“We All Need Rest”

The first day of summer is not officially here until June 21st. However, you’ll have a hard time convincing students. Give it a try; you just may hear those immortal words of Alice Cooper ring out, “School’s out for summer!” (Did you just sing them in your head?)

Summer vacation is a wonderful time of year. Do you remember sitting in the last class of the day, clock ticking, counting down the final seconds until that last bell rings. Joy, excitement, even relief begins to flood your adolescent mind. What does the summer have in store? What adventures will come? Summer vacation always feels long, filled with endless possibilities. I miss those days.

At the same time, I recognize now that those feelings of looking forward to an extended period of rest are God-given. That may seem like a strange idea to you. “How can the desire for summer vacation be God-given?” It’s not vacation, but the desire for rest. Each book in the Bible addresses the idea of finding or entering into God’s rest.

As God began to lead His people through Moses, He made special promises. “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14) As long as Israel was faithful God promised to be with them, guide them, and bless them. (Deuteronomy 28:1) The “rest” God promised was prefigured in the giving of land. God would provide land where His people could live and worship freely. Throughout the first six books of the Bible we see this march toward and eventual conquering of the land of Canaan (later called Israel). By the end of the book of Joshua, because of the promises of God and the faithfulness of the children of Israel, His people finally entered into the land, into God’s rest. “Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers.” (Joshua 21:43-44) All of God’s promises to the people had come to fruition.

So shouldn’t Joshua be the last book of the Bible? (That would make reading the Bible in a year a whole lot easier!) The problem is sin continued to reign in and among the people. In fact, the book following Joshua is Judges, which has an eerie refrain summarizing the basic idea of the whole book, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25) Sin is something that affects more than just the surface level of who we are and what we do; sin is at the very core of our being. Throughout the pages of the Bible, the people of Israel are a clear example of the deep-seated nature of sin. Sin continued to interrupt the nation’s covenant relationship with God, and they received consequences; namely, a broken relationship with God. A restlessness of wandering, not finding peace or comfort, because true and lasting peace can only come from God.

We read the words of God in the Psalm 95, “I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’” Again, this broken relationship must be restored if the people were ever to enter into that ultimate rest. So how do we usually go about achieving a desired outcome? We work for it! That’s exactly what the nation of Israel did. They tried to be as religious as they could to earn “rest” from God. However, no matter how hard we work, we always fall short. (Romans 3:23) “In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear.” (Psalm 40:6) God always values to have our heart more than anything we achieve in our own power. While we may think we can try our best to meet God’s standards, the reality is God wants us to trust Him because we humbly accept that we cannot.

So how is it ever be possible to enter God’s rest, that rest we are so inclined to desire, of which remembrances of childhood summer vacations are shadows? Only through faith. “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest.” (Hebrews 4:1-3) This is yet another layer to the amazing Gospel of Jesus Christ. Christ Himself is our rest! He achieved what we could not so that we can receive His benefits.

So this summer, as you see kids having fun and taking it easy, think about your desire for rest. Take some time to consider the call of Christ and His offer of the kind of rest you will never find apart from Him. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ

“Where Will You Find It?”

“That new job will complete my life. If I just had a little more money, all would be well. If I can get out of this old, stale relationship and find love, then I will truly be fulfilled.” Do these statements sound familiar? It’s very common for people to assess their own lives and come to the conclusion that if only they had that one thing that was missing or that thing that is off in the distant future then everything would be better, life would be how we imagined that it should be, and all would be well. Right?

Obviously, my answer is no. However, why is that the case? I know what some people may be thinking… “Don’t give me one of those ‘churchy’ answers.” Fine, then just look around at the people in the world who do have all of those wonderful things that we average joes dream about. Look at celebrities and business moguls; they have it all, right? Fame, money, achievement, these are the people who have made it to the top. They must be completely fulfilled and happy with their lives!

Except for one problem… The reality is that even those who have “made it” struggle like the rest of us. How often do you turn on the news and rich and famous couples are getting divorced (again)? The front page of the newspaper reports that another celebrity has committed suicide. Drug and alcohol abuse runs rampant among the most prestigious people as they try to numb themselves from the world. Do any of these names ring a bell? Whitney Houston, Heath Ledger, John Belushi, Janis Joplin, River Phoenix, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley – Sounds like the who’s who of America royalty. Yet, this is only a short list of the rich and famous that died from drug overdose.

