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5 Encouragements for the Spiritual Desert Wanderer

In your daily “quiet times,” do you ever feel like Moses and the Israelites just wandering around the desert waiting for Promise Land?  

You might think that having graduated seminary means that my daily time with the Lord in the morning is full of His Shekinah Glory every time I open my Bible and close my eyes in prayer. 

Let me assure you, it’s not. In fact, if anything, having been in seminary made my times with the Lord dryer and more difficult. I did not expect that this was going to happen in seminary. Yet, I found myself in quite the barren spiritual desert 6 months ago and I had been wandering for a long time. Knowing (some) Greek didn’t help. Knowing the cultural background and context of the text didn’t help. Honestly, it made it worse. I couldn’t just enjoy God’s Word for what it is: His Word! The Bible had become another textbook I had to read. 

Can you relate to this at all? Maybe it’s not because of seminary, but have you ever felt like the Bible was something that you “had to read” and not something that you have the joy and privilege of reading? Have you ever felt like you were in a spiritual desert and your Bible reading and prayer weren’t helping? Are you in that desert now? 

Whether you have been, you are, (or will be someday), in a similar place, let me give you five encouragements that I pray bless you in those times: 

1. You’re not alone. I can’t say for certain, but I think that ALL Christians go through this at some point in their journey with the Lord. Take heart! The spiritual desert you find yourself in has been traveled before and others have made it through. Therefore, you will too. But… 

2. Just because you don’t “feel” close to God in your Bible and prayer time doesn’t mean that you should abandon it. I know many people who simply stop reading and praying during desert times and you know what? It doesn’t help. What would happen if I stopped talking to my wife every time I didn’t “feel” love towards her? If I did this, waiting for the morning where all of a sudden the lights came on, I’d be in the dark for a long time waiting to “feel” love for her. How do I “feel” love for my wife? I spend time with her. I talk to her. I share my heart with her. Spending more time, not less, stirs my affections for her. I believe that’s how it is with God. It’s a relationship after all, right? To put it another way: a sailboat won’t move unless the wind blows the sails. Therefore, raise the sails of your spiritual life (read and pray) and wait for the wind (the Spirit) to blow.  

3. I’ve been using John Piper’s IOUS acronym daily for the last 5 months and it has helped a ton: 

  • I—Incline “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain.” (Psalm 119:36) 
  • O—Open “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalm 119:18) 
  • U—Unite “Unite my heart to fear your name.” (Psalm 86:11) 
  • S—Satisfy “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” (Psalm 90:14) 

4. Repent. Is there sin in your life that you need to repent of? Could there be some sin that is stifling your walk with God? I don’t know. Only you and God know. But if there is, then I urge you to repent and turn from your sin. Often, this is all it takes.  

5. Beg God to grow your affections for Him. Ask Him to give you the desire to even want to read and pray. Pray this daily, even if you’re in a good spot. This is a request our heavenly Father wants to answer. 

There’s more to be said here, but I’ll leave it at those five encouragements for now.

Everyone is different and everyone’s walk with the Lord is different. I’ve just laid out what I have learned and what has helped me. If this doesn’t encourage you, then go find someone whose Bible-Prayer life is one you want to have for yourself ask them how they do it. Then, go and do the same! 

It’s okay to be in a spiritual desert. It’s not okay to stay there.  

Here’s the really good news though… spiritual desert or not, if you’re in Christ, then Jesus loves you just the same. So take heart, beloved brother or sister.  

 

Gabriel Pech is married to Hannah and they have 3 beautiful children. They have been members at FCC since April 2017. He graduated from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with his M.Div. in May, 2018. The Pech family now lives in Kaiserslautern, Germany, where they are missionaries to the 80,000+ Americans/military members and their families who are stationed there.  

 

 

Posted in: Bible study, Christian Living, Uncategorized

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WHILE IT IS CALLED TODAY

If you are reading this, you are in a little 24-hour-period we call “today.” I know, today is not as glorious as yesterday, or last year, or whenever you were the popularity king/queen in school. Today also is not as promising as tomorrow, or next week, or whenever you will “arrive” in life by getting that dream job, marrying that perfect person, or finally making enough money to get beyond the hand-to-mouth existence that you are currently stuck in. But let’s talk about today, because today is all we have, and we may not have even that.

