Category Archives: Flashback-Archive

Humble Like a Child

 

Originally published January 6, 2013.

“1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:1-4

This past Lord’s Day, the pastor of our local congregation challenged us to take time and meditate on what it means to be a child of God, specifically the love of God toward His children as spoken of in 1 John 3:1a, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”

The other night, as I was checking in on my sleeping daughter before going to bed, I paused extra long (I most always pause, just to be thankful, admire, and wonder) and just thought about her sleeping so peacefully.  The mind of this near 3-year old was perfectly relaxed, and at rest.  No worries or stress about the next day.  No anxiety over physical ailments or future ones.  No fear of what tomorrow brings.  No worry over life, job, finances, food, clothing, shelter.  By all respects, not a single worry to distract the mind.  The word free comes to mind.  Free from burden.

As I watched her with tears welling in my eyes, it occurred to me that this is exactly how God wants His children to live, free; free from burden, free from worry, stress, anxiety about what will come tomorrow or what life may bring next.  Not living irresponsibly, mind you, but freely reliant upon our Heavenly Father, much like a child is reliant upon his/her own parents.  Isn’t this what it looks like to be a child of God?

Too often it seems instead of being a child of God, we’re more like a teenager of God.  Rebellious, self-centered, selfish.  We want control of our lives and want so much to break free from the control of our parents.  What do teenagers call this?  Freedom.  Free to make their own choices and do what they want.  But this isn’t freedom, it’s bondage, or better a false-freedom.  This inward focus and inward reliance upon self is the foundation for those things mentioned earlier such as worry, stress, anxiety, or even worse an eerie calm that self-strength and determination can carry you through any problem, i.e. over-confidence.  Each of these are ultimately sin and are in fact the opposite of faith.  To be a child is to be reliant; at its very essence, helpless.

Which brings me to the passage from Matthew cited above.  Note the question of the disciples, “Who is the greatest?”  Isn’t that just like the question of an over-confident teenager holding out hope that maybe they would be the greatest.  Or at the very least, desiring to know who #1 is so that they can work harder to beat them.  But notice how Jesus responds, by placing a little child in their midst and saying, “unless you turn and become like children,” and answers their question accordingly, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

It’s so simple to understand that we miss it everyday.  Why didn’t Jesus point toward one of the disciples?  Why not point out a “righteous” man whom they could model their lives after?  Why not say a teenager, or an adult, or a mom or dad?  Why a child?  In fact, Jesus could have even said unless you become like Me.  Certainly He was the perfect example of reliance upon the Father.  Yet He chose the simplest, most basic example that the disciples (and us) could understand, a child.  The humility of a child speaks of their reliance upon their parent for everything: food, clothing, shelter, basically life.

My little girl does not sit around and worry where her next meal is going to come from.  She relies.  She doesn’t wonder how she will clothe herself or whether she will have a roof over her head.  She relies.  She doesn’t worry about health, her future, what obstacles may or may not come her way in a month, year, or 10 years.  She lives free from day to day.  What a beautiful picture of what it looks like to live as a child of God.  Reliant upon Him, not only for our material needs, but for all sustenance in life both now and in the life to come.  Practically, this is what faith in Christ looks like in the everyday.

We are to humble ourselves as little children.  Turn from our teenage, over-confident, self-reliant ways, and become like a child.  Reliant.  Free.   Such are the greatest in the kingdom.

Remembering Egypt

 

Originally published Sept. 5, 2014.

The Israelite exodus from Egypt was a historical, monumental act by God to redeem the people whom He would set apart for His own ultimate purpose, the establishment of a lineage for the Messiah.  The promise for this began in Genesis 3:15, but continued with the covenant to Abraham, then his son Isaac and eventually his son Jacob (see Romans 9:6-13 for additional context).  Beginning in Genesis 46, the family of Jacob relocated to Egypt to survive the widespread famine that had stricken the region.  While there, the people begin to enlarge so much that the Egyptians began to worry about their numbers, resulting in enslavement of the people as a form of control (Exodus 1:10).

