Bell Creek Community Church

A non-denominational church in Livonia, Michigan with Biblical teaching, worship, and kid's ministries.

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How Do You Get into Heaven?

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 2:03am

God graciously and fully justifies us by faith alone. But justifying faith always shows itself through the fruit of love.

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Why Are So Many So Silent? The Insider Movement in America

Sun, 11/12/2017 - 8:01pm

“When I return home next month, there is a good chance they will kill me before I can come back to America.”

He had only been a believer for a year.

“I could not help but tell my family and friends about the new life I found in Jesus. Several people disowned me outright. One said that if he sees me when I get back, he would kill me immediately. There is a good chance that someone will tell the government. When they do, I will not see you again in this life.”

Tears filled my eyes.

This new Muslim convert knew something that we Westerners tend to forget: Jesus is worth living for, even if it means proving that he is worth dying for.

Despite pressure from a well-intentioned campus minister, my friend had not been convinced by the “insider movement” that said he could continue to call himself a Muslim, continue reading and affirming the Quran, and attend the mosque regularly. He did not listen when told not to associate publicly with the Christian church, call Jesus the Son of God, or witness explicitly to his close family and friends. He must let his light shine before others (Matthew 5:16).

He would not refuse to verbalize his allegiance in the name of contextualization. If God willed, he would join the many martyrs before him who swam through blood into glory.

My friend ended up going back to his homeland in Tunisia, proclaimed his faith to his family and friends, and displayed that he would rather be an outsider with Christ than an insider without him. And, at least for now, he lives despite his boldness.

America’s Insider Movement

America has her own insider movement. Not one that seeks to survive in the face of unimaginable persecution, constant threat, or dangerous repercussions for Christian converts and their families. Our insider movement does not fumble its Christian witness before guns or flames or the Taliban. We forsake the saltiness of our witness before the mob of popular opinion.

Although we naturally spread the gospel of our football teams or favorite Netflix shows, we struggle to name the only name given to mankind by which sinners can be saved (Acts 4:12). The grunts of disapproval from the walking dead scares us from the task. We have forgotten that those who are insulted for the name of Christ are blessed (1 Peter 4:14). What was true in Jesus’s day is true in ours: “Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him” (John 7:13).

They feared getting kicked out of the synagogue — a focal point of Jewish life. We fear sarcasm from parents, ridicule on Twitter, being “that guy” in every social engagement. So, we are tempted to skulk from shadow to shadow, church service to home to work, only visiting our Lord under the cover of night, a Nicodemian variety of Christian association (John 3:2).

But this is incompatible with faithful Christian living.

Christianity and Cowardice?

Does that mean we only talk about Jesus 24-7? No. Does it mean forsaking all discernment about when to share and when not to? Of course not. Can it mean we never speak of Christ out of fear of man? Absolutely not. We do not seek to speak carelessly, but we do speak. The Christian life is a speaking life.

Charles Spurgeon thunders what martyrs throughout the ages have spoken with their blood,

I think there is scarcely a Christian man or woman that has been able to go all the way to heaven and yet quietly hide himself and run from bush to bush, creeping into Glory. Christianity and cowardice? What a contradiction in terms!

Shakespeare said that cowards die a thousand deaths before they die. The Bible says that the cowardly (who do not repent) die twice: once on earth, and once in the lake of fire.

“As for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)

Hiding Jesus in Plain Sight

And when we do associate with Christ, do we make it vague enough for the world to retweet? Is our “faith” gospel-less, cross-less, and Jesus-less? It is too politically correct to offend, too genteel to mention wrath or sin. It is spiritual without mentioning the Spirit, and creates a people of faith who never mention whom their faith is in. God is referenced as a distant deity that seems to have no distinguishable qualities or characteristics. The specifics of the gospel, it would seem, must remain a private matter.

This is seen also in Christian celebrities. Athletes thank “the man upstairs” for winning the World Series. Quarterbacks point to the sky after throwing touchdown passes. Some rappers-who-happen-to-be-Christians substitute the wellspring of the gospel for “positive messages” (cleaned up versions of secular music) in the name of contextualization. We hear Christ nodded to and hinted at, but never exalted.

We settle for being an insider of the world, instead of being an outsider with Christ.

What Western Christians Must Remember

Therefore, we must be reminded of some truths that will help combat the temptation to be covert Christians.

Remember, God uses bold speech to rescue from hell.

New souls die every day and will face the wrath of God without Christ. This cannot be more serious. “The “smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night” (Revelation 14:11). “The wrath of God is coming” (Colossians 3:6), and when it does, sinners will not escape (1 Thessalonians 5:3) — though they beg the mountains to fall upon them (Revelation 6:16).

God has given us a message to rescue sinners. This message is to be spoken with words (Romans 10:14–15). It is the very power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). Pray to speak it boldly as the early church did (Acts 4:29).

Remember, time is short.

A few more mornings, a few more evenings, a few more winters, a few more springs, a few more laughs, a few more tears, and then we all will be before him. You have less time than you think. They have less time than you think. Implore the lost on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God with urgency (2 Corinthians 5:20–21).

Our lives, our days, our platforms are no longer ours — we were bought with a price (1 Corinthians 7:23). If people will listen to you because you teach their children, work on projects with them at the office, or are their family member, utilize that platform for the salvation of others.

Remember, a life of denial forfeits heaven.

We cannot be derelict at our post:

“Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32–33)

Those who refuse to acknowledge Jesus’s name in the face of persecution — by threat of machete or by fewer social media followers — will not enter the kingdom.

Remember, a slave is not above his Master.

The world chose Barabbas over Jesus. Followers of Christ should not expect to win popularity contests. Instead, expect persecution (John 15:20). A slave is not greater than his Master.

Any attempt to be more diplomatic than Jesus is compromise; any attempt to be more likeable than Jesus is sin; any attempt to be the world’s friend is betrayal (James 4:4).