Every day I encounter someone who seems intent on alternating between nostalgia for the past and expectancy for the future. That someone is me. Yet I rarely travel this path alone. Together with family, friends, and coworkers, I reminisce about good times gone by and laugh over stories of that “most embarrassing moment.” From there, we pivot seamlessly to our weekend plans to career goals to retirement options. Oh sure, sometimes today gets special attention because of some momentous event like a job interview, marriage, or a birth of a child. Of course, the many life activities that fill up our todays—work projects, homework, meals—all receive their due attention in the moment. Yet rarely does the eternal significance of today sink in and change our hearts and our conduct. This is a mistake, and potentially one with tragic and eternally significant consequences.

There are two important things to remember about this little 24-hour period that we are living in: (1) A person’s life is the sum of his or her todays, and (2) there is no guarantee that tomorrow will become today for any of us. Hebrews 3:13 touches on both of these facts when it tells Christians to “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of [us] may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” The hardening effect of sin occurs when we permit its leavening influence to remain in our lives by our day-to-day toleration of the same. Today, if we do not root out sin through confession, repentance, and gospel exhortation, we leave ourselves exposed to its corrosive deceptiveness.

Sin is not just a mistake in our past or a dark cloud on the horizon of our future. The reason that Christians are called to exhort one another “every day” is because sin is daily crouching at the door of our hearts. Sin’s presence in the believer’s life is a sad reality (I John 1:8), and it must be recognized and dealt with as the serious soul-danger that it is. The porn viewer becomes an addict by failing to address today the strengthening chains of lust. The foodie becomes a glutton because tomorrow is when the idolatry of food will be addressed. The busybody becomes a gossip because the days of sharing “one more juicy little story” stack up until character is formed, integrity is lost, and sinful hardness settles into the soul. But no worries; tomorrow is wide open for repentance . . . right?

The writer of Hebrews calls for confrontation of sin “while it is called ‘today.’” Not tomorrow, not next week, but now. Why? Is it because you might die in a car wreck later today as evangelists like to portend? Perhaps. After all, none of us knows what a day will bring forth (Prov. 27:1). The Scripture also speaks of Christ’s return coming with unexpected suddenness, “like a thief in the night” (I Thess. 5:2). Yet for the writer of Hebrews, the threat in Chapter 3 seems to be not so much the loss of life or Christ’s return, but rather sin’s deceptive hardening of the heart to the point that repentance becomes effectively impossible. Here is Hebrews 3:13 in its surrounding context:

12 Take care, brothers and sisters, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

As believers, we should not smugly presume that WE would never fall away from our profession of faith or forsake our original confidence in Christ. Jesus’s Parable of the Sower should shatter any illusion that a promising start ensures a race run well to the end. In the Scripture, we indeed read of God’s sovereign, unconditional grace in salvation and of his preservation of believers until the Day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6). But we also read words of woe and warning to those who would live in unchecked sin (I Cor. 6:9-10), and each one of us is called to take an active role in putting to death the sin that would have mastery over us (Col. 3:5).

If we believe that we can thoughtlessly entertain sin before repenting at our leisure, then we grossly overestimate our hearts’ own willingness and ability to turn from sin. Such presumption also ignores the gracious and necessary prompting of the Holy Spirit that calls us back to repentance. For this reason, the writer of Hebrews urges each of us as believers to exhort and be exhorted in the gospel today, while the Spirit still calls to us, so that sin does not take us to the perilous point of no return. If perhaps you are struggling with sin, be encouraged by the struggle. Your striving against sin is a testament to your pursuit of the truth. Be encouraged and be exhorted to press on in Christ’s power in this struggle. Find that brother or sister in whom you can confide, recognizing that it is through fellow believers’ exhortation that all of us are encouraged to carry on in the fight against the deceitfulness of our own besetting sin.

 

Stephen Freeland is a member of FCC. He and his wife, Kate, have three young children.

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Authority to Judge Sin

There was a time when, especially in the church, the idea of “don’t judge me” was extremely prevalent: “God is love, so we should be too.” Today, most Christians I know don’t say things like that. I have seen an effort to reconcile both judgment and love in the church. I have seen us push this “don’t judge me” movement out of the church and balance the scales of how Christians should live with one another.

