How is it possible for any of us to live without a heart full of gratitude when everything short of hell is mercy? If we are not facing the the wrath of everlasting punishment at this moment, we are not getting what we deserve. That is true for every Christian and non-Christian alive right now.
We have a tendency to look at the way things are and assume that is the way it should be. We look at the life of an average person and think we deserve that at least. That misleading assumption is spewed forth by the father of lies and exists for the soul purpose of making our hearts cold toward the Lord of Mercy.
Our ingratitude, alone, is sin enough to condemn us for all eternity, yet here we sit, surrounded by so many pleasures of life and taking them for granted. To help us keep things in perspective, here are a few things that are better than what we deserve.
Loss of Loved Ones
Conflict at work
Catching a cold
Loss of a Presidential election
A long line at the grocery store
Being on hold with the internet company for 20 minutes
An online delivery being delayed
Going to work tired
Someone saying something upsetting on social media
A sermon being a little dry
The worship leader singing a song we do not like
It is amazing how much time we can spend complaining about the items at the bottom of the list, especially in light of the items at the top of the list. Yet, the entire list is mercy compared to hell.
For those who reject Christ, everything on this list will soon come to an end. When the mercy ends, the list above will seem like heaven compared to what they will be facing for all eternity. They will go from mercy to justice.
For those who come to Jesus in faith, all of this will soon come to an end for them as well. Christian, your pain and frustrations are only temporary. You will soon enter into the presence of the king where there will be no more tears or sorrow. You will go from mercy to mercy. Hold on for just a little longer.
No matter what we are facing, we have every reason to rejoice in the Lord at this moment. Meditate on this truth, and let it flood your heart with gratitude, especially as we move into the Thanksgiving holiday. He is a good and gracious King.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. – Philippians 4:4
And while [Lot] lingered, the men took hold of his hand, his wife’s hand, and the hands of his two daughters, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city. -Genesis. 19:16
If what we love keeps us from growing in Christ, He will take our loves from us. In the verse above, we find Lot in the final moments before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The warnings had been clear, and Lot had not doubted the truthfulness of the threats. Yet in the final moments before the destruction, as Lot is told to escape with his life, he lingers as if unable to move. John Calvin says this regarding Lot’s lingering, “His tardiness is truly wonderful, since, though he was certainly persuaded that the angels did not threaten in vain, he could yet be moved by no force of words until he is dragged by their hands out of the city.”
What caused him to linger? Matthew Poole estimates that “He lingered, either through an aversion to part with all his estate, or to lose his sons-in-law; or through astonishment and distraction of mind, which made him both listless and impotent.” Whatever it was, Lot was powerless to move on his own, and this seems to be the experience of us all from time to time when the Lord, through his Word, has told us to move. Whether it is a sin with which we hate to part, or a comfortable career the Lord has told us to leave behind, many times we are spiritually sluggish.
God has told us in His word to press on and be conformed to his image. He has told us to do all He has commanded us. The thunderous warnings of the destruction of everything contrary to Him and His ways have rung in our ears; He warns us to flee the wrath to come. Along with the thundering of destruction that pressures us from behind, we also have the beauty of Christ and our promised joy in Him before us, bidding us come. Yet, even with all of this, we often sit motionless in a steadfast stupor.
As Matthew Henry so aptly put it, “Thus many that are under some convictions about the misery of their spiritual state, and the necessity of a change, yet defer that needful work, and foolishly linger.” Praise God Lot’s story does not end there, and neither does ours. God was merciful to him, and the angels grabbed him by the hand and pulled him out of the city to safety.
Are there areas in your life that hinder your growth in the things of the God? Do you know the Lord has called you to remedy a certain aspect of your life, yet you sit idle, making no progress in spiritual things? If so, be prepared, for if you are a true child of God who is unmoved even though you have heard His word, He will use other means to get you to advance. Whatever inordinate loves keep you motionless may be forcefully removed, requiring you to make steps onward in your journey to the Celestial City. Calvin makes the point clear when he says,
“For so it is often necessary for us to be forcibly drawn away from scenes which we do not willingly leave. If riches, or honors, or any other things of that kind, prove an obstacle to anyone, to render him less free and disengaged from the service of God, when it happens that he is abridged of his fortune, or reduced to a lower rank, let him know that the Lord has laid hold of his hand; because words and exhortations had not sufficiently profited him.”
Let us never forget that when the Lord takes what we love, it is His love for us that is at work. It is His mercy in action because it would have been no injustice on His part if He had left us in our impotent state to partake in the destruction that we refused to flee.