Cozying up with God’s enemy makes us his enemy; as they persecuted his Son, they likewise will persecute us.

Remember, the Calvary road is the path of joy.

No one will ever suffer for Christ on earth and complain about it in heaven. Paul even calls suffering a grace in line with salvation (Philippians 1:29). As John Piper reminds us, the Calvary road is the road of joy:

All the riches of the glory of God in Christ are on [the Calvary] road. All the sweetest fellowship with Jesus is there. All the treasures of assurance. All the ecstasies of joy. All the clearest sightings of eternity. All the noblest camaraderie. All the humblest affections. All the most tender acts of forgiving kindness. All the deepest discoveries of God’s word. All the most earnest prayers.

They are all on the Calvary road where Jesus walks with his people. Take up your cross and follow Jesus. On this road, and this road alone, life is Christ and death is gain. Life on every other road is wasted. (Don’t Waste Your Life, 76–77)

It is true that only those who lose their lives will save them, but don’t miss the second part: they will save them.

Remember who is outside the camp.

We can’t stay inside because Christ calls us out to himself.

He was crucified outside the city, slaughtered where the sacrificial remains were burned, in order to save us. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured (Hebrews 13:13).

Why should we speak when we know we will only bear the reproach that he endured? Because “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14).

We are strangers and aliens here. Jesus is our home. Until he returns, we live outside of the world’s approval, bearing the same treatment he endured. He bore our wrath, and we go to him by identifying with him, praising God which is “the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Hebrews 13:15).

Where Boldness Comes From

Finally, we need to remember where this boldness comes from.

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)

Conviction does not come from high scholarship. Boldness does not come from being the most gifted speaker. Courage comes from being with Jesus.

This treatise is not a plea to go out and offend people in the name of Christ. Nor is it a plea to get a Bible verse tattooed on your arm. It is a plea to be with Jesus.

The boldness that turns the world upside down comes from abiding in Christ. Common men and women in the presence of a glorious Savior burn with a flame the world cannot snuff out.

Why Does Gossip Feel So Good?

Sun, 11/12/2017 - 7:00pm

Spreading damaging reports about others feels so good and comes so naturally. But why is this impulse so natural? And how do we fight it?

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Basics for How to Study the Bible

Sun, 11/12/2017 - 1:00pm

When we study the Bible, we are after God’s meaning — not our own. And the best way to discover God’s meaning is to pray and ask questions of the text.

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Can the Word of God Really Ease My Pain?

Sat, 11/11/2017 - 8:02pm

Some days I wake up crying.

When I do, I often don’t even know why. Perhaps it is the weight of unspoken problems that I’m too afraid to articulate, coupled with a vague dread of what might come next. Or perhaps it’s the growing realization that the pain I’m feeling will only intensify throughout the day.

I had one of those days recently. The day before, my arm had felt useless. I couldn’t pick up my coffee. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t do what I wanted. I felt trapped inside my body, which had become an all-too-familiar feeling. At times, it has almost felt like a living death.

A Cry for Help

As I lay in bed, contemplating what the day might hold, I felt tears welling up inside me.

“Stop, don’t do this,” I told myself. But I couldn’t force the tears to stop, and they started trickling down my face. Before long, my pillow was soaked and I felt hopeless.

Your life is miserable. You’re a burden. You can’t do anything for yourself, were the ugly voices I kept hearing until I forced myself out of bed.

I pulled my robe on slowly and stumbled into my prayer closet. I didn’t want to go but I knew I needed this.

“Please God, help me. Show me your truth,” was my only cry. I could not muster anything more. I just sat in the semidarkness, praying, and then I opened my Bible and started reading.

Do I Trust Him?

Without God’s word, I would start interpreting life on my own. By my experiences. My feelings. My finite perspective.

I knew that his word was the only place to find truth. If I judge life by my despair, my pain, my circumstances, I will always live life skewed. I will judge everything by what I see. But life is so much more than what I can see. There is a reality that goes far beyond my experience.

I turned the pages of Scripture to the first reading for the day, wondering what God had for me. It was Psalm 56, a beloved passage. The one sentence summary read, “In God I trust.” I wondered if I trusted him. Trusting felt harder when life was pressing in. But as I took in the familiar lines, a sense of God’s peace washed over me. A peace that was inexplicable. A peace that surpassed understanding.

When I Am Afraid

Sometimes it requires perseverance to understand what I’m reading, like mining for gems. I need to grapple with the text a while before I discover a diamond. And other times, like that day, God feeds me freely from his hand. I just need to receive it.

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?

God knew I was afraid. He didn’t condemn me. But he called me to trust him in the middle of my pain. He alone could drive out my fears.

You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle.

God knew my sleepless nights. All the tears I have cried. All my fears, spoken and unspoken. It was all laid bare before him.

And these words, these words took my breath away: “This I know, that God is for me.”

God Is for Me

God is for me.

Even when life looks like it’s splintering, God is for me. And if God is for me, he is orchestrating everything in my life for my good. I can trust him even when everything looks dark. He tells me not to be afraid. He will take care of me.

God is for me. Those words kept echoing through my mind.

For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.

What a fitting end to the psalm. He indeed has delivered my soul from death. He has kept my feet from stumbling. He has empowered me to walk before him in his light. My legs and feet have become increasingly frail, and walking is getting harder. But he who created me knows every detail of my life, and he will keep me from falling.

New Tears

My eyes teared up for the second time that morning. But these were tears of joy. And hope. This was the true reality, not my circumstances. This word from God, penned thousands of years ago, reminded me of the truths I so easily forget.

I smoothed out the pages with my hands and almost hugged the Bible. God’s word had become life to me. It sustains me. It revives me. It comforts me. He comforts me.

I wanted to take the words and eat them, to let them nourish me. I was reminded of Jeremiah who said, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jeremiah 15:16). These words were the delight of my heart. They brought light to my eyes. My view of the world, my life, and my struggles were all changed in the light of Scripture. And in that light, my dark shadows disappeared.

