We live in an older house, and our bathroom floor was in need of much repair. My husband and son began to take up the old flooring. It wasn’t real bad on top but not the best. But when they got to what was underneath, that was another story.
We had a visiting pastor in our pulpit, Eric Coher, last Sunday, and he made the statement: “God is sovereignly in control of the moments and minutes of our lives-not just the big picture. God’s purpose in our lives is always for the good, and He is ‘chiseling’ away to fulfill that in our lives.”
That thought brings me back to our bathroom floor. On top it didn’t look too bad, but underneath a lot of chiseling had to be done to prepare the floor for a better floor. It is a picture of my own sinful heart apart from Christ. I am so grateful that the Lord shows me in His Word just how much chiseling needs to take place. It’s underneath that needs to be transformed. By His grace and mercy, He reminds me through a simple project in my home of the need in my life to keep confessing and renewing so the ugliness of sin can be chiseled away to prepare my life to fulfill the purpose He has for me.
Jeremiah 4:3 tells us; “For the LORD said to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, ‘Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns.'” When we break up the fallow ground in our hearts, Christ brings repentance when we fall short.
“I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.” (Romans12:1,2)
I want the Lord to keep chiseling away the things in my life that keep me from His will and from renewing and transforming me for His glory. Because it’s what’s underneath that counts.
For God’s Glory,
To understand, we need to scratch below the surface and see two things: there is positional holiness and there is practical holiness – your standing in Christ and your growing/sanctifying process in Christ. These two cannot be separated and both are based upon a proper understanding of the Gospel.
For those who know Christ in a saving way, this is true:
“For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with Him.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:9 & 10
“And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” Philippians 3:9
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” Ephesians 1:3&4
Our present reality is that we are presented and seen as holy and acceptable to God because of the righteousness of Christ. Christ is our holiness! He has made us holy before God. So when God sees us, He does not see our futile attempts filled with sin but only the work of Christ himself that has been imputed to us! We are forgiven and have been made holy and presentable before Him. What a glorious reality!
But, we are both made holy and are being made holy. There is a dual thought of man’s responsibility and God’s sovereign, all knowing goodness that does dwell in harmony. Not only are we positionally holy before God, but we are being made holy through the continual sanctifying work of Christ. This is practical everyday outworking of God’s holiness in our life. But what does this look like? What does this mean for the everyday? The key to teaching practical holiness is teaching people to know their God. John Piper puts it this way:
When a true believer grows in the knowledge of who our God is, there will be an abounding in more and more love for him [Phil. 1]. And through this process, they grow in holiness. Not just a head knowledge, but a dynamic understanding of the very character of God. Most often, we teach people the “don’ts” without ever teaching them the matchless personhood of God. We fail to teach the knowledge of the Artist and His ways and instead teach people to focus on the clay that has not fully taken shape. God sees us for who we are in Christ and what we will be once he is done and receives us in glory. All we can see is the unfinished product. Paul tells the Thessalonians why people continue in their lust:
“That each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” 1 Thessalonians 4:4&5
The “Gentiles” did not know God. Plain and simple. And so they continued in their lust. However, you may ask: “But are we not to strive?” Yes! We are to strive…
“…Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Philippians2:12&13
But we strive in the working of God’s will – by His grace. It is not an either/or or a both/and but a daily dying to self and embracing the grace that has been given to us. Once more, Piper gives insight:
So walk in the grace that is abundantly afforded to you. Strive within that grace. Grow in your knowledge of who God is. Be teachable. Never remove yourself from a position of being taught. Know that the process of becoming holy is a process forged in the sanctifying fires of God’s working. Teach others this same knowledge. Know that you are both in a position of holy standing before God because of the work of Christ and that you are a lump of clay that is being formed in the hands of the Artist for the glory of God alone.
When Jesus called the twelve disciples to follow Him, He called men who were confident and convinced they were up to the task: brave fishermen, successful tax collector, sons of thunder. “Let us call fire from heaven”, they said. “Are you able to drink the cup I shall drink?” Christ asked. “We are able,” was their reply. When faced with the prediction of turning their backs on their Lord in His time of greatest need, Peter unflinchingly says, “I will die first.” And all the others agreed.
