Strengthen The Souls of the Disciples

Joel Littlefield

When Paul entered Lystra for the second time after being beaten and left for dead, it was no question as to why he was there. He had returned to the city to “strengthen the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22)

What is the message in the Church today regarding faith in Jesus, Christian suffering and perseverance through tribulation?

Strengthen the Souls of the Disciples

Souls need to be strengthened because souls get weak. That’s why Paul was there; to comfort the saints. But when they witnessed the horrible treatment of Paul by those who hated him for his faith, they grew discouraged. Just like when we hear of the slaughter and persecution of our brothers and sisters around the globe today, we feel a sense of weakness and helplessness; maybe…

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Lest We Drift Away

Through outright neglect and apathy a person can fail to hold on to what is good and true, and over time or overnight, find that they are far from the safety of the shore they once held to, or thought they held to.

“Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” Hebrews 2:1

Chapter one of Hebrews gives the context. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son.” What Son? The appointed heir of all things. The Creator of the world. The radiance and the glory of God’s nature. The upholder of the universe that we live in. The one who purifies sinners and was exalted to the right hand of the Father on high, showing superiority over all beings and all things, including angels. (Read Hebrews 1:1-4)

Throughout all thirteen chapter of this letter the author faithfully drives home this point, that Jesus Christ is singularly the supreme glory and Savior of the universe. And that means we MUST listen to Him!

So when Chapter two begins with the words, “Pay close attention to what you have heard“, we know exactly what he’s referring to. Listen to what God is saying through Jesus Christ because truth comes from no where else but Him.

How might one learn to listen to Jesus, and thereby, not drift away?

The whole of Scripture collectively argues that the Bible, the written Word of God, is the essential source for hearing from God, and more specifically, hearing God’s message to us about Jesus Christ. The Old Testament repeatedly foreshadowed the Messiah to come. The prophets predicted Him and the angels heralded His first advent. When he arrived and began to physically act and speak on earth, the men who followed him, and whose lives He miraculously transformed, penned (or had transcribed) the words and actions that were necessary for our knowing Him and being saved by Him, namely, his message about the Kingdom, how to be forgiven, how to get to God, culminating with the account of His death, burial and resurrection. All of these perfectly fulfilled what had been previously predicted in Scripture thousands of years before.

“Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.” Psalm 40:7

Here’s the point. We keep from drifting by actually listening to Jesus. What is to be said of the Christian who regularly neglects to listen to Jesus and obey His Word? Are they imposters? And how many “spiritual” people outside of the local church claim to have found a better way while they reject Jesus who says, “I am the only way.” To reject the clear voice of God in Scripture, and to reject the people’ who faithfully obey the call to speak His Word, is to drift. Many have heard things about Jesus. Even more still are making up their own versions of Christ in order to suit their sin and give an excuse to their choices. These are the drifters.

And we’re not to think of a gentle drifting like a picturesque scene of a sailboat drifting off into the sunset. The drifting referred to in Hebrews is synonymous with neglecting the free gift of salvation itself. v3. “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” So the warning is serious because, in this case, drifting leads to Hell and a person’s separation from God for eternity.

The writer says, “Pay much closer attention to what you have heard”.

It is both the one who says he loves God, as well as the one who could care less at the moment, who are in danger of drifting from Christ. By failing to trust His every word as the supreme source of truth and life for the human soul is to neglect being saved.

Unfortunately, drifting will be a regular part of the scenario in these last days. Christ himself said that in the last days, “The love of many will grow cold.” So the best thing we can do is continue to warn with love from Scripture. Warn believers and none-believers alike about drifting. Warn the professing Christian that eternal security is found only through a faith that perseveres, not one that constantly drifts from the Word, and remind them to cling to Christ. If you know someone who is drifting right now, then pray. Pray desperately that God, in His timing, would draw them back to the shore of His grace. And you, yourself, don’t give up hope. Don’t drift with the drifters, but cling ever more to the anchor that is Christ!

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain – Hebrews 6:9

Wringing out the Scriptures (#2) Broken Cisterns

Jeremiah 2:13 “…for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

What an indictment against the people of God who have tasted the goodness of the Lord. Think carefully about this. These words need to be spoken still to this day.

Are there any evils worse than these two?

  1. To forsake the God who saved you from sin and slavery.
  2. To turn to another god that is not god at all, and serve it.

We often think that to be God’s people means that God cannot be displeased with us any longer. It is true that we’re loved, and that nothing can separate us from that love in Christ, but we’re wrong if we think that God loves ALL our behavior. He doesn’t.

