Signs of Life
It’s a great and amazing invention, but it also is one of the great abusers of our time. It victimizes many. It’s the internet and one of its greatest victims is . . . the Truth! In fact let me give what one person says is some of the top lies told on the internet, especially in social networks:
6) Here’s a picture of me!
5) Click here to remove your name from our mailing list.
4) You are receiving this e-mail because you signed up for the "HyperWonderful Opt-In Deals Club"...
3) I like the internet because here people like me for me, not because I just happen to be fabulously wealthy.
2) You too can make a $100,000 a year from the comfort of your own home!
1) Yes, I look like Brad Pitt except taller with more muscles.
This loss of truth in the world of hard drives only reflects the culture that created it. Its not just online where honesty is at a premium. We struggle with the truth generally. Consider these examples:
George O’Leary resigned his position as coach of the fighting Irish of Notre Dame when it was discovered that he had embellished his resume
Historian, Stephen Ambrose, hardly winced over the discovery of his plagiarism.
Joseph Ellis, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his book, Founding Brothers, invented his own Vietnam War record.
I could go on, but there are just too many examples to name. James Patterson and Peter Kim, co-authors of The Day America Told the Truth, estimate that 91% of us regularly embroider the truth. Ok, that’s the politically correct title. The truth is, we lie!
And do you know the worst kind of lies that we tell? They are not the lies we tell one another. While those are certainly wrong and harmful, the worst kind of lies are the ones we tell ourselves. Self-deception is the worst deception of all. In fact, you can tell a lie so long, you actually start to believe it. This is dangerous in any endeavor, but its especially true in spiritual things.
You see, there are two particular groups of people I want to talk to this morning. Some of you are deceived. You think you are a follower of Christ, but you’re really not. You may say things that sound spiritual and you may even wear the Peace Church uniform (you know a coat and tie). You may serve in some ministry and you may even give money, but if you died right now you would not go to heaven and the worst part about that is, you think you would. You’re deceived.
Now there are other people here who may or may not be saved. The truth is, you really aren’t sure if you are or not. The problem with group number one is that they think they are saved, but they aren’t. The problem with this group is that they aren’t sure and they need help to figure it out.
No matter which group you’re in, I really want you to tune into this message today, because I want to share with you, right from God’s word, two good evidences that let you know if you’re the real deal. Whether you’re deceived or doubtful, these two biblical evidences lay out for you just how you can answer the question, “Am I for real?” You find them in 1 Peter 1. There Peter opens the letter telling these beleaguered believers that, even though they may be suffering in the world now, they have an amazing salvation and an incorruptible future. Then he continues in 1:6:
In this (that is in this great salvation you have been given and in this wonderful future you are promised) In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials,
And why are they having to go through such grief and distress? Why are they undergoing trial? Peter tells them:
that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, 8 whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.
Don’t miss what Peter is saying: He says in that seventh verse that the whole reason that they now suffer is so that their faith will be proven to be genuine. That word genuine means to be tested. It carries the idea of putting something through a “crucible.” By the way, do you know what a crucible is? It is a container, highly resistant to melting heat, which is used to hold things that you want to melt. So Peter, when he speaks of the genuineness of their faith, he is talking about that quality of their faith that has been severely tested by fire and found to be the real deal. It’s genuine.
Now, in talking about this “tested faith,” he gives us a couple of clues which help us determine what it takes to have that kind of “real deal” faith. Let’s take a look at them. The first element that proves your faith to be real is this:
DIV 1: ENDURANCE
Now the reason endurance is needed is because things get rough in the Christian life. They were getting rough for these folks. Peter doesn’t back away from this fact at all. In fact, he acknowledges it right up front in v 6. He says, In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire,
Now, when I say that in our American church, we have a little trouble relating to it, don’t we? I mean we have troubles, yes, but we really have not had a lot of outright persecution. You ever ask yourself why? Why is it that we get off so easy when around the world, other believers live in fear of their lives. One commentator wrote this:
I . . . contend . . . that our lack of suffering is, in part, due to a lack of nerve on the part of the church to challenge our contemporary world with the message of the cross and to live according to the teachings of Jesus with uncompromising rigor . . . As a guiding principle . . . those who live faithful lives in an unbelieving world will find opposition to both their ideas and their practices.
