Tenderness is not a sign of weakness 

Reading through 1 Thessalonians this morning, and as a follow up to my last post, I am struck by Paul’s care and desire for the Thessalonians. Certainly, his care extends to their physical needs, but his focus is on the spiritual in the latter verses of chapter 2 into chapter 3. His own boasting before the Lord is wrapped up in their spiritual steadfastness and growth (1 Thess 2:19). His desire to know how they are doing spiritually causes him to send Timothy ahead of himself and leaving him without his trusted associate (1 Thess 3:1-2). Upon Timothy’s return, his good report causes him joy (1 Thess 3:9). 

Paul as Model

Paul is a model in many ways. His boldness to proclaim the gospel and plant churches is inspiring. His willingness to put his life on the line for the sake of Christ time and time again is convicting. But his boldness and bravado are balanced by tenderness. As Christian leaders, we must not only be bold and brave, but we must also be tender with those whom the Lord has placed under our care. 

Tenderness is not a sign of weakness.

Rather it is evidence that the gospel has affected your heart. Our Lord is tender. He cares for those who are His like a nursing mother cares for her child. 

There are no pictures of Paul. Photography didn’t exist in Paul’s day. But I can’t help but think of Paul as a big, burly guy. I could be wrong. But that is the image that comes to mind when I think of Paul. If a big burly guy like Paul can be tender and caring so can we. Men, Pastor, allow Paul to be your example.

Tenderness is not a sign of weakness. 

Stop trying to create Jesus in your image!

Creating is in our DNA. It is built into us. God created the world and everything in it, including you and I — humans. We are created in His image — Male and Female alike. In Genesis 1:26-27 we read:

“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…

Just a little bit later you read:

” …So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Ge 1:26–27)

As those who are made in God’s image, we are gifted towards creating. Some of us are more gifted than others, but we are all designed to create.

Not only is creating built into us, but we are tasked to create by God.

In Genesis 2:15 we read:

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (Ge 2:15)

To “work it” carries the meaning, the idea, of creating, of making. To take the raw materials of the garden and work it to make something glorious. Creating itself is not a bad thing. It’s more of a neutral thing. It is the why and what we create that matters.

Not only does man create in order to make a name for themselves, but man also creates in order to make gods for themselves.

Idolatry is one of the oldest forms of rebellion.

Since the beginning, man has been fashioning gods in their own image. But God abhors idolatry. We know because in the first and second commandments of the 10 commandments God says,

““You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” (Ex 20:3–4)

God abhors idolatry!

Idols never provide us with that which we desire. Israel learned this through the prophets. One was Habakkuk, who asks:

““What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it”” (Hab 2:18–19)

Other prophets such as Jeremiah and Isaiah, join with Habakkuk in condemning and pointing out the futility of creating and worshipping idols. But man continues to do it. Even those in Jesus’ day continued to manufacture idols.

More crooked than creating an idol from wood, hay, or straw was their desire to create Jesus in their own making.

We have a tendency to try to make Jesus into who we want Him to be.

Instead of believing and accepting Jesus’ message with joy, The religious and even the irreligious, they reject the Jesus of the Bible and seek to make Him into the god they want Him to be.

The religious seek to make Him into:

  • A rigid and hard figure whom we must work for in order to earn or keep our salvation.

The irreligious seek to make Jesus into:

  • A “woke Savior” or what you might refer to as “Hippie Jesus”. He would never say anything that hurts anyone’s feelings. No trigger words or actions come from Jesus. He is fully welcoming. Accepting everyone and anyone into the family no matter what they believe.
  • Or Jesus is made into: “A meek and mild figure”. One who doesn’t judge anyone. Hell is not a reality, except for the really bad people like Hitler. Everyone else is going to heaven. No one will suffer or experience judgment.
  • Still others seek to make Jesus into what I like to refer to as: “Genie in the bottle Jesus” He will give you whatever you want. Whatever your heart desires Jesus will provide. All you have to do is say the right thing and have enough faith and you can have whatever your heart desires.

The religious and even the irreligious, they reject the Jesus of the Bible and seek to make Him into the god they want Him to be.

Jesus doesn’t accept our image of Him. He is not an idol.

Jesus is not someone we can fashion and form any way that we like. He is not someone we can make in our own image. That is not who Jesus is. Instead, Jesus is the God sent Savior of the world.

Instead of becoming who we want Him to become, Jesus is who we need Him to be — a gracious God who calls us to repent of our sins and trust in His sacrifice on our behalf.

Idols can’t provide us salvation. They can’t provide us release from the bondage of sin, Satan and death. Idol’s can’t change us. Idols are what we make them to be.