As I left my prayer closet, I was grateful for the way my perspective had changed. I was filled with hope. My circumstances were no different than when I entered, yet my emotions had been strangely transformed. Meeting with God had reframed everything.

Because God is for me, in Christ, I can trust him. I can trust him with my weakness, with my fears, with my pain. And with that knowledge, I can face the day. With that knowledge, I can face anything.

Don’t Leave Your Husband for Her: Letter to a Would-Be Adulteress

Fri, 11/10/2017 - 8:01pm

Dear friend,

I’m grateful that you trusted me with your secret.

Sitting across from me at the kitchen table this afternoon, you poured out your heart. When you married your high school sweetheart at 19, you never once suspected you would be in this place. Now, at 39, after twenty years of marriage, you call yourself gay.

In tears, you tell me that you have “come out,” and that you’re not looking back. You haven’t had an affair. Yet. But there is this woman you met at the gym. You work out with her every morning, and you text with her throughout the day.

Even though you are a covenant member of a faithful church, sit under solid preaching, and put up a good front for the children, you have been inwardly despising your husband for some time now. Hearing him read the Bible makes you cringe. You haven’t been intimate with him for over a year now. You tell me you can’t bear it.

Is Gay Good?

You tell me that leaving your husband for a woman is not an act of unfaithfulness. You tell me that you are being faithful to who you really are, and who you have always really been. At my kitchen table, you open up a book from a “gay Christian” and read this aloud: “The root of my same-sex attraction is a genuine good: it is my longing for deep friendship.” You tell me, “I am a gay Christian, and I have just discovered my authentic self.”

As you read this book, you see yourself as if looking in a mirror. You are held captive in its reflection.

Yes, you and I are both looking in a mirror when we read his words. But it is not the faithful mirror of God’s word. Rather, it is a carnival mirror. And the reflection that we become as we see ourselves in it is warped, twisted, mangled by this modern shaping of personhood through intersectionality of sexual and social categories — what this author calls “the nuance of sexual identity.” You will find a road to travel in that mirror. It is a pathway to hell.

Carnival Mirror

You presume that because we share the same pattern of brokenness and sin, that I embrace the new vocabulary of this carnival mirror. You ask me, “How have you made your mixed-orientation marriage work?” You speak the language of the Neo-orthodoxy of our day.

A mixed-orientation marriage combines one spouse who “is” gay and the other who “is” straight. This new language for sexuality and humanity has become our post-Christian world’s reigning (and godless) logic. Gay may be how someone feels, but it can never be who someone inherently is. Because all human beings are made in God’s image, we are called to reflect God’s image in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. We are a Genesis 1:27 people, born male or female with a soul that will last forever, and a body that will either be glorified in the New Jerusalem or suffer unspeakable anguish in hell.

Being born male or female comes with ethical and moral responsibilities, blessings, and constraints — by God’s design and for the purpose of image-bearing. Because creation is an identity issue, my feelings — no matter how deep, abiding, or original to my conscience — are not my identity or descriptive of what kind of Christian I am.

No, friend. I am not in a mixed-orientation marriage and neither are you. This false category banks on modernism’s magnetism to personal pain as proof of purpose. Like Frankenstein’s creature, modernity’s identity is piecemealed from the unconverted woman that you once were. But gospel identity calls us to the future. Jesus always leads from the front of the line. If you are in Christ — and I believe that you are — then you are a new woman. You have a Galatians 2:20 identity. If you are in Christ, then you are in the process of being sanctified (Hebrews 10:14). You truly are who you will become when you are glorified one day.

Twenty Years for Ten Seconds

Your personal feelings do not cancel twenty years of covenant marriage and three children.

Continuing down this path is like stopping in the middle of a six-lane highway moving at 70 miles per hour, unloading the van and the kids and the dog and the picnic basket, spreading out the quilt that you helped your Grandma stitch, scooping heaping servings of your best Crockpot chicken and dumplings into bowls, lovingly passing bowls of steaming goodness around to each family member, and gazing for the last time at the life you prayed for, sacrificed for, and welcomed.

Before you can put your hand to your mouth, your whole family will be crushed by the weight of this sin. Perhaps you have time to behold your ghastly reflection in the oncoming truck’s metal grille as it bears down on you, where the agonized faces of your children tell all. The process of destroying your marriage, and all of the hopes and dreams it holds, will take about ten seconds.

Because that is how adultery works.

Three Ways Forward

So, friend, I am glad that you came to my kitchen today. Because today is the day the Lord has set apart for you to face reality.

First, repent of your sinful beliefs. And not only for the actual sins that stem from them. Calling same-sex attraction “a genuine good,” or declaring it a “gift” from God which you think has a root in the desire for something godly, is an example of a sinful belief. It denies that all sin — including the sin of homosexual lust, desire, and identity — entered the world with Adam’s fall.

The gospel’s power to save gives you the power to live in joy as a faithful wife to your godly husband. Repenting of our sinful beliefs clarifies our responsibilities and our purpose.

Second, embrace the calling that God has given to you to be your husband’s wife. Your marriage is no arbitrary accident; God called you to it in his perfect providence. And God’s providence is your protection.

Your lot has fallen in pleasant places (Psalm 16:6). Pray for eyes to see this. Recommit yourself to one-flesh love with your husband. Pray together that your hearts would be knit together through Christ. Make time to talk honestly with your husband about how your body works. Show him. Make time to preserve your marriage bed as a place of joy and comfort and pleasure. Have sexual intercourse often. This is God’s medicine for a healthy marriage. One-fleshness is certainly more than sex, but it is not less than sex. Your husband is not your roommate. Treating him as such is sin.

