When All You Can See is a Tomb

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On the night of His betrayal—just hours before He would be crucified—Jesus endeavored to prepare His disciples for His excruciating death. He knew what was coming but they didn’t. To help them process what they were about to witness, Jesus used a metaphor.

“A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world” (John 16:21).

The disciples didn’t fully understand in that moment, but He was saying to them, “I’m pregnant.”

He was pregnant with Prophecy; He was pregnant with Purpose; He was pregnant with Possibility.

Things were about to get messy.

In essence, Jesus was alerting them, “I’m about to go into labor—into hard labor. You’re going to be distracted with the anguish, the sorrow, the travail, the birth pangs, the contractions, the pushing.”

At the cross, we’re looking at God in labor; at the resurrection, we see the baby being born. The resurrection was the birthing of our salvation.

Why was the labor so intense? Because it was a real big baby!

When the disciples looked at the cross, they saw everything shutting down; but when God looked at the cross, He saw everything opening up.

When the disciples looked at the cross, they saw the end of everything; when God looked at the cross, He saw a new beginning to everything.

When the disciples looked at the cross, all they could see was a massive setback; when God looked at the cross, He saw a massive setup.

When the disciples looked at the cross, they saw Jesus getting crushed in the heel; when God looked at the cross, He saw Satan getting crushed in the head (Gen 3:15).

When the disciples looked at the cross, all they could see was a tomb; when God looked at the cross, He saw a womb (John 16:21).

When we look at our fiery trials, sometimes all we can see is a tomb. “This thing is killing me!” But through the example of the cross we can see how God takes the very thing we thought was our end, and He makes it, by His redemptive grace, a portal to birth new possibilities in the kingdom of God for us, our family, and our generation.

This post is an excerpt from Chapter One in Bob’s new book, It’s Not a Tomb It’s a Womb. For book information click here.

Tempted With Anxiety?

anxiety-g4ecb81a64_1920We’re in a global pandemic of anxiety right now. Between coronavirus, the war in Ukraine, and the economy, the whole world is trembling. Millions are anxious about their health, or finances, or relationships, or job, or world peace.

What should Christians do when they realize they’re being tempted with anxiety? Here’s an answer to consider: View anxiety like a rock in the garden of your heart.

I have in mind Jesus’ parable of the sower (see Mark 4:1-20). He spoke of four different heart responses to the word of God. The second heart response in His parable was that of the stony heart (Mark 4:5-6). Stones in a garden inhibit the ability of roots to go deep. When roots remain shallow, the plant will spring up quickly but then be scorched easily when conditions are adversarial.

Here’s how Jesus described the stony heart:

These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word’s sake, immediately they stumble (Mark 4:16-17).

What are stones? Pockets of sin that hinder root development. All Christians have stones in their hearts, whether many or few, whether large or small.

Stones will surprise you. When gardeners turn over the soil of their gardens in the spring, they’ll sometimes hit into a stone they didn’t know was there. How did that stone suddenly get in their garden? Well, it was there all along, but it didn’t appear until a new season surfaced it. That’s because winter seasons cause stones to move toward the surface.

A change of seasons can cause stones to surface in your heart. For example, I can imagine a believer saying, “I have no fear! By the grace of God, I’ve gained the victory and don’t struggle with fear anymore. I am anxious about nothing!” And then along comes 2020 and coronavirus. Suddenly, that believer is shaken to the core, and they’re unexpectedly struggling with a stone of anxiety in their hearts. Where did that stone come from? Well, it was there all along—it just needed the right season to bring it to the surface.

Once you hit into a stone, you face a decision. Either you do the hard work of digging it out, or you tolerate it and leave it buried. But if we tolerate pockets of compromise in our hearts, we’ll never be 100-fold fruitful Christians. Those stones will hinder our fruitfulness. To be more fruitful, we must dig up any stones we encounter and throw them away.

What are some stones that can hinder the fruitfulness of our hearts? Here’s a sampling: Unforgiveness, pride, anger, hatred, bad habits, dating an unbeliever, envy, evil speaking, sexual sin, covetousness, foolish talking, stubbornness, fear.

Porn is a stone. Any believer who tolerates a stone of porn in their lives will never be 100-fold fruitful. Be violent with that stone and make a covenant with your eyes (Job 31:1). (My book, A Covenant With My Eyes, tells my story with this stone.)

Okay, full disclosure. I’ve been tempted with anxiety the past couple years. Why? Because coronavirus fallout has impacted my life in a very direct way.

Battling anxiety has been a new experience for me. I can’t remember the last time I struggled with it. But then my season changed—that is, 2020 came along. Suddenly, I was looking at a stone in my heart that I didn’t even realize was there. A new season had surfaced it.

I decided to go after that stone with spiritual violence. I said to my son, “Michael, you’re going to be my confessor. I’m going to confess my sin to you, and in the spirit of James 5:16, I want you to pray for me so that I might be healed.”

I told him the nature of my anxieties, and then he prayed for me. His prayer was short and simple. And here’s what happened: That stone was evicted immediately! My victory was virtually instantaneous. I truly experienced the joy of James 5:16.

Here’s the problem with anxiety. It engages in a battle for which there’s zero grace. God never gives grace to engage with tomorrow’s evil. Jesus said, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt 6:34).