There will come a time for every believer where they will be faced with either undergoing pressure, threat or actual persecution for what they believe. Now here’s the important point: It is at that point of pressure and trial that your real mettle is tested. Genuine believers, Peter says, take the heat and keep standing. They endure their trials and, in that endurance, prove themselves to be genuine
I do not hold myself up as some super example here because I am not. Sometimes I look at me and think, “What have you really suffered for God. I get to pastor a great church and spend time studying the Word of God. Where’s the suffering?” But I will have to tell you that there was a time in my life when God spoke very clearly to my heart. I was at a crossroads. He was calling me into ministry and I did not want to go. I wanted to stay where I was and serve Him on my own terms. And as I was driving from one Dr.’s office to another in the mountains of NC, there was one thought that kept popping up in my mind. It was something like this: “Rusty, if you’re for real, you have to obey me and go into the ministry.”
Look, I don’t know what it will be for you, but this I do know. God will not leave you unchallenged if you belong to Him. There will come a time when serving Him costs you something and you’re going to have to decide to I obey Him or not. And at that moment, listen to me Christian, at that moment there will be more at stake than whether or not you teach that class, or take on this new ministry, or go to that Christian college, or go to that mission field. At that moment, my friend what will be at stake is the genuineness of your faith. Every believer, that is every genuine believer will have trials and difficult decisions to face. Genuine believers face them and obey God! They endure trials
But, enduring them is not enough. Enduring your trials won’t make you a champion for God. No, it goes beyond enduring them to actually using them. O, and I want to tell you, this is where the Christian life becomes significant. This is where you begin to see God’s awesome power released in you. It is not in the endurance of the trial but in the manipulation of that trial into an opportunity for God’s glory. Here’s how it works:
As I am having difficulty and, in the middle of it, I am yielding myself to God, I begin to develop a reputation. Every time my co-worker makes fun of me because of my faith and I smile and continue to love him; every time my unsaved wife or husband makes it hard for me to go to church, but I keep a good attitude and go anyway; every time my friend makes fun of me for all the money I give to the church, but I keep on tithing; every time I keep on trusting God even though I’m facing some illness that would devastate others, I am not just enduring my trial, I am using that trial as an opportunity for powerful witness to the awesomeness of God. My lips may say that Jesus is Lord, but my life shouts it! My genuine faith, just like v 7 says, is “found to (be something that brings) praise honor and glory” to God. That’s what happens in a genuine believer’s life. His genuine faith makes him not just a trial endurer, but a trial user. Every reversal becomes an opportunity for glory.
But it goes even further than that, because the believer realizes that his trials aren’t just achieving earthly, temporal benefit for God in this world. They are achieving praise and honor in the world to come. One writer said:
A Christian’s faith contains human, sinful elements. In the crucible of testing these other elements are purged away, leaving the purified faith which survives the test. Then, at his coming, Christ’s glory will be increased by the presence of believers whose faith has stood up to every trial and test. A Christian’s faith, then, is literally found at the coming of Christ and leads to praise, glory and honor. Christians will receive recognition from God; their faith in him will be vindicated. And this will happen when Jesus Christ is revealed—at his Second Coming. Because this is the purpose of testing, Christians can rejoice despite their trials.
And I can hear what you might be thinking. Some of you are saying, “That’s just so twisted, Rusty. You need a psychologist! Are you really saying that I should be happy about my trouble? Hey, why shouldn’t I just take it one step further? Why don’t I just go out looking for trouble? Hey why don’t you put out some hot coals for us to walk across or put together some beds of nails for all of us to lie on?”
