Sunday, October 11, 2020

How Exactly Does God want us to Live?


“The corruption of organized religion had so sickened him that he fled into the wilderness to find God. He subsisted on locusts and wild honey and exchanged his city clothes for rough-cut camel hides. In the loneliness of the desert, God gave a harsh message to penetrate hard hearts.

When the time was right, the firebrand came out of the desert with the sting of a scorpion, preaching hellfire and brimstone. People who were disillusioned by the shallowness of the Temple and synagogues streamed out into the desert to get that old-time religion. The prophet’s message was simple: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near.” Untold thousands wept over their lackluster faith.

He was preparing the way for the Messiah. One day, Yeshua bar Yosef from Nazareth stood at the edge of the crowd. The prophet knew instantly that he was the one. He pointed at his carpenter cousin and said, “This is the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world.” Yeshua replied, “Baptize me, Ioánnes, to fulfill all righteousness.” After the baptism, the prophet saw the Holy Spirit fill his cousin and heard God’s voice say, “This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

After that day, the desert prophet’s ministry decreased as Yeshua’s increased. Scandal had rocked Judea when Herod Antipas, stole his weaker brother’s wife. So the prophet hurried to Herod’s winter palace to deliver the last sting of a desert scorpion. The king was not amused, and John found himself locked in a dungeon. He was ready for martyrdom, but he wasn’t prepared for the doubts. Maybe he had baptized the wrong messiah. Perhaps Yeshua was just a carpenter. Sometimes the mind can play tricks. So John sent a desperate message to Yeshua: “Are you the one, or is there another yet to come?” Yeshua didn’t rebuke his cousin’s doubts. Instead, he sent back a gentle but assuring answer: “The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the good news is preached to the poor.”

The amazing story of a doubting saint should encourage us all. There’s not a hero in the Bible who didn’t doubt. Perhaps there can be no real faith until we have nothing else to hold on to. If you are suffering doubts, Jesus would say what he said to John, “See what I am doing all around you. Let the evidence chase your doubts away.”

When your doubts create mountains, allow your faith to remove them.” -James Petterson

Even the most steadfast and radical Christians can struggle and have doubts. Even the most wise and learned Christians can stumble and commit sins.  But the important thing is that we push through those times of doubts and sins, and continue to grow and follow Jesus.

Not so long ago, we all joined here together, as a rough band of troopers, doing dinner church, trying to figure out how to relaunch the corps.  And boy was it crazy for a while.  We saw a lot of ups and downs.  But here we are now, growing and learning and developing as a team.

I know we’ve all had some crazy struggles in the past few years, and they seem to continue being thrown at us one after another.  So I want to address this important topic today, as we go through our series on soldiers equipped for battle. 

Today we’re looking at How God Wants us to Live.  And for that purpose we turn to 1st Thessalonians chapter four.  Thessalonians is one of those great, deep letters in the new testament that doesn’t get the attention it deserves.  We all love going through Romans, or Ephesians, or the encouragement of Philippians, the challenges of James, and the specifics laid out in Corinthians. But Thessalonians is so powerful. 

Listen to these words from Paul, he writes: “4 Brothers and sisters, now I have some other things to tell you. We taught you how to live in a way that will please God. And you are living that way. Now we ask and encourage you in the Lord Jesus to live that way more and more. 2 You know all that we told you to do by the authority of the Lord Jesus. 3 God wants you to be holy.”

And I think I could echo that same saying to you today, I know most of you here are living lives that are pleasing to God.  And so I encourage you, continue to live that way!  Live it more and more. 

Why? Because it says in verse 3, God wants you to be holy. We’ve talked about what “holy” means.  It means living a humbly pure life.  Staying away from sin, and living out goodness. 

John the Baptist lived in the wilderness, tired of organized religion, he preached the gospel of repentance from sins, preparing the way for Jesus Christ to come.  But even he struggled with doubts and fears.  He was locked in prison, and wondered while in there, did I make a mistake?  Did I go down the wrong path?  Did Jesus let me down?

Maybe some of you have struggled with doubts from time to time.  Am I really in the right church?  Was it really a good idea to become a soldier?  Or maybe you’re struggling with sin, and wondering, can I really live holy?  Can I really be free from sin? 

Well I must tell you that at times I’ve had the same doubts and concerns.  It happens to everybody.  Several times I’ve prayed to God and demanded why he called me to the salvation army, because something ugly happened, or some terrible trial took place.  But in those desperate tearful prayers God would always speak and whisper to me, and tell me that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. 

And yes, God does call us to specific places.  And God will call us to be with specific people.  I really believe that. 

Resting Faith in Christ

One man who was with Jesus asked him, “How can we do what God wants us to do?”  What a wonderful question.  And Jesus answered him very clearly, he said, “This is what God wants you to do: Believe in the one He sent.”  So that is all in all how we do what God wants us to do.  God wants us first of all to believe in Jesus our savior.  Do you believe in him today?  Or are you just pretending to believe in him?  Do you really follow him as your savior?  Or are you hoping for the benefits of Christ, without actually living differently?

The first thing is this: Believe in Jesus Christ.  Embrace Jesus to the depths of your soul as your God and your King and your savior.  Why is it so important to believe in Jesus?  Well, without Jesus at the center of our being, guiding our lives, we are nothing. We are not Christian. We are not born again. We are empty. We are dead inside. There is nothing apart from Jesus. We can’t be good without Jesus.

But when we truly believe Jesus Christ is our savior and truly follow Jesus is our daily lives, we are plugged into God. We have Jesus inside us. We are born again, a new person. We have the Holy Spirit guiding us. 

Resting faith in Christ.  That’s the biggest thing. Simple child-like trust in Jesus, belief Christ, allegiance to Christ, and submission to Christ. And yet, there is more to the journey.