Third, respect your husband. Learn from him during family devotions. Encourage him to lead. Do this whether you feel like it or not. If you commit to prayerfully encourage your husband to lead, he will grow into his role as you grow into yours. Maybe you feel like you are a better leader, and a more successful head. The good news is this: your feelings aren’t your God. Your God is your God.

What Adultery Says About God

You stand at the edge of the cliff, friend. By the day’s end, you may fall into this woman’s embrace. If you do, it speaks not to your “love” for this woman, or to hers for you, or to your personal integrity in coming out as gay. No, friend. Adultery reveals disdain for your God. If your Christian best is only offering the obedience that the flesh allows, you trample on the blood of your Savior.

By the day’s end, you may repent of the sinful beliefs that remain a churning, burning pot of toil and trouble. This speaks to your humble obedience to your God. This reveals heroic faith, fueled by sovereign grace, willing to walk through the hardships and embrace the husband God has chosen for you.

Friend, this is more about God than it is about you. It always is. May God give you heroic faith, and may you rest on his perfect plan for you.

How to Pray Like Jesus

Fri, 11/10/2017 - 1:00am

The single most important prayer we could ever pray is nothing less than what Jesus himself taught us: “Father, hallowed be your name.”

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Don’t Be That Guy: Thirty No’s in Paul’s Letters

Thu, 11/09/2017 - 8:01pm

We can invest the rest of our lives plunging deeper into the writings of the apostle Paul to get a better view of the glories of Christ to delight our souls.

In Paul’s letters (as elsewhere in the Bible) we are told glorious indicatives of truth like Christ is the Creator and Sustainer (Colossians 1:16–17), who was incarnated and died as our propitiation (Romans 3:25), was raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:3–4), and he inaugurated the new creation (Colossians 1:18), as he ascended to his sovereign throne (Colossians 3:1). And by faith we are united to him and his power!

In Christ all of these truths of grace are ours (2 Corinthians 1:20). And these glorious truths feed our souls and give rise to all the manifold commands from God that bring focus and direction to our daily lives in the form of apostolic imperatives.

Don’t Be [Blank]

Amidst all the glorious indicatives, some 30 times Paul tells us “don’t be” certain people. Don’t be this guy; be that guy. Don’t be this gal; be that gal. And every time he tells us what not to be, he’s also pointing us to what we should be, based on who we are in Christ. Here’s my paraphrase of the full list:

Don’t be strutting around arrogantly in life; learn to live in fear of God (Romans 11:20).

Don’t be conformed to this age; be transformed by the renewing of your mind to know God’s will (Romans 12:2).

Don’t be slack in serving Christ; serve the Lord enthusiastically (Romans 12:11).

Don’t be arrogant around others; associate with the lowly (Romans 12:16).

Don’t be conquered by evil; conquer evil with good (Romans 12:21).

Don’t be indebted to one another; except in the love deficit toward one another (Romans 13:8).

Don’t be divided by error; be united in the same conviction (1 Corinthians 1:10).

Don’t be deceived about sexual sin; immorality damns souls (1 Corinthians 6:9).

Don’t be a slave of man’s opinions; you are a slave of Christ (1 Corinthians 7:23).

Don’t be flesh-driven idolaters; be Spirit-guided delighters who reject temptation by God’s grace (1 Corinthians 10:6–13).

Don’t be overly concerned about your own good; seek the good of others (1 Corinthians 10:24).

Don’t be childish in your thinking; be holy but wise about the workings of evil (1 Corinthians 14:20).

Don’t be deceived about the influence your friends have on you; circle yourself with wise friends (1 Corinthians 15:33).

Don’t be married to an unbeliever; find a spouse who lives in the light of Christ (2 Corinthians 6:14).

Don’t be deceived by immediate gratification; sow wisely, knowing you’ll reap later (Galatians 6:7).

Don’t be deceived by empty-headed arguments; God’s wrath is coming on the disobedient (Ephesians 5:6).

Don’t be partners of those who live in the shadows of evil; walk as children of God in the light (Ephesians 5:7–9).

Don’t be foolish about your life; understand God’s will (Ephesians 5:17).

Don’t be drunk with alcohol; be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).

Don’t be frightened by your opponents; stand firm in the God who will deliver you (Philippians 1:28).

Don’t be conceited toward one another; in humility consider others as more important than yourselves (Philippians 2:3).

Don’t be consumed with self-interest; be consumed with the interests of others (Philippians 2:4).

Don’t be a worrier; be thankful in everything (Philippians 4:6).

Don’t be bitter toward your wife; love and cherish her (Colossians 3:19).

Don’t be driven by the lust-filled desires of the world; be driven by desires fitting of your redemption in Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:5).

Don’t be duped by people who say Christ already returned; keep anticipating the day (2 Thessalonians 2:2).

Don’t be quick to rebuke an older believer; encourage him like you would a father (1 Timothy 5:1).

Don’t be too quick to appoint and anoint church leaders; keep yourself free from confirming people in sin as you pursue your own personal purity (1 Timothy 5:22).

Don’t be ashamed of suffering for Christ; share in his suffering as you rely on the power of God (2 Timothy 1:8).

Defined by What We Are

In these dozens of ways, Paul paints the contours of the Christian life with darkened shadows of opposites — teaching us what to be by warning us what not to be. Again, the point of the list is not to find our Christian identity in what we’re not. Rather, our identity is rooted in what we are: united to our glorious Savior. Out of his work and power can we be told, “Don’t be that guy.” “Don’t be that gal.”

And in these juxtapositions we better understand the will of God for our lives, as we live out of the power of Christ’s death and resurrection on our behalf.

Am I Wrong to Prepare for a Nuclear Doomsday?

Thu, 11/09/2017 - 7:00pm

Under the threat of nuclear war, we could easily start preparing for the worst by stocking up on food and building a bomb shelter. But should we?

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Mercy for Today

Thu, 11/09/2017 - 7:00am

Philippians 1:18–20: Honor Christ in Life or Death

Thu, 11/09/2017 - 6:02am

The honor of our Master is more important than our dreams, our ambitions, and our very lives.