Just look at the previous verse in the text.

v12 “Be appalled, O Heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils…”

When the heavens are appalled at something we need to pay attention.

Who had Israel forsaken? “The fountain of living waters”

Consider this: If you’re on a trail in the mountains and you thirst after miles of journeying on foot, and you come upon a fresh spring of water, what do you do? You lean forward and drink deeply. You drink long until you’re satisfied, savoring the cool water. From that day forward you will remember the exact location of the spring that quenched your thirst. You will tell your friends who hike that same trail to look for the living water, for it will save them much trouble. How absurd it would be to forsake that fountain for a broken cistern dug by your own feeble hands. Sure, you could say “I dug this. I found the stones, and laid them out.” But look what happens. It soon fills with the filth of the earth. As you drink you are poisoned. It is utterly inadequate. There’s no fresh nutrients and the pool of stagnancy cannot satisfy you. The water that is there one minute, is gone the next. It cannot even hold the water.

Oh church! Don’t reject this warning. The nations of the world are corrupt and walking away from truth. Is there light shining from God’s people, declaring to the world who He is, what He’s done and how He satisfies?

Jeremiah 2:11 “Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods?”

The fountain of life is Jesus Christ, the only God who satisfies deeply to the inner most needs of the soul. Look, He says so himself. “but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)

When we forsake the living water for broken cisterns what are we saying? We’re saying that the cisterns, inadequate as they really are, are more lovely, more beautiful, and more able to rescue us from our sinful plight than God is. So, what are these cisterns? Look no further than the Samaritan woman herself, who spent a lifetime drinking from cracked cisterns. Her cisterns were relationships with men in hopes to find her identity there. She was never satisfied. The longing to love and be loved fell short every time, and in her despair she lay at the bottom of her cistern, parched. Then she met Jesus and drank His living water by faith. She believed that He was enough and never went back to the broken cistern again.

What is that cistern for you and me? Is it a relationship, like with the Samaritan woman? Is it your pursuit of accomplishment and success that has you digging a career cistern week after week? Perhaps it is a pursuit of fulfillment in a vice, a drug, or a quick fix of pornography. So you dig, and you dig, and you find water for a moment. But when you return again you find the disappointment of a dry well again and again.

It is time to return to the Living Water! You’ll find that when you do, God is there. Consider these merciful words to Israel from Jeremiah. Hear them in your heart, and if need be, repent and return.

“‘Return, faithless Israel,
declares the LORD.
I will not look on you in anger,
for I am merciful,
declares the LORD;
I will not be angry forever.
Only acknowledge your guilt,
that you rebelled against the LORD your God
and scattered your favors among foreigners under every green tree,
and that you have not obeyed my voice,
declares the LORD. Return, O faithless children,
declares the LORD;
for I am your master; (Jeremiah 3:12-15)

Wringing out the Scriptures (Bread From Heaven)(Part 1)

I’ve been reading Dane Ortlund’s new book, Gentle and Lowly. It’s heavily inspired by puritan style writing, namely, those puritans like Bunyan, Owen and Goodwin who could select a single verse of Scripture and squeeze it out for all it’s worth, usually writing a several hundred page book by the time they’re finished. I do not think I have that in me just yet. And I’m definitely no Bunyan or Owen. But for now I’d like to put forth a series of blog entries with that as my inspiration. Let’s call it, “Wringing out the Scriptures”. For the next several blogs I’ll share a text as my intro, and then simply squeeze it out for all that I can find. I have no particular length in mind, but will go until I think I’ve sufficiently made the point, or at least a point.

NOTE: I would greatly appreciate feedback in the blog comments, or on social media. I’d also love to hear you thoughts, or how the lord is ministering to you. Perhaps you could share a Scripture that you’d like to see me “squeeze” out in one of my posts.

Here goes! I’ll begin with a well known word from Jesus.

For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” John 6:33

Bread is such a simple food. Simple ingredients. Not too expensive. Kings and peasants, rich and poor, have eaten it for millennia. It’s no wonder that Jesus used this to express himself to the world. The Bread of God. God’s bread. Sustenance from the holy God of the universe who formed man, and knows what mankind needs. From the least to the greatest, God knows the needs of men and women.

Look beyond physical bread now. It’s not just your bellies that need filling, It’s your hearts. The religious are content with filling up on what they can flaunt to the world. But Jesus is not interested in that.

Jesus says “The bread of God is He…” So It’s a person. The soul-filling sustenance the world needs is a human. Not just any human, mind you, but the God man. God and man at the same time. The mystery of the triune God, Father, Son and Spirit. The Father sending the Son. The Son willingly going. The Spirit applying the spiritual food to those who know they need it, need Him.

