Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. –Isaiah 48:10
It was a terrific dog. For three whole weeks I had spent my time in 8th grade Art class crafting this marvelous ceramic dog. Now only one step stood between Fido and a sweet blue ribbon. That final step…cue the drums and dark music…was the furnace.
Fido didn’t make it. He kind of made it. But not really. He lost a leg, a tail, and his ears folded over. Truth be told he went into the furnace as a beautiful dog and came out the other end as a three-legged pig.
I had only one option. Fido’s dog days had to be over. He’d now have to become Wilbur the pig. So I put on him a curly tail, a new leg, and tweaked his face a little. One quick trip into the kiln and out came Wilbur the pig that used to be a dog.
The moral of the story: The furnace of affliction changes us.
As believers the Lord puts us into the furnace of affliction for our good and His glory. It is in the furnace of suffering that he chisels away our impurities. It is here that we become more moldable and easier to be used for His glory. We often go into the furnace as an arrogant dog, sure to win first prize. We come through the other end a maimed pig–but a maimed pig that is more fit to be used for God’s glory and more receptive to enjoying God.
Yet I find in my heart a terrible tendency on the other side of the kiln. After I’ve been through the season of affliction I expect things to soon return to normalcy. “Normalcy” meaning life before the kiln. I long for things to go back to how they were before the furnace.
But it can’t. Life can’t go back to how it was because I am no longer who I was when entering the furnace. And I’m not meant to be. Nor should I want to be. The furnace is meant to strip away the old and shape us into who God wants us to be.
When I come out the other end of the furnace I’m not charged with getting my life back to how it was before the season of affliction. I am charged with learning to live and walk and breathe in the new. Trying to live like Fido doesn’t work when God decided Wilbur the pig was a better option.
Walk in the new.
By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. –Hebrews 11:24-25
Sin can seem quite pleasurable at the time. Even if we know that it’s wrong or unwise we still have a tendency to coddle our sin. This is because we do not see sin for what it really is. I’m convinced that we will not be as passionate about turning from sin unless we truly hate it.
With help from Richard Baxter here are twelve things to meditate upon that will help us grow in our hatred of sin. As you read through this I encourage you to make this practical. Keep in your minds eye that particular sin that the Spirit has been nagging you about.
As we consider the odiousness of sin let us also consider the beauty of Jesus. He rescued us from the muck and mire of sin. May we flee from it today and live in His redemption and not foolish rebellion.
Repent and run to Jesus.
Consider this from Spurgeon as you ponder the ugliness of sin:
Suppose I could find out a sinner so vile that Jesus Christ could not reach him; why then the devils in hell would take him through their streets as a trophy; they would say, “This man was more than a match for God; his sin was too great for God’s grace.” What says the Apostle? “Where sin abounded”—that is you, poor sinner;—”where sin abounded”—what sins you plunged into last night, and on other black occasions,—”where sin abounded”—what? Condemnation? Hopeless despair? No, “Where sin abounded grace did much more abound.” I think I see the conflict in the great arena of the universe. Man piles a mountain of sin, but God will match it, and he upheaves a loftier mountain of grace; man heaps up a still huger hill of sin, but the Lord overtops it with ten times more grace; and so the contest continues till at last the mighty God plucks up the mountains by the roots and buries man’s sin beneath them as a fly might be buried beneath an Alp. Abundant sin is no barrier to the superabundant grace of God.
I recently wrote an article that noted how doctrine is the lifeblood of the Christian life. In that article, I defined doctrine using the Greek word “didaskolos” which means “teaching”. Furthermore, I explained that “doctrine explains the ‘who’ and ‘what’ of Christianity”. Since doctrine provides the lifeblood of the Christian life, it follows that doctrine also provides the fuel for discipleship. Many people might ask why doctrine matters in relation to discipleship? The question at first may sound pious, even correct. You might say, I just want to be a disciple, but my response would be how can you be a disciple of Jesus without doctrine? After all, it is a doctrinal statement to say you are a Christian because with that statement comes the biblical truth that you believe Jesus Christ is the only way to God (John 14:6) and only through Him can you be saved by believing in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:1-10).