Yet, I think we haven’t pushed this movement out of our churches enough. I think if we were honest with ourselves, when the “don’t judge me” movement crept into the church, it caused significantly more damage than we are comfortable admitting. Specifically, this ideology has undercut the holiness of the church because we have lost sight of our God-given authority and responsibility to judge our fellow church members.

Let me make one thing clear: this article is specifically talking about how we interact with other members of our own local church. The scope of this doesn’t include a license to judge the outside world’s sin, or even the sin of people in other churches. The scope of this is to help us better understand how we deal with sin in our own local church.

My question to you is this: Are you, as a member of your church, calling out sin in the other members and are you allowing other members of your church call out sin in you?

My goal is that we would answer this question. My fear is that we think we already know the answer. Can you honestly answer that question in the affirmative? How seriously do you take your own sin and the sin of others in the church?

With this in mind, I think the problem is two-fold and therefore it will be dealt with in a two-part series. First, the reason we shy away from judging sin in the church is because we don’t understand our authority as fellow church members. Secondly, we shy away from judging sin in the church because we don’t understand our responsibility as church members.

“Who am I/Who are you to say anything?” = Misunderstanding of Authority

How many times have you said, or heard someone say, “Who am I to say anything? I don’t have the right…”? I do believe that this can be spoken from a pure heart and sometimes it is needed, so don’t get me wrong. There are times in which you need to deal with your own garbage before others’ (Matt. 7:5). But, if we are being honest, this is usually motivated by fear rather than humility. I don’t want to call you out because I am afraid of what may happen if I do.

On the other side, how many times have you thought, “Who are you to say anything to me?” Again, sometimes people should probably not say anything. However, this statement usually doesn’t come from a position of true righteousness, but pride. The basic idea behind these words are: “You do not have the right to call out my sin.”

I can guarantee most of us have thought both of these things at one point in our church-life. I know I have. But what these statements show is something deeply wrong with our understanding of the church and our understanding of membership. Ultimately it shows that we have a misunderstanding of each individual member’s authority over the other members of the church.

This recently hit home for me. Not long ago I asked a dear brother in Christ if we could get together. There were possible sin issues going on that I had to bring up to him. As we were meeting I said something that caused me to stop, “Listen, I know I don’t have the authority to say this….” Right after I said it, it struck me. I don’t have the authority to call out his sin? Is that what I really think? The more I look back on that meeting, the more I realize I said it because I didn’t want to confront this brother in the first place.

Ephesians 5:18-21 gives the church clear instructions on how it is to relate to one another:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Submission and Authority

This brings up a very important question: what does submission mean? I have yet to find a place in Scripture where submission does not have the connotation of “being subject, under, subordinate” to an “authority.” Here is a list of all the ways this word is used: Creation has been made subject to Jesus (1 Cor. 15:27; Eph. 1:22); we used to be subject to sin (Gal. 5:13); children are to be subject to their parents (Lk. 2:51); we are to be subject to secular authorities (Rom. 13:1); we are to be subject to our church leaders (1 Pt. 5:5); wives are to be subject to their husbands (Eph. 5:22; Col. 3:18; 1 Pt. 3:1); and most importantly, we are to be subject to Christ (Eph. 5:24).

Each of those instances speak about us willingly being in submission to some sort of authority; no one is arguing against that. The word implies an authority structure over the one who is subject. This is the main reason why I don’t think Paul is telling the Ephesian church to be in submission to every Christian, because submission doesn’t mean “have respect for one another.” Submission implies an actual authority structure over us.

This brings up another important question: who are we supposed to willingly allow to have authority over our lives? If submission implies authority, then who do you and I have authority over and who has authority over us? Everyone?

Submit to whom?

What does “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ actually mean? Now, someone could argue that this is how all Christians are to act toward one another. All Christians are to submit to all other Christians. The problem with this interpretation, though, is that by making it so abstract we lose most of the meaning from this text.  This would require interpreting “submit” as “respect.” If that is the case, then yes! All Christians are to have mutual respect for one another. However, that is not what “submit” means, especially in this context. Further, It doesn’t line up with real life. Am I supposed to submit to some random guy who calls himself a Christian? Even if he knows nothing about me? What would that even look like? Do I address every Christian I see in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs? Who, specifically do I submit to? Who is Paul talking about? I think a loose analogy can be made with the following verses.