“I won the lottery, if I had all that money and fame, I’d do better.” Really? Do me a favor and google the phrase “what happens to people who win the lottery?” I did. You know what I found? These headlines, “How Winning the Lottery Makes You Miserable”, “Here’s Why Lottery Winners Go Broke”, and “Jackpot Winners Who Met Tragic Ends.” Apparently, having money isn’t everything. Jack Whittaker won $315 million in a West Virginia lottery in 2002 and after his life was spiraling out of control, Jack said, “I wish that we had torn that ticket up.”

The “churchy” answer helps us make sense of all this mess. According to the Bible, we are made to worship God. “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!” (Psalm 150:6) If we don’t worship God we will find something else to worship. The Apostle Paul makes this clear when he writes that people have, “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” (Romans 1:25) What’s the problem with that? Worshiping false gods will never satisfy. False gods always let us down.

The sentiments of longing in the beginning of this article are common, yes, but ultimately we cannot build our lives around them. We cannot use all of our time and energy worshiping those ideas. Our desire for affection, fulfillment, and life are right and good, however, they can only truly be found and pursued in Christ. This is what we were made for!

I’ll end with these words from C.H. Spurgeon from 1880.

“And now [Christs sacrifice] also satisfies my affections. And it will satisfy yours, dear friend, if you trust to it. You need somebody to love—everybody does. You cannot go through the world simply living inside your own ribs. You must live in somebody’s heart and if you give your heart altogether to any human being, you will be disappointed. But, oh, when you love Christ with all your heart—when you live wholly for Him, then you have something that fills your heart right up! Here your love can rest! It can roost and build its nest in the wounds of Jesus! There is nothing that can fill the affections of any one of us like the dear person of our suffering Lord.

And I am sure that He also satisfies all our hopes. Large as they may be, there is enough in Christ to fully gratify them. And as for our fears, He fills them up so that we seem to have nothing to fear! ‘If God is for us,’ in Christ, ‘who can be against us?’ If Christ has died for us, who is he that condemns us? And what is there that can now separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord? Oh, if you would all but try this blessed plan of believing in Jesus as the Lamb of God slain for your sin—if you would but eat the fat of this great sacrifice—you, also, would prove the truth of the first sentence of our text, ‘For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.’ In that way you would have all you could take in, and a great deal more than all you need!”

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ

“Use Us, Lord”

“Someone should do something about that.” We often hear people say this when talking about a problem (I will admit I’ve said it before). However, if every time we felt the urge to say this phrase we instead actually did something to fix the problem. we would all be in a better situation. So, let’s stop pointing to others and ask ourselves what we can do.

Last week, we began to look at the church’s desire for revival in our own time. We peruse the history of spiritual awakening and tend to think, “Wouldn’t it be great if someone could do that again? When is the new Martin Luther, George Whitefield, or Billy Graham going to step up and do something?” Instead, we should be reminded that revival begins in our own hearts first. I confess that I have too often been the person wishing someone else would bring revival to our churches and communities. So, taking my lead from Jonathan Edwards, Resolved: I will seek God’s will in seeing a spiritual revival happen in my time and place through the power of His Spirit.

We’ve already discussed the events of past spiritual awakenings: 1) Believers pray eagerly and earnestly and then, 2) God convicts the sinful hearts of people. However, as we look at the text of the New Testament and the history of revival, we see that God does not stop there.

#3 Jesus Is Exalted
After such overwhelming experiences of God’s holiness and our personal sin, a time of revival tends to lead to a new experience of love, joy, and peace as Jesus is exalted. Why? Because after seeing our sin, the only peace we find is in knowing that Christ took our punishment. This understanding of the gospel and why is it “good news” overwhelms the hearts of the saved.

Truly encountering God always changes people. We find examples of this type of change throughout the text of scripture, whether it is the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 6:5) or the apostle Peter (Luke 5:8). When an individual comes to see who he is face-to-face with when he is in the presence of God, he becomes a new man. Likewise, in our own day, when people come to understand the depths of their sin and the grace of God, they are forever changed by His mercy. The sinful desires that once ravaged the body are now mitigated by the holy desires that come through the power of the Spirit.

When I became a believer, I no longer wanted to indulge in the things of my past but I found true joy and peace being together with God’s people in worship. I desired to hear God’s voice as I diligently read and studied His Word, the Bible. All of this only came because of God’s mercy and grace, not because I was seeking to find something. On the contrary, when I thought I knew what I wanted, God stepped in to show me otherwise. Revival brings about a new interest in living life in line with God’s word and in His will.