Since we’ve established that doctrine is essential to discipleship, the question now is, “How does doctrine inform discipleship?” To ask this question is to venture into the nitty gritty of the Christian life where the proverbial rubber meets the road. Before we go there, we must understand that even the Apostles struggled before Christ bled, died, rose and ascended to know who He was and what He would do for them. Many Christians today struggle to understand that when they live their Christian lives as if what they believe doesn’t matter, they will be prone to being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine as Paul talks about in Ephesians 4:14.
What we believe must inform how we live. When we view the Christian life in terms of how we live rather than from what we believe, we encounter a massive problem. How will I live when severe trials come? When trials and difficulty come and they always do, they reveal the strength or often lack thereof of our doctrinal understanding. Many people struggle at this point because rather than being grounded in solid biblical doctrine, they focus more on how they should live. When difficulty comes to those who focus on “How will I live”, the response isn’t to lean in to God and trust His promises but rather to grumble against Him. Those who understand that sound biblical doctrine comes from God’s Word live the opposite way. They root their lives in sound doctrine for the purpose of weathering trials and hard times. Only when we have a high view of God and a high view of God’s Word can we persevere in Christ. Otherwise, we will be tossed by every wind of the latest and greatest fads to hit Christian bookstores, the Christian conference circuit, music scene, or what the most recent popular television preacher declares is truth.
While the problems with the attitude of living the Christian life through the lens of “how I feel” are many, at the heart of that approach is the idea that whatever I think about a certain issue is okay. When Christians take this approach, what happens is whatever I hear on Christian television, radio, in a book, or at a conference becomes the equivalent of “Christian truth” because someone says it is. Rather than being Bereans to see if what was said lines up with the Bible, we instead accept whatever we hear as Gospel truth. This approach is both dangerous and unfortunately far too common.
The “how I live” approach is one I’ve seen over and over in my Christian life and ministry. It often starts innocently with an emphasis on “What am I getting out of this sermon, book, conference, TV show, etc?” There is nothing inherently wrong with asking, “What am I getting out of this teaching?” In fact, that is a good biblical question to ask. Problems arise when that idea is matched with the approach of “How should I live” rather than being rooted in and then having our experience conform to sound biblical doctrine. The problem is the Christian life was never meant to be lived as a life of feelings and experiences. Our feelings and experiences are to be reprogrammed by the renewing of our mind that comes from the Word of God (Romans 12:1-2). In other words, the Christian life is not ultimately how I feel or my experience and it is not even concerned with what I’m getting out of this teaching. Rather the Christian life is grounded in the objective Word of God that exposes our need for Jesus. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit uses the Word to convict us of our sin and point us towards Jesus.
The approach of “how I live” has disastrous consequences for local churches and the global Body of Christ. Local churches are affected by the approach of “how I live” when they emphasize experience with God above the truth of Scripture. This approach is leaving generation after generation tossing in the wind instead of being nourished in the firm foundation of God’s Word. Since doctrine is the lifeblood of the Christian life, it is also the fuel for the Christian’s discipleship.
Doctrine and discipleship give shape to what Christianity is all about. They are the twin engines that propel the Christian and their ministry in the local church and beyond to strengthen the Church and advance the Gospel. When we emphasize discipleship above doctrine, we encounter the problems I’ve described in this article. When we emphasize doctrine to the exclusion of discipleship, we are teaching people to have a head full of knowledge without having their experience increasingly seen through a biblical worldview. Doctrine and discipleship provide the fuel for the Christian’s life in Christ. Doctrine and discipleship give shape to the local church’s mission of seeking the lost and making disciples to the glory of God. Doctrine and discipleship fuel all ministry efforts because they propel biblical Christianity forward in a culture that is increasingly only interested in how it feels.