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Do You Sleep Less Than Jesus?

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 8:01pm

The Word became flesh and slept among us.

God himself in full humanity — body, heart, mind, and will — closed his eyes and went to sleep. And not once or twice, but every day.

Of his thirty-plus years dwelling here bodily, God himself spent roughly one-third of that time asleep. He not only ate, drank, cried, and celebrated, like every other human, but he also became tired, “wearied as he was from his journey” (John 4:6), just as we become tired and weary. And it was no sin, fault, or failing in the God-man that he became tired. It was human.

Yet it’s one thing to sleep, and quite another to sleep through a “great storm.” Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell the story of Jesus asleep in the boat. “A great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion” (Mark 4:37–38). Waves breaking into the boat. Not only is this a testimony to how tired he must have been, but also how trusting. What serenity of soul, what rest in his Father, that he slept in the storm.

We might even say, “No one ever slept like this man!”

Trusting God, Not Self

God made us to spend a third of our lives like this. Unconscious. Inactive. Exposed. Dependent. It’s a nightly reminder of our frailty and limitations. We are creatures, not the Creator. Sleep is telling us something profound. And it does so every night.

Sleep invites an exercise of faith. When we lie down, close our eyes, and give ourselves over to sleep, we make ourselves vulnerable — like Saul before David, and Samson before Delilah. Jesus not only trusted his disciples, to fall asleep in their presence, but he also entrusted himself to his faithful Father, to care for him and meet every essential need. “In peace I will both lie down and sleep,” said God’s anointed, “for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).

What does it say for the sanctity of our own sleep, that the God-man himself slept? Yes, God “will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4) — that is, until he becomes human. Then he will sanctify our sleep. And what does it say for the peace in Jesus’s own soul that he could sleep, even in the storm?

Jesus Sanctified Our Sleep

Perhaps the Bible’s signature statement on sleep comes from Solomon in Psalm 127:2:

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.

God gives sleep as an expression of his love. As much as it may seem like a horrible inconvenience and waste of time to those toiling under the sway of a productivity idol — eight hours lost every day! — sleep is a divine gift.

Life has its ups and downs, no doubt. For everything there is a season — a day to rise early, a day to go to bed late — but God didn’t design us to burn the candle at both ends. He doesn’t mean for us to always be “on,” to always feel productive. But he does mean for us to recognize the glorious constraints of creatureliness, embrace the limits of our humanity, and own the humility of coming to the end of ourselves every day — laying down, closing our eyes, and leaving not just the whole world, but also our own worlds, to him.

Bedtime is rehearsal that he is sovereign and I am not. Every night is an opportunity to “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Awake All Night

But the sanctity of sleep is not the only lesson we glean from Jesus. Don’t go away yet and miss what makes it Christian. Sleep is not only a divine gift to be received and appreciated, but also a good to be sacrificed, when necessary, in the cause of love. Jesus not only embraced the limits of his humanity and slept, but he was willing to deny himself sleep, at the right time, to gain something greater.

We have two clear instances of Jesus forgoing sleeping, denying himself this natural desire, when something more pressing was at hand. The first came in choosing his apostles:

He went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles. (Luke 6:12–13)

A huge decision lay before him: Which twelve men would receive the lion’s share of the God-man’s investment of his earthly life? Who would “be with him” (Mark 3:14) and go out to represent him? Which of these “uneducated, common men” would one day astonish the rulers as “they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13)? And what men would we still be reading two thousand years later as the inspired spokesmen of Christ himself in his new covenant? This was a significant decision, and faith in his Father led him, in this instance, not to sleep but to all-night prayer.

Second, then, came as his defining hour approached, late night in the garden of Gethsemane. Doubtless Jesus and his men were wiped. As much as he encouraged them to stay awake and prepare themselves in prayer, and as much as their spirits may have been willing, their flesh was weak (Matthew 26:41). But Jesus himself, knowing what lay before him, did not give himself to sleep, but steadied and readied his soul in prayer.

“My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done” (Matthew 26:42).

Jesus Sacrificed His Sleep

It echoes today in the lives of those who benefit from his person and work. Jesus not only sanctified our sleep, but also he sacrificed his sleep. When the time came, he was willing to deny himself God’s good gift in pursuit of something greater. Sleep wasn’t his God. He did not bow his knee to sleep but to his Father — which meant not only a normal pattern of sleeping, as an act of faith, but when necessary, denying himself sleep, as an act of faith, in dependence on God and in the service of love.

So also today, most evenings, he says to us, by his Spirit, “Come away . . . and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). But that’s not all he says. At times, and in seasons, he comes by his Spirit and says, in the service of love, “Sleep and take your rest later on” (Matthew 26:45). There are times to receive God’s gift and enjoy our sleep, and times to deny ourselves our natural desire in view of something more important, whether it’s a hungry newborn, sick child, or neighbor in need.

Walking by faith leads Christians to be both sleep-embracers by default and sleep-deniers when needed.

I Am Not God, Neither Is My Sleep

So our mini-theology of sleep from the life of Christ cuts both ways: sanctify your sleep per normal and sacrifice your sleep when love calls. In Jesus, God means for us to walk in faith that rests in him, relinquishes control, closes our eyes, and goes to bed. And he means for us to walk in faith that rises to meet others’ needs, when loves beckons, and forgoes his good gift of sleep.

Sleeping to the glory of God is not simply maximizing it or minimizing it. Walking by faith in a fallen world requires us to read the situation and follow the leading of the Spirit. Typically that means “turning in” on time, turning off the TV, putting away the smartphone, and saying, “Father, now I give myself to you in sleep. You are sovereign. I am not. You don’t need me to run the universe. Now I rest in your care and ask for your gift of sleep.” How much better might we sleep if we consciously rolled our burdens onto Jesus’s broad shoulders before hitting the pillow?