Jesus practiced this precept at the cross. He didn’t engage in prayer with the troubles of the cross until the day of His crucifixion. When that day finally arrived, He went to Gethsemane and agonized in prayer over the evil He was about to face. And He received grace to endure that day.

Most of us are tempted at some point to be anxious about tomorrow. What should we do with that temptation? Approach it like a stone in your garden. Do whatever you must to dig it up and get it out of your heart.

If you tolerate a stone of anxiety in your heart, fiery trials will really set you back. Whether it’s physical infirmity, or financial hardship, or marital stress, or persecution, the heat of a fiery trial will hit you real hard, and your fruitfulness will be curtailed.

If, on the other hand, you resolve in your heart to resist anxiety and labor in prayer only regarding today’s troubles, you’ll find grace and mercy at the throne of God for today’s needs (Heb 4:16). His grace will empower your heart to get free of the stone of anxiety.

Jesus’ inherent assurance in the parable is so encouraging: If we’ll remove every stone we find in our hearts, we will most certainly bear more fruit!

(Bob expects to write a book eventually on Jesus’ parable of the sower. If you sign up on Bob’s email list here, you’ll receive email notification each time Bob releases a new book.)

There Are Two Sides to the Cross

3D Cross CoverI had unanswered questions about the cross until I came to see that there are two sides to the cross. Let me explain.

I was schooled in what theologians sometimes call “the substitutionary atonement of the cross.” This doctrine points to the fact that Jesus suffered for us on the cross in our place. He did the cross so we never have to, and I believe that doctrine.

But I didn’t know how to reconcile that truth with the fact that the New Testament calls us to godly suffering. If Jesus suffered for us, why should we ever have to suffer? In fact, I was taught by some teachers that the only kind of suffering that is legitimate for believers is persecution. They taught that we should exercise faith to believe for immediate deliverance from every other form of suffering.

First of all, I want to emphasize that I believe strongly in the substitutionary nature of the cross. This side contains the most grisly aspects of Christ’s sufferings in which He experienced a living hell so we would never have to. This is the side we usually speak about when sharing the gospel with seekers, or when establishing believers in the fundamental truths of the gospel, or when nurturing faith for healing, deliverance, provision, and answered prayer.

Jesus suffered the wrath of God so we never have to. He suffered condemnation so we never have to. He paid the penalty for sin so we never have to. He bore our sicknesses on the cross so we never have to. This side of the cross is absolutely magnificent, and I’m incapable of speaking adequately of its glory, riches, and meaning. Blessed be the Lamb of God for dying in our place!

But the substitutionary nature of the cross is not our only message. There’s another side to the cross—what I call the identificational nature of the cross. This is the side of the cross where we identify with and share in His sufferings. As Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ” (Gal 2:20). This is the side of the cross He endured in order to show us how. He’s our Olympic Champion and Trainer who ran the race before us and now coaches us to run the same course successfully.

The substitutionary side is by far the heavier side of the cross. On that side, Jesus did all the heavy lifting. In contrast, the identificational side of the cross that we’re invited to share is both easy and light (Matt 11:30). Since our afflictions are both light and momentary, we consider it incredibly dignifying to share with Christ in this side of the cross (2 Cor 4:17).

Both the substitutionary and identificational sides are brought together in one verse masterfully by Peter: “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps” (1 Pet 2:21). Peter first acknowledged that Christ suffered “for” us, which points to His vicarious, substitutionary suffering. But then Peter went on to describe the identificational nature of the cross when he added, “leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.” In His sufferings, Jesus charted a path for us to follow.

In one verse, Peter helped us see that the cross is both substitutionary and identificational.

On the surface, these two sides of the cross appear contradictory. They’re profoundly paradoxical. What is a paradox? Two truths that appear, on the surface, to contradict—but ultimately their juxtaposition opens to a more robust understanding of truth.

THE CROSS: Never Too Dead for Resurrection

The contradiction has us asking, “Did Jesus do the cross so we never have to, or did He do the cross to show us how?” The answer, paradoxically, is both. The substitutionary side saves us from suffering the consequences of sin, and the identificational side offers us the privilege of suffering with Jesus in the war zone of this world.

As paradoxical as it seems, the life of faith is a daily participation in both the substitutionary and identificational aspects of the cross—at the same time. Paul explores these truths extensively in his letters to the Corinthian church.

As you grow in your understanding of the two sides of the cross, may you revel more and more in the glory and power and beauty of the cross of Jesus Christ!

This post is adapted from chapter 11 in Bob Sorge’s book, THE CROSS: Never Too Dead for Resurrection. For more information on that book go here.

The Word For 2022

The Lord gave me a word for 2022, and let me begin this post by sharing how I received this word from Him.

I usually set aside a season of fasting and prayer right around the beginning of each New Year, to set my heart for the coming year. This year it started right after Christmas. I was on day six of a water fast when suddenly I received download from above.

When I started into the fasting prayer retreat, I was extremely stuck. I couldn’t see how I could possibly move forward any longer. But here’s the thing about fasting and prayer—it’s a gift from God to help bring fresh release, momentum, and clarity.

I recommend that every disciple of Jesus schedule a ten-day water fast into their calendar every year. Why water only? Because one of the main purposes of fasting is to increase the intensity of our pursuit after Jesus. Why would we want to do that and then do things that take the edge off that intensity? So I recommend water only, or as close to that as your health will allow.
And I recommend ten days. Why ten? Because when you’re on a water fast, you don’t get past the breakwater until around day six or seven. The first four or five days of a water fast are pretty tough—especially day two—while your body is adapting. For the first five days you keep asking yourself, “Why am I doing this?” Around day six or seven you get past the barrier reef into smooth sailing and go, “Ah! This is why I’m doing this!”