He came down from Heaven. Such grace. If He were like any one of us he would have backed down from the mission.

Go down there? To those sinners? They have rejected me, and some are planning to kill me! Ungrateful creation.

But no! He came down. The Bread of Heaven could not be reached by human effort or religious human ingenuity. We had to be served. “He who is the greatest is servant of all.” That’s Jesus. He’s the bread and the Server all in one, offering Himself up to lowly sinners who are not even worthy of the scraps on the floor. He gives us himself.

He gives life to the world! This is to acknowledge that there is no life outside of Christ. Not true life anyway. How does he give life to the world? Through His death. We come to Him to eat of Him believing that the death He died was our death and the life He gives is acceptable to the Father. Our sins placed Him there. Not His. What did we have to offer him for this life he gives us? Nothing. We came to Him naked and tattered with sin and shame, having no righteousness of our own, dead in our trespasses and stuck in the grave. Yet He loved us still. “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” By faith, we die with Him, our sins are buried and cast as far is east is from the west, and because he is raised, we are raised with Him.

We have but one thing to do now. Say, “give me this Bread!” Having eaten and tasted the goodness of His redeeming love, we must give this bread to more poor and hungry sinners, such as we were.

A World Without _______ Would be a Better World!

A world without _______ would be a better world!

What would you put there?

A world without violence…

A world without hate…

A world without fear…

A world without financial struggle…

A world without disappointment…

A world without divorce…

A world without abandonment…

A world without human trafficking…

A world without COVID…

It’s alright to dream a little, and imagine a better world without these evils and trials, but the reality of our fallen state is that things are getting worse, not better. There are glimpses of good in the midst of the bad, and light in the dark, but until Christ returns there is an inevitable downward spiral we all must ride this side of Heaven.

The way to cope is not to imagine a better world, or to wish it would all just go away. The mechanism for handling the increasing trouble around us, according to Scripture, is faith in God. And not only faith in God, but faith in Christ.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:3

What is the believing that Paul speaks of here? Look at v8 of that same chapter.

For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,

The promise given to the patriarchs was that a Messiah, a Savior and Redeemer would come to the world and rescue God’s people from sin and judgement. God promised peace and blessing to men like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, not saying that this world would get better, but peace would reign in their hearts if they would trust Him to be their God and to do what He promised.

Well, He did what He promised. Christ came! He crushed the Enemy of our souls at the cross and made peace between God and all who trust Him by faith.

“The root of Jesse will come,
    even he who arises to rule the Gentiles;
in him will the Gentiles hope.” Romans 15:12

Jesus came and will come again to set things right, to judge the wicked, the hatred, the traffickers, and cheaters who never trust Him. There will be justice for the unjust. But until then, hope in Him by believing. And as you believe, the God of hope will fill you with hope and peace. And as hope in Christ rises above the gloom of our day, it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that you will not only have hope, but begin to abound in hope through Christ.

The trouble with erasing from the world the one worst thing we can think of is that there’s just too many of those one things. The root is sin and unbelief. People need hearts changed, and only though faith in Christ can that ever happen.

So how about this?

A world without unbelief would be a better world!

The End is Not Yet & The Mission Remains Certain

The end is not yet.

How do we know this?

“And the gospel must be proclaimed to all nations.” Mark 13:10

In the midst of His discourse on the end of time, Jesus adds these words of assurance and missional focus. It’s as if he’s saying, “Things will get bad. Really bad. But the mission of the disciples never changes, and ultimately, will never be stopped.”

No a pestilence or famine, war or wave of persecution, ever has and never can stop the church from her mission of gospel globalization for the glory of Christ.

Have you perhaps forgotten this during this time of uncertainty and unrest? I wouldn’t blame you. We’re human. The media is continuing to pump out articles and videos that span the spectrum from panic and pandemonium, to reasonable facts and practical precautions. But one thing they will never mention is the ultimate mission you and I, as Christians, must maintain. For that, the Christian must look to Jesus and His word.

So, is the end here? I don’t think so. But I’m not God. And seeing that the end of time is totally in the hands of God, and that even the incarnate Son was not given the day or the hour, we truly don’t know. But we do know that until that day arrives there are people everywhere who have yet to hear. There are people in our cities and communities who have never repented of their sin, to turn by faith towards Jesus and his work on the cross, and trust the risen Christ.