Wives are supposed to submit to their husbands. They don’t submit to every man nor every man who calls himself a “husband.” They are to submit to their “own” husbands. Although not as explicit as in the passage about wives submitting, local church membership does seem implicit throughout the book of Ephesians. Just as I would never expect my wife to submit to others in the same authoritative way she would submit to me, I do not expect Christians in our local church body to submit to Christians of other churches (in the same authoritative way they should submit to one another).

I think it works like this: in marriage the person a wife submits to is specifically the man she has covenanted to before God in marriage. In the same way, you are called to submit to those who have covenanted themselves with you, and you with them. Paul was writing to a local church in a specific context. The analogy isn’t a 1-1 ratio, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any connection between the two. My point is that we miss the importance of his message if we make this too broad because we miss what church membership is in its simplest form: A Christian submitting to other local Christians in a covenanting relationship.

What Does it Mean?

This shows us that saying “I don’t have the right to call out your sin,” or, “you don’t have the right to call out my sin,” was a foreign concept to Paul. If you are a member of a local church, that means you have willingly submitted yourself to the authority of the other members of that church. And, equally as important, you have entered into relationships with people who have willing submitted themselves to you.

I want to be as clear as possible: if you are a member of a local church, that necessarily means you have asked other Christians to be an authority over your life. You have given them the authority to call out your sin. It also means that you have been given the authority to do the same.

Be Careful

Before I end this section, I want to give a warning. Be careful. I don’t want to create a group of people who are arrogantly throwing down the “authority” card toward every single person they can find. When another person has placed this type of trust in your hands, it should never be used for personal gain. Instead, this type of authority should only be used in prayer and love. Just as a husband doesn’t lord authority over the wife who has submitted to him, but lovingly leads her into the glory of Christ, so each church member should lovingly use this authority over other brothers and sisters only for the purpose of making other members more like Jesus.

While a little fearful that some people may misuse this article, I will stop here. Next time we will turn to the responsibility each member has in regards to the use of this authority.

 

  Marty Beamer is the Assistant Pastor at FCC and teaches Rhetoric and Worldview at Faith Christian Academy. He graduated with a Masters of Divinity from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in December of 2017. He is married to Jessica and they have one son, Oliver.

 

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We Have An Advocate

From John Bunyan’s The Work of Jesus Christ as an Advocate

 

The Apostle John, holding 1 John 2:1

1 John 2:1b. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous

The best saints are most sensible of their sins, and most apt to make mountains of their mole hills. Satan also, as has been already hinted, doth labour greatly to prevail with them to sin, and to provoke their God against them, by pleading what is true, or by surmising evilly of them, to the end they may be accused by him (Job 2:9). Great is his malice toward them, great is his diligence in seeking their destruction; wherefore greatly doth he desire to sift, to try, and winnow them, if perhaps he may work in their flesh to answer his design-that is, to break out in sinful acts, that he may have by law to accuse them to their God and Father. Wherefore, for their sakes this text abides, that they may see that, when they have sinned, “they have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

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How Can I Change?

by Julie Ganschow

As a counselor, most people who come to me for help are looking for a change. Those in relationship counseling are usually looking for the other person to change. Those in individual counseling are often looking for their circumstances or feelings to change, and they don’t know how to make that happen.

In 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Galatians 5:19-22 we find lists of ugly issues that are typical as presenting problems in a biblical counseling relationship. (These, of course, are not the only two places in the Bible we find sinful habits listed). While you may want to believe that your particular sin is new or unique, the Bible does cover all of the heart-level sins known to man. We vary in how each of us acts out our sin, but honestly, there is no new sin under the sun. This is excellent news for sinners! The problem you bring to the table can be completely different, yet the cause of sin is identical.

Battling Besetting Sins

Every one of us can become habituated to one or more kinds of sin. Another way of thinking about habitual sin might be found in an older term: besetting sin. Our sinful habits develop when we do something so frequently that it becomes an automatic, comfortable pattern of living. It becomes an automatic behavior, such as the woman who habitually overeats chocolate or cake when she is feeling sad or lonely.

There’s no machine for heart change.

