Sermon

Intentional Discipleship: Preparing Our Heart with Psalm 51

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(For a video of this sermon click here.)

My intention when I started writing this sermon was to give some very practical steps on how to do the Four Core Christian Disciplines (Prayer, Bible Study, Church Attendance & Serving Others — first introduced here) successfully, but then God reminded me that I had missed a step.

I’ve covered the importance of counting the cost of discipleship and preparing ourselves for a long-term commitment. I’ve already said that God looks at our motives before our actions, so I don’t need to go over that again. No, what I missed is how to get our heart right with God before we get into these four disciplines.

It’s kind of like when you watch an F1 or Indy-car race where you see the drivers swerving back and forth keeping their tires hot so they can take the corners properly when the race starts. If the tires get cold, they won’t stick to the road as well. What I want to talk about today is the warm-up before the race, the qualifier, that which needs to be settled before we start practicing the Four Core Christian Disciplines. To make sure that when we come to God in prayer, to the Holy Spirit to learn from the Bible, to the church to fellowship with other believers, and serve others with the gifts God gives us, we have right motives and can get the most benefit from them.

Using Psalm 51 to Prepare Our Hearts

Psalm 51 has always been close to my heart because it reminds me of how much God loves me, and that I can be forgiven. I love the words of this Psalm and repeat them often in prayer. When I sin, no matter how much I sin, and how rebellious my heart is, God is ready to forgive me, restore me, and build me back up. That gives me great hope.

It was written by King David after he had been confronted by the Prophet Nathan about his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband Uriah. It is a pouring out of David’s heart about his guilt, shame and repentance – and a list of requests to God. After he accepted the guilt of his sin and confesses it to God, David gives a list of things that he wants from God.

It might seem strange to come to God with a list of requests after confessing such grievous sins, but David knows the heart of God, and the promises found within God’s law. What I want you to see is David’s heart here. He epitomises what I’ve been trying to say over the past while – that how we come to God and why we come to God are critical factors in how we are going to know, love, and understand God.

David pours out his heart, accepts his guilt, and faces God’s righteous judgement. And since his heart is in the right place, his requests are not driven by fear, or anger, or jealousy, or selfishness, or pride, but by the Spirit of God working within him. His desires are healthy, holy and a good model for us to follow.

Let’s go through this psalm together to see how it teaches us how to prepare our hearts for our times of prayer, study, fellowship and service:

Mercy, Love, Compassion

David’s first and most desperate need is a clean heart. This is where we all must begin. Look at the first few verses of the passage and listen for some key words:

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion…”

“Mercy” is another word for pity or grace. “Show me pity, give me grace.” How could he ask for this in light of the sin he had commited? Because he trusted in God’s “unfailing love” and his “great compassion” for his people.

David had spent so much time with God that he knew God intimately. He has spent time in His word, pouring over His laws, reading the stories of God’s faithfulness to his people. His early life was spent alone in caves praying, begging God for help as he was under attack, hiding from a king who wanted him dead. After a long time of dependence on God and God’s plan, he became a “Man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22) who had cultivated a very close relationship with His Father God. So even though his sins were terrible – unforgivable by human standards – neglecting military duty, plotting, lying, lusting, adultery, murder – David new that if his repentance was true, and his desire for forgiveness was genuine, that God would forgive and restore their relationship. Yes, there would be consequences to his actions, but no consequence could be worse than losing the closeness he had with God because of unrepentant sin.

Now, how could David know that God would forgive? Because he knew God’s word, and he knew God’s character. God’s love is an “unfailing love”.

Without a doubt David would agree with the Apostle Paul in Romans 8 (vs 31-39):

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?… Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

David knew of God’s love and desire to be in a right relationship with mankind. He would have also agreed with the Apostle John who said that “God is Love” (1 John 4:8) and with Paul’s definition of Love in 1 Corinthians 13 — which also describes how God relates to believers when they fall into sin. He’s not waiting for you to mess up so He can withdraw His love. When you sin:

“[God] is patient, [God] is kind…. [God] does not dishonour others, [God] is not self-seeking, [God] is not easily angered, [God] keeps no record of wrongs. [God] does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. [God] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Our Most Desperate Need

And so, knowing this, David comes to God with his first request — which is ours too:

“… Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.”

David fesses up, knows his sin, realizes his condition, and doesn’t hide from it or make excuse. He knows He broke God’s law. He admits that he’s been sinful since before he was born, that God is right in judging him, and that even on the insides, his “inward being” – the place where no one gets to see – he’s sinful. He admits it.

That’s where we all need to start! Before we come before Jesus in prayer, study, church or service, we must admit that we are a sinner in need of a Saviour. That is the beginning of our relationship with Jesus. We are in need. We are broken and unfixable without a miracle. God doesn’t need us, but wanted us and made a way for us to be cleansed through the shed blood of Jesus. This is the attitude that we come to prayer with. This is the heart behind our study. This is the reason we are faithful to our church. This is the motivation of our service.

 “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord…” (Colossians 3:23)

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8)

David’s deepest desire is to be clean in his heart; to be in a right relationship with God. Listen to verses 7-10,

“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

That’s the prayer I pray all the time. The great desires of my heart are found in verse 10: a pure heart and a steadfast spirit.

A Pure Heart and A Steadfast Spirit

Consider the opposite of a pure heart and a steadfast spirit. The condition that most people on earth live with every day is so very depressing. They live with an impure, contaminated, defiled, polluted heart and a wavering, unsteady, shakeable, faltering, bendable, breakable spirit. Too many people live that way. Too many Christians. But they don’t have to!