We (my family) are taking this seriously. What I mean is, we’re listening to sound reason and advice from the authorities such as the CDC and local government. Right not this means social distancing and self quarantine. We’re washing well, eating as healthy as we can, rationing TP (sort of), and covering coughs with our arms. The church where I’m the lead pastor has cancelled Sunday gatherings in person, as well as several events that were planned for late March. We’re prayerfully considering what City Groups (our small groups) should look like, and what’s the safest thing for our flock and the communities we live in. And we, along with thousands of other churches, are thinking of ways to encourage the church body, pray together, study together and fellowship through technology. Needless to say, these times are interesting and challenging, but we cannot succumb to fear and abandon all hope. Why? Because the end is not yet, and there are nations, peoples, tribes and tongues; there are neighbors, co-workers, family members and friends who have yet to hear the Gospel.

I’m not unaware of the possible number of deaths that the CDC says could ensue, but honestly, I’m hope-filled, not because I lack caution and prudence, but because of Jesus and the focus of His mission. Think about the way he endured the cross for us, and how the Father’s plan for our salvation put Jesus smack at the center of a tremendous trial. Yet Jesus endured for the sake of the mission, because he knew His Father’s will was perfect and trustworthy.

Today, we have a mission too. We find that mission in Acts 1:8. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” As we carry forth the mission of Jesus we encounter trials of various kinds, trials that increase in intensity as the years pass and as Jesus’s return draws closer. In the midst of this we cling to the very faith Jesus showed us, a faith that surrendered to the will of our Father for the glory of the One who’s mission we still hold fast and hold dear.

The Gospel according to Matthew put it this way:

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

“This is not a great commission, nor a great commandment. It is a great certainty, a great confidence.” John Piper

So let us be as certain as we can about the things that matter the most. Let us be wise and loving in our actions when the world is in great need. But let us not forget the mission, and the certainty of God’s promises to fulfill that mission.

Corona Virus? Take Heart

I’m honestly not sure what to make of the Corona virus. Some would tell me that I need to be scared because this thing is really serious. Others are seeing this in a more balanced light, they’re not losing their mind, and they’re also not unaware of the potential threat that looms, and steps are being taken to be ready when and if things get worse. I’ve not decided what I think quite yet. One evening I read an article saying that China is basically curing people by giving them IV’s of vitamin C. While other articles and news agencies seem to have an IV line of panic directly into the population of America.

See what I mean? CONFUSION!

So I’m determined to use what influence I have to help people, and myself for that matter, to trust in a God who IS sovereign, and who actually DOES know.

Hear these words from John 16.“Do you now believe? Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

In the hour when Jesus was most alone, when death and betrayal was at His door, He trusted in the closeness of the Father. Today, every follower of Jesus, every born again believer in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ has this very same closeness to the Father, and truly, has no reason to fear.

I like the phrase, “take heart”. In the original language of this text it means to take courage. But this translation makes me think of an intentional action that many of us need to hear today. It’s as if Jesus is saying, when you have tribulation, of any kind, take your heart, your center, your fear, your worry and hopelessness and place it in the hands of Jesus who knows all things. Why? Because He has overcome the world.

Remember that no one else in the universe can make such a claim. Yes, I know this could get serious. I’ve heard the same stats you have. I have kids and a wife, a church that I pastor and plans that I’m making, some of which include travel. Good things. And no, I don’t want to be unwise and foolish. But the questions remains, am I trusting the one who overcame the world, and did so through the darkest trial a human has ever faced?

Jesus said “I have said these things to you, that in me you might have peace.” The key phrase here is, “in me”. In Jesus.

Is this new virus an act of judgement? Is it a tool in the hands of God to wake up the church and cleanse her? I don’t know. But we can say for certain that the outcome of it all, because of the nature of God’s goodness to bring light into the darkness, will work out for the spread of His glory in this lost world.

If you’re on the side of panic, and you’re a Christian, take your heart and entrust it to Jesus. Yes, even if the virus comes to your home state or town, even if it gets worse. I don’t say this on my authority, but upon the authority that every Christian has been given to believe and embrace, the Word’s of Christ.

If you’ve stumbled upon my blog and you’re not a Christian, I’m glad you’re here. I hope you’ll consider that the plight of this world is deeper than any virus, plague or war we might ever face. The absolute greatest foe to ever wage war on humanity was sin. It rules the hearts and minds of us all, until Jesus takes over as Lord and Savior. So, when Jesus say’s He’s overcome the world, and that we can have peace, the ultimate sense in which He accomplished this was at His cross and His resurrection. There, sin was crushed. The wrath that you and I deserved for sinning against Him was absorbed by the Son. Death was overcome, and a righteous record is given to all who place their trust in what He did. In Christ, we will NEVER be alone, and there is nothing to fear.

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