If we make them, that means we make them in our image.

How do we know if we have made Jesus in our image?

I don’t know about you but I don’t make things that cause me to change. I make things that support me for who I am so that I can be who I want to be. That is how you know if you are worshipping an idol of Jesus or the true Jesus. The Jesus we make doesn’t disagree with us. He doesn’t hold us accountable because there is nothing we need to be held accountable for. We are good. We have it together. The Jesus of our own making affirms who we are. But that is not the real Jesus.

The real Jesus calls us to repentance.

He knows we are sinners who have rebelled against Him. He calls us to turn from our rebellion to follow Him.

The real Jesus also calls us to believe the joyous message of the gospel.

He offers us forgiveness, salvation, and a different way of life that reflects God’s wisdom.

That is who the real Jesus is. He is the God-sent Savior. He is not an idol. He is not someone we have fashioned. Instead, He is someone in whom we should find hope and salvation.

Stop trying to create Jesus in your image!

Why does Jesus wait so long to deal with evil? 

In my last post in this short series, I dealt with when God will deal with evil. In short, Jesus promises us that evil won’t continue forever. One day, He will deal with it. Those who are not in His kingdom will be judged and the world will be purged of evil. But that won’t happen now. It will only happen when Jesus returns.

Jesus will deal with evil, but not until He returns. That naturally raises the question:

Why not now?

  • If Jesus had already dealt with evil, 13 soldiers wouldn’t have been killed in Afghanistan a few months back. Their parents, spouses, and kids wouldn’t have to grow up in a world without them.
  • If Jesus had already dealt with evil, the war in Afghanistan wouldn’t have been fought in the first place, saving countless lives.
  • If Jesus had already dealt with evil, over 600,000 abortions wouldn’t take place each year.
  • If Jesus had already dealt with evil, there wouldn’t be gangs fighting over turf to sell drugs that destroy families and community, and kill people.

If evil didn’t exit, the world would be a better place, a perfect place.

Why does Jesus wait so long to deal with evil?

The Parable of the Mustard seed reveals why Jesus waits.

“He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.””

(Mt 13:31–32)

The mustard seed is a small seed. But from that seed grows a big bush that is as big as a tree. It can grow to about 20 ft tall and about 20 ft wide. It is large enough for birds to come and nest in.

What does this parable teach us?

(1) While the kingdom starts small, it doesn’t stay small it grows large.

We can see that growth. The church today compared to Jesus’ day has grown a lot. The number of believers on the earth now verses the numbers of believers on the earth in Jesus’ day is significantly more. There are around 2 billion people who claim Christianity today. That is a significant jump from the 100‘s or 1000’s that believed in Jesus’ day.

We can see with our own eyes that this parable is true. What has started out as a small movement with 12 Disciples has grown to over 2 billion today. That is not counting all the Christians throughout the centuries. The kingdom starts small, from a small seed, and grows large.

(2) The kingdom is still growing as people from every nation comes into the kingdom.

The kingdom will continue to grow until its branches are full. The parable of the mustard seed teaches us that God allows evil to continue to allow the kingdom to grow and the nations to come into the kingdom.

I like what one commentator has to say about all this:

“Jesus’ principle here applies in every age to the question of why God allows evil and suffering in the world. His creation can be purged of all evil only through the judgment and re-creation of the universe at the end of the age because evil resides in every person. God’s delay in bringing the end of the world is thus entirely gracious, giving people more opportunity to repent (2 Pet 3:9).”

Craig Blomberg, Matthew, vol. 22, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 219.

Do you see what he is saying? God allows evil to continue and He holds off judgment for our sake. For the sake of those to whom He has called to be a part of His kingdom. If God did not hold off His judgment until the end, you or I may not be a part of the kingdom.

We might not think about it like this, but God not ridding the world of evil now is actually a gracious act. It is an opportunity for all people everywhere to continue to come and nest in the limbs of the Kingdom of God before judgment comes.

Two Choices — Biblical Wisdom or Worldly Wisdom

Are you able to distinguish between worldly wisdom and biblical wisdom? Do you know which is more beneficial for your life and why?

Jesus’ parable of the two builders comes at the end of His famous Sermon on the Mount teachings. ****We don’t have time to go through all of Jesus’ teaching on the Sermon on the Mount. But suffice it to say His teaching tells us who are apart of His kingdom and how we are to live in His kingdom.

Two Choices — Biblical Wisdom or Worldly Wisdom

At the end of His teaching on the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offers His listeners, He offers us, two choices. A choice between hearing and doing the wisdom of the world or hearing and doing His wisdom.

