m speaking beyond the obvious biology of disease and physical injury of violent actions—I’m talking about real damage to the human soul that has long-lasting consequences. It further impacts the ability to lead a productive life. I have no thought that this evidence will lead to corrective behavior or change in thinking. These deadly consequences will either be ignored, covered up, or accepted as the cost of doing business in the new market of sexual freedom–or simply denied by the morally blind, as a physically blind man might deny the sun’s light. But as the sun’s heat can be felt and experienced regardless of one’s capacity to see, so the consequences of sexual expression outside of the Creator’s framework will be experienced for a very long time.

 

3. The sexual ethic (or lack thereof) embraced by the post-Christian west in general, and the United States in particular, must run afoul of the law, which itself must be rooted in an objective standard fixed in time, however transient that standard may ultimately prove to be. Legislatures simply can’t meet, debate, and amend laws fast enough to keep up with the speed of our moral freefall. That means teens and younger children are going to find themselves in the juvenile justice system and will be confused about why they are there since they are simply practicing what their parents, politicians, and entertainers are doing with apparent impunity. Further, because of the moral insanity of our culture, there will be no coherent way to explain why they are being punished. This will soon leave the country ripe for open revolt against law enforcement, courts, and government that punishes people without being able to justify why it does so.

 

This deadly moral morass is exactly the target of the Gospel: Jesus came to save morally blind, depraved hearts, spiritually bankrupt dead souls from their sin and give them life in Christ in exchange for eternal death and condemnation. Grace restores and heals those who flee to Jesus in faith and repentance. There is a balm in Gilead that makes the wounded whole. The church is given the joyful, satisfying assignment of calling people from death to life in him.

The parents of these children desperately need Christ. These children desperately need Christ. Our nation desperately needs Christ. This is our watch, and it is no time to fail in fulfilling our assignment. If you are a follower of Christ and your life, heart, finances, schedule, affections, and intellect are not adjusting to proclaim the glories of Christ in our dying world–to broken children, broken parents, broken families, broken society—you’re not following very closely.

 

Source:

http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_SEXTING_HIGH_SCHOOL?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2015-11-06-17-35-49