Many Christians have never done a water fast long enough to experience the sweet spiritual momentum that comes right around day six or seven. And once you break out into those breezy waters, why quit then? Enjoy the flow for three more days! So that’s why I’m advocating ten days.

Let me pick my story back up. It was day six of my fast this time around, which happened to fall on New Year’s Eve, and when I awoke early in the morning, download began to tumble. It seemed to come clearly to me: The word for 2022 is in Two Timothy 2:22.

I like how God sometimes lines up numbers. He’s a Poet, and when He gives you something like “Two Timothy 2:22 in 2022,” you know He’s smiling over the poetry.
Here’s the word for 2022: “Pursue faith” (Two Timothy 2:22).

There’s no better time, than during a global pandemic of anxiety, to pursue faith.

Jesus is speaking directly to your heart, “Only believe” (Mark 5:36). When you have hold of faith, that’s all you need. Faith needs no additives, add-ons, hamburger helper, props, or supplements. Faith has got it, all by itself. Only believe.

Don’t be satisfied merely with the levels of faith that fall into your lap. If you want to touch mountain-moving faith, you’re going to have to pursue it. We’re not simply open to receiving more faith; we’re chasing it down.

What are some ways we can pursue faith? Prayerfully consider starting with these seven ways:

1. Draw closer to Jesus because He’s the source of all faith (1 Tim 1:14).
2. Immerse yourself in the word of God (Rom 10:17; John 15:7), especially the Gospels.
3. Be filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:5; Acts 10:38).
4. Use the gift of fasting and prayer (Matt 17:21).
5. Glean from the biographies of faith heroes such as Smith Wigglesworth and others (Heb 13:7).
6. Exercise the faith you have because He gives more to those who use what they have (Mark 4:24),
7. Pursue faith with other believers (2 Tim 2:22). Take this word to your discipleship group.

This is the word of the Lord to me personally for 2022, but perhaps it’s for someone else out there too: Pursue faith!

Let’s Come Together!

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In our current season in which social distancing is practiced to some degree in some churches, I’ve been reminded about how intensely social and interactive the early church’s gatherings were. Their meetings involved activities that brought people closely together, singing together, praying together, and relating so closely that their interactions even included physical touch.

Let me list some examples of the interactive nature of the early church:

•Water baptisms were frequent (Acts 2:41, 8:12, etc).
•Laying on of hands was a fundamental part of their personal prayer ministry (Acts 6:6, 8:17, etc).
•Anointing with oil was a common way to minister to others in prayer, especially when praying for the sick (James 5:14; Mark 6:13).
•It was culturally normative in those days to greet one another with a holy kiss (Rom 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20, etc).
•Singing was interactive, directed to the Lord and also to one another (Eph 5:18; Col 3:!6).
•The Lord’s Supper was celebrated frequently together (Acts 20:7; Acts 2:42).
•The early church was committed to fellowshipping with one another (Acts 2:42; 1 John 1:7).
•They frequently ate meals together (Acts 2:46; Luke 5:29).
•Prayers were often offered among small groups of people (James 5:16; Matt 18:20; Acts 13:1-2, etc).
•Prophecies were spoken personally over individuals (1 Tim 1:18; Acts 21:11, 9:17, etc).
•Believers were admonished to “exhort one another daily” (Heb 3:13, 10:25).

Many churches have experienced COVID-19-related shutdowns. One positive outcome is that many churches have strengthened their digital presence so that services can be watched online from anywhere in the world. As a result, the preaching of the gospel has exploded around the world through online platforms.

When you watch a sermon online, you can receive nearly 100% of the same impact as those who are present in the room with the speaker. Worship is different, however. When it comes to worship, being present in the room is vital to the encounter. Why? Because the Presence of Jesus is a present reality. Worship engages with the Presence of Jesus, and you have to be present to experience Presence.

When Jesus showed up to the ten disciples on Resurrection Day, but Thomas was absent, the ten must have said to Thomas, “You missed it! Jesus was here!” To experience His presence you had to be present.

I rejoice that online content has strengthened the reach of the gospel through preaching. But we’ve also been greatly hindered. Where the church has been hindered most, as a result of live-streamed meetings and remote viewing, is in the area of worship. From the first days of the early church, worship has always been highly interactive. When you remove the interactive element from worship and view worship services on a screen, you can experience only a fraction of the impact and power that is being experienced by those who are in the worship encounter with Jesus in the room.

Therefore, I believe it’s time for the church to channel the strength of its focus in two directions:

1. Strengthen your media presence. Use every means to get your preaching and teaching ministries online. Make a way for the preaching of the word to go to the most remote places of the earth.
2. In your corporate gatherings, go heavy on the things that people must be in the room to fully experience. Put your best energies into such things as Presence worship (times of worship in which we experience the Presence of Jesus), water baptisms, altar calls, laying on of hands, the Lord’s Supper, eating together, anointing with oil, prophesying over one another, and encouraging one another through times of fellowship.

As we devote ourselves intentionally to the interactive dynamics of our gatherings, may the Presence of Jesus be so palpable in our midst that people will say to their friends, “What? You stayed home and watched the service online? You missed it! Jesus was in the house!”