Well, I’m not saying that you should look for trouble. Look, if you live for the Lord, you won’t have to look for trouble, it will find you, but when it finds you, don’t back down from it. Realize that, in God’s divine providence, He has given you an opportunity for glory!
When Thomas Carlyle had finished the first volume of his book, The French Revolution, he gave the finished manuscript to his friend John Stuart Mill and asked him to read it. It took Mr. Mill several days to read it and as he read, he realized that it was truly a great literary achievement. Late one night as he finished the last page he laid the manuscript aside by his chair in the den of his home. The next morning the maid came; seeing those papers on the floor, she thought they were simply discarded. She threw them into the fire, and they were burned.
On March 6, 1835—he never forgot the date—Mill called on Carlyle in
deep agony and told him that his work has been destroyed. Carlyle replied, “It’s all right. I’m sure I can start over in the morning and do it again.”
Finally, after great apologies, John Mill left and started back home.
Carlyle watched his friend walking away and said to his wife, “Poor Mill. I feel so sorry for him. I did not want him to see how crushed I really am.”
Then heaving a sigh, he said, “Well, the manuscript is gone, so I had better start writing again.”
It was said that Carlyle then rewrote the entire manuscript from memory, achieving what he described as a book that came "direct and flamingly from the heart.” He did a better job the second time around. He used his trouble.
Now I know this can seem a little unrealistic to you, so can I make three suggestions to show you how this can apply in your life? First, look at the end. Realize that life is short and eternity is long. Realize that what you do for God really does matter and it matters a whole lot more than what you achieve in this world.
Look at the end, then look beyond the pain. Often when our trouble comes, we get all caught up in the pain we’re feeling to the point that stopping it becomes the sole purpose of our lives. By the way, taken to an extreme, that’s what drives one to addictions. When I am in the middle of pain, I have to remember that my pain does not define who I am. I am victorious through Christ, and I can put my attention on Him.
And when I look at the end and I look beyond the pain, I begin to see the opportunity. Yes, what I am going through may be very unpleasant, but if I look, I can see how God might want to use this great opportunity that I have.
So what is it you’re facing today? What is bringing trouble into your life? You, by God’s grace can endure it and you can even exploit it for God’s glory. The first ingredient in the “for real” Christian life is endurance. The second is:
DIV 2: GROWTH
It’s only logical. If I am to stand up in the middle of trouble, I honestly have to grow to the point that I am able to stand. Because trials are opportunities, growth is necessary.
John Ortberg writes that Max Depree was the CEO of Herman Miller, a Fortune 500 company. He is also on the board of Fuller Seminary and a speaker on leadership. At one of his leadership seminars, somebody asked him what the most difficult thing was that he personally had to work on. His response? “It’s the interception of entropy.”
Entropy is a term from physics that has something to do with the second law of thermodynamics and the availability of energy. It speaks to the fact that the universe is winding down. It's the idea that everything that is left to itself has a tendency to deteriorate.
Entropy. It's not only one of the great enemies of the universe; it's one of the great enemies of the human spirit. A person becomes apathetic or complacent or settles for the path of least resistance in some area of life. Dreams die and hopes fade. A terrible thing happens: a person learns they can live with mediocrity.
Entropy is a great enemy of the human spirit, so the writers of the Book of Proverbs have a lot to say about it. One thing they say is that the wise person is always on the lookout for early signs that entropy is setting in. Proverbs 27:23-24 shows us the picture of someone who has livestock and how they need to monitor its condition. Though the words speak of livestock, they are true in any area of life: "Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds; for riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations." Everyday you have to be on the lookout for entropy. Though things might have been okay yesterday, that doesn't mean they stay okay forever. Put any important area of your life on autopilot, and risk entropy that is both subtle and destructive. The genuine believer may drift temporarily into entropy, but he does not stay there. He is forever readjusting his growth.
Three descriptions are given of this growth in vv 8-9. They read: whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.