Look at the text starting in verse 24:

““Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Mt 7:24)

Skip down to verse 26:

And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.

(Mt 7:26)

Using a building analogy, Jesus distinguishes between worldly wisdom and heavenly wisdom. He uses an everyday occurrence in Palestine to show us the folly of building our life on worldly wisdom. The wise man builds His house on the rock.The foolish man builds his house on the sand.

If you were a wise man in ancient Palestine, you would build your house on the rock so that when “... the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” (Mt 7:25)

But those who were unwise, they didn’t build on the rock and there was a different outcome for them. Look at verse 27,

And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.””

(Mt 7:27)

Through this parable, offers us two choices.

  • (1) Build your life on the rock — on biblical wisdom — experience safety and salvation.
  • (2) Or build your life on the sand — on worldly wisdom — experience destruction.

Those are the two choices we have. Allow the Bible, allow Jesus to guide us, allow biblical wisdom to direct our lives. Or allow the world, worldly wisdom to guide and direct us.

Why should we allow biblical wisdom to direct our lives?

When it comes to understanding why we should allow biblical wisdom to direct our lives, James is super helpful:

In James 3:13-18, James contrasts two types of wisdom — heavenly wisdom and worldly wisdom. Those who are wise according to the world’s standards live by mantras like:

  • “You do you”;
  • “let it be”;
  • “just do what feels right to you”;
  • “be true to yourself”;
  • “do what makes you feel good”;
  • “Just follow your heart”.

I’m sure you have heard those before. You might have even voiced them yourself. As good as they might sound, that is representative of worldly wisdom.

You might think following worldly wisdom will result in success. We live in the world after all. But that is not true.

Worldly wisdom, James says, results in “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition” (James 3:14). It results in boasting that seeks to puff up self while tearing another downAs well as it results in lies, because, after all it is all about self.

Heavenly wisdom is different. Heavenly wisdom comes down from above. Heavenly wisdom is what Jesus has been pouring forth throughout the sermon on the mount. Heavenly wisdom produces good fruit:

  • Humility, peace, and mercy.
  • It is pure and gentle.
  • It’s impartial.
  • and it results in sincerity (James 3:17-18).

All wisdom is not created equal.

All wisdom doesn’t lead to flourishing relationships and a loving community. There are two different types of wisdom to which we can listen and apply. They originate from two different places. Notice I didn’t say they came from several different places, but that they originate from two different places. Wisdom either originates from God and His kingdom, OR from Satan and his kingdom. There is not a third or fourth type of wisdom. There are only two types of wisdom upon which we can base our life, our actions. God’s wisdom, Jesus’ wisdom. The wisdom found in God’s Word, what James refers to as heavenly wisdom. Or worldly wisdom.

Those who build their life on worldly wisdom will experience a great loss.

Destruction, disaster will come upon them when they least expect it. Your entire life will come crashing down if that what you have built your life on instead of the rock. Sand that is easily moved. The things of this world can promise us happiness, joy, pleasure, peace but those can be quickly taken. If the world is all that we have based our life on, we will experience disaster.

But those who build their lives on Jesus’ wisdom, His teaching, who operate according to a Christian worldview, they will stand firm when destruction comes knocking. Jesus doesn’t change. He is the rock. That which He offers, He always offers. There are no shifting sands with Jesus. Even if things around you come crashing down, you always have the Rock.

It is not “if” but “when”.

Those things that seek to destroy us will come. They will often come at a time we are not expecting. Life is going great. All is well. Then boom! The storm comes. Depending on what foundation you have built, you will either survive the storm or you won’t. That is what Jesus is getting at.

Worldly wisdom doesn’t save. It doesn’t protect. It only results in destruction.

How Can You Experience True Freedom?

We live in a post-modern society. Post-modernism casts off any and all meta-narratives as power plays by authoritarian systems. In an attempt to escape oppression and experience freedom, meta-narrative are traded for individual narratives that allow one to construct their own truth. In this way there is no absolute truth, just that truth you derive from yourself and your own experiences. We see this transition in phraseology such as “You be you”; “Be your authentic self”; etc. These ideas are why we are currently experiencing so much transition in every area of life.

The Promise of Different Gospels

Different gospels that promise salvation have been preached for centuries. Post-modernism is another gospel in a long list of gospels hoping to cast off the restrictions of a Judeo-Christian worldview to provide freedom without submission.

But does a disregard for the Christian meta-narrative provide true freedom? Does creating our own individual narratives divorced from any overarching narrative, especially a Judeo-Christian narrative, provide an escape from bondage?