#4 Spirit-Empowered Witness
Finally, in a season of revival, the Spirit empowers believers for bold witness to win many unbelievers to the faith. If a friend of your was to win the lottery, you would hear about it. How do I know? Because that type of “good news” is not kept secret for very long. However, Christians claim that the only true “good news” is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The fact that God became flesh and entered into His own creation to save broken sinner is an amazing, unbelievable truth that should bring us more joy and excitement than anything else in the world. Why then, is it so difficult for followers of Jesus to tell other people about Him?

A revival we desperately need in our day is for God to ignite a spirit of immediacy when it comes to gospel witness. We need to be creating a culture of evangelism in our local churches. A culture where people see sharing their faith not as something out of the ordinary, but as a regular, daily occurrence. Having leaders that are able to stand up and preach truth to unbelievers is a great blessing, and we have been blessed to have people like Billy Graham to do that. Yet for a great impact with long term reach, I believe that the example the New Testament gives us is that of regular, everyday Christians taking it upon themselves to stand up for the faith and to take the gospel message wherever they go.

So as we pray for God to revive His people, we should not be asking Him to make other people do something; instead our prayer should be asking Him to use us. As followers of Christ we are simply tools to be used in the hands of the Master. May the Master be pleased to use us to glorify Himself. Therefore, trusting in God, looking to past examples, and moving forward with the gospel of Jesus Christ, I pray to see a revival in my own time and place. I pray that God would glorify Himself in raising up more revival leaders, that He would soften the hearts of many people, and that it would please Him to save many from their sins through Christ. “Use us, Lord!”

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ

“Revive Us, Lord”

It is often overwhelming when we take a big look at the world that we live in. We are inundated with news broadcasts of shootings, kidnappings, and terrorist plots. The idea of morals and values is outdated, old-fashion nonsense. Our political processes are more and more akin to an episode of Jerry Springer. What is going on? What should we do? In truth, what we really need is for God to graciously revive us as a nation and people. So… should we pull out the tents and start singing 10 verses of “Just As I Am”? Not exactly.

I’m not trying to be facetious. Many people have benefited from the kind of tent revival that we usual imagine when we think about this subject. However, according to the Bible, true revival only comes through the grace of God, not because we scheduled a meeting. Let’s look at 2 things (more to follow) that usually occur during a season of revival.

#1: Believers Pray Eagerly and Earnestly
Growing up, self-sufficiency and resourcefulness was viewed as a virtue to be desired and appropriated. And it is true that individuals must have a certain amount of self-sufficiency in order to care for oneself. At the same time, followers of Christ must recognize our complete and utter dependence on God. “Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) These words from Jesus are very straightforward. We depend upon Him for everything. Therefore if we desire to see revival, we must not look to ourselves but to God in prayer.

The apostles learned this lesson when Jesus gave them the task of being His witnesses “to the end of the earth.” A daunting and impossible endeavor in their own power. So they were told to wait for the Holy Spirit to come and empower them for the work God was giving to them. (Acts 1:8) How did they wait? In devoted, corporate prayer. (Acts 1:14) Similarly, when God’s people throughout history have desired to see a mighty working of the Spirit they began in prayer. For instance, a small prayer meeting in the North Dutch Church in 1857 set in motion what we now know as the Great Revival. With no other options on the table as to how to keep his dying church alive, Jeremiah Lanphier invited people to come pray with him. After waiting, 6 people showed up and they began to pray. Perhaps that doesn’t seem like much to us, but God can use 6 people just as easily as 600 people if He sees fit. Case in point: after two years the fruit of this prayer meeting spread across country and an estimated two million people were added to local churches. This is the power of God.

Likewise, after much prayer the apostles came to the feast of Pentecost and it was here that the Spirit came in power over them. The apostles began to “speak in other tongues” so all who were there heard the message of the Gospel in their own native language. (Acts 2:4, 8) God showed His presence and power, especially, in this miracle during Pentecost. The question now is “How will the people respond?

#2: God Convicts the Sinful Hearts of People
After hearing the preaching of Peter and the other apostles, “[the crowd was] cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37) They were filled with awe before the presence of God and true guilt came upon them. This type of response is another pattern that is important for us to recognize in instances where God revives His people. Throughout the history of revival we see many examples when groups of people become overwhelmed by their sin and creatureliness in the presence of God. Even this type of response is a grace of God. He must soften the hearts, “preparing the soil” to hear and recognize our human failures before an almighty God.