I Renounce Self-Preservation

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I Renounce Self-Preservation

I am being convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit today, and in response I make my confession in the presence of many witnesses: I repent from and renounce the inclination of my flesh toward self-preservation.

What do I mean by self-preservation? I mean the inclination of the flesh to back off a little bit from the edge of controversy or risk or implicit obedience to Christ in order to protect one’s sense of security.

To qualify my meaning, I’m not talking about positive kinds of self-preservation that are helpful and necessary to preserve human life. There’s a kind of self-preservation that is good—a basic instinct placed inside us by our Creator that helps us protect ourselves in the face of potential harm or death. For example, if your car should suddenly spin out of control, adrenalin rushes and instincts kick in that help you do everything you can to avert an accident and preserve life. That instinct to preserve life is a gift from God and we’re grateful for it. But that same instinct can spill over into other areas of the soul and become a trap that keeps us from implicit obedience to Christ’s will for our lives.

What might be an example of this negative kind of self-preservation? For starters, look at Peter. At Jesus’ trial, Peter denied Him three times because of his instinct for self-preservation. Had he confessed Jesus in that moment, he would probably have been tried and crucified with Jesus. The instinct to save his life took over, and Peter denied any association with Jesus.

Secondly, look at the Jewish leaders. As they plotted to crucify Jesus, they said, “If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation” (John 11:48). In their reach for self-preservation, they ended up crucifying their Messiah. When they tried to save their lives they lost them (Matt 16:25).

For a third example of self-preservation, look at King Jeroboam. When the nation of Israel was divided into two nations, Jeroboam became king of the northern kingdom of Israel, and Rehoboam became king of the southern kingdom of Judah in Jerusalem. Jeroboam was afraid that his people would travel to Jerusalem to worship God at the temple, their hearts would turn toward King Rehoboam in Jerusalem, and they would turn against Jeroboam and kill him (1 Kings 12:27). In an attempt to preserve his life, Jeroboam set up idolatrous altars in the cities of Dan and Bethel, and he told the people to worship God there rather than in Jerusalem. Because Jeroboam opened wide the doors to idolatry in Israel, he came under fearful judgment from God. In his desire to save his life, he actually lost it.

Do we have an example of someone who refused to bow to the temptation of self-preservation and was honored by God for it? Yes, there are several in Scripture. For starters, look at Peter again. Yes, he tried to preserve his life at Jesus’ trial, but after the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, Peter became a different man. One of the things the Holy Spirit loves to do is give us the power to hate our lives. After Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit, he demonstrated the very opposite of self-preservation. He was empowered by the Spirit to put everything on the line for the sake of loyalty to Christ.

The Peter story I have in mind is in Acts 4. Peter and John healed a beggar who had been lame from birth, and the beggar immediately joined them in entering the temple, jumping and leaping and praising God (Acts 3:8). Peter told everyone that this miracle was proof Jesus is alive. The fact that Peter turned the healing into an opportunity to preach the resurrection infuriated the Jewish leaders, and they arrested the apostles.

The next day, Peter and John were brought to trial for preaching Christ’s resurrection. Seated in the court room were all the leaders who had presided over Jesus’ trial just a few weeks earlier. Their presence conveyed a silent but clear message: “We had the power to get your Leader crucified, and we still have just as much political clout. We can get you crucified, too!”

With the apostles and the healed man before them, the council asked Peter and John, “By what power or by what name have you done this?” (Acts 4:7). Weeks earlier, Peter probably would have caved to self-preservation. But now, filled with the Holy Spirit, he said to them,
Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the “stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.” Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:8–12).

Instead of caving to self-preservation, Peter chose to lose his life. He could not have made a statement that was more inflammatory or politically incorrect.

Consider these elements in Peter’s statement:
• When the rulers were demanding that the apostles not spread their message any further, Peter said he wanted his message to be made known “to all the people of Israel.”
• He bluntly charged them with crucifying the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth.
• He testified that God raised Jesus from the dead.
• He said they had fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah and had rejected their chief cornerstone.
• He affirmed that salvation is to be found in no other name. He made the most inflammatory affirmation possible: “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

This was political incorrectness on steroids. Zero self-preservation.

I want zero self-preservation in my gospel witness! Now, I believe in and value humility and wisdom. Never enough humility and wisdom! But sometimes when we back away from the edge of controversy, we convince ourselves we’re operating in wisdom when, in fact, we’re succumbing to self-preservation.

We live at a time when it’s tempting to back away from speaking God’s revealed scriptural truth because this generation despises it and creates its own truth. Self-preservation will intimidate us into silence at a time when righteousness would speak up (Ps 58:1). Silence is not always right. When we’re in love with the Lamb, we love not our lives, even unto death (Rev 12:11).

In what ways might you be tempted to self-preserve?

I’ll start the conversation by confessing what the Holy Spirit is convicting me about. In the course of my writing and traveling ministry, I preach in a lot of different churches. As a guest preacher, I always seek to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and say only those things He leads me to say. But I have another value that I also juggle: Honor for my host pastor. Because I value a culture of honor, I always seek to honor every host in ministry contexts. Occasionally, a host pastor might request that I speak on a certain topic or limit my speaking time to so many minutes.