But after three and one half years of living with Christ, they came to realize the truth of what their Master had told them earlier: “Without Me you are nothing.” Christ had very gradually but very surely moved them from the “we are able” mode to the “we are needy” mode. Self-sufficiency and self-confidence gave way to humility and dependence.
And so it is for everyone who follows Christ. We come more and more to see that, “Unless The Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. Unless The Lord keeps the city, the watchman stays awake in vane.” “The horse is prepared for the day of battle: but safety is of the LORD.”
Captain Philips was the subject of a recent popular movie. In the movie, a true story, the Captain’s ship was taken by Somali pirates. At one point in the story, the leader of the pirates tells Captain Philips; “I am the Captain now.” Through a series of amazing events, Captain Philips was rescued, and all but the leader of the pirates were killed. That pirate ultimately found out that he was indeed not the Captain. In fact, neither was Captain Philips. They were both subject to the Captain of men’s souls.
I have committed my life to touching and changing the next generation for Christ. As a family and ministry team, we work and plan to bring to pass a vision that we fully believe is of The Lord. But we are subjects of and subject to our Sovereign Lord. Without Him we are nothing. Unless He builds, we labor in vain. We rest in His loving providence and sovereign purpose. We trust that He is doing all things well. We are “Looking unto Jesus, the Captain and Perfecter of our faith…” He is the Captain now and forever.
That the generations to come might know Christ,
If we are going to be missional, we need a biblical missional perspective.
One of the views of scripture that has done great damage over the years is this idea that God’s work in the Old Testament was sort of a plan A but that didn’t work out so great so along came the New Covenant and that was plan B – and that worked! The effects have been subtle but permeating. This view of scripture is simply not biblical. God has never had a plan B when it comes to His work of redemption. Our God is a completely sovereign God who has always know all things from all eternity. Sounds redundant, but it makes the point. We know from a further study of scripture that Christ was slain before the foundations of the world [1Peter 1]. Since before the creation of the world, God’s plan of redemption in Jesus Christ was in motion – it has been His eternal purpose before time began. There has never been a time when this story was not in motion. That is why it is eternal.
To understand a little more of God’s eternal purpose and mission, we have to go all the way back and understand the promise of God to the father of faith, Abraham. Even before the institution of all Levitical laws, God made a promise – a covenant – to Abraham that included His chosen people from all nations. He told Abraham: “in you all the families [nations] of the earth shall be blessed.” Through Israel – the descendants of Abraham – God would bring His Son who would be the savior of the world. Even Abraham believed and it was “counted to him as righteousness” [Romans 4]. Abraham looked to that which would come as we look to that which has already come. So, salvation has always been appropriated “by faith”. The covenant made with Abraham was further realized in His descendants Israel [God’s chosen people]. The law of God and the sacrificial system was instituted and was a picture that pointed to Christ who would fulfill all that was in the law – a law that we could never keep. Do you see the story that is unfolding?
How about we step back a bit further and look at the first couple in scripture. Yes, I mean Adam and Eve. The story was being told then. If you have spent much time in Sunday School, you know the story of Adam and Eve’s fall. However, think about the part of the story where there was the first death. No, I am not thinking of Cain killing Abel. I am recalling the animal that died so Adam and Eve might cover their nakedness and shame. Blood was spilt for the first time in an attempt to cover that shame. We know that an animal cannot atone for the sins of a people, but the picture of sacrifice and redemption was instituted for all to see in future generations. And then we see the first prophetic picture of the Gospel to Eve: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” [Genesis 3]. This struggle would continue until the coming of Jesus the Messiah; a story of deliverance and redemption that has been unfolding for all eternity.
So you see, we are a part of the grand story that God has been telling since before time began. We have been given the call and responsibility as God’s chosen people to continue telling that story – to proclaim the glorious realities of Jesus Christ! The incomparable promised Messiah has come. The mystery of Jesus Christ has been completely revealed. And we are commanded to GO, proclaim this grand story of redemption, and make disciples of all nations. For the believer, the call is clear. The commission is before us. Let’s GO!