Jonathan Edwards, the puritan preacher and leader during the Great Awakening of the 1730s, was not known for an impressive, dramatic preaching style. In fact, Edwards was a dry, monotone orator who simply read his sermons from a manuscript. Nevertheless, God used this man to bring about revival in his time. While preaching his most well-known sermon, “Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God”, Edwards read his manuscript as usual; however, this time people wept over their sin. How did Edwards achieve such a response? It was nothing he did; rather, God worked in and through Edwards. God softened the hearts of the hearers and revealed to them, through the preaching of His word, their need of a savior.

We desire to see God bring about a great revival in our own day. However we must keep in mind that God is the one who truly brings about this type of change in the hearts of people. We must humbly submit ourselves to Him in prayer and be prepared to see ourselves as we truly are: utterly broken and lost people. So now, we pray with the Psalmist, “Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You?” (Psalm 85:6)

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ

“I’m Not Who You Think I Am”

I have a confession to make. I’m not who you think I am. In fact, I’m not who I think I am. I’m not the person I portray when I’m out in public. Some people may look at me and think, “Gee, he really has it all together.” Others may sneer (and rightly so), “He thinks he’s so great. What an arrogant fool.” The truth is, I struggle daily. Sometimes lay awake at night worrying that I’ll fall. I’ve failed many times and I continue to fail daily. I’m not always happy with myself. I hate to think that I’ve let so many people down. I’m tired of trying so hard without seeing much progress. I’m scared I’ll never see my life become what I always imagined it would be.

Yes, this is me speaking. However, these are more than just my feelings and thoughts. These thoughts belong to all of us from time to time and, surprise surprise, even to those who are followers of Jesus Christ. We are all prone to moments of doubt and weakness. We all struggle with the collision of our public and private personas making us feel exposed and vulnerable. When we find ourselves stuck in these thought patterns, we must pause and reflect on the truths God has revealed to us in His word. Only then can we look at the world and our place in it differently. So today, let us all take some time for a quick reality-check.

Reality Check #1: We Are Still Regular People.
It may seem strange we have to begin here, but the truth is that we sometimes forget: even when someone becomes a Christian, he is still just a regular person. Yes, a regular person who has been born again by the Spirit of God and whose sins are completely forgiven, but a regular person nonetheless. All of the frailties of humanity remain. This is not to say that we are not guided or strengthened by the Spirit, but to highlight the fact that Christians still deal with human problems. Sometimes, the church gives the impression that becoming a Christian is more akin to a comic book superhero than a real-life person.

We read stories about great men and women of faith and it seems impossible to live up to their examples. How can I be as brave as Polycarp or Perpetua before the roaring crowds and lions? How can I leave behind all of the comforts of life and risk everything for the sake of the Gospel like Hudson Taylor or William Carey? I will never be as smart as Calvin or Edwards and I’ll never be able to move people like Luther or Spurgeon. Yet, even these were only men and women, each with their own trials and struggles. To exalt these “heroes” of the past is to dishonor their memory. Why? Because even they would recognize there is nothing good in them apart from Christ. (Romans 7:18) They achieved nothing apart from Christ. As followers of Jesus Christ we must all remember that we are just regular people who have experienced the grace of God.

Reality Check #2: Our Identity Is Not Contingent On Others, But On Christ.
Stop it! Stop it right now! Stop acting like who you are is based on how people in this world perceive you. We put too much stock in other people’s opinions of ourselves. We think we must dress to impress. We must be likeable, funny, and charming. We must be intelligent and have a quick wit. If we don’t reach the standards we believe others have for us, then we fail. We must then change in order to please our god. Wait, what? That’s right, when our self esteem and fulfillment is contingent on anyone other than God Himself, we have made that person our new god.

The reality is that we will never live up to who others think we should be. We really don’t even live up to who we think we should be. Most importantly, we don’t live up to who God thinks we should be. However, that is the whole point of the Gospel! “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) The “all” in this passage means all. We all fall short of God’s glory and God’s standards. Our standing before God is not based on who we are or what we can achieve. No, our standing with God is based completely on the finished work of Christ on the cross. Our identity then is found in our union with Christ. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) So I will fall, I will be tempted, and I will struggle, but I’m not depending on myself. That makes all the difference. I find my worth and value in Christ alone.

Ultimate reality is not how we see the world, but how God sees the world. In a day and age when an individual can “self-identify” as whatever he or she wants, we must remember that lying to oneself will only take you so far. Yes, I’ve tried to be something that I’m not. Yes, I’ve failed at putting on a show for others. At the end of the day, however, I stand before the mirror alone and I know who I truly am. The question then is not “Will I be what the world wants me to be?” The question is, “Will I be who God is making me into? Will I trust that He knows what is best no matter how the world perceives me?” I may not be who you think I am, but I am who He thinks I am.

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