And walking by faith, at times, will mean trusting God, when we’d much rather be comfortably tucked into bed, to stay up late, or get up inconveniently, for the sake of someone else’s good. This is called love. Such rising by faith can turn an otherwise “ungodly hour” into an opportunity for godly love.

Why Does God’s Sovereignty Make Some Ambitious and Others Apathetic?

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 7:59am

Why do some hear of God’s sovereignty and run into the mission field with confidence, while others passively say, “What will be will be”?

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Jesus Isn’t Your Insurance Policy

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 2:03am

Jesus didn’t die to bring you good stuff. He died to bring you to God. Faith is accepting him for the treasure he is.

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Why Do You Have a Phone?

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 8:02pm

You make at least a thousand decisions every single day, most of which you never think about, even for a second. That means if you are awake for sixteen hours each day (on average), you make a decision every minute — what you say or don’t say, and how you say it; where you go or don’t go, and how you get there; what you click or don’t click; what you eat or drink or read or buy or listen to. A decision a minute is a conservative estimate.

Don’t believe me? If you have a smartphone, you’ve logged a lot of the decisions you’ve made in the last 24 hours — messages texted, emails sent, podcasts listened to, calls ignored, apps opened, orders placed, tweets liked, sports scores checked — all decisions made. Our defaults are decisions — just decisions without intentionality. Even when we put off a decision, we’ve made a decision.

We don’t want to think about life as one long series of millions of decisions, because then we’re accountable for those decisions — if not to one another, then at least to God. But whether we acknowledge the decisions or not, we are making them, and we will be held accountable — even for every tiny, idle word (Matthew 12:36).

mePhone

Our phones are not a peripheral part of our life anymore. They have become a personal LED billboard revealing who and what matters most to us. Our phone is a currency — like our money, our words, and our time — that helps us see what we love. And over time, it can help us shape what we love. Or, if we put off making proactive decisions with it, our phone can just as easily decide what we love.

Our smartphones are instruments of mass distraction. They’ve been engineered — decades now of study, testing, and marketing — to distract us. They have the power to derail our lives and undermine our priorities. Instead of taking us where we want to go, they more often hijack our plans and take us somewhere completely different.

It can be like riding a bus to work five days a week for a year, and then one day neglecting to ever get off the bus. We just ride around wherever the bus turns until it’s time to go home again. Tony Reinke describes the process:

In the digital age, we idolize our phones when we lose the ability to ask if they help us (or hurt us) in reaching our spiritual goals. We grow so fascinated with technological glitz that we become captive to the wonderful means of our phones — their speed, organization, and efficiency — and these means themselves become sufficient ends. Our destination remains foggy because we are fixated on the speed of our travel. We mistakenly submit human and spiritual goals to our technological possibilities. This is reverse adaptation. (12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You, 115)

Our phones used to be a means to relationship, a means to work, a means to ministry. The iPhone suddenly made the means an end — or perhaps better, a means to me.

Give Your Phone a Mission Statement

Have you ever thought about giving your phone a mission statement?

Like Disney: To be one of the world’s leading producers and providers of entertainment and information.

Or ESPN: To serve sports fans wherever sports are watched, listened to, discussed, debated, read about or played.

Or Chipotle: To ensure that better food is accessible to everyone.

Or Instagram: To capture and share the world’s moments.

The reason most of don’t think about giving our phones a mission statement is that we never think about giving ourselves a mission statement. Unlike Disney, Chipotle, or Instagram, we don’t think about life in those terms. We live and work and play, eat and drink, talk and watch without any definable or discernible sense of direction or purpose.

Without a clear sense of mission, we make decisions based on what we want in the moment — what feels right — not because the decision fulfills a purpose for us. We let our push notifications drive the bus.

Why Did God Make You?

So what will your mission statement be? You don’t need to hire a marketing agency, or spend hours wordsmithing something. You can start with the simplest personal mission statement for all of life in the Bible: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Is your smartphone helping you accomplish that?

It’s not a rhetorical question. Do our phones tangibly help us make more of our one thousand daily decisions in a way that tells the world how much we love our God? Or do our phones eat up hundreds of those decisions with lesser things, distracting us from the amazing and thrilling mission God has given us?

If you are in Christ, God chose you, saved you, and made you his own blood-bought sons and daughters “to the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:6). Paul goes on in the same paragraph to say that the one who works everything in the world according to his will has set aside an infinite and everlasting inheritance for you. Why? “To the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:12). How do you know you’ll make it to heaven and receive your inheritance? “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13–14).

Saved to make God look glorious. Blessed to make God look satisfying. Kept to make God look worthy. Don’t own a smartphone for anything less. Buy and carry a phone to enjoy and demonstrate the value of God. We don’t make God glorious, or satisfying, or worthy, but our lives (and phones) will either say he is all those things, or not.

Put Your Phone on a Leash

Growing up, our phone sat on the kitchen counter. The cord reached five or six feet in any direction. If Mom or Dad needed a little privacy, they stretched the cord around the corner into the living room.

Back then, we only picked up our phone when we really needed it. Now, we almost never put our phones down, not even when we’re talking to someone face to face. Our phones follow us literally everywhere we go — the front yard, the bedroom, the car, even the bathroom — a kind of twisted “upgrade” from the corded phone. Phones were once attached to walls; now we’re attached to them — unless we force them to serve a higher purpose and a higher happiness.

Make your phone a means to relationship again, a means to ministry, a means to glory. Let the bright light on your screen go dim more often, so that you might “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

If we’re willing to put our phones on a leash, we will unleash ourselves to focus more on the relationships and responsibilities that matter most. More of God in us through his word, prayer, and fellowship, and more of God through us in the lives of other people. More joy in us, and more glory for him.

Put a spiritual cord on your phone. Ask God to limit its distracting power over you, and to fill it with potential for the most important things.