Has the Lord been calling you to surrender some sin? Has he been prompting you by His Holy Spirit to live a life in greater service to Him than the worldly pleasure you now serve? Or is he simply calling you to spend more time in the prayerful study of His Word, which we so often neglect? Whatever it may be, we all have enough sluggishness in us that we should, with all earnestness, strive against it. May the words of this devotion be the means God uses to move us on, for if mere words are not enough, in His mercy and love, He will lay his hands on His child.
Something seemed off from the beginning. There were four of us lined up in the back of the church to help serve the Lord’s Supper. Our church is not large, so I was surprised that I did not really know the other three. I recognized them, and I knew they were members of either the youth or college group, but I could not place them.
The music began, and we started walking down the center aisle toward the pastor who was leading the service. We walked passed approximately 100 people sitting on each side of us and reached the table. The pastor proceeded with the service and handed us the elements to distribute. This was all standard fare. There would be two of us for each side of the congregation. I took the plate of bread and started down to the first row on the south side, and my partner was already missing.
I managed to make the first couple rows work by myself, thanks to accommodating church-goers. That is when I looked to the back, and my fellow server was at the last row. He handed all the elements in the trays to them and walked out leaving the congregation on our side of the church to pass around the bread and cups themselves. I proceeded to serve at the front of the church while congregants at the back continued to pass the plates through the pews working their way forward.
By the time I was at the middle of the church, most of the bread was gone, and I saw some people even sharing their own tiny cups. The other two servers did slightly better, but it was all done without reverence. I was livid. Every passion of disgust and anger in by body was turned up to ten.
When I had finished attempting to salvage the situation, and my job was done, I went to look for them. I found them sitting on the counter in the bathroom laughing and clowning around. You can bet that I laid into them with every theological argument for the importance and seriousness of the Lord’s table that has ever been made. It was all at a fever pitch, and their indifference only lengthened the lecture. In the end, I had dispensed the facts just like the elements of communion. Everything I said was true, but my anger had made a mess of it.
After a few minutes of cooling down, I went to find them to apologize for my rage, but I also wanted to reiterate what a blessing the Lord ’s Table is to us as believers. I could only find one of them, and I saw pain in his eyes. It was the pain of longing that comes from wanting to be loved and have someone be proud of him, and he had partially hidden it behind a mask of unfazed rebellion. My heart began to break.
I told him, I was sorry for the anger in my tone, but I still believed every word I had said. He said his grandmother had asked him what had happened, and he told her, “Doug is way too serious to do any good in this church, just like you had said.” I immediately felt a tinge of offense at the thought that his grandmother had said that about me, but I also knew that this was his way of striking back. That is also when the knowledge that his parents had abandoned him came flooding back to me from somewhere in the recesses of my mind.
I knew I had done right and wrong all at the same time, so I launched into my second discourse. I let him know that I realized I had said some hard things to him, and biggest problem is that he did not know me enough to know that I only wanted what is best for him. Hard words rarely ever carry any weight unless you know they are given to you from a heart of love. So, I spent a few minutes getting to know him. It was a rough morning, but when it was all said and done, we had been through something difficult together. All the ice had been broken, and we were able to speak candidly with each other; without masks.
That is when I felt the pillow on the side of my face. My bleary eyes began to open, and I saw the clock reading 2:23 p.m. My Sunday afternoon nap had come to an end. As I lay there enjoying the breeze of the ceiling fan on my skin, still feeling the passion stirring in my soul from the events of the dream, I thought, “Maybe I was a little too focused on the wrong details of communion.”
Truth is our creation: new dogma. Gender is a feeling. Identity, desire. Bigotry. The wealthy are evil. Their riches, our ambition. The free market creates kings, the government needs more power. Sacrifice to save our mother. The fetus, unnatural. Patriarchy. The only sin is sin. “God is dead.” His decomposition, our deities of decay.
You may know a sheep from a swine, when both have fallen into the same mire, and are, in fact, so bemired, that neither by coat nor color can the one be distinguished from the other.
How then distinguish them? Nothing more easy!
The sheep, a type of the godly, strives and struggles to get out of the muck.
But the swine, in circumstances agreeable to its nature, wallows in the filth.
What the true proverb says has happened to them: The dog returns to its own vomit, and the swine, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire. – 2 Peter 2:22
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 7:22- 25
In the cross of Christ, God’s hatred to sin is manifested in the most striking light! The evil of sin is exposed in the most dreadful colors! Now it appears, that such is the divine hatred against all sin, that God can by no means forgive sin, without punishment; and that all the infinite benevolence of His nature towards His creatures cannot prevail upon Him to pardon the least sin without an adequate satisfaction.