When I, as a genuine follower of Christ am growing in my faith, there something that is true about my love. Peter says, “whom having not seen, you love.” I express that sentiment like this: A growing believer loves Jesus in spite of unanswered questions. Let me explain that:
I think when Peter makes this statement, he’s almost a little jealous and sorrowful all at the same time. He had walked with Jesus; he had talked with Jesus. There was a sense in which he really admired the faith of these scattered believers. They believed in Jesus, even though they had never even seen him like Peter had. What faith! Peter may have been a little jealous, in a good way of course.
But I think he was also a little sorrowful. These people had never gotten to experience the physical presence of the Lord Jesus as Peter had. They hadn’t experienced the electricity of His actual words, nor seen the physical hands of Jesus reach out and heal a blind man. I think he may have felt a little sorry for them, and yet he was still confident. He was confident that, even though they didn’t have all their questions answered; even though they’d never been in the physical presence of Jesus, they still loved Him.
We are in that category, of course. We have not seen Christ. We don’t know what it’s like to actually reach out and touch him, but we still love Him. Our love for Him grows even though we’ve never seen him and that’s how we know our faith is real. It causes our love for Jesus to grow even though we have questions that have never been answered. A growing Christ-follower loves in spite of answered questions, but he also
Rejoices in spite of unfulfilled needs. The next phrase of v 8 says, “though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.” That’s the essence of our faith. When I came, by faith, to Jesus there entered into my heart one great desire. It was to truly see Jesus. Every person who really gets saved gets that desire. There’s a love for Jesus that makes us long to see Him. It becomes the one desire of our lives; It becomes the thing we really need.
And after we are saved, that need goes unfulfilled, at least in a concrete sense. We get saved and get fitted for heaven, yet we are still stuck in the dirty nasty here and now. We want to see Jesus, but we’re stuck in this world. Yet, even with that unfulfilled desire, Peter says we are still so filled with joy that we can’t even express it. Even though we do not see Him, because we believe, we rejoice with growing, inexpressible joy that is full of glory.
Do you have that kind of joy? You see, when a person is really following Christ, they begin to have a stronger and stronger desire for Him. It grows. Yet, even though this growing desire creates a strong longing for Christ in their hearts, it is accompanied by a powerful confidence in God that gives them inexpressible joy that is “full of Glory.” When I am a growing believer, I love in spite of unanswered questions and I rejoice in spite of unfulfilled needs, but I also
Change in spite of worldly opposition. Paul says, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,(notice v. 9) 9 receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.
Now that verse has a lot to say to us about our salvation. One commentator says this in relation to what it means to say, “I am saved.”
In NT thought, to say “I have been saved” is incomplete without a present sense of continuing deliverance or disentanglement from the clutches of sin (“I am being saved”) and a future sense of final deliverance at Christ’s revelation (“I will be saved”)
The way you know you’re growing is when there is change! And that change happens even though the world works against you and the gates of hell oppose you. When I am the real deal and I am growing in my faith, my life continues to be changed by the power of God. Go away for a year and come back and you’ll find me different. I won’t have the same sinful habits when you get back. I won’t be a slave to the same wayward sexuality. Come back in a year, and I won’t be telling the same dirty jokes or salting my language with the same coarse adjectives. Give me twelve months and come back and I’ll be more committed to prayer and more committed to knowing God’s word. Come back in 52 weeks and there will be more people on their way to heaven because of my witness than there were when you left. In short, MY LIFE WILL CHANGE. And in the final analysis, this is the primary way you can judge the reality of your faith. Living things grow! And Growth means change!
John Ortberg tells of his wife who is a nurse. He says that his wife was the one who first taught him about FTT. He said that she is constantly telling him medical stuff. She loves to diagnose illness and is addicted to all the medical shows. He said that she is constantly telling him her private diagnoses of people—even total strangers—based on their skin color. She can tell you how long you have to live if she gets a long look at your face and the light is good.
But of all the diagnoses he ever heard her discuss, FTT is the one that stuck in his mind. Those initials would go on the chart of an infant who, often for unknown reasons, was unable to gain weight or grow.