Why Does God’s Sovereignty Make Some Ambitious and Others Apathetic?

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 7:00pm

Why do some hear of God’s sovereignty and run into the mission field with confidence, while others passively say, “What will be will be”?

Listen Now

Philippians 1:18–20: Saved Through Prayer

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 12:00pm

If our theology stops us from praying for others’ salvation, we should reconsider our theology.

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Philippians 1:18–20: Saved Through Prayer

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 6:03am

If our theology stops us from praying for others’ salvation, we should reconsider our theology.

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Desperate Is Normal: A Field Manual for Overwhelming Anxiety

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 8:02pm

The normal Christian life is embattled. It’s full of strange and difficult conflicts with sin and weakness within, and strange and difficult conflicts with spiritual and human adversaries and a world subjected to futility and frail brokenness without.

These experiences typically feel anything but normal. Battles with our sin, our frailty, other people, demons, and a broken world infected with evil can, at times, feel surreal, making us feel desperate. They trigger emotions connected to our particular fears, past hurts, sinful pride, griefs, and hopes that are distracting and sometimes debilitating.

That means a crucial and significant part of the normal Christian life is learning the humble discipline of casting our anxieties on God, who deeply cares for us. Even, or especially, in the heat of battle and the fury of the storm, so that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (1 Peter 5:6–7; Philippians 4:6–7).

The Bible is a field manual for the normal, embattled, desperate Christian life. God has mercifully packed it not only with examples and teaching, but also with songs and prayers for our trials. And we need songs and prayers to provide us words for the chaos, when anxiety and confusion fragment our thoughts.

Psalm 27 is that kind of song. David states his confidence in God, but he also confesses his anxiety and bewilderment and desperation. It’s a song for the normal Christian life.

Your Source of Hope

David begins with the source of his hope:

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)

By “light,” David means the same thing written in Psalm 119:130: “The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.” By “salvation,” David means God is his hope to rescue him from his greatest dangers (Psalm 34:6).

This is our song too. For God must be our hope, our light in a dark world, and our salvation from the most fearsome things.

Your Source of Courage

Next, David declares the source of his courage:

Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident. (Psalm 27:3)

David was under frequent threat from treacherous countrymen (Psalm 27:2), and from enemy nations. We too are under spiritual attack (Ephesians 6:12). And these attacks can be fierce — spiritual forces of wickedness are out to destroy us (1 Peter 5:8).

But if God is our hope, then these “adversaries and foes [will] stumble and fall” (Psalm 27:2). Singing or praying this truth when fear rises reminds us of why we have good reason to be encouraged and provides us words to quiet our fear and squash the intimidation.

Your Source of Delight

Then David describes the source of his delight:

One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)

David’s deepest desire — his one thing — is not for safety, military dominance, or prosperity. David wants God — to be near God, to see and be satisfied with God’s glory, and to live by God’s wisdom and guidance.

In the embattled, desperate moments of the normal Christian life, when our felt needs can be focused on being delivered from particular troubles, it is helpful to have words ready to remind us of the only ultimately necessary thing we need (Luke 10:42).

Your Source of Help

After David declares his confident hope and deepest delight in God, then he shifts the tone of the psalm to reflect the desperate moment he’s experiencing:

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! (Psalm 27:7)

Even though God is his source of hope, courage, and delight, at that moment, David is feeling some fear-induced perception that God doesn’t want to answer him, perhaps is even angry at him (Psalm 27:9–10). His needs feel very urgent and he’s pleading with God for help and comfort.

This is exactly how we feel in embattled, desperate moments. Our emotions are not in sync with our beliefs about God, and it’s okay to tell him. David’s words give us a prayer to One who understands exactly what we’re experiencing and invites us to come to him for help (Hebrews 4:15–16).

Your Source of Understanding

David’s confusion and desperation make him aware of his ignorance, and so he then turns to God as the source of understanding:

Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies. (Psalm 27:11)

David didn’t know the plots of his enemies, which made him feel vulnerable. But he knew that God knew. And he knew that if he walked in the obedience of faith with God, it would be the safest place.

We don’t need to understand all the complexities of our trials. Neither do we necessarily need to deep dive into our psychological labyrinths to figure out all our fears (though in certain cases this is necessary). What we need to know most is God’s way, and then we must follow it.

Your Source of Certainty

Lastly, David applies his strong confidence to his weak desperation in a firm exhortation to his soul:

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! (Psalm 27:13-14)

David is declaring the source of his certainty while living in an uncertain world. And it is a beautiful, strengthening way to end his psalm.

This is also a healthy climax to the song of the normal Christian life. Regardless of the way things appear or feel, we will know the goodness of God in the land of the eternal living! We do not need to panic; we need to be strong. And we need to tell ourselves: Soul, don’t cow to intimidation, don’t wallow in hopelessness, and don’t cave in to fear. Wait for the Lord and let your heart take courage.

Fourteen Verses to Memorize

Your normal Christian life doesn’t always feel normal. It is frequently hard, embattled, and desperate. But the Bible teaches us that this is, in fact, normal. And the Bible not only teaches us about these trials, but also equips us with songs and prayers to help us keep our heads and find our bearings.

Psalm 27 is one of God’s precious equipping gifts to us. And, at only 14 verses, it’s worth memorizing, because, in the heat of the fight for faith, it can be brought out quickly as both a “sword of the Spirit” and as a shield from “the flaming darts of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16–17).

Let it be a short song for your normal Christian life.

How to Stop Flirting with Sin

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 1:00pm

Sometimes we get confused about the way salvation works.

Almost by accident, we can fall into a gospel that’s heavy on encouraging one another in God’s forgiveness and grace and mercy, but woefully light on warning one another of the dangers of diving headlong into sin. This kind of gospel has no word for the brother or sister who gives in to temptation over and over again — who “makes a practice of sinning" (1 John 3:8).