But at last, why?
We have alluded to Ephesians 3 already, but there is one last all important aspect that we cannot afford to miss:
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
The reason we proclaim this story of redemption is solely for the purpose of making much of the glorious person of Jesus Christ. It’s not about making people’s life better, we want to – by the working of God’s almighty Spirit – produce worshipers of the matchless Christ. We want to exalt Christ in the minds and hearts of people everywhere! So, whether it is in the hearts of individuals or in the sheer proclamation of Christ, the driving force behind mission is the glory of God. This alone is the reason why we GO! If this is not your focus; if this is not your drive and motivation for telling this story of redemption, then why do you speak of His great name?
By faith alone…how we distort and pervert this sacred and beloved doctrine. Churches, ministries, individuals, you name it are good at coming up with a man centered gospel vs. joying in the blessed reality of God’s grace appropriated by faith alone. Join Daniel and Charles as they discuss the blessed gift of faith…
Several years ago, when we lived in Louisville, I gave a dear friend a coal bucket for her to paint a Kentucky home scene on. The bucket belongs to my husband and when he was growing up, he used this bucket to bring coal into the house. But we moved away from Louisville, and I forgot about the project.
About a month ago, I received the coal bucket in the mail. My friend had watched the journey the Lord took our family through when we lived near her. To my surprise, there was no Kentucky home scene on the bucket. She enclosed a note saying she had lost the sketch of my husband’s boyhood home and decided to hand write on the bucket. She chose a Scripture for the bucket as she reflected on how the Lord had indeed tried our family and brought us into a wealthy place in Him. She is right, we can plan things out, but the Lord’s timing and plans are always better than anything we can come up with.
When I sit in my chair drinking my cup of coffee, I can look towards my hearth, where I have placed the coal bucket, and read the handwriting on the bucket. She beautifully wrote Zechariah 13:9: “I will refine ‘the Cavanaughs’ as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on My name, and I will hear them: I will say, it is My people: they shall say, The LORD is my God.”
Lord, You have tested us and tried us, and I can say, “You are my God.” I am reminded of some words from the glorious hymn that sums up this verse: “How Firm a Foundation”.
“Fear not, I am with thee; O be not dismayed.
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee,
and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.
When thro’ fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace all sufficient shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.”
Thank You, Lord, for being my firm foundation. I am blessed by the handwriting on the coal bucket.
In Christ our Lord,
Here is the third part of the series of real-time reports we have been sharing the last couple weeks from our friends Joel and Loriann who are working in the Ukraine. The testimony of God’s work is powerful. Be sure to read and continue in prayer.
Daniel Cavanaugh – Vision4Living
Dear Loved Ones,
“If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray…”
While not much has changed visibly over here in the last couple of days, we wanted to write with an update, as well as tell about a few things we were able to be a part of over the weekend.
First off, the situation in Ukraine is still tense, unstable and on razor’s edge. The Russian (or Russian backed) troops in Crimea have continued to tighten their grip on the Crimean peninsula, while the Russian government has accused Ukraine of falling into lawlessness. Three times international observers have tried to enter Crimea to appraise the situation, only to be forcefully turned away each time by Russian supported troops. There have also been numerous reports of journalists being threatened and even beat up by these same forces there in Crimea. And the noose around Ukrainian military bases in Crimea has continued to tighten as well. While there has yet to be any armed combat or hostile takeovers of these bases (though there have been a few attempts), there is a pattern of psychological intimidation by the Russian supported troops on the Ukrainian military as well as on the pro-Ukrainian people all over Crimea. Things have also turned violent at times in Eastern Ukraine when pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian demonstrators have collided. And sadly there seems to be an avalanche of false or truth-twisted propaganda coming from much of the Russian government and Russian media. This is especially hard for the Ukrainians around us to take. They still very much view the Russian people as their brothers and sisters. Many Ukrainians have relatives which have come from Russia or who are still living in Russia. In the everyday Ukrainians that we know and that we have contact with, there is no hatred for the Russian people. This is why they cannot understand for what purpose Russian media and government is trying to make the Ukrainian people out to be violent, lawless, fascist and anti-Semitics. This is just not the case. Please pray that God would continue to give a spirit of peace and forgiveness to so many here in Ukraine who have been hurt by these false accusations.