The Lord wants to use you for His glory. At this point you may think, “I know that”, but in this article I want to press home the point that God desires to use you for His glory in spite of yourself. Many Christians never get into witnessing to the message of the Gospel because they think they first need to clean themselves up or they need to have a Bible College or seminary degree. Other Christians think they need to be “super saints” before they can be used by God. Not only do I disagree with those ideas, I want to do permanent injury to them and by the grace of God see those lies from the enemy expelled into the abyss forever.
Unfortunately, many Christians place ministry or church involvement on the back burner under the guise that there is a difference between their secular vocation and those in an official ministry capacity. Those who are in ministry are the “holy ones” and those who work 9-5 jobs are in the minds of some believers, somehow “lesser” than those who minister day in and day out as their vocation. Not only is that the wrong idea, it also is not found anywhere in the Bible.
It seems to me at the heart of why far too many Christians aren’t involved in reaching the lost and building up one another is a laundry list of excuses. Many people think we need to be “radical” for Jesus and to “risk all” and “abandon” ourselves in the life of God. I appreciate those calls because many are infatuated with what they want to do such as their accomplishments, achievements, and so on rather than being God-centered and seeking to bring glory to God in and through their lives. Yet I fear what resides at the heart of the idea that “I need to clean myself up” and “I need to be a super saint” or “I need a Bible college or seminary degree”, is ignorance or apathy to the Gospel.
Recent years have seen a huge surge in conversation about the Gospel and this is a good thing. While understanding and being able to answer the question, “What is the Gospel?” and “What does the Gospel demand?” are essential elements to being a Christian and growing in the Christian life, so is having those truths massaged deep into our hearts and lives. While conversation about the Gospel is fantastic, if we are not careful we will treat the Gospel as just another thing to discuss rather than as the central message that defines and gives shape to biblical orthodoxy.
The reality is that the Gospel defines and gives shape to biblical orthodoxy, a point Paul communicates in 1 Corinthians 15:1-10. The Gospel that Paul received and proclaimed is the same one that has been passed on to the Church and Christians today. As Dr. Timothy Keller has said, the Gospel is the A to Z of Christianity. We never outgrow our need for the Gospel as we continually must see our need and find the cure for our need in the finished and sufficient work of Jesus Christ. Jesus saves His people for the explicit purpose of using them for His glory (Eph. 2:10). Good works do not save us; rather our works demonstrate that the grace of God has saved us. This distinction provides the reason for why James said that faith without works is dead (James 2). A faith that is dead, never manifests itself in good works. Conversely, saving faith demonstrates itself in the manifestation of good works because of the work of grace present in the Christian’s life. This also provides the reason why God wants to use you for His glory. After all, He has saved you, is sanctifying you, and will one day glorify you. He has empowered you with His Holy Spirit to make much of Jesus. Since all of those statements are true, the real question is do you still believe that you need to be a “super saint”, super knowledgeable, or that you must clean yourself up before God can use you for His glory?
To suggest as some have that you need to clean yourself up before God can use you is to undermine the power of the Gospel. We were not saved by our own power and we will not be sanctified by our own power. Rather, we are saved by the power of God who raises the dead to new life. Furthermore, we are sanctified by the Holy Spirit who convicts His people of their sin and leads them to repentance which in turn, causes them to grow in the grace of God. This is why the idea that we need to clean ourselves up before God can use us undermines the Gospel.
The other idea that we need a Bible College or seminary degree also undermines the Gospel because if even a child can understand the faith once and for all delivered to the saints, then a child can be used by God. This doesn’t mean knowledge is unimportant or that education when it is used in service to the Gospel is not a blessing. What it does mean is that knowledge for knowledge sake as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13 puffs people up. Lastly, the idea that you need to be a “super saint” also undermines the Gospel because the Gospel that saves you calls you to be humble as noted in 1 Peter 5:5, namely the need to “clothe yourselves all of you in humility”.
The truth is God has saved you and now wants to use you for His glory. Those twin truths provide the impetus and give energy to the Christian life and ministry.
