Sin and the sanctified life

By Pastor Bill Rowe

“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy'” (1 Peter 1:14-16)

“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23)

Like many, I struggle to understand how to balance the truth and power of God’s grace with the reality of the persistent draw of my flesh to sin and Scripture’s persistent instruction for the subjects of God’s saving grace to pursue holy lives. But when I mow my lawn I get a sense of how grace and pursuit of holiness are simultaneous realities.

Grace requires nothing more from us, as it is God’s gift through Jesus Christ. On the other hand, holy living requires continual, intentional change in our thoughts and behaviors as we are conformed to the image of Christ Himself, otherwise known as repentance. Here’s what I learned from my lawn:

mowing-man-1465915As I mowed, I was shocked to see how much of my lawn had been taken over by weeds. For years I’ve enjoyed the sight healthy grass and had not paid attention to the spreading weeds. Sure, I knew they were there, but the grass had always had the upper hand, until now! My celebration of the healthy grass and my neglect to deal with the encroaching weeds resulted in a yard overcome with these destructive, killer plants.

My lawn serves as a metaphor for how we often deal with sin in our lives, especially in light of God’s gift of grace. We celebrate our salvation, while neglecting to effectively address the fleshly, worldly, and demonic influences that draw us away from God. Then, like the weeds overtaking the grass, the destructive effects of sin encroach ever so slowly, but methodically, until we are overcome. Suddenly, we realize that we have a sin issue that dominates our lives, pushing us back into the shadows of shame and guilt. Such neglect has the potential to move us far from God. It has the potential to destroy us.

So what can we do? I have to weed my yard, a very large project now, but one that would have been far more manageable had I dealt with each weed as it popped up. Likewise, we must address sin as it rears its ugly head.

Here are five steps to effectively deal with sin:

  1. Recognize sin—Don’t look the other way! Don’t minimize sin, or temptation. Rather, identify sin for what it is: an affront (abomination) to the Lord! (Proverbs 14:9, “Fools mock at sin; but among the upright there is good will.”)
  2. React to sin—Paul was incensed that the Corinthian leadership had not reacted decisively to sin in the church, writing, “You have become arrogant, and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed (sin) would be removed from your midst” (1 Corinthians 5:2). Stephen Olford is attributed as saying that we should be as sensitive to sin as we are sensitive to a grain of sand on the pupil of our eye. Learn to deal with sin immediately, dramatically, and decisively. (Psalm 32:3, “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away, through my groaning all day long.” )
  3. Remove sin—God protects His people by removing sin. Throughout the Old Testament, sin was removed from the presence of God’s people. For example, the final words of Deuteronomy 13:5, 17:7, 12; and 19:19, among others, are: “Thus you shall purge the evil from among you.” In one’s personal relationship with the Lord, confession prompts the Father to graciously remove sin. (Psalm 32:5, “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’; and You forgave the guilt of my sins.” 1 John 1:9, “If you confess your sins, He is faithful and just to forgive you your sins and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness.” )
  4. Repent of sin—Now that you’ve gotten through and gotten rid of your sin, don’t return to your old ways. Repent, turn away from sin by determining to take a new, God-glorifying approach to sin. Make a plan to respond to temptation so sin never happens. (Psalm 39:1, “I said, ‘I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth as with a muzzle while the wicked are in my presence.” Isaiah 55:7, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” Romans 6:12-14,12Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”)
  5. Rejoice that your sin is gone—Whenever we share the Lord’s table at our church, we take a time for prayers of confession. Just before receiving the bread and the cup, we silently pray to our Lord to deliver on His promise of 1 John 1:9, that when we confess, He forgives and cleanses. Then we come together and I can proclaim on behalf of all who have been forgiven, that in that moment we are unburdened from our sins. We can’t help but rejoice in this truth! (Psalm 32:11, “Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, You righteous ones; and shout for joy all you who are upright in heart.”).

Through it all, trust the Lord while tending to the weeds that are trying to choke out His gracious, sanctifying work in your life. And may God receive all glory!

Blessings!
Pastor Bill

Are you prepared for your victory?

By Pastor Bill Rowe

10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (Ephesians 6:10-13)

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The Christian life is one of spiritual warfare, evidenced by conflict and challenges. This is hard to believe when we see the joy most Christians have, but it’s true. In fact, it’s that joy in the midst of hardship and conflict that best indicates that one is a true believer, and is prepared for the fight.

Jesus said,

33 These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

This truth came home to me the other day at church. I shared details of a personal spiritual battle, trusting that I would not be judged by my church family. Their response was to come around me, lay hands on me, and pray. There was no judgment, simply unity in our dependence on the Lord our God.