As I wrote in our last update, this past Friday night I had the joy of giving a challenge to almost forty young people at an all-night prayer meeting at our church in Kiev. But before the meeting at the church began, I met with four of the youth as we joined with about twenty other Christians down at Maidan Square for a time of prayer. This was an interesting time as I had yet to be down on the Square at night since the fighting took place there last month. It was almost like walking into a dark military camp with all the tents set up and the people in uniform walking around. Praise the Lord there weren’t any guns! After a bit of confusion as to where everyone was meeting, we finally found out where the prayer time was to be held which was about a block away at a very famous building once used for national exhibits. Once we arrived at the building we were refused entrance by the guards as we waited for clearance from higher-ups. After the new government came into power the middle of Feb. the protesters took over this building as one of their headquarters. This is where we had our first prayer meeting. It was such a neat experience as we prayed and sang songs under the huge dome of this great building surrounded by many of Ukraine’s freedom fighters. One young protester in army fatigues came up to me as we were singing and said that if we stood in the middle of the hall, our songs would sound much better. Some in our group were able to pray with a number of the fighters as well as pass out Gospels and other literature. After about an hour and a half there, our little group of four walked back through the barricades and tents to the metro and returned to the church. While I wasn’t able to stay at the church the entire night (due to Loriann being home with a head cold,) I was able to challenge those who came, to seize the open doors around them and to live their life different than society and for the glory of God. And that God had put each one of us here in Ukraine, at this specific time, for just this purpose.
And just yesterday Loriann and I (praise the Lord for His quick healing!) again went down to Maidan Square. We were told on Sunday that there would be a time of prayer at the Square starting at noon. We really didn’t know what to expect but felt like we should be there to support and help whomever we might meet there. What actually took place totally surprised us. Yesterday was a national holiday here in Ukraine celebrating the birthday of the national poet Taras Shevchenko. So there were many, many people out and about yesterday. Maidan Square was full of people. When we arrived we walked around for a bit until I bumped into an acquaintance. He was there with his church passing out calendars with scripture verses on them as well as other literature. I asked if we could help and he said, “Grab a stack and start handing them out!” Both Loriann and I each grabbed an armful of large, beautiful, one-page calendars that had a Scripture verse or the Lord’s Prayer on them and proceeded to pass them out, or rather just stood there as people mobbed us asking for “one for my sister,” or “another for my invalid mother.” The hunger and the openness of the people reminded me of my early days in Russia when we used to pass out Bibles in villages outside of Moscow. The large calendars were soon gone and so we grabbed smaller, full, 12-month calendars and walked through the soup kitchens handing out calendars that were titled “A Woman After God’s Heart” (for international Woman’s Day). We wanted to give them to the ladies who were giving such long hours to cooking and serving the many protesters. Many took them, surprised that they were free but thankful for our small show of gratitude towards them for their labors. Thousands of these calendars were handed out in probably a half hours time. It was just about this time that we learned that the time of prayer that we were told about was actually going to be much bigger than we had thought. There is a large stage set up in the middle of Maidan Square where many leaders of the protest movement have given speeches. Yesterday this stage was turned into a pulpit. The leaders from each of the largest evangelical Christian denominations came together with each given the responsibility to lead the crowd in prayer for a specific topic i.e. peace and stability, unity in Ukraine, families, humility and repentance and lastly the future of Ukraine. Hopefully in the pictures we are inclosing you can kind of get a sense of the uniqueness of this event. There were literally thousands and thousands of people in the square. From where Loriann and I stood, there was only a sea of faces around us. As each president, bishop or leader from the different denominations came up and first gave the gospel message and then prayed, the crowd as one became united in prayer. Many people were in tears, openly weeping as they asked God for peace for Ukraine. Never have Loriann or I been in such a public time of prayer. You could feel the Spirit of God come and cover that square, the same square where just three weeks ago almost 100 people were killed in horrible acts of violence. Thousand and thousands of Ukrainians were crying out to God to heal their land and give them peace. The last leader to pray was the President of the Baptist Union. As he closed his opening remarks, he asked the other leaders to join him in kneeling before Almighty God and in humility ask Him to bless the future of Ukraine. As the prayer began, there was a ripple affect as many in the crowd joined the pastors in kneeling in prayer. Imagine, thousands of people kneeling in prayer in the middle of the capital of one of the largest countries in Europe! It was truly an amazing sight. The verse that kept coming to my mind as all this was happening around us were the words God spoke to Solomon “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” 2 Chron. 7:14 I believe that what Loriann and I took part in yesterday afternoon was just the beginning of something amazing here in Ukraine. The church here is coming alive and the need to pray has never been so strongly felt. What an honor it is for us to be in the midst of these historic days.