Go therefore, and do battle against the idea that God can’t use you or your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ for His glory. Go out and proclaim that the grace that has saved you, now calls God’s people to serve King Jesus. No matter your platform, no matter your influence, serve Jesus because of His great grace by using your gifts, talents, and abilities as a testimony of the grace you’ve received from your heavenly Father.
I’m a big believer in family worship. I believe God has clearly called parents to intentionally teach their children the ways of God. But for some, the idea of family worship is a bit scary. Either they don’t know how to do it or they think it means three hours every night of exegetical study through Leviticus.
But family worship doesn’t have to be scary or boring or a drudgery. It can be simple. Here are five ways we do it:
1) Around the Table. Sometimes we do it at dinner, other times we do it at breakfast (especially if I’m home for those meals). We usually use some kind of tool. In the past we’ve used the Jesus StoryBook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones, a book every Christian parent should own. Right now we are using an excellent book, Proverbs for Kids. This is a terrific book takes a proverb and offers some practical spiritual truth applicable to kids. It doesn’t take very long and it always includes a relatable story. We decided to do Proverbs because we just felt our kids needed some relational wisdom during this season of their lives. I also highly recommend New City Catechism by The Gospel Coalition. There are other really good resources out there for children as well.
When we do this around the table, it’s very informal. I usually read some Scripture and do some explanation, then I ask the kids questions about it. Sometimes we laugh, sometimes we joke. After we are done, we usually offer a prayer. But we’re very intentional about teaching our kids about the Scriptures. The table is a great place to do it. We are all gathered, we’re enjoying God’s good provision of food and the grace of conversation. I think it’s important for families to share as many meals together as they can.
2) With a Hymnal or Singing. We don’t do this as often as we do the above, but every so often I will reach over and grab a hymnal and we’ll sing some songs together as a family. It can be really fun. What I love about the hymns is that they ground spiritual truth into the hearts of our children. We also like to listen to good Christian music in the car or at home. Sometimes words will come up, especially with hymns, that need explanation. This is a great way to share with our kids some good ideas and truth.
3) In everyday life situations. I love Moses instructions to the parents of Israel to teach God’s truth whenever their kids “sit down” and “rise” (Deut 6:7; 11:19). I don’t think this is a legalistic exercise. I think it is simply telling parents to use every opportunity that comes up, in daily life, to point to Jesus. We really try to do this and you’ll be surprised by the really cool conversations that come up. As a parent, you don’t have to do this in a scolding, lecture-type way. You can be fun, witty, and conversational.
Daily life presents golden opportunities for conversations about the gospel and the character of God. We’ve observed that sometimes these are more formative than the structured, sit-down, type of things we do. Our kids need to know that all of life is God’s, not just the space we reserve for him on Sunday. This is God’s world and we live in it, to worship and glorify Him.
4) Before Bed. We have some of our great conversations before bed. Well, at least on the nights we are not getting to bed late and just trying to get to bed ourselves! But many nights, we’re able to do a lot of praying. We try to have each kid pray to God, to get used to that idea. It can be a bit chaotic to keep the kids from messing around during prayer. But there are some moments where you hear your kid pray an incredibly honest, beautiful, heart-warming prayer to the Lord. And you, also, can model prayer when you pray in front of your children. We also try to pray for at least one missionary every night. We’ve had stretches where we’ve slacked on this a bit, but we try to get back to doing it. We also ask our kids, “So, who do you think we need to pray for tonight?”
5) With reading literature. This may be a bit of a stretch, since reading books other than the Bible may not technically be “family worship”, but it is part of teaching. We try to expose our kids to some good reading, both classics and biographies. As we’re reading, we try to share and explain Christian themes and concepts. We’re also fortunate that our homeschooling curriculum is heavy on literature. My oldest daughter Grace has already read several missionary biographies. Parents can do this in a variety of ways, but it’s really helpful, I think, for kids to hear good stories and in order to expand their wisdom and knowledge of God’s world.
Bottom Line: Our family doesn’t do worship perfectly and I’m sure there are better ways and resources than I’ve mentioned in this post. Every family has to figure out what works best for them; however, we should all strive to be intentional with our kids’ spiritual education.