The Revive church family understands that in times of trials, the only place to turn is to the Lord. Prayer is a cry to the Lord, a cry that admits our helplessness without the Lord to survive. Prayers rise from our hearts, up through enemy territory (the “heavenly places”),  and find their way into the presence of Lord. Our Lord awaits our prayers!

When we are engaged by the enemy in battle, the assaults come in infinite variety. The devil is endlessly creative and absolutely ruthless in his evil creativity. He tempts us where we are most vulnerable, he attacks our families, he attacks God, he accuses us, he spreads lies, he causes misfortune, he infiltrates our careers, our finances, our health, our faith, and everything we hold dear.

But we need not cower, we need not succumb to the enemy. God has provided an invitation and a promise for His children in need:

15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

Through Christ, we are invited before the very throne of God! We have the ear and the attention of God! When we approach Him with our prayers and our troubles God hears our prayers; God promises us that here in His presence He will grant us grace and mercy! (This is exactly what I felt when our church family gathered around to pray for me!)

Human instinct in times of trouble, our temptation, is to handle spiritual attacks on our own, to do it our way. God’s Word tells us that victory comes when we are on our knees in prayer. We are strongest from a posture of helplessness and dependence on the Lord:

“…be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might… (Ephesians 6:10)

“Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:7-8a)

This requires an admission that we are incapable of winning the fight with our own power. It requires us to prepare for battle by falling to our knees. Our war cry is, “Lord, help me!” In our dependence on God, He provides the weapons and the armor that protect us in battle. God brings victory.

Paul wrote:

“Yet in all these things, we are more than conquerors through (Christ) who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)

It is in the strength of the Lord and the power of His might that we are able to stand before the enemy and to fulfill God’s truth that we are “more than conquerors.”

Today is a good day to grab hold of your victories by falling to your knees and presenting your needs to God. Maybe you have unconfessed sin that God is waiting to hear and forgive:

“If you confess your sins, God is faithful and just to forgive you your sins and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness.”  (1 John 1:9)

Perhaps you are in the midst of fighting a battle in your own strength, and you are tired; Jesus invites you to rest in Him:

“Come to Me, all of you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

I am struck by how consistent Scripture is in promising the Lord’s strength for the Christian who is in need. These Scriptures prove that God is very interested in your battles, desires your prayers, and is willing to bring you victory. The only way to effectively fight the battle, to be victorious, and the only way to prepare for the fight, is through humble prayer and devotion to God’s Word. Then you can assault the enemy in God’s power and God’s might with your prayers to God Almighty Himself.

Finally, cherish Christ’s victory as you rest in Him.

Blessings!
Pastor Bill

Love notes from God

By Pastor Bill Rowe

3The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you. (Jeremiah 31:3)

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What would you do if God sent you a love note? I hope you’d cherish it, and experience His warmth deep in your heart.

The reality is that in today’s busy world many pressures team up to suffocate us, so many that you might not even notice God’s never-ending love directed toward you. When God spoke to the nation of Israel in her distress, His message was “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.” (Jeremiah 31:3)

God loves you with a never-ending love, too!

When troubles mount and it seems that attacks come at you from all sides, it’s often difficult to see through the fog of battle; it seems impossible to grasp the truth that the Lord loves you, that He remains sovereign, and that He is always present. It is in His love – His everlasting love – that the Lord draws you near Him, especially in the worst times.

God’s everlasting love for His children encouraged Israel through decades of captivity. God’s everlasting love for you can encourage you through whatever struggles you face today.

I hope the following words ring true in your life. They are from a song titled, By Your Love:

By Your love, You rescued me;
By Your love, You set me free!
By Your love, You cleansed my heart;
And by Your love, You’ve made me part…

…of Your work, of Your holy call;
You lead me, Lord, to give my all!
With fervent prayer and heartfelt tears,
Your love, my God, I welcome here!

Your love, O Lord, it reigns supreme!
Its truth, My God, to it I cling!
Your love, O Lord, shall always bear
Me up through the tests You’ll share…

…in Your work, in Your holy call;
You lead me, Lord, to give my all!
With fervent prayer and heartfelt tears,
Your love, my God, I welcome here!
Your love, my God, removes all fear!
Your love, my God, I welcome here!

Whenever your circumstances try to bury you and blind you to God’s presence in your life, I pray that you will look up, raise your hands to your Lord, and praise Him with thanksgiving for His everlasting love. Welcome His love with a grateful heart. Welcome His love with fervent prayer, with heartfelt tears.