Throughout the Old Testament God was constantly reminding His people of His gracious redemption from their bondage to Egypt.  This occurred not only during their 40+ year exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land, but was used as a reminder by the prophets of God’s care and mercy towards His people.  They were to look upon this merciful act with eyes of worship, recognizing that Yahweh had condescended Himself to redeem for Himself a people.  This great act was not to be forgotten in a generation but passed along to future generations.

Conversely, the people were constantly remembering Egypt, but not for the right reason.  Their hearts were set on the idolatry and delight in the pleasures of the flesh that they enjoyed while in their captivity.  Observe Numbers 11:4-64 Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. 6 But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”

We can see in this example during the Wilderness Years that not only were the Israelites grumbling about the provision of manna from the hand of God, but they were longing for the pleasures of Egypt even if it meant their re-enslavement.

Think about this.

They failed to remember their slavery, forced to work for little to nothing, forced to make bricks without straw, forced to labor for an idolatrous leader for idolatrous purposes; all forgotten as their focused turned to what they enjoyed during that time.  What God had provided them was unsatisfying because they failed to appreciate their redemption and worship God for providing their daily bread.  Instead their insatiable appetite lusted for the pleasures of Egypt.

How true is that for us today as believers?

Though we have been redeemed by Yahweh from the enslavement and bondage to sin, we often find ourselves complaining about the provisions of God and longing for the days when our fleshly desires were fulfilled.  All too familiar is this idea conveyed through the Israelites of our own bondage and slavery.  We forget all about the lack of reverence toward God, our failure to delight fully in Him and love Him with all our hearts, mind, soul, and strength.  We forget about the guilt and shame that our sin brought on us or the pain that we caused others because of our enslavement to sin.  Worst of all, we forget that our sin was an affront to the holiness of God, demanded the justice of God, satisfied through the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  Instead, we remember the fleeting pleasures of the flesh.  The momentary satisfaction that sin brought us.

Ezekiel 23 provides a helpful comparison and contrast of remembering Egypt for the wrong reasons and includes the account of how God feels about this.  Please take time to read it in it’s context, as it is quite provocative. While the force of God’s disdain towards those who would remember the lusts of Egypt cannot be fully expressed apart from the entire chapter in context, we can get a sense of it in verse 27 “Thus I will put an end to your lewdness and your whoring begun in the land of Egypt, so that you shall not lift up your eyes to them or remember Egypt anymore.”

God’s desire for the Israelites was for them to remember His gracious goodness in their redemption and His providential care towards them throughout their Exodus.  However, as they looked in their rearview mirror at Egypt, they overlooked this and failed to give God the worship due His name.  In actuality, they perverted the goodness of God by embracing the lusts of their flesh experienced during their time in Egypt.

Too often, we look back on sin, our own personal Egypt, with delight in our eyes.  Perhaps it is a memory that we allow to linger or a thought that we fail to take captive, but sin has a surprising way of appearing crystal clear in our rear-view mirror.  Would that our hearts would be moved to focus more on the gospel of Jesus Christ; that our memories would be set upon the redemption that is only found in Him; that the cross would be vivid in our rearview and the glories of heaven a desire for our destination.  Set your minds on things above and not on things below.  Remember your redemption from Egypt and give no thought to her pleasures.  Her allurements are unsatisfying and she wishes nothing more for you than re-enslavement.  But you, believer, have been bought with a price; ransomed from Egypt by the precious blood of Jesus Christ.

The List: A Wartime Ambush

 

Originally published February 17, 2010.  This version has some minor formatting and content edits.