More than that, now it appears that when so malignant and abominable a thing is but imputed to His dear Son, His co-equal, His darling, His favorite, that even He could not escape unpunished, but was made a monument of vindictive justice, to all worlds!
What can more strongly expose the evil of sin than the cross of Christ? Sin is such an intolerably malignant and abominable thing, that even a God of infinite mercy and grace cannot let the least instance of it pass unpunished!
It was not a small thing that could arm God’s justice against the Son of His love. Though He was perfectly innocent in Himself—yet when He was made sin for us, God spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up unto death; the shameful, tormenting, and accursed death of the cross!
Go, you fools, who make a mock at sin! Go and learn its malignity and demerit at the cross of Jesus!
Who is it that hangs there writhing in the agonies of death—His hands and feet pierced with nails, His side with a spear, His face bruised with blows, and drenched with tears and blood, His heart melting like wax, His whole frame racked and disjointed; forsaken by His friends, and even by His Father; tempted by devils, and insulted by men? Who is this amazing spectacle of woe and torture? It is Jesus, the eternal Word of God; His Elect, in whom His soul delights; His beloved Son, in whom He is well pleased!
And what has He done? He did no wickedness; He knew no sin but was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. And why then, all these dreadful sufferings from heaven, earth, and hell? Why, He only stood in the law-place of sinners; He only received their sin by imputation. And you see what it has brought upon Him! You see how low it has reduced Him! What a horrid evil must that be—which has such tremendous consequences, even upon the Darling of heaven!
Oh! what still more dreadful havoc would sin have made, if it had been punished upon the sinner himself in his own person! Surely all the various miseries which have been inflicted upon our guilty world in all ages, and even all the punishments of hell do not so loudly proclaim the terrible desert and malignity of sin as the cross of Christ!
The infinite malignity of sin, and God’s hatred to it, appear nowhere in so striking and dreadful a light as in the cross of Christ! Let a reasonable creature take but one serious view of that cross, and surely he must ever after tremble at the thought of the least sin!
Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. – Matthew 12:31
What exactly is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? There are a three basic views. The first view is that it is something that could only be done while Christ was on the earth. From this view, this sin involved seeing the miracles Christ was working through the Holy Spirit and calling them evil, but since Christ is no longer on the earth, this sin can no longer be committed. Many great men and women of the faith have held this position so it is clearly within the pale of orthodoxy. The problem, as I see it, stems from the fact that the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is not against Christ, it is against the Holy Spirit. One of the greatest works of the Spirit is to reveal that Jesus is the Son of God. He has not ceased in doing this work and his work can still be blasphemed.
The second view is also held by many, and it considers blasphemy of Holy Spirit rejecting the Holy Spirit’s work until death. In other words, to never come to faith in Christ. This seems reasonable because that is unforgivable. I believe rejecting Jesus until death is an outworking of blasphemy of Holy Spirit as I will explain below, but this view seems to leave out the fact that blasphemy is a sin of communication. That is the thrust of the sin, and to ignore that seems to miss the mark.
A Third view holds that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is a sin of communication. It is a known, malicious, speaking of the works of the Holy Spirit as evil. It can still happen today, but it cannot be committed ignorantly. What this means is that there must be a mental assent, or a full knowledge, that the Holy Spirit is the one doing the work, but in an attempt to suppress that truth in unrighteousness, the person blasphemes by calling it a work of evil.
One of the reasons many believe this sin cannot be committed unknowingly is because it is often linked with the sin found in Hebrews Chapter 6. In that passage, the person has been enlightened to the truth, and has even partaken in the Holy Spirit’s work; though not salvifically. They know and understand the truth and still reject Christ. In rejecting Christ they are rejecting the Holy Spirit who testifies of Him. The person who does such a thing is said to have crucified Christ afresh, and that it is impossible to renew such a one to repentance (Heb. 6:6). Since the scripture tells us that all sin is forgiven of men except blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, and the sin committed in Hebrews 6 also seems to be unforgivable, there seems to be a good reason to link the two.
So how do Bible expositors link blasphemy of the Holy Spirit to being a continuous ultimate denial of the grace of God? They do this by looking at Jesus’ words which shows us that this blasphemy is ultimately a sin that flows from the heart. Jesus says, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” This sin flows from a heart that is so hard toward the things of God that it will never repent, and God in his purposes has turned them over to this hardness and leaves them there.