Sorry for going on so long. We just wanted to share this with you because I’m guessing none of this will be told in the secular media. But the church in America needs to hear this! The church in America needs to join with her brothers and sisters over here and pray. God moves when His people pray!
Again we thank each one who has written with a note of encouragement or an assurance of pray. You continue to bless Loriann and I greatly! Sorry again that we haven’t been able to answer each one personally. Please know however that every one of your notes is read, reread and treasured. Thank you also to each one who has given to the work over here. We are overwhelmed by your generosity and kindness. Oh and for those who have asked, the ATMs have started working again though we are greatly limited in how much we can withdraw each day. This means we have to make multiple withdraws (which means additional bank fees), but those are a small thing as we are very grateful that our finances haven’t been cut off entirely. God really does take such awesome care of us!
Thank you again for your prayers… Please don’t stop!
With much love and many prayers,
Joel & Loriann
People have long been fascinated, even obsessed, with the future. Man’s inability to know it with certainty and thus the uncertainty it holds have only served to intensify his interest in and concern with it. This has been illustrated by stories of time machines and time travel. It is also illustrated by those who consult with mediums and others who claim to have knowledge of the future. Those of us who know Christ and seek to follow Him, know that the future is beyond us and belongs to those secret things that belong to God alone (see Deuteronomy 29:29).
But while the follower of Christ rests in the providence of God and trusts Him to bring His will to pass, he is also bound by a Biblical sense of personal responsibility. We do not succumb to the shortsighted philosophy of “Que sera sera”. Our sovereign God works through secondary causes and holds us accountable for how we live our lives in the present and the decisions we make that will affect the future. Abram, or Abraham, illustrates this with his lies about his wife to save his own neck and his willingness to invoke the custom of using one’s wife’s handmaiden to insure a descendent. Joseph’s brothers also show us that while God is sure to accomplish His purposes, we are no less responsible for our sinful actions which He may use to bring those purposes to pass.
All of this is to remind us that while we cannot insure the salvation of our descendants, we are nonetheless responsible to pray and act with a view to such an outcome. As he brought his Pentacostal sermon to a close, Peter challenged his listeners with these words: “For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to as many as The Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:39) The Gospel has always been futuristic. Christ is building His church and will do so until He returns, with an assured result. But He uses means, and the “means ‘r’ us”.
So for the Christian the future is now. We live with a passion for the present success of the Gospel and a commitment a “Gospel future”. As the people of God, we must live our lives with the future in view. We must order our homes, our churches, and every aspect of lives with a view to the salvation of our descendants. Can you envision your descendants 100 years from now passionately following Christ, facing whatever dangers this world may throw their way with the resolve to know Christ and to make Him known? Can you envision them more devoted to Christ and His Gospel, more fearless in service, more heedless of riches and security.
What do you envision for you children, their children, and beyond. Make your decisions, live your lives, pray to your God with these things in mind. For the future is now!