The Galatians were not confronted with Post-modernism, but they were confronted with a worldly gospel. Paul, the author of the letter to the Galatians, addresses their fall away from the biblical gospel when he writes in Galatians 4:8-9

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?” (Gal. 4:8-9)

Different Gospels Don’t Provide Freedom

The elementary principles of the world represent those ideas that are fundamental. They serve as the building blocks for a particular system of beliefs. Everyone operates according to closely held building block beliefs. They are those beliefs that drive our worldview and the actions that follow.

Worldly religions and philosophies, those things we build our life on a part from the biblical worldview, do not provide us with freedom. Instead, they enslave us. They entrap us in a cycle of performance, worry, and anxiety. We are left to wonder if we have done enough in order to experience that religion’s or philosophy’s form of salvation. In the case of our modern movement, we might wonder if we gone far enough in divorcing ourselves from a Judeo-Christian worldview. In other words, are we properly secular? Are we championing secular causes well enough?

Cancel Culture as an Example of Bondage

It is here that cancel culture enters the picture. All those who are not in the main are seen as being on the wrong side of history. They are not able to represent modern day culture. They shouldn’t be applauded or championed. Instead, they should be punished for their lack of adherence to the current cultural movement, which results in them being “cancelled”.

Those who believe themselves to be on the right side of history today feel liberation, they feel as if they have been saved from oppressive structures. But “today” is not “always”. Tomorrow always comes. Tomorrow brings change in one’s ideas and thoughts. In modern day vernacular, we might say people “evolve” over time.

Tomorrow, and the evolution it brings, is why cancel culture exists. Cancel culture doesn’t care what side of history you were on in the past. It only cares about what side you are on today, which is why many past cultural champions find themselves forced to change or be cancelled.

The irony is that cancel culture requires truth and an overarching narrative to work. The very thing Post-modernism denies it uses. The truth claims made by those of cancel culture are seen as dominate and ones that should be embraced by all people. If one doesn’t embrace the current cultural meta-narrative truth claim, they are oppressed. In an attempt to create freedom from bondage, Post-modern thought has actually created bondage and oppression. There can be no dissenting voices only those who agree or cancel culture comes for you.

True Freedom Does Exist

There is no freedom in the elementary principles of the world. There is only slavery. You can, however, experience freedom in Christ. He has come to set you free.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Gal 5:1)

How can you experience freedom? Jesus has come, He has died, paying the penalty you deserve. He took your sentence of eternal death for you. He sat in the cell of hell, He experienced God’s wrath in your place. Jesus has done your time. You have been pardoned. He has also freed you from the need for self-salvation, releasing you from the bondage of performance culture.

The good news is that His provision is open to all who would humble themselves and submit to Him as Lord and Savior. If you want freedom, don’t turn to the elementary principles of the world. Instead, turn to Jesus! Allow Him to be your King, your Savior, your all in all. Allow Him to guide and direct your life.

Christian, don’t seek to please the world.

“Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.” (1 Jn 3:13)

The world is not our friend. The world hates us. That is strong language, I know, but it is true.

Hate is a word that is tossed around without much thought of what it actually means. To hate someone means you wish they never were or that you wish they would disappear, never to return again. You want them to cease to exist. Not only do you want that person to cease to exist but you want their ideas and actions to disappear as well.

When John tells us that the world hates us, he means that the world wishes Christians ceased to exist, which means the world is not our friend. The world would rather we not be around.

The world has a disdain for Christianity because they believe we limit their freedom. Any institution that does not agree with complete and utter freedom of expression is an enemy of the world. Their power must be removed so that the individual can operate without any restriction.

These ideas might sound eerily familiar. They are being played out in our nation as I write this post. But they are not new. Man has hated the things of God from the beginning, seeking to throw off God’s rule in one way or another since Adam and Eve’s rebellion in the garden.

If we have learned anything over the millennia it is that God’s people are not friends of the world. We cannot give a little and be ok with those in the world. Complete and utter capitulation is the only action that will do. This is why those who try to please the world, like the progressive liberal church or those in the liberal camp themselves, constantly find that the goal posts are moving. One day they are progressive enough and are celebrated. The next they are being cancelled because they haven’t moved far enough fast enough. They are not on the right side of history, as some would say.

As Christians, we should not be surprised the world hates us. Knowing that must not get us down. Instead, we must continue to trust in Jesus, resting in His sacrifice on our behalf, experiencing joy in our restored relationship with the Father, and finding hope in Jesus’ return.

Christian, don’t seek to please the world.