It can get a bit tricky when my host expresses certain requests or expectations. Why? Because there’s something in my flesh that wants to preserve my traveling ministry. Itinerant ministries are sustained by repeat invitations, and the easiest way for an itinerant ministry to commit ministry suicide is to disregard the expectations of host pastors. Your hosts simply won’t invite you back.

The Holy Spirit has been testing my motives with this question: When my host expresses certain expectations to me, do I fulfill those expectations because I value a culture of honor or because I’m trying to preserve my profession? When I’m motivated by self-preservation, it’s tempting to back away from anything the Lord might lead that my host might perceive as controversial or risky or taking too long. Do I serve the Lord, or the preserving of my ministry career?

Confession. Under the banner of honor, I’m sometimes tempted to self-preserve. Jesus said that no one can serve two masters (Matt 6:24), so it’s impossible for me as a guest preacher to serve both my host ministry and the Lord. Self-preservation wants me to serve all the ministry expectations so that I’ll be invited back again. This is what the Holy Spirit is highlighting in my heart today. In response, I’m telling the Lord that I repent of and renounce self-preservation. I don’t serve a clock, and I don’t serve an honorarium, I serve Him. I resolve to renounce self-preservation whenever I detect it. Once again, I willingly lose my life (John 12:25).

How about you? In what ways might you be tempted with self-preservation? This temptation is sometimes attached to areas of influence, income stream, favor, reach, friendships, following, comforts, group acceptance, and reputation.

In a cancel culture, we face the fear of being misunderstood, marginalized, banned, censored, labeled a hater, or having our social media platforms shut down. In such a culture, the temptation to self-preserve can be strong.

I invite you to pray with me: Lord Jesus, I repent from and renounce self-preservation. Every time You reveal its influences in my soul, I will renounce it again. I’m not trying to save or preserve my life, but rather I seek to lose my life in obedience to Your will and call. You are my strong tower, and I trust in You to preserve and keep everything I’ve committed to You until the Day of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Finding Unity in a Polarized World

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Our world is polarized socially, especially along political lines. When people in the world are nasty to each other, we Christians are not all that surprised; what’s disturbing, however, is that our culture’s polarization is surfacing in the church and producing strife and division among followers of Jesus.

In this piece, I’m going to state the problem, and then offer a way forward. In stating the problem, I want to point to two issues that are especially polarizing in the church right now: (1) politics, and (2) COVID-19.

Two Issues
First, political priorities are dividing believers. For example, a pastor of a racially diverse congregation told me his biggest challenge right now is people leaving his local church because they disagree with the political priorities of other believers in the congregation.

Scripture calls us to stand resolutely for four values that are currently politically charged issues in America:

1. Care for the poor. We’re called by God to care for the disenfranchised, marginalized, strangers, foreigners, orphans, widows, and under-privileged.
2. Racial harmony. As our Creator, God has ordained racial diversity so we might show forth the glory of His image together. Disciples of Jesus view racism as sin, and support racial equality.
3. Sanctity of the family. Scripture reveals that marriage is instituted by God and is only between one man and one woman.
4. Sanctity of human life. Human life is a sacred gift, and abortion is murder.

Many Christians probably hold to these four values, but not all list them in the same order of priority. While all of us have values and convictions we hold dear, we recognize that some take precedence over others. For example, some Christians view the horror of abortion and the sanctity of the family as of paramount importance. Others consider the cause of the poor and issues of racial equality as of primary importance.

While we might agree about the nature of the social problems in our nation, Christians are sometimes polarized because they disagree about which governmental policies and laws will best address these problems. Furthermore, Christians are often polarized by what I would describe as values prioritization—that is, our opinion about which of these four convictions are most important.

I’m suggesting that the best way to address societal ills, and the order in which they should be addressed, is disputable.

Second, COVID-related practices are dividing believers. For example, I’ve heard stories of believers leaving their church because their church insisted everyone wear a mask during services. And I’ve also heard stories of other believers leaving their church because their church refused to require everyone to wear a mask.

I’ve heard of believers who are displeased because their church won’t meet during COVID-related restrictions. On the other hand, I’ve heard of other believers who are displeased because their church is continuing to meet despite COVID-related restrictions.

The best way to respond to COVID-related issues is disputable, and yet Christians are becoming so distressed by their church’s responses and COVID policies that they’re allowing disputable matters to separate relationships in the body of Christ.

That’s our problem. Now, what can we do about—or how should we respond to—these polarizing forces from the culture?

A Possible Solution
The issues here are complex, and can’t possibly be addressed fully in a brief blog. I’m asking for grace, therefore, because I won’t be able to answer every question in this brief piece. Rather, I simply want to contribute the perspective of one Bible passage to the discussion.

Please consider how Paul addressed polarizing issues in Romans 14. In that chapter, he dealt with what the New International Version renders “disputable matters” (Rom 14:1).

On some matters of conscience, there’s room biblically for differences of opinion. For example, Paul wrote, “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom 14:5, NKJV). In another place he added, “Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you” (Phil. 3:15).

Concerning what matters can we allow different opinions? Well, for starters, I believe there’s room for differences of opinion when it comes to politics and COVID. Let’s look at Romans 14 as our guide.

The chapter begins, “Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things” (Rom 14:1, NKJV). “Doubtful things” may not be the best translation here. Other translations render it in a variety of ways:

“Without quarreling over disputable matters” (NIV).
“But not to doubtful disputations” (KJV).
“But not to quarrel over opinions” (ESV).
“Not to determinations of reasonings” (Young’s).
“Not for decisions of reasonings” (Berry’s Interlinear).
“Not for judicial differentiation of inward reasoning” (Englishman’s).

