Lower Still

I have found that, just when I think I have surrendered my all to the Lord, He gently, graciously, uncovers a new layer of resistance in me that even I didn’t know was there.

For a few years now, I have preached a message I call “Lower Still.” This sums up the process of Jesus tenderly shaping, patiently reshaping, and then gloriously filling our lives with Himself. Do we think we have humbled ourselves and surrendered everything to Him? We can still go lower; there is still more for us to give up.

Surrendering everything to Jesus sounds risky, like it could be painful, difficult, demanding. Many ask, “If I completely surrender to Him, with reckless devotion, will I still be me?”

Here is what I have found to be true. Yes, it’s risky, but the reward vastly outweighs the risk. Yes, it can be painful, difficult, and demanding, but the joy and all-surpassing peace that Jesus gives can hardly be compared to such fleeting inconveniences.

Most of all, Jesus doesn’t rob you of being you. You don’t somehow become less than yourself because Jesus’ presence is larger in you. It’s just the opposite; the more you surrender to Him, the more you become who Father always intended you to be. This is all part of God’s upside economy, which defies the narrow-minded, one-dimensional, limited wisdom of human thinking. In choosing to become nothing, we become everything we were ever meant to be.

As always, Jesus is our model. He made Himself as nothing so His Father might be fully glorified through Him. In Philippians, Paul urges us to imitate Jesus’ humility. He cautions us not to be selfish or spend our lives trying to impress others. Instead, we are to live humbly, putting the interests of others before our own (see Philippians 2:3-4).

As we do this, we’ll not only find our purpose in Jesus’ Kingdom; we’ll also truly find ourselves.

Putting Your Faith in Action

The organized church is torn with strife and distrust. Ultimately, the battle is not so much between conservatives and liberals, evangelicals and activists, or fundamentalists and modernists. The issue now is between belief and unbelief: Is Christianity true or false, real or unreal?

What is deadly to the church is when the external forms of religion are maintained while their substance is discarded. This we call practical atheism. Practical atheism appears when we live as if there were no God. The externals continue, but man becomes the central thrust of devotion as the attention of religious concern shifts away from man’s devotion to God to man’s devotion to man, bypassing God. The “ethic” of Christ continues in a superficial way, having been ripped from its supernatural, transcendent, and divine foundation.

Biblical Christianity knows nothing of a false dichotomy between devotion to God and concern for man. The Great Commandment incorporates both. It is because God is that human life matters so much. It is because of the reality of Christ that ethics are vital. It is because the cross was a real event that the sacraments can minister to us. It is because Christ really defeated death that the church offers hope. It is because of Jesus’ real act of atonement that our forgiveness is more than a feeling.

The church’s life and her creed may be distinguished but never separated. It is possible for the church to believe all the right things and do the wrong things. It is possible also to believe the wrong things and do the right things (but not for very long). We need right faith initiating right action. Honest faith—joined with honest action—bears witness to a real God and a real Christ.

Coram deo: Living before the face of God

Examine your heart today: Are you believing the right things, yet doing the wrong things? Are you believing the wrong things while still trying to do the right things?

Entering into Your Priesthood

In the sixteenth century, Martin Luther formulated the concept of the priesthood of all believers. Contrary to widespread misconceptions of this doctrine, Luther did not mean to reduce the supernatural concern of personal redemption to a core or essence of social concern.

In reaction to the modernist-fundamentalist controversy, many evangelicals, zealous to retain the biblical concern for personal redemption, began to minimize or even reject the social agenda of the New Testament. Social concern and relief ministry became identified with liberalism. Ministry to the poor, the homeless, the hungry, and the imprisoned was often all-too-willingly surrendered to the state or the liberal church.

This reaction was utterly foreign to and in violation of the clear mandate of Scripture. James wrote concerning the essence of pure religion: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27, NIV).

Coram deo: Living before the face of God

What are you doing to help those around you who are in distress? Are you keeping yourself clean from the world’s pollution, as James admonishes?

Five Point Strategy for Living in Victory

This section provides a 5 point Bible-based strategy for effectively dealing with sin and temptation. Putting this plan into action is one more way of giving God first place in your life!

1. UNDERSTAND THAT GOD SEES YOU AS PERFECT, HOLY AND BLAMELESS, through the work of Jesus Christ. (Read II Corinthians 5:21.) Many times guilt and shame are the most destructive of sin’s consequences. Understanding that there is no condemnation for those in Christ, regardless of the sin, is fundamental to victory (Romans 8:1).