Choices and Decisions

Fight the good fight of the faith my friends.  Each decision we make either brings us closer or further away from what God wants us to do, and how God wants us to live. 

God cares a great deal about the decisions we make.  That’s the first thing to understand about living how God wants us to live.  He cares about the words we speak.  If we’re mean, or rude, or if we spread gossip, or slander others, that is sin, that is something that upsets God when we do that.

The Christian life, is really a battle against ourselves, in a lot of ways.  We’re fighting ourselves and our own sinful tendencies. Are you fighting that battle against yourself?  Every decision you make begins to establish patterns in your life, either good patterns or bad patterns.

Proverbs says greater is one who can conquer himself, than one who can conquer an entire city. -Proverb 16:32

The little choices you make throughout the day, to pray or not to pray, to say a kind word or speak an evil word, to steal or not to steal, to lie or to tell the truth, those are the little things that God cares about. 

Stop swearing. Stop lying.  Stop being mean to people. Be kind. Be gentle. Be true to God’s ways.

Romance and Sex

Third point, in Thessalonians chapter 4 Paul quickly hits on the main point: Be holy, he said in verse 3. And he continues writing, “God wants you to be holy. He wants you to stay away from sexual sins. 4 God wants each one of you to learn to control your own body. Use your body in a way that is holy and that gives honor to God. 5 Don’t let your sexual desires control you like the people who don’t know God. 6 Never wrong any of your fellow believers or cheat them in this way. The Lord will punish those who do that.”

I was recently quite shaken when I read an article about someone who I’ve looked up to a great deal in my walk with Christ.  His name is Ravi Zacharias. Definitely a huge inspiration to me, I’ve read many of his books, studied his techniques for preaching. And it recently came out that allegedly, he was involved in sexual harassment at spas.  Now these allegations may or may not be true, the investigation is ongoing right now.  But it’s deeply disturbing to me, to realize someone who walked so closely with the Lord, could fall to sexual temptation and begin to sexually harass women who worked at massage parlors.  Very disturbing to me. 

I think the issue of sexual sin is probably the single most difficult sin for us as believers. Sexual desires will always be with us. Whether we’re married or unmarried. Whether we’re young or old. It’s really very difficult.  And there are so many temptations out there.

So you see time and again when paul is writing his letters and talking about fighting against sins, he always brings up sexual activity first.  And warns believers to stay away from sexual sin. He writes, God wants each of you to learn to control your own bodies.  You shouldn’t be controlled by your sexual desires, like worldly people are. We aren’t controlled by our feelings. We don’t let feelings control what we do sexually . We allow our mind to control our bodies.  Not the other way around. I get it, this is tough. And it says, never wrong in particular other believers by misusing your bodies.  It says, “God will punish those who do this.”  So we have to live free from sexual sin.  We can’t view pornography.  We can’t masturbate. We can’t have sexual flings with random people. We can’t have pre-marital sex.

Paul continues, writing, “We have already told you this and warned you about it. 7 God chose us to be holy. He does not want us to live in sin. 8 So anyone who refuses to obey this teaching is refusing to obey God, not us. And God is the one who gives you his Holy Spirit.”

And I echo the same thing to you, I’ve warned you about sexual sin, today, and many other times.  So anyone who refuses to obey this teaching, well, I’ve told you what you need to know. Sexual sin will lead you to hell. So, if you continue in those sins, well, it’s no longer on me, as your pastor.  It’s on you.  I’m sorry to be so blunt, but I know a lot of people in the church don’t take this teaching seriously. But it’s very serious. We can’t live in sexual sin. 

And I understand everybody, I’m a single young man, this battle is insane and intense.  I’ve messed up and made mistakes.  But you know what, when I do, I immediately get on my knees, talk to God, ask God’s forgiveness by the blood of jesus, and repent again.  And get back on the right track quickly.  Do the same thing.  Fight this battle, because it’s very serious. 

Love and Peace in Unity

Final point, brother and sisters, love each other in Christ.  And I know that each of you are learning to love one another. But I still see some disputes amongst us, I do continue to hear some arguments, and harsh words going back and forth.  Some of us are harder to love than others.  I get it.  Sometimes I’m hard to love. No more harsh words.  No more anger. Humbly love one another. Love is action, it’s speaking lovingly to others, it’s helping each other, it’s smiling and encouraging one another.  Take the time to do that.

Live in peace with each other.  Forgive each other. Don’t hold stuff against each other.  Mind your own business. And earn your own living. If you do, non-believers will see how you live, with love, with peace, working your job, and they will respect your way of life.

And lastly, Paul says, “Brothers and sisters, we want you to know about those who have died. We don’t want you to be sad like other people—those who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died, but we also believe that he rose again. So we believe that God will raise to life through Jesus any who have died and bring them together with him when he comes.” Even though we die, we will live again. Just like Jesus did. Remember that.

In conclusion, God calls us to live with resting faith in Christ.  He also calls us to carefully consider the decisions we make.  Choices matter even small ones. And God calls us to live free from sexual sin. Take it seriously. And love one another, live in peace, and unity, realizing we have eternal hope for everlasting life.  It’s true. 

Doubts will come, struggles will come, battles with sin will come, just like John the Baptist in his ministry in the wilderness, and later during his imprisonment, sometimes we struggle and wonder.. is Jesus really it?  The answer to that question is “Yes” from our eternal rock. We’re always washing around, all over the place, all emotional, thoughts flaring and flying, and Jesus stand quietly, unmoving unshakable, permanent and pure, and whispers, “Yes, I am He.”  And that’s the story. That’s it. And yes, you’re in the right place, here in The Salvation Army, fighting in the Lord’s army.  Amen.