The general sense seems to be that we should not dispute with one another over issues in which differences of opinion are permissible.

In Paul’s day, believers had differences of opinion regarding eating meat or drinking wine. Some would consider those foods unclean if they had any association with pagan idolatry. Paul also mentioned believers having different opinions regarding certain days being holier than others. He considered these issues disputable.

Paul showed that disputable issues always tend toward two polar responses: “Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him” (Rom. 14:3). The two polar responses? Paul said that one group tends to despise, while the other group tends to judge.

Those with the freedom to eat meat tended to despise those who didn’t eat as being pitifully bound by rules that were nailed to the cross of Christ. Those who didn’t eat meat that was tainted by idolatrous associations judged those who did eat as being naively ignorant and having a seared conscience.

The same thing still happens today. When it comes to disputable matters, the issues almost always divide into two groups. How do the two groups view each other? One group despises while the other judges.

This despise/judge tendency is clearly evident in almost all the cultural issues that are polarizing society today. I’ll illustrate my meaning with the examples of politics and COVID.

In contemporary American politics, Conservatives tend to despise Liberals for selling our nation to socialism and supposing they hold the moral high ground. Liberals, on the other hand, tend to judge Conservatives as being callous, backward, bigoted haters.

As regards COVID and face masks, one group tends to despise the other for being duped into believing the masks accomplish something. The group that’s despised, however, tends to judge the other group as unloving and not preferring one another.

In Romans 14:3, Paul urged us against either extreme of despising or judging. Why? Because God has received that person, and therefore so should we.

I don’t have room here for the exposition that Romans 14 deserves. I hope this blog inspires you to study it carefully on your own. For now, look at the bookends of our passage: Romans 14:1 and Romans 15:7.

Receive one who is weak in the faith (Rom 14:1).

Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God (Rom 15:7).

If we’re not to judge or despise one another, what are we to do? Paul’s summary statement was very clear. We are to receive one another—regardless of that person’s opinions on disputable matters.

Rather than separating from one another and huddling in opposite corners, we are to embrace and receive one another in the affections of Christ. This injunction comes not as a suggestion but as a mandate.

Paul didn’t write, “Therefore, argue until you’re able to convince one another of your opinion.” Instead, we are to receive one another, since we are “individually members of one another” (Rom 12:5), even when the other person has different opinions on which social issues are more important.

I call on every disciple of Jesus to resolve that you’ll never separate yourself from precious fellow believers because of differences of opinion on disputable matters.

Opinions may be disputable, but one thing is not: Our biblical mandate to receive one another.

Be filled anew with the love of Christ! Receive one another!

We Need Trials

Tree ImageWe don’t like trials. We don’t want them, and we don’t enjoy them. What’s more, I don’t think we should ask for them. But the truth is, sometimes we need them.

Peter pointed to this when he wrote, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials” (1 Peter 1:6). If need be. What a fascinating phrase.

Why would we need trials? Because without them we get soft. Like a body-builder who stops exercising, a strong believer without any trials inevitably grows flabby. Trials cause our spirit to make diligent search (Psalm 77:6), and that passionate pursuit of Christ keeps us lean, growing, reaching.

Look around right now. As our world grapples with the coronavirus, believers the world over are fasting and praying and seeking God. This trial is pressing us into God. It’s confronting everyone, believer and unbeliever alike, with an opportunity to call on God.

Trials are not a blessing. Proverbs 10:22 says, “The blessing of the LORD makes one rich, and He adds no sorrow with it.” When God blesses you with wisdom, provision, direction, or protection, they come with no sorrow. But trials often come with great sorrow. Trials aren’t a blessing, therefore, but a trial. In the end, however, they can produce great blessings in our lives if we respond properly to them.

Sometimes, we imagine the blessed life to be one of financial prosperity, excellent health, fulfilling relationships, and a happy family—free of troubles, crisis, or pressure. But a blessed life is not a trial-free life. A trial-free life makes us soft, fat, and sluggish. The blessed life is that which endures through trials and overcomes (Revelation 3:21).

Since He scourges every son He receives (Hebrews 12:6), how can I possibly consider myself blessed if He never chastens me? To be left alone is a curse not a blessing.

Since pruning is essential to bearing more fruit (John 15:2), how could I think it a blessing for the Vinedresser to never prune radically in my life?

I watched a winemaking documentary once in which they explained what makes a vintage wine. A vintage wine is coveted for its exceptional flavor. I thought a vintage wine would come from a perfect growing season—plenty of sun, ample rain, and warm temperatures. Actually, it’s the opposite. Perfect conditions might produce much wine, but they don’t produce a vintage wine. Vintage wine comes from hard seasons in which there was too much rain, or not enough rain, or too much cold, etc. A hard season forces the vine to work harder. The harvest might be smaller, but it’ll produce a wine they’ll talk about for years to come. The wine of 1992.

During drought, vinedressers don’t irrigate. They intentionally stress the vines by withholding water. Why? Because if they were to irrigate the vines, the roots would turn upward to capture the moisture. Without surface water, the roots have only one direction to go: Deeper. Desperate to survive, the vine will thrust roots into places never before reached. In the push to find moisture, untouched nutrients are accessed and absorbed.

