Lydia came to faith in Jesus Christ when she heard the Gospel preached by Paul, and the Lord opened her heart. She did not come to believe by doubling down on doubt. Zaccheus came to faith in Jesus Christ when the Nazarene invited the vertically-challenged tax collector to clamber down the sycamore and let the Lord come to his house. He did not stumble through doubt-clouds and somehow find his way to truth. Nicodemus visited Jesus at night, not because he doubted the veracity of Jesus’ claims, but because he wanted to understand them. Even Thomas, made famous by first doubting the rest of the disciples’ claims that Jesus was alive, did not come to believe because of his doubt. He was kept from faith for a while because of it, and when he finally did believe, he was chided by the Lord with these words: “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Do you know what Lydia did when she became a Christian? Lydia opened her home. I love that. The Lord opened her heart. And Lydia opened her home. She did not go to seminary. She did not start a ministry. She did not go on a preaching crusade. Not that any of those are bad. But Lydia opened her home. Edith Schaeffer said once, “Every Christian home is meant to have a door that swings open.”
I believe it’s one of the first and finest fruits of the Father’s followers. He opens our hearts. We open our homes. Jesus said to Zaccheus, “Come down, I’m coming over to your house for supper.” When Levi, also called Matthew, the tax collector met Jesus, what was the first thing he did? He had a party and invited all of his tax collector friends over. He opened his home to Jesus and a big pile of lost people who needed to meet the Savior.
There’s the story that is told of a South Carolina judge, Alexander Sanders, whose wife called him home one day because something terrible had happened. Their little girl’s turtle had died, and she was absolutely inconsolable. As a three-year-old, she just didn’t understand the ways of life and death. The judge offered to buy her another one. “No! It wouldn’t be the same one.” He tried everything, and finally said, “Well, we have to have a funeral for Carl.” She looked puzzled, so the judge told her a funeral is where they invite all of her little friends over and have ice cream and cake and lemonade and play outside and celebrate the life of her turtle. That did it. She was very excited about that, and so she and her father started to plan the party and who to invite. Then it happened. The turtle stuck his legs out. Then his head. The father was relieved and knew his daughter would be, too. But when he looked at her expecting to see tears of joy, she said, “Daddy, let’s kill it.” What’s the moral to that story? It’s not, “kill turtles.” No. The moral is, “everybody loves a party.” So, have one. Invite doubters, skeptics, and others who don’t know Jesus.
The answer, my friend, is not blowing in the wind. The answer is written in God’s Word. Don’t celebrate doubt. Investigate the truth. Read the Bible. Talk to someone who knows Jesus. Come to my house for dinner. We would love to meet you and tell you why we believe.
In his lifetime in the 18th century, John Wesley traveled more than 250,000 miles on horseback, preached an average of 2 or 3 times a day, totaling more than 40,000 sermons. One of his favorite texts was John 3:7 where Jesus said, “You must be born again.” Wesley was often asked, “Why do you preach so much that ‘you must be born again?’” Wesley replied, “Because you must be born again.”
Many of the Psalms were written by David. I would imagine that in his lifetime someone said, “Why, David, do you talk so much about our need for prayer?” David may have replied, “Because we need to pray.” “But, why do we need to pray, David?” David’s answer: “Because we need God.”
Paul Miller writes, “If you are not praying, then you are quietly confident that time, money, and talent are all you need in life. You’ll always be a little too tired, a little too busy. But if, like Jesus, you realize you can’t do life on your own, then no matter how busy, no matter how tired you are, you will find the time to pray.” I am writing today to those who lack such confidence and realize that without God’s help every day, your life is a mess.
First, start your day with the Lord as often as you can. This will require that you get blanket victory, that you say “no” to your flesh and get out of bed. If your daily routine includes stumbling to the shower and into the car, wolfing down breakfast and putting on your makeup or shaving as you rush down the road to work, then inserting time alone with God will produce a great shock to your system. You will have to get up earlier, which means you will have to go to bed earlier. You can do it.