She is told by well-meaning people that she has a disease such as Compulsive Overeating. She might be prescribed an anti-depressant and told to attend a self-help group. These responses remove her responsibility for her actions and steal her hope. However, identifying these behaviors biblically can give her tremendous hope when she learns that her eating too much of the wrong kinds of food have become habits that can be unlearned. Taking medication will not help a person put off a sinful habit, but by employing the process of biblical change, with practice, she will change and restructure her life in a manner that glorifies God.

It is important to realize that such habits did not develop overnight, and new habits will not become automatic overnight. Biblical change takes time and practice. It takes time for someone who is habituated to a particular sin to transform and begin to consistently demonstrate new attitudes and actions.

Biblical Process of Change

The key to real and lasting change is found in the biblical process of putting off and putting on presented in Ephesians 4:22 – 24. As you read through the Bible, you will find a number of verses that inform us in one way or another about disciplining ourselves for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7; Colossians 1:29; 1 Timothy 6:11). Part of the process that I would recommend is found in 2 Timothy 3:16 which instructs us to teach, rebuke, correct, and train in righteousness. We all need to know more about God and how to bring Him glory by how we live our lives, right? Sit under sound biblical teaching. We must be willing to accept a reproof or a rebuke for our ungodly behavior and attitudes, and then correct them by putting on a biblical response, and finally, to be trained in the particular righteous behaviors that we must put on.
The idea of training means to practice it over and over, very much like a gymnast practices the same routine to the point that the moves she makes on the balance beam or the floor are identical time after time. Rather than learning physical moves, we replace the thoughts, beliefs, and desires of our heart that we currently practice (Galatians 5:19 – 20), with those that honor and glorify God (Ephesians 4 – 5, Philippians 2, and Colossians 3).

Biblical Change vs. Behaviorism

Some verses in the Scriptures talk about re-habituation. Hebrews 5:13 and 10:25 are among them. Our goal is not merely to change behavior, putting off and putting on; we must realize and understand the importance the heart plays in putting off those old habits and putting on righteous ones. Because our behavior comes from our immaterial part, or what the Bible calls the heart, the changes to put off and put on must originate there. The sinful thoughts, beliefs, and desires that bring us into counseling arise in the heart. As the heart submits to God’s authority, and the Word of God renews the mind, new behavior patterns will form. To leave out the critical component of heart change for life change makes the biblical counselor a mere behaviorist, and this type of counsel is sure to fail.

Ephesians 4:22-24 can be misused to become rote behaviorism. Behaviorism is a danger with some forms of counseling. The critical component in this passage is the renewal of the mind. The mind is equal to the heart and must be biblically informed (Romans 12:2) about how to change. This is why reading and meditating on the Word of God is so critical to this process of biblical change. We must know what the Word of God says about the attitudes and sins of the heart. The new response (putting on) ideally will flow from a heart that now sees our sin as grievous to God.

Julie Ganschow is a member of FCC and Director of FCC’s counseling ministry, Reigning Grace Counseling Center.

Posted in: Biblical Counseling

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Forgiveness After Sexual Sin in Marriage

By Julie Ganschow

I have often heard it said, “I can forgive anything except adultery.”  There is nothing quite as difficult as forgiving intentional sin, so when a wife is asked to consider forgiving sexual sin the challenge factor goes up astronomically.

Adultery and other kinds of physical sexual sin violate the most closely held tenants of marriage and are among the hardest to forgive. For a woman to deal biblically with the fallout of the sexual sin in which her husband has been involved, she will have to understand what it means to forgive him biblically and how to do so.

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Colossians 3:12—13 (NASB)

I am not sure I can forgive

When it comes to forgiving sexual sin, one of the major reasons a wife may not want to forgive is because she believes the hurt and betrayal are just too big to get past. Sexual sin is the unforgivable sin in marriage in the minds of many people; however, is that what the Bible teaches?

Many people struggle to forgive in general because they are not clear about what forgiveness from the heart really is; they do understand and look for reasons or make excuses not to forgive.

The Bible teaches us that the greatest need we all have is to be forgiven for our sin. Without the forgiveness of sin we are all destined for hell and eternal damnation (Romans 6:23). You don’t have to be Bible a scholar to figure out that if God forgives us, He has the expectation that we will forgive each other on the basis of the forgiveness we’ve received.