You’ll never get a vintage wine from an unstressed vine.

Pruned plants look bad. Take apples, for example. I was in apple country once in November, and said to my companion, “Look at that apple orchard!” It looked horrible. The trees were leafless and bare, with hardly any branches whatsoever. My friend replied, “That orchard was bad, they had to kill it.” I smiled to myself because I knew something—the orchard had been pruned. The trees looked grotesquely ugly, but next harvest I knew they would produce huge apples.

God’s not trying to make you look good; He’s trying to make you fruitful. We need trials if we’re to be fruitful.

Arizona has a tourist trap called the Biosphere. Looking like a big white bubble or half-globe, the Biosphere is an array of enclosed buildings that house a variety of scientific initiatives. Among their experiments, they wanted to see how fruit trees would produce under ideal conditions. With temperatures carefully controlled, they gave them perfect amounts of fertilizer, light, and water. The trees produced an abundant crop but with one problem: The branches snapped. Why? Cultivated indoors, they were protected from wind. They knew no storms.

Wind stresses trees by forcing branches to remain flexible. Without wind to move them, branches become too brittle to sustain the weight of the harvest and eventually snap.

Trees need wind, and so do we. We need storms in our lives that make us flexible and adaptable to the movements of the Holy Spirit.

I was speaking in a Texas church once, and a sister who was interested in my personal story was asking about my vocal affliction and associated limitations. She asked, Does it hurt when you talk? I answered, Every word has been painful for 28 years. Her response was heartfelt and compassionate, Oh, I’m sorry.

I replied, God has never apologized to me for this trial.

In the Bible, God never apologized to anyone for their suffering. I can imagine God saying, Job, why should I apologize to you for your horrific trial, when I’m going to use this to give you the first book of the Bible, make you the first signpost in Scripture to the cross, use your example to encourage believers for millennia to come, make you the father of a stunning generation, and give you an eye-to-eye visitation with Me in glory?

Joseph, why should I apologize to you for the horror of your dark Egyptian prison, when I’m going to use your consecration to make you a feeder of nations and the preserver of your family’s national heritage?

Jesus, why should I apologize to You for forsaking You in Your hour of consummate suffering, when I’m going to use Your cross to vanquish Satan and make You the Redeemer of the entire globe?

He doesn’t apologize for our trials because He redeems them for greater blessing than if the trial had never happened.

How do we grow, mature, become more fruitful, and change our world? Through trials. We need trials if we’re to be history-makers.

I don’t think it’s biblical to ask for trials. But I do think it’s biblical to pray tearfully and desperately for all of Christ. Whatever it takes. Jesus, I’ve got to know You more. Do whatever it takes, until I’m fully Yours and surrendered to Your holy purposes in the earth.

For that cry to be answered you may, if need be, suffer grievous trials. But always remember, stressed vines produce vintage wines.

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Rekindling Our First Love

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At the launch of 2020, the Holy Spirit’s agenda for us is clear: He wants the first commandment in first place in our hearts. The first commandment — to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength — comes before every other passion, vision or mission (Matthew 22:37–38). Nothing is more essential as we step into this pivotal decade.

Good news: The Holy Spirit is willing to do whatever it takes to restore our first love (Revelation 2:4). Start your year by praying the dangerous prayer, “Whatever it takes.”

It’s time for dangerous, desperate praying out of holy desperation — when you’re willing to pay any price to have more of Christ. What merciful kindness — when God disrupts our soft, middle-America Christianity and launches us on a journey to pursue His face.

For me, that journey has meant a profound return to the cross of Jesus. Because the cross is where everything starts.

Back to the Beginning

To reclaim the vitality of a thing, sometimes you have to go back to its inception. For example, to renew vitality in your marriage, you may want to go back to the things that first brought you together. As another example, when the Jews asked Jesus about divorce, He talked about how God instituted marriage way back in the beginning. The principle applies to our first love. To rekindle our love for God, we should go back to the beginning. It all started, for all of us, at the cross. That’s where the two of you first met.

It’s at the cross that the fountain of love was first opened. This is where gratefulness, abandonment, fire, passion, devotion, zeal and longing flow. This is where love is excavated, revisited and explored.

Go back to the nails, the stripes, the bloody wood, the thorns. Go back to the naked horror and the writhing, contorted trauma. “For God so loved the world that He gave…” (John 3:16).

God Withholds Nothing

The adversary tells me, just like he did with Eve, that God’s withholding from me. He tells me that God is withholding the answers to my prayers that would make me everything I could be. And when I hear that ancient accusation I just go back to the cross, because the cross nails that accusation.

When I come to the cross, I see a God with nails in His hands, a nail in His feet and thorns on His brow, who stands on the nail, spreads His arms wide and says to me, “I give you all My strength. I give you My mind. I give you My flesh. I give you My soul. I give you My heart. I give you My last breath. I give you My last drop of blood.

When I look at the cross, I don’t see a God who’s withholding from me. Rather, I see a God who is giving me His best. He’s giving me His only begotten Son — His everything. Therefore, I declare to my generation, My God withholds nothing from me. He’s already given me His everything! And if He hasn’t answered my prayer yet, it’s because He’s got a better way to answer it than I have in my best imagination.

And now I find the courage to stand on my nail, spread my arms, and say back to my Beloved, “I love You with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind, all my body, my time, my finances, my giftings and my strength. I am Yours, and You are mine.