The sin of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit has caused many people trouble and fear. They wonder after reading about it if they have committed it. If this is you, and your concern stems from a heart that desires to be right with the Lord, then you have not committed it. If a person’s heart is sensitive to the truths of God, then they are not guilty of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. The person who’s heart is as hard as those who blaspheme the Spirit would not be concerned about being right with the Lord. They would despise Him.
Another aspect of this sin is that those who have been saved cannot commit it. In Hebrews 6 the author says to his audience of believers that he did not expect them to fall away and crucify Christ afresh. Instead he expected to see from them things that “accompany salvation.” From the context, perseverance seems is one of those things that will accompany salvation. So a Christian is unable to commit this sin for we are kept by the power of God through faith.
What does this have to do with following Jesus? There is a parallel to this principle in the life of the local church.
If you are not willing to lose your job, you are not as good of an employee as you could be. If you are a leader in your organization and you are unwilling make decisions that could place your position in jeopardy, you will make decisions that are detrimental to your institution. I am not talking about being reckless or being manipulative by repeatedly threatening to leave. Those are major shortcomings as well. However, one of the biggest flaws of many workers is that they are more concerned about self-preservation and personal peace when it comes to their employment than what is best for the organization.
When the leaders of an organization begin to protect their positions, the organization has started down the path of a slow death. Self-preservation and personal comfort is where we all tend to begin our careers. Entry level employees usually only have one goal; make the work as easy as possible, get a paycheck, and get out of there, but as we grow, we should move beyond that to become a more responsible member of the organization. We should take ownership to contribute and take responsibility when the institution falters. However, there seems to be only a limited number of people that are able to work in a way that is not driven by self-interest.
Employees who are truly able to transform an organization have come to see the bigger picture, and they understand that the goals of the organization are more important than personal survival, ego, and securing the lightest workload possible. They recognize that they are part of something bigger than themselves. They become willing to take risks that hazard their own employment and personal peace to accomplish their goals. This does not mean that employee satisfaction is not part of the equation, but this is not a contradiction if understood correctly. A place of employment that abuses its employees is setting itself up for failure as well, and a worker that makes great decisions in that area might have to put themselves at risk to protect their colleagues.
Workers like this are often hard to understand because their actions are unconventional. They operate from a moral system rather than a political one. They will often push for change that most people in the organization do not think is necessary because things are working fine, and they do not want the risk or the extra work. The transformational employee, on the other hand, looks beyond those challenges to the greater good. In doing this, they are willing to put in the needed labor, take the heat, and pay the political costs. The bottom line is this, the people who are willing to lose their jobs for the sake of the success of the organization are usually the most valuable members of that institution.
What does this have to do with following Jesus? Besides the fact, as Christians, we should strive to be the best employees we can be, there is a parallel to this principle in the life of the local church. Many local churches, big and small, often exist for self-preservation rather than the propagation of the gospel. They make decisions based on self-interest and personal gratification rather than the glory of God.
It seems that the chief end of many local churches is to exist. Maintaining the building, meeting budgets, and preserving attendance by trying to make sure the congregants have a pleasant experience so they will not leave are what drives the decisions of many church leaders. There is nothing wrong with working for these goals. They are fine as long as those aims do not become more important than the gospel and obeying the word of God.
Buildings, budgets, and pleasant experiences can all play a part in the life of a healthy church, but they are not our main objective as Christians. We are involved in the greatest calling ever; knowing God and seeking his glory. A church that will do this the best is the one that is willing to lose all of these trappings if necessary. We need to look past convention to what is truly essential for success in the kingdom of God.
Rarely is a mega-church, or even a quaint little chapel, able show the power of the gospel to the world like a church banded together by the word of God while being willing to face cultural criticism and the persecution from the world. This was clearly seen in the early church. There is no local congregation that will have a lasting impact for the Kingdom of God that is unwilling to be uncomfortable. Kingdom work is neither glamorous or comfortable. It involves being engaged in the difficult aspects of this world; ministering to the orphan, the widow, and the addict for example.
We are often too quick to bow to the pressure of culture in order to protect ourselves, and we are regularly unwilling to do any difficult work. When you put that in contrast with the fact that the Lord Jesus called us to be willing to die for the faith if necessary, we begin to see just how much self-interest and self-preservation has formed our gatherings.
It is easy to shake our heads at the leaders in churches like these, but if we are congregants who desire a nice experience where nothing is expected of us, we are as much a part of the problem as anyone. We are servants of Christ just as much as the leaders are. Ask yourself, when a fellow believer in your church asks you to do something like helping a shut-in, do you grumble and complain internally? Often, the thought of having to attending a prayer meeting is enough to make a church member recoil in disgust. Please know, if that is us, self-interest has become our god. We are contributing to the slow death of not only our own souls but also of our local church.