To refuse to forgive will add to the internal misery and woe she will experience. The unforgiving person is the one who suffers the most. When a woman informs me she chooses not to forgive, I can guarantee she will become bitter. In choosing this path, the sins of bitterness and unforgiveness enslave her and will ruin her life. She may think that by refusing to forgive her husband will “get his,” but that is not so. In refusing to forgive, she will be the one who suffers even greater misery than she experienced as a result of his sexual sin.

 

I have also been told by a wife that she can’t forgive her husband until she forgets what he did. This is backward thinking and is indicative of someone who is holding on to the wrong that has been done to them. Each time she chooses to dwell on the offense and the hurt she has experienced, she engrains it a little deeper in her mind and heart.

The truth is that every time she rehearses the ooffense it only serves to exacerbate the pain which in turn leads to bitterness. She will not forget until she learns to forgive. When she forgives the wrong done to her, she releases it and then, in time, she will begin to forget the pain.

Some wives remain angry and unforgiving because their spouse has not asked to be forgiven. They say, “I’ll forgive when he says he is sorry.”

Jesus teaches on forgiveness

The Lord addresses this with Peter in Matthew 18. Peter thought he was being very generous by boasting that he would forgive the same man seven times. The Lord Jesus revealed his heart by instructing him to forgive 70 times seven!

The same instruction was given in Luke:

Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him. Luke 17:3—4 (NASB)

At first glance it appears that granting forgiveness is conditioned on the person actually asking for it first. Sometimes a woman is reluctant to forgive because her husband has not asked her for forgiveness nor has he repented of his sexual sin.

This suggests that unless someone asks for forgiveness, you can never really forgive them because without them asking, there isn’t any taking ownership of their sin as one would when repenting to God. This is true as far as it goes. Unless a person asks, obviously there is no admission of sin; however, that does not that mean we are free to withhold forgiveness.

The first thing a wife must understand is that forgiving her spouse is not an option for the Christian; it is required.

The level ground on which she stands

She must understand that her position before God is exactly level with that of the worst sexual sinner, because the ground is level at the foot of the cross. There is nothing exceptional about her or any non-sexual-sin sinner; this is because we are all sinners and all in need of God’s grace and mercy. She must choose to forgive her husband on the basis of what God has forgiven her.

God intended to forgive her of her sin before she asked. In fact, He did forgive her at the cross, which was long before she was born. How then can she withhold forgiveness from her husband for his sin?

By forgiving her husband she chooses to release him from the sense of debt she believes she is owed because of the hurt he caused. It’s like saying, “Husband, you do not owe me anything, nor will I personally punish you for what you did to me. I choose to forgive you this debt just as I have been forgiven my enormous debts by God.”

This takes big faith! In order to exercise big faith, she must believe that she serves a big God who is able to work in all circumstances of life.

Julie Ganschow is the director of Reigning Grace Counseling and a member of Faith Community Church.

Posted in: Biblical Counseling

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Toxicodendron Radicans (Poison Ivy)

By Matt Greco

I can think of no earthly reason why God created Poison Ivy!  I am relatively sure that it was not in the Garden of Eden but came along after the ground was cursed, somewhere between the thorns and the thistles.  It has been a problem for me all my life and approximately 85% of all humans have allergic reactions to the oils from the plant.  When I was younger, I could get the rash if I went past the plant and a wind was blowing in my direction.  It is estimated that 2 people a year die from exposure to poison ivy, not many, but I bet that everyone who is allergic to it suffers from its effects.

I got it again this year.  Weed eating my neighbor’s back fence and not paying attention to what I was doing.  It was all up and down my arms and a little on my legs.  So I am lying in bed the other night trying not to scratch and praying to the Lord, no sorry…, complaining to the Lord about my plight and it hits me all of a sudden that in many ways poison ivy is like sin to the believer.  Let me explain.

Scripture teaches me that before I confessed and believed in Christ, that I was dead because of my sin.  (Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2: 1 – 10)  But now, because of Christ’s death and resurrection, I have new life and sin no longer has the power to kill me spiritually. (Romans 8:  2; Corinthians 5: 17) But, sin is still around and as believers, we still battle against sin.  Enter my analogy about sin and poison ivy.

If we are careful, we can avoid stepping into or brushing up against it, however, if we are careless or overconfident, we can get into it. It is not usually fatal, but it can sure make our lives miserable for a while.  It is unsightly, it is annoying, it itches, and it can make it very difficult for us to participate in certain activities.  No one wants to hug who is covered in it, you are not supposed to go swimming if you have open sores from the rash, and if you have it and you sweat at all, it irritates the outbreak all the more.