Second, learn to cry out to God with your whole heart. William Cowper said, “As a man cries most loudly when he cries with his mouth opened, so a man prays most effectually when he prays with his whole heart.” That means it is probably best to be alone where we can talk to God without fear of being overheard. Find a place in the house where you can shut the door and pray. Wholehearted prayer is also honest prayer. We are God’s children and a child says whatever is on his mind. That’s one thing that endears us to Peter, and I think made Jesus love him so much. God desires truth in the inward parts. “I cry out with my whole heart” means that I don’t play games and try to sound religious in my prayers, but instead I pour out my heart to Him so that God hears from my lips what He already knows is in my heart.
Third, pray biblically. Read the Bible and pray God’s words back to Him. Let the Scripture train your mind and heart how to speak and listen to God. Read some of Paul’s great prayers for the churches he started and pray those same prayers with all your heart.
Finally, don’t give up. It is always too early to quit. Prayer may start as a discipline but will end as a delight for those who persevere in their desire to know the Father.
Little Johnny is never told “No” by his parents. They are afraid to damage his little self-esteem. Johnny grows up believing he can have what he wants when he wants it. His wife and children suffer. Little Susie learns to be a skillful manipulator of her parents’ emotions as a toddler, honing the skill to perfection as a teen. She grows up to wreak havoc on a series of churches, pushing for her way or the highway. The churches suffer. Little Bobby is told often by his parents that he is smarter than all of the other kids at school. He learns how to use his tongue and quick intellect to control others and when confronted, his verbal skills enable him to make his accusers feel like they are the ones with the problem. His wife and children and every relationship in his life suffers.
The Bible says of our sin, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way…” That’s one definition of sin. Going our own way. It is part of our sinful human nature to want to do what pleases us, not what pleases God. It is easily identified in the toddler who knocks over his brother’s Lego tower simply because that’s what he wants to do at the time. Or in the ten-year-old who disobeys her parents and gets on Facebook (or worse) after Mom and Dad have gone to bed. Or in the fifteen-year-old who cheats on a test in class. Those are all serious expressions of what it means to sin. In each case, the child or young adult is putting aside what his parents have taught him, or at least what the Lord has written on his heart, which our conscience bears witness to. In each of those cases, a wise parent will step in and disciple, yes, discipline his child. Why would a parent choose not to discipline his or her children? It may be because that parent is pursuing his own sin agenda and would feel like a hypocrite if he were to chasten his child. Or it may be because she is afraid to confront her child, not sure how that will go and horrified that it could even lead to the child not liking her for a day or two. It may simply be because the parents choose the façade of “peace and quiet” in the home rather than the hard work of training children.
What happens when parents do not disciple their children by dealing lovingly but firmly with sin? A downward spiral is set into motion. Sin is like a fire. It is not satisfied with a lie here or a selfish thought there. Given free reign, sin will consume every area of your life. Not only that, but I have to be completely honest here. Sin makes people stupid. I’ve seen the reality of what the Bible means when it says, “For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.” Sin blinds and brings confusion. Clear thinking becomes muddled, then erratic, even evil and dangerous.
There’s hope. The bad news that we all have gone astray and each one of us has turned to his own way is not all the news. The rest of that verse says, “the Lord has laid on Him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all.”
We don’t have to stay in the downward spiral. We don’t have to be stuck on stupid. We don’t have to destroy our marriages and families.
God has made a way for us to not be our own selfish pig. We can start today to say no to the pig and yes to Jesus and his word and will for us.
The Bible clearly teaches that more and more people will grow less and less enamored with the preaching of the Word of God. They will not put up with it. Instead, they will “accumulate for themselves teachers who will suit their own passions.” As a result, they will turn away from truth and wander off into myths. They prefer pecan pie to Brussels sprouts. And who doesn’t? If the question is which is more fun to eat, then the pie wins hands down every time. But if the question is, which will make you stronger and maybe help you live longer, then there is no contest. Brussels win. Which is more fun? An episode of your favorite sit-com? Or listening to a sermon? Well, probably the sit-com. Which will help you more to grow in your faith? Hopefully there is no contest.