Over time, we avoid the Old Testament with all of its narratives of God's judgment, cherry-pick through the sermons of Jesus and the letters of Paul, then skip passed the harsh warnings of Hebrews and James. We select only the passages that tell us of God's love and forgiveness and joy. But are these warnings in Scripture not a part of God’s plan to save, too?

Let’s admit the hard truth: Many of us are failing in the fight against daily temptation.

Could it be that the warnings in Scripture are actually necessary for victory against sin? Is there real danger in avoiding all the warning signs? How many of us are flying down the highway ignoring the flashing red lights and traffic signs that read: This way to eternal destruction (Matthew 7:13)? Let’s turn for a moment to one of those passages and see exactly how temptation works.

The Anatomy of Temptation

In Judges 16, the familiar story of Samson and Delilah shows us that temptation thrives among men and women who refuse to heed the warnings:

After this Samson loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. And the lords of the Philistines came up to her and said to her, “Seduce him, and see where his great strength lies, and by what means we may overpower him, that we may bind him to humble him. And we will each give you 1,100 pieces of silver.” (Judges 16:4–5)

From the start, the narrator reveals the end of this path. Delilah the temptress has been hired by the enemies of God to lead Samson to the slaughter. Sin is hell-bent on premeditated murder. It will kill you. When we ignore God’s warnings in his word, we blind our eyes to the imminent danger.

Flirting with Death

Delilah reels Samson in like a prized bass. What’s more, Samson seems to enjoy the fight. He nibbles the lure that should set off alarms in his head, never feeling the sharp hook as it takes hold:

So Delilah said to Samson, “Please tell me where your great strength lies, and how you might be bound, that one could subdue you.” Samson said to her, “If they bind me with seven fresh bowstrings that have not been dried, then I shall become weak and be like any other man.” (16:6–7)

Samson is in bed with temptation. He's flirting with her. Delighting in the fleeting pleasure, he toys with danger:

Now she had men lying in ambush in an inner chamber. And she said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” But he snapped the bowstrings, as a thread of flax snaps when it touches the fire. So the secret of his strength was not known. (Judges 16:9)

It’s easy to marvel at Samson’s stupidity, but how often do we act in the very same way? We tell ourselves we can dabble in sin and emerge unscathed: I am strong enough. I know my limits. At this point, Samson doesn't give his whole heart to temptation — just enough to have fun. Temptation has a way of lowering our guard through false sense of security. He makes it out alive this time.

The next time, Delilah wants more: Then Delilah said to Samson, “Behold, you have mocked me and told me lies. Please tell me how you might be bound” (Judges 16:10). Two more times, Samson flirts with temptation, allowing himself to be bound in various ways, and bursts the bonds. See, I'm strong enough. This sin isn't that dangerous. I'll be just fine. I can stop whenever I want to. I'm in total control.

Meanwhile, the alarm bells are blaring! It’s obvious to everyone involved that Delilah is leading Samson by the hand toward death. However, every time she becomes more brazen in her attempts on his life, Samson cups his ears a little tighter against the sirens. Each time, he gives in more, inching closer to destruction.

Sin Goes for the Heart

In her final appeal, Delilah goes for the deathblow. She goes for his heart:

And she said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me? You have mocked me these three times, and you have not told me where your great strength lies.” And when she pressed him hard with her words day after day, and urged him, his soul was vexed to death. And he told her all his heart. . . (Judges 16:15–17, emphasize added)

Did Samson ever imagine that a path that began with fun and exhilaration would end in trading his vow to the Lord for a Philistine mistress? He who was so mighty gives his heart to a woman bent on his destruction. Temptation wore him down little by little. Each time he was bound, he had an opportunity to turn back, to renounce Delilah, to repent of his sin and return to the Lord. But he ignored the warnings. All of them.

Samson told Delilah about his Nazarite vow and his uncut hair. Samson laid down to sleep in the lap of sin, totally oblivious to the danger as his locks were shorn. Here is what happened:

And she said, "The Philistines are upon you, Samson!" And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him. (Judges 16:20)

This is one of the saddest sentences in the whole Bible: But he did not know that the Lord had left him. Samson so took the Spirit for granted, he so seared his conscience, he was so blinded by his sin that he could not see that the Lord was nowhere to be found.

He assumed all the way down the path of wickedness that the Lord was by his side. But his heart was calloused and hardened against the warning of the Lord; he felt no difference when the Lord quietly departed.

The Consequences of Sin Are a Means of God’s Grace

The Philistines ended up seizing Samson and gouged out his eyes, and making him their prisoner in Gaza (Judges 16:22). Do you remember the warning in the Sermon on the Mount? Jesus says, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29). The story of Samson teaches us this: If you will not gouge out your own eye, God will do it for you — for the sake of your soul.

You may lose your marriage if you continue in that porn habit. You may lose your job if you continue to defraud your company. You may end up losing everything if you plunge headlong into drunkenness. Sin has consequences. Always.

Eyes will be gouged out, one way or another. If the children of God ignore the warning signs, God's warnings will have to get louder and clearer. In Judges, Samson’s eyes lead him into temptation over and over again. It’s no accident that God’s discipline cuts to the source of his sin.

Why God Warns Us

But here is the good news: God’s discipline is meant to save us from eternal destruction. God took Samson’s eyes so that he would not lose his soul. The episode ends with hope: “But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved” (Judges 16:22).

When Samson was blinded, he saw most clearly. No longer led astray by temptation, Samson was able to follow the Lord. God’s discipline is not pleasant, especially when you intentionally ignore the warnings — warnings that are meant to keep you from destruction and death. Do not think you will continue to walk in temptation without consequences. The eye will be gouged out one way or another. Either you can do it, God can do it for you in his grace, or you can fall into eternal destruction.

Brothers and sisters, “As long as it is called ‘today,’ [be sure] that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin!” (Hebrews 3:13)

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