2. CONFESS YOUR SINS. (Read I John 1:9.) Confessing our sin means acknowledging those sins first in our own hearts and minds, and then confessing them to God. Confessing our sin does not necessarily mean making them public to others. Confession is between you and God.

3. BE ACCOUNTABLE. (Read James 5:16.) Finding a close trusted Christian friend, pastor or family member in whom you can confide is an effective way to introduce accountability and prayer support into the battle.

4. AVOID THE SOURCES OF TEMPATION. (Read James 1:13-15.) This is the most challenging point to implement, and requires some creative thought and planning. The truth is if you can avoid the temptation, you’ll avoid the sin.

5. READ GOD’S WORD. (Read Psalm 119:11.) God’s word tells us plainly that as we “hide it in our heart,” it gives a special strength to say no to temptation and sin.

Winning Life’s Battles with God’s Help

There is a life-long battle that is being waged over our lives. On one side is the influence of that old sinful nature – those old lingering tendencies, temptations and sins that have been difficult for us to overcome. Over time as we mature in our walk with God, the influence of the sinful nature weakens. On the other side is the growing influence of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives. These are two opposing forces as described in Galatians:

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” Galatians 5:16-17

God’s word encourages us to “live by the Spirit.” In other words, we must allow the influence of the Holy Spirit to win over the influence of the sinful nature in our lives.

Many times, this is easier said than done. Our sinful nature prods us to make decisions to satisfy self-centered ambitions and passions. This is called temptation, and James describes it like this:

“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” James 1:13-14

Not until a decision on our part is made to give in to a temptation does it become sin.

“Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death.” James 1:15

Amazingly however, as a part of God’s profound love and grace extended to all Christians, God forgives us and cleanses us from all of our sins. We are absolutely 100% forgiven.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgives us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9

But there is still a danger in allowing sin to go unchecked. While God forgives us and cleanses us, He does not necessarily eliminate the destructive path of consequences and circumstances sin leaves behind. While God will always help us through difficult times, even when brought on by our own decisions, our best course of action is to do all we can to avoid making those decisions in the first place.

I Corinthians describes two important aspects in effectively dealing with temptation and sin:

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” I Corinthians 10:13

First is that we’re not alone in our struggle. You can know that there are other Christians, whether 30 days or 30 years into their walk with God, who still struggle with sin and temptation common to yours.

Second, is that God will not allow us to be tempted beyond a point where we’re unable to make a decision to avoid sin. He will always provide a way of escape. Our job, as challenging as it may be, is to find that way out in the midst of our temptation.

The following section provides a Bible-based strategy for effectively dealing with sin and temptation. Putting this plan into action is one more way of giving God first place in your life!

Reading the Bible – Learning what God thinks

Many new believers wonder how they can know what God wants them to do. God reveals Himself to us through His Word, the Holy Bible. He also shapes our hearts and lives through His Word. Learn to rest in it and find truth. Spending time in the Bible is transforming and it slowly brings you closer to God.

The Bible is God’s true word – “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

The Word of God is a living and active word that we can interact with – “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

All believers, especially new ones, should read and study the Bible every day. As with any book, we must read it in context and in its entirety to truly understand its meaning and what God is saying. That can feel a little overwhelming at first, but use a simple process for getting the most out of each passage.

Ask the following three questions: What does the verse say? What does the verse mean? What does this verse mean to me? Often doing this with an experienced believer will help put things into context and increase your understanding.

Doctrine: Christ’s Return

Hachi: A Dog’s Tale is a film based on a real story from Japan and a delightful parable about patiently waiting for the Lord’s return. When Parker Wilson, a college music professor in Rhode Island, steps off his commuter train at the end of the day, he finds a stray Akita puppy with the name Hachi etched on his collar. Parker discovers the puppy escaped a damaged crate after being shipped from Japan. Parker takes the dog home, determined to find the owner. While waiting for responses to the posters he has placed around town, Parker and the dog become friends.

One day, Hachi follows Parker on his way to work, which begins with a walk to the train station. Despite Parker’s bidding, Hachi refuses to return home until his master walks him back to the house. At the end of the day, however, when Hachi hears the train whistle, he runs to the train platform, curls up and waits for his master to return. When Parker sees him, he is stunned by this demonstration of loyalty. The next day the dog is there to greet him again, and on it goes, day by day.

One day Parker suffers a fatal heart attack in the classroom. Hachi waits for hours at the station for his master to step off the train, but he doesn’t return. This happens day after day for ten years, with the loyal dog waiting at the train platform each evening. And then one day, as Hachi drifts off to sleep, he sees his master beckoning him, and the dog runs toward him.