Last week we looked at the importance of declaring war against our own sinful flesh and we uncovered and examined some truths about the nature of this war.  In brief summary, we outlined 3 key strategies in declaring this war:

  1. Don’t conform to the world (Rom. 12:1)
  2. Renew your Mind (Rom. 12:1)
  3. Put on Christ and realize your identity in Him (Rom. 13:14)

If you remember, this third strategy is where our true power lies, by realizing that this fight of the flesh in our battle toward holiness cannot come from any internal power of our own, but instead from the power of Christ living in us.  It’s on this point that we must advance and avoid the wartime ambush.

Picture it like this, you’ve declared war against sin, against your own sinful nature, against your fleshly desires of anger, greed, lust, fear, anxiety, money, power, selfishness, racism, hatred, every ungodly impulse that runs through your body and you’ve developed your battle plan, a list of do’s and don’ts that are sure to make you victorious.  Just like the troops ready to storm the beaches at Normandy, you too are ready to begin your war.

There’s only one problem, that list of do’s and don’ts, the warfare strategy that you thought would be so helpful, has actually disarmed you and is sending you into battle with no weapon in hand.  This is quite the precarious situation, because surely you cannot do battle without a plan, yet to proceed into war without a weapon would be spiritual suicide.  This is why the third strategy from above is so critical; your warfare strategy must come from a total reliance on Christ.  It is He that arms you with His Spirit.

Let me attempt to put this in terms we can relate to.  Suppose in your declaration of war, you resolve that you will not lose your temper toward your children, spouse, co-worker, friend, etc. for 6 months.  That’s a goal you’ve created in order to wage your war.  What happens when you lose your temper and get angry after the first week?  Have you already lost the battle?  Will you start the 6-month period again?  What would be the point in that?

A second scenario might be that you’ve decided to avoid all lusts of the flesh and after a few months have passed you are able to look back and say, “I haven’t committed a lustful sin in 7 months 4 days and 3 hours.”  This is equivalent to building the Titanic and declaring that God Himself cannot sink it.  That “sinless” streak will end nearly as soon as your Pharisaic declaration has been made.  How then did our “list” strategy fail us?  Especially when we had intentions of doing good.

These lists that we like to create are really no different than what the Apostle Paul addresses in Romans chapter 8, because just like the “Law” that he speaks of, our lists cannot sanctify us, only Jesus Christ working in us through His Spirit can bring us progressively closer to Christ-likeness.

In Romans 8:3 ESV Paul states,

“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.  By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.”

The law that Paul speaks of here, namely the Mosaic Law (10 Commandments), is perfectly Holy, perfectly good, but our sinful flesh is unable to uphold them, just like we are unable to keep those lists we created.  If you remember, in our last post we said that legalism was “doing” works, i.e. law keeping, in attempt to gain right standing with God.  Legalism (“law-keeping/list-making”) can’t improve our standing or justify us, just like it can’t move us toward holiness, or sanctification.  The same principle is at work here; we must be totally dependent on Christ trusting in Him that, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6 ESV

Our instruction from Jesus is to obey the law, to follow the commandments that God has outlined for us, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15 ESV The law however, reveals areas of personal weakness (Romans 5:20) in our hearts that needs to be changed.  But the law, and to a lesser extent our list based on the law, isn’t a personal improvement plan; it’s a standard of holiness, one that without Christ at work in our lives any attempt to uphold it would be futile.  How then can we move toward holiness and progress in our sanctification without checking off a list of do’s and don’ts?  By loving Jesus.  If you love Him, you WILL keep His commandments.  It’s conditional on love, not on list keeping.  Do you want to move toward victory in your war?  “This land cannot be entered by moral effort or by moral attainment.” (A. Redpath). It can only be entered by the redeeming blood of the Savior Jesus Christ and the sanctifying work of His Holy Spirit within us.  Run to Jesus and love Him, treasure Him, obey Him, and you will have victory.

“Absolute triumph is achieved only in response to utter obedience.”

“For the greater the obedience, the greater the discipline, the greater the faith, the fuller and more complete the allegiance to our precious Lord, the more does the heart expand and receive more and more of Jesus.” A. Redpath- Victorious Christian Living