Now I do not want to trivialize sin when I compare it to poison ivy!  Sin destroyed man’s relationship with God.  Sin separates us from God.  Sin causes judgment and death. Sin has had and is much more destructive and can have much more lasting consequences in your life.  However, sin is also unsightly, it is annoying, it itches, and it can make it difficult or impossible for us to participate in certain activities.  God’s answer to sin was and is Jesus Christ.  My life and your life can be transformed by Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.

I can say I am grateful to the Lord that I was lying awake at three o’clock in the morning because of the burning and itching of poison ivy because as I turned to Him, He met me in my situation and gave me comfort and instruction.  He is there for all of us who will turn to Him.  Don’t wait until you are drowning in your sin or suffering from the consequences of bad decisions or scratching from Toxicodendron radicans.  (Deuteronomy 4:28 – 30)

Matt Greco is a member of FCC and the Headmaster of Faith ChristianAcademyy.

Posted in: Christian Living, Men's Ministry

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Freedom from Bondage

By Julie Ganschow

The Members of Your Body

“And do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Romans 6:13, NASB).

Offering the members of our body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness takes many forms. Anytime we indulge the flesh to the point of “addictions,” we become a slave to whatever we are worshiping.

My Story

For example, I used to worship the idea of being thin, and so I abused my body to make it that way. I thought I was in control of the situation, but I quickly learned that if I wanted to be thin I was going to have to play by the “thin rules.” Those rules included not eating or not eating much beyond diet soda and popcorn, not cooking, not making foods I knew others would enjoy because I would eat them too and that would violate the “thin rules.”

I thought I was exercising control over my life, and in actuality, I became a voluntary slave to being thin. My days and activities were constantly dominated by “don’t.” Don’t eat this or that, don’t go here or there because they could have food. Don’t go out to lunch with your friends because you will eat. You can’t eat because then you won’t be thin!

This way of life took over my life. I had no freedom or control because what I once controlled was now controlling me!

Our Story

The person who wakes up on their face in the driveway one morning, all foggy-brained from the drunk or high they went on the night before may not understand their slavery. The young woman who rushes to the bathroom many times a day to vomit up her food intake does not understand her slavery either. The young man who clicks on pornography in his bedroom in the dark, seeking harder and harder porn thinks he is only looking for the next thrill. The man or woman who takes the house payment to the casino for one last try at making it rich doesn’t understand what drives them, or that they are no longer having “fun” at this anymore.

Each of these people is real. They are our friends and neighbors, family or co-workers. Maybe one of them is you.

God’s Story

There is only One who can free us from such bondage. We bring His message of hope and truth to the hurting people surrounding us.

The reality about sin is that the Lord is not going to swoop in and take away all our sinful desires. It is going to take the hard work of a changed heart to bring about the changed life we so deeply desire.

At some point, we are going to have to be willing to knock whatever we worship off the altar. Be forewarned: knocking it down will be painful. We cannot expect to claim it in Jesus’ Name and walk away healed and free; that is foolishness. We have built a system of belief and a system of worship around this thing and it colors and influences how we “do” life.

While there are no “easy steps,” there are biblical principles we each must pursue.

  • We must begin with prayerful determination to no longer be a slave to whatever has us bound (Romans 6).
  • We must enlist the help of those around us and make ourselves accountable to them for change (Galatians 6:1-2).
  • We must learn where our pitfalls are, what sets us off, what makes us run to that old comfortable idol.
  • We must make a plan to run somewhere else—like into the throne room of the Almighty God (Hebrews 4:16). It is there that we will find grace to help in our time of need.

There is a reason that Ephesians 4:22 tells us to throw off our old fleshy selves, our old desires, our old objects of worship. It is because they capture us, enslave us, and they grow more and more powerful in our lives. They corrupt us further and further until we believe we are beyond hope.

But we do not have to go back to the grave. In and through Christ we have been set free!

How can God’s story of being set free in Christ empower you to find Christ’s victory over the things that enslave you?

Julie is the Directory of Reigning Grace Counseling Center and a member of FCC.

Posted in: Biblical Counseling

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I Am Not Myself

By Logan Evans

 

I’m not myself lately.