Now the point is not that we should never eat pecan pie or watch TV shows. But if we find our hearts longing for more and more sweets and more and more mindless entertainment, there is a problem. If we find ourselves reacting to anyone who preaches the Word to us with authority, there is a problem. Imagine waking up one morning, looking in the mirror, only to be horrified to see a huge growth in the center of your forehead. That would be a problem, right? But imagine that you then start asking everyone you can find to tell you what they think about your protuberance, and the first ten say you should get medical help immediately. Imagine that you just ignore the first ten and keep asking people what they think until you finally find a woman who says, “What growth? I don’t see a problem. In fact, I think you are wonderful just the way you are. And, hey, mind if I hang my purse there?” And imagine that you, unicorn-boy, smile and nod and think to yourself, “I finally found someone who understands me and will tell me what I want to hear.” That’s a grotesque illustration of what Paul is talking about in 2 Timothy 4. There are growing numbers of people who reject truth-tellers and look for teachers who will tickle their ears and tell them what they want to hear, even if what they want to hear has deadly consequences. Paul then connects this teaching with a few commands, one of which is, “endure suffering.” That made me wonder if perhaps one of the main reasons people reject the truth and run headlong into lies and myths is because they don’t want to suffer. The end result, however, is even more suffering.
It occurred to me last week as I was meditating on this Scripture, and I believe this is from the Lord, that the one who does not endure suffering will most likely be the source of suffering for others. Think of John Mark as an example, a young man who bailed out on Paul and Barnabas during the first missionary journey, presumably because the suffering was more than he was willing to endure. He left and went home to Mama, leaving the other two to soldier on without his help. As a result, Paul and Barnabas had a falling out when they disagreed later about whether John Mark should be taken with them on their second journey. Their relationship suffered because John Mark had refused to endure suffering himself.
Run to the truth of biblical preaching and avoid the myth-traps.
Endure suffering and spare yourself and those whom you love much pain.
I remember it like it was yesterday. It is my 4th grade class with Mrs. Wade, and time for recess. Every day, it is the same. When the teacher announces recess, I am at once fearful and elated, excited and filled with dread at the same time. Why? I am excited and elated because I get to go outside and play, one of my passions even to this day. I am fearful and filled with dread because I am one of the smallest boys in the class, and I know that recess means kickball. I know that kickball means that the two biggest boys in the class will announce that they are captains and start choosing their teams. The girls will stand off to the side and giggle as the boys make their selections from among the rest of us young pre-pubescent males who are standing there, trying to look tough and athletic. Not me. I am standing behind a row of taller boys and occupying my full attention by gazing at my right foot. Anyone who is observing this whole scene would have to write in his notes: “The short, skinny kid, Fox, is staring at his right tennis shoe like it’s his job. What is going on with him?”
What is going on is that I know what will happen. Every single boy on that field will be chosen until there are two left, me and this other little kid named Albert. Then the two self-appointed captains will argue over who gets me and who gets Albert. The girls on the sideline, in the meantime, are whispering to each other and giggling into their hands. I am dying. The selection process is finally over, and the game begins, and I can relax a little, and just try to not make my team lose.
When Jesus came to his hometown to preach for the first time after his ministry had begun, he opened the Old Testament to Isaiah and read a passage about the coming Messiah that included this statement: “He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.” This is not an economic designation, this word for ‘poor.’ Rather, it is a word that describes “those who for any number of reasons were relegated to positions outside the boundaries of God’s people.” Jesus came to preach to people who knew they were outside of God’s boundaries (all of us are) and who knew they were lost and needed a Savior (all of us do). He came to reach the human race, which comes in many colors, many nationalities, many socio-economic backgrounds, and he alone can do that. He alone has the answers we need for origin, identity, and purpose. He alone has answers for suffering and sin and salvation. Rebecca McLaughlin writes in her book, Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion, “Jesus claims rule over all of heaven and earth. He presents himself not as one possible path to God, but as God himself. We may choose to disbelieve him. But he cannot be one truth among many. He has not left us that option.”
I am back on the kickball field, and I expect to be picked last. In terms of size and skill, I am poor, outside the boundaries of those who would be included in the athletic category. And then one of the captains overlooks a whole row of bigger, stronger boys who are smug in their expectation of being chosen. He finds me through the crowd, standing on the back row, looking at my feet, preparing myself to deal with the shame of being picked last or next to last. And he says, “I’ll take Mark.”
Of course, it never happened to me in kickball, I still got picked last, but it did happen to me with the Lord. God looked past all my sinful pride, rebellion, and spiritual poverty and said, “I’ll take Mark.”
He offers good news to the poor, to the least likely, to the lowly. He opens his arms to people like you and me.