Cling tightly to God’s love note to you. Cherish His love for you.

His everlasting love is for you!

Blessings!
Pastor Bill

 

 

 

Called to benevolence

By Pastor Bill Rowe

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

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A common thread running through society today is the placing of oneself first, above others. In contrast, historian David McCullough believes that upward of 90 percent of Americans are good people with a benevolent nature. This observation offers a reason for rejoicing and provides a glimmer of hope for each of us, even the skeptics.

What does this have to do with following God? Our Lord is a benevolent God who cares deeply for your well-being; His benevolence intends the very best for you. He loves you, and He would like You to be like Him. That’s the message of Philippians 2:3-4 above: Be like God.

His character is one of benevolence, and though He deserves all attention, honor and glory, He humbled Himself to rescue all who are eternally lost. He looked out for the interest of others, He looked out for your interest. Such is the message of the good news of Jesus Christ: He died so that you may live; He took the punishment for your sins, so that you may be forgive; He modeled humility and holiness so that you may do likewise.

Scripture calls each of us to be like Christ. Too often, Christians earn a reputation for being more unlike Christ that non-Christians. Many attribute that sad reputation to how we judge others. Charles Spurgeon said, “None are more unjust in their judgments of others than those who have a high opinion of themselves.”

My prayer today is that you will follow Paul’s sincere, Spirit-inspired guidance by looking out not only for your own interest, but also for the interest of others.

Blessings!
Pastor Bill

A heart that opens heaven

By Pastor Bill Rowe

“When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened.” (Luke 3:21)

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Luke’s simple picture of Jesus praying at His baptism reveals the heart of our Savior, a heart that opens heaven!

Scripture doesn’t reveal what Jesus prayed when the heavens opened. The Bible says only that, “…while He prayed the heavens opened.” Perhaps the words the Lord prayed weren’t the catalysts. What would incite such a powerful move of God? Certainly, the Father’s indescribable love for His Son was on display. Another clue might be discovered in the Old Testament where, when selecting David as king, the Lord told Samuel,

“For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7b)

It is said that every heart-felt tear contains a million words. An open and humble heart laid bare before the Lord carries more weight than a million spoken words. The Lord of heaven desires your heart.

“The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God.” (Psalm 14:2)

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

The essence of prayer resides in the heart. Deep within the thirsty heart of man prayer is conceived; and in the benevolent heart of God prayer is received.

Blessings!
Pastor Bill

 

Before we stand, we first must bow

By Pastor Bill Rowe

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and contrite heart, O God,
You will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17)

You might remember that Psalm 51 was penned by King David after he was convicted of and confessed his terrible moral sin. We notice many things about King David and our God in the Psalms, but four stood out in Psalm 51:

  1. Humility: First, David came humbly before the Lord with his sin and his sorrow. The king was broken and he was humbled. Humbled! The mightiest man in his kingdom was humbled by his realization of sin, and of his comprehension of the immense offense his sin inflicted on God.
  2. Brokenness: Second, David was truly broken that he confessed his sin against God. David’s brokenness reveals far more than a sadness that he had been caught. Notice that David did not run from God in his sin. Rather, he approached God humbly, with deep agony, and complete honesty, believing that God would receive him. Even as a guilty sinner, David knew that God would accept his confession. As you read the psalm, you will feel David’s sense of brokenness.
  3. Trust: Third, David boldly asked God to forgive all of his sins, to cleanse him, to wipe his slate clean. David did this because he knew and trusted God. He knew that God would not despise a truly contrite heart. He knew that God would forgive because He desires to do well by those He loves. God blesses those who love Him. Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Of course, David did not have the New Testament, yet God instilled in the king’s heart the timeless truth of God’s mercy, love, and grace. And David clung to God’s truth for his very life!
  4. Confidence: Fourth, when David arose from praying to God for forgiveness, he stood with confidence in God that he was completely forgiven. Robert Murray M’Cheyne wrote, “A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.” David knew that he would never be holy outside of God’s merciful forgiveness.

How about you? Do you harbor a guilt? Have you taken those sins humbly before the Lord? Maybe you believe that there are sins God will not forgive, or that He cannot forgive. David knew better. We see by his response to his sin that David believed God for His mercy. Though he was imperfect, through a life of repentance, a turning to God and away from the world, David went on in God’s grace to lead the nation of Israel to incredible prosperity and victory.

Let’s take our lesson from King David and admit that, before we can stand confidently in the world, we first must bow humbly before the Lord.

Blessings!
Pastor Bill