No. That’s the problem.

I am myself.

My nature is exposed sans-gospel the less I am being filled with truth.

I am myself.

All the common traits of my strife and woe lies in how they might affect and impact me.

Not the Church.

Not dear friends.

Not close confidantes.

Not anyone.

Not God.

I am a god unto myself:

I seek my praise and glorify my name and long for all to know me and love me;

I serve myself, for who better to receive it?

And I am unto myself a god of destruction, for these things I seek and desire for myself will be my end.

Who among the sin-ridden could withstand the adoration of the multitudes and not be obliterated by the weight of it all?

And even now I praise myself for how well I construct this image built by words and wonder at my eloquence and dare David or Augustine to put their mortal curse of narcissism in a more profound way. I am bloated with pride and feel confident that my words are surely worthy of marvel

but

when “I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.”

This from Paul, a man of high education and privilege of superior training, who, ironically, proved in scripture his capacity for demonstrating high rhetoric and wielding words pulled from a vast artillery.

Yet, he decided that the gospel alone and people being unified in and by the gospel alone was more important than the praise and wonder he could gain from eloquent speech.

And I am a fool.

Towards what end am I working in my eloquence?

Jesus Christ will last long beyond me.

I am insecure and fragile enough to need (or convince myself I need) to be oh-so-well-spoken and well-written for the sake of honor and praise, for without it I would surely diminish and decay.

Not so.

Seeking glory for myself is my undoing. It will end me. I have not the capacity in this depraved and earthly state to rightly handle praise. I cannot handle it and do not deserve it.

Perfection deserves praise.

Perfect, whole beauty.

Too much of a good thing will kill that which is not wholly good.

God is good.

And perfect

and holy in every way

and possesses no sin,

houses no evil.

He is the One and Only capable of handling an eternity of praise.

God is good.

God exists as good.

No one is good except God.

He is the chief Good.

If I am good or am recognized for good, that is God in me. I cannot achieve good without God, not completely. God exists before and after and beyond all else.

No one and nothing is good except God.

To have anything else as the mode and motive of good in my life is foolish.

So, if I am to adhere to the idea of God as chiefly and completely Good and solely deserving, then the implications are extraordinary.

If God is the chief good in my life then

I obey His commands

I love Him

I love others as myself

I love others more than myself

I operate in a manner which correlates with the good of God

I work hard and well using the opportunities and skills and gifts and abilities my good God has given me

I bring attention to Him and His Goodness through my own wonder of His Goodness and do not use the good He has shared with me for my own benefit, but rather use it to demonstrate the Good of God.

I have not good of myself, but only what I have from God.

He is Good and not I.

He is God and not I.

 

Logan Evans is a  member of FCC.

Posted in: Poetry

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Book Review: Righteous Sinners

Review by Susan Verstraete

Righteous Sinners: The Believer’s Struggle with Faith, Grace and Works

Ron Julian, Navpress, 1998righteoussinners

Ron Julian freely admits that, like Martin Luther, he was driven to understand the Bible out of knowledge of his own sinfulness and moral weakness.  As a young believer, his teachers encouraged that if he “let go and let God” he could have complete victory over sins like selfishness and lust.  But though Julian had faith in God, believed the truth of the Gospel and wanted nothing more than to be free from sin, it didn’t work. He still struggled with sin, just as you and I do.  The teachers questioned his salvation, and Julian began to question their teaching.  He spent the next 25 years searching the Bible for the answer to his dilemma. How can God call sinful human beings—those of us who fail over and over— “righteous”? Righteous Sinners is the result.

It’s easy to fall into an unbiblical ditch either on one side or another of this issue. On the one hand, we might be tempted to constantly doubt our salvation because of remaining sin in our lives. On the other hand, we might believe that because God declares us righteous by grace and apart from works, intense struggle with habitual sin is unnecessary. Julian navigates safely between these two ditches, and gives us a balanced, biblical understanding of the role of trials, works, grace and the sovereignty of God in the lives of believers.

Ron Julian is a teacher at the McKenzie Study Center in Eugene, Oregon.  Incidentally, he has a direct tie to FCC, since he’s the father-in-law to Matt Greco’s son, Gil. His book is available through Amazon.com.

 

Susan Verstraete is a member of FCC and serves as church secretary.Book Review

Posted in: Book Review

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