“The fire of God’s love is so empowering that no trial in life can extinguish it.”

The Cross Awakens Love

How does God renew our first love? Through trouble. Through the cross. There, I said it.

Don’t despise the means God uses to make you more desperate for Him. Satan may have a hand in your trial, but God has a purpose to make you desperate for everything He’s willing to give.

Are you in a fiery trial? It’s not the fire that changes you; it’s the pursuit of God in the fire that changes you. Harness the distress of your trial and press into God with the desperation of someone who’s drowning. He wants to become your survival.

It was a fiery trial that launched me on my spiritual journey. Over 20 years ago, I suffered a debilitating physical injury (fallout from a bad surgery) and nearly lost my way. With the desperation of a drowning man, I began to cling to the words of Jesus like never before. Psalm 119:92 became my personal experience: “Unless Your law had been my delight, I would then have perished in my affliction.” His promises and the words of His mouth became my survival. I’m here today only because of His word.

This is where He brought me back to my first love.

For years, my prayer life was reduced to three words: “I love You.” “I don’t understand You; I don’t see what You’re doing; I don’t know where You’re taking me; I’m not even enjoying You right now, but I love You.” Just giving Him my love, in the darkest place of my life, that’s all I could do.

And now I realize, it’s the most powerful thing you can do. When you choose to love Him in the greatest trials of life, you become eligible for some of the most powerful promises in Scripture.

“All things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28).

“Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known My name. He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him, and show him My salvation” (Psalm 91:14–16).

He used the greatest trial of my life to bring me into the kind of intimacy with Jesus that I always wanted.

The cross opens to the deepest intimacy. Why do we run from the very thing that will bring us into the bosom of our Beloved?

The Fire of God’s Love

Song of Solomon 8:6 says, “Love is as strong as death,” because love took Christ to His death. That same love empowers us in the face of the greatest opposition, just as those who faced the wrath of the accuser “did not love their lives to the death” (Revelation 12:11).

Song of Solomon 8:6 also says this love is like “flames of fire, a most vehement flame.” The fire of God’s love is so empowering that no trial in life can extinguish it. This is what the next verse means when it says, “Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it” (8:7). Waters in the Bible often symbolize problems and difficulties that seek to overwhelm and drown us. This verse is saying, “There is no opposition great enough to quench this love for Jesus that burns in the hearts of God’s saints.”

Many saints in the Bible knew overwhelming circumstances, and many today continue to experience deep floods of adversity and crisis. But even after Satan levels his greatest attacks, God’s people come through with a deeper, more fiery love than ever. Revelation 12 depicts Satan (the dragon) in his last days’ rage, spewing a flood from his mouth in order to try to drown the church, but he’s not successful. The grace of God lifts up a standard against that flood. When the enemy would seek to drown us, the Lord kindles a fire within us that cannot be extinguished. It’s a fiery love for the Lord Jesus.

In the hour when God’s people experience their greatest tests, the Lord is reserving a revelation of Himself and His beauty. He is saying to us, “Don’t be afraid or intimidated of the dragon’s floods, because when I reveal Myself to you, the revelation of My love will be stronger than the rage of Satan.” God has a fire that will consume the greatest floods — the very fire of God Himself.

Do you feel too weak to love Him with this kind of extravagant love? Are you aware of your inner wounds, emotional handicaps, addictions and proneness to sin? The Lord would answer, “The issue is not your weakness but My fire! When I release the fire of My love in your heart, everything will change. I will awaken in you a love beyond anything you’ve ever experienced. You will see My Son!”

Love Him With Everything

Jesus created the human body for crucifixion. At creation, when Jesus was fashioning a body for Adam that He Himself would one day inhabit, I can imagine the Father saying to Him, “Son, are You sure You want to put all those nerve endings in the hands like that? That’s where they’re going to put the nails. And are You sure You want to put all those nerve endings in the feet like that? That’s where they’re going to put the nail.”

I imagine the Son replying, “Yes, Abba, I know. I want to feel their sorrows in the depths of My being. I want to feel for them in every part of My being.”

How does Jesus feel about you? He feels about You in His hands, in His arms, in His shoulders, in His neck, in His face, in His scalp, in His back, in His gut, in His legs, in His knees, in His feet, in His toes. His love for you runs the full course of His entire body, soul and mind.

And now, this is how we love Him too. No matter the troubles; no matter the distractions; or the temptations; or discouragements. The cross has awakened us to the greatest romantic adventure of the centuries. Love for Jesus runs the full course of our entire beings.

Love gets all of me. Worship gets all of me. The cross gets all of me. All I want to know is, how can I give more?

Kneel again at His cross today. Give Him your love. Let this love grip, shake and take you. Love Him in 2020 with all your mind, flesh, soul and strength. May the fire of this love so consume you that all is burned away except for one thing — love for the face of Jesus Christ.

Pray the dangerous prayer. “Anything. Everything. Whatever it takes.” +

Bob Sorge is the author of more than 20 books and is best known for “Secrets of the Secret Place,” which inspires and strengthens believers in their secret-place relationship with Jesus. Visit freemethodistbooks.com to order this book. More of Sorge’s teachings can be found on his Oasis House Ministries website (oasishouse.com) and his YouTube channel (fmchr.ch/sorgeyt).

Scripture in this article is taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.