May your buildings be beautiful, may your budget be overflowing, and may your gatherings be pleasant, and may you be willing to sacrifice it all for the glory of God if necessary.
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. – Jesus (Luke 9:23)
And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son. – Genesis 22-13
As Isaac watched the knife which was lifted by his father be plunged into the ram that had been caught in the thicket, what could have been going through his mind? As he watched as the altar was set ablaze to finish the burnt offering, the thought of his replacement must have astonished him.
Only moments earlier, Issac had been bound and laying on the altar. Not only him but the future existence of the children of God. As he watched his replacement, he watched for us all as God shows him that there is one who will come to bear our scorn.
The ram clearly being a shadow of Christ who was to come, finds us tied upon the altar of the wrath of God. We were bound in the sense that we loved our sin and wanted to continue in it. As it is with all those who are under the law, the dagger of God’s justice was raised above us, waiting until His sovereign and unstoppable hand plunged it down.
Yet while we were still sinners, fighting against His authority and grace, He began to untie us. Our hearts of stone He began to soften as we lay in defiance of Him. With the hammer of His word, He then destroyed the bonds of false philosophies and empty arguments which held us captive, and He continued His work until we, being freed, crawled off the altar. As we stood in astonishment, God Himself, in Christ, crawled upon the altar, freely, without bonds. He lay there perfectly still, as God the Father plunged the dagger of His justice upon His only Son.
By faith, the children of God look on in amazement as we claim the merits of His blood. We are entirely undone by the fact that all of this has been done for us. Had God left us upon the altar to strike us with His justice, He would have been perfect in His holiness and impeccable in His goodness, but He did not do it. He sent a substitute. Not because we were worthy, but because He loves us as the Father loves the Son; eternally without beginning and without end.
Most people are quick admit that they rarely ever spend time on social media without something ruffling their feathers, and this should be expected. Research shows that posts that cause anger are more likely to be shared, liked, or commented on than any other kind of post. This is why, as Psychology Today reports, “Users with more radical opinions get larger followings, precisely because their tweets use expletives and polarizing rhetoric. More radical individuals have more social influence.” This type of behavior is virtually unavoidable online.
Jesus has called us to live lives of meekness. It is something all believers should possess and cherish. Meekness is closely related to humility, and one of ways it should play out in our lives is in a quiet and gentle spirit. The perfect example of this is Jesus himself. The sinless Lord of Righteousness takes on flesh, dwells among sinners, and he is gentle and humble of heart. As seen in his own life, there is a place for righteous anger, but regular outrage is not the proper demeanor of the Christian.
Jeremiah Burroughs once said, “Learn to set a high price on the quietness and sweetness of your spirit.” In practicing the beatitude of meekness, this means we should guard our peaceful demeanor and strive against being stirred to anger over trivial and unimportant things.
It is true that many of the topics on social media that raise our passions are not trivial, but the format in which it is being communicated usually is. The people or tweets that move us to outrage are people who have as little influence on the outcome of a social debate as we do. Our anger in this situation will almost always be in vain as it will have no real influence in their lives or the culture at large.
Burroughs goes on to say, “Oh the poor trifles and toys that men and women cast away their quietness for!’ Then he give us an analogy that drives it home. Imagine you have a ball of pure gold. It is a treasure you keep in hand because it is so precious to you. Now imagine that someone comes along and throws dirt on you. How foolish would it be to throw your golden ball at them in retaliation. Yet we do this repeatedly.
Someone says something online that we find offensive, and we retaliate with a harsh word, a quick jab, or a joke a their expense. What we have done in that moment is allowed them to steal our blessing of a quiet and gentle spirit to pay them back for their worthless words.
This is a spiritual battle that tends to rage every time we are on social media. It also happens in many other contexts our our lives. The world does not understand meekness. Like all of the beatitudes, it is upside-down compared to cultural standards. Most people believe the way to be happy is to demand what you want through a spirit of proud agitation. Only then will you find the blessed state you seek. Jesus tells us the exact opposite.
This is not a post to tell you that you should never be on social media. However, if you find your time online stirring up passions and moving you from a spirit of humble quietness to one of contemptuous frustration, realize what you are throwing away. Blessed are the meek. Is that blessing something worth casting aside because someone said something offensive online? We must learn how to control our anger or we need stay away from the temptation.
There is a time and place for righteous anger, but rarely is the frivolous nature of social media worthy of it. Finally, never forget, many of the people who stir our passions online are people like us who were moved to anger and were lashing out because of other radical tweets they saw online. Maybe our enemy is more like us than we realize.