Failure to thrive.
Sometimes, they guess, it happens when a parent or care-giver is depressed, and the depression seems to get passed down. Sometimes something seems to be off in an infant's metabolism for reasons no one can understand, so FTT is one of those mysterious phrases that sounds like an explanation but explains nothing.
Failure to thrive.
I didn't know why it struck me as so unspeakably sad until I read Dallas Willard's The Spirit of the Disciplines, a book that has affected me more than any book other than the Bible, from which Dallas actually gets his best ideas.
Dallas writes that although we have tended to think of the word salvation as the forgiveness of sins or the escape from punishment, it actually has a much more robust meaning for the writers of Scripture: "the simple and wholly adequate word for salvation in the New Testament is 'life.' 'I am come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly.' 'He that hath the Son hath life.' 'Even when we were dead through our trespasses, God made us alive together with Christ.' "
This is the human condition. FTT.
Ortberg goes on to write:
Thrive is a life word. Thriving is what life was intended to do, like a flower stubbornly pushing through a crack in the sidewalk. It is why we pause in wonder at a human being's first step, or first word; and why we ought to wonder at every step, and every word. Thriving is what God saw when he made life and saw that it was good. "Thrive" was the first command: be fruitful, and multiply
And listen, thrive is what God intends for you, believer.
So are you? Are you thriving? Do you have increasing love for Jesus even though you don’t know why the loved one died? Do you have increasing love for Jesus even though you don’t know why you lost your job . . . or why your husband was injured . . . or why your spouse left you . . . or why your parents divorced?
Are you thriving? Do you have an increasing joy in your heart even though you’re not married? Do you have an increasing joy in your heart even though your co-workers mock your faith . . . or your child is out of control . . . or you are being audited?
Are you thriving? Is your life continuing to change or has something halted your growth like the sin of bitterness . . . or pornography . . . or addiction . . . or lying? Are you any different today than you were a year ago? What about a month ago? You see, genuine believers endure and they don’t just hang on by the skin of their teeth. No! They thrive!
You may say, “Well, I know I’m supposed to grow, Rusty, but somewhere along the way, I got off the growth path and I can’t seem to get back on. What do I do?” Well, let me make three suggestions:
First, stop asking why and start asking what. Now I say that to those of you who are disappointed in God. Your growth has fallen prey to your own desire to know reasons. Here’s the truth: While you can ask God for reasons, He rarely seems to feel the need to justify His actions. He rarely gives reasons, but I tell you what He does give: He gives the strength for you to obey Him if you’re willing. Maybe what you need to do today is just come and ask Him for strength, not answers.
Second, stop looking at the problem and start looking for the opportunity. God will give you the ability not just to endure your problem but to use your problem. That’s right! I know you wouldn’t have chosen to be in the mess you find yourself in, but you’re there now, right. Chances are God’s not going to miraculously make everything ok in the next five minutes as far as your circumstances are concerned. In fact, He may want you right in the middle of the mess you’re in because it is the one place that will give you an opportunity to truly glorify Him. Maybe what you need to do today is just come and yield your problem to Him and say, “Lord, I don’t ask to get out of this, I just ask you to use this.”
Third, if you want to grow, not only can you stop asking why and start asking what, and not only can you stop looking at the problem and start looking at the opportunity, you can also stop looking at your conversion, and start looking for real change. So many people if you ask them about their salvation want to speak historically. They’ll take you back to some point in the distant past when they gave their heart to Christ. It’s almost like they think it’s ok to just be born and stay an infant. Look, if you want grow, you’ve got to stop dwelling on your conversion and start looking for real change in your life. The world will fight you. Satan will try to stop you. But if you really know Christ . . . I mean really know Him, your life will change.
And there is a reason why I am so adamant about this today. It’s because there are so many of us who think we’re saved because we prayed a prayer some time in the past, but nothing’s ever changed in our life. Listen! It is very possible to deceive yourself. That’s what happened to __________