We want to be able to go to bed at night guilt free. We want to have right relationships with those around us, and with God. We want to know we are forgiven, free, cleansed, and at peace. We want a spirit that can stand up against all the storms that the world throws at us. Unshakable! When sickness, death, fear, worry, and loss come crashing against our lives, we want a spirit that is strong enough to take it. We want to be able to have joy in the midst, not crumble when the earthquakes come. Right?

How can we get that? It’s not something we can create within ourselves. We can’t grant ourselves forgiveness, it must come from God. We can’t shore up our own spirit, it has to be built by God. We can’t calm our own storms, that’s something only God can do.

“Create”

Look at the first word of verse 10: “Create”. It’s a very important word. The same one used in Genesis 1:1 where it says,

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

Genesis 2:1 says,

“Now the earth was formless and void [those are the words for chaos, wasteland, unreality, emptiness], and darkness [a word also used for obscurity, a dark prison, hell-like] was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

That’s the power of God. That’s what He does. He creates something out of nothing. Where we have brokenness, darkness, emptiness, and impurity He creates light!

We think we have to clean ourselves up to be ready for God’s forgiveness – we can’t.

We think we need to start doing better before we are worthy of God’s forgiveness – we will never be.

We think can help God out and try out best to be good, pure, holy and right – we are unable!

We need a miracle of God – a re-creation, rebirth, renewal – to clean our hearts and fix our spirits.

That’s why Jesus says we must be “born again” (John 3:3). That’s why Paul says we are a “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). We are not fixed, added to, or readjusted. We are not basically good people who just need a little help. We are dead. We are sinful. Totally depraved to the very core. We don’t need a mechanic, we need a miracle. We go from dead to alive, from enemies to friends (Eph 2:1-10), as God creates a totally new being, a new heart, and a new spirit inside of us.

The promise of Ezekiel 36:25-27 is as much for you and me as it was for the children of Israel:

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

Professing But Not Possessing Christ

It is only after we have come to God for cleansing and rebirth that we are able to come to prayer, study, fellowship and service with a right heart. Only then. If we are not coming as people who have been born-again we are like those who Jesus prophesied against in Matthew 7:21-23:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

There will be many who will profess Christianity, but not possess Christ! For their whole lives they may go to church, say some prayers, read their bible, and serve… and then go to Hell when they die! Why? Because they will have been giving only lip service to the Lord. They have been masquerading as disciples, but have known all along in their hearts that they have no real relationship with Jesus. Some will end up being teachers, and preachers… but many will just come week in and week out, putting in the time, trying to make some person happy – but never really repenting of sin and giving their hearts to God.

“Jesus is not impressed by thoughtless and heartless piety. Superficial religion might satisfy the casual observer, but Jesus demands obedience inside and out…. A shell of spirituality may preserve our reputation with others, but it undermines real growth. We are deluded if we think that God might be fooled by fake holiness. God desires ‘truth in the [inward being]’ (Psalm 51:6).” (Pg 141 – Life Application Bible Commentary – Matthew)

There is absolutely no point in working through the Four Core Christian Disciplines if you have no real relationship with Christ. You will be merely heaping more sin, guilt and hypocrisy upon yourself. Get right with God, follow Psalm 51, come face to face with your sin, repent of your sin, and ask God to forgive you, and create within you a new heart and a steadfast spirit – then start working through the Four Core Christian Disciplines. It is then that they will have meaning!

The Worst Thing Imaginable

Psalm 51:11 can be one of the most terrifying verses in the whole Bible for people who don’t understand it!

“Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.”

I’ve already said before that we cannot lose our salvation, so what is David talking about here?

He is sharing his greatest fear with his greatest love. He would rather lose the whole world than his connection to God. Let me quote John Calvin who says it better than me:

“It is natural that the saints, when they have fallen into sin, and have thus done what they could to expel the grace of God, should feel an anxiety upon this point; but it is their duty to hold fast the truth, that grace is the incorruptible seed of God, which can never perish in any heart where it has been deposited.”

This is the mark of a believer: that the whole world might be lost, and it would be bearable to them, but the one thing they cannot bear the loss of their connection to the Lord Jesus.

Asking for the Joy of Salvation

Look at verse 12 as we close:

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”

This third request impacts me deeply and I hope it touches you as well. I desire a pure heart. I desire a steadfast spirit. And I desire to have the joy of my salvation — even though  I forget sometimes. David isn’t asking God to restore his salvation – he never lost it – he wants the “joy” of his salvation restored.

I’m already in the practice of asking for forgiveness and strength. What I’m not in the practice of asking for is joy. It’s something that I think we all need to do more. Christians tend to have the reputation of being a dour bunch! This request is one I’m working on and I hope you will too.

When I sin, I lose my joy. As long as I am living with sin in my heart, in rebellion from Jesus, and with myself on the throne of my life, I lose my joy. My close fellowship with God is broken, and I feel it. But as soon as we repent from sin, turn our hearts back to Him, ask forgiveness and get it through the shed blood of Jesus, we have joy!

It’s sadly ironic that people spend so much time seeking joy in sinful, worldly things – and for a time, it can provide distraction and entertainment – but it does not provide true joy. Sin brings sorrow.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” (James 1:17)

It is a pure heart and a steadfast spirit that brings true joy. It’s knowing that we have been declared righteous when we don’t deserve it, that our treasure is in heaven where moth and rust don’t destroy, that our future is secure, our Lord is alive, the Holy Spirit is within us and God is on our side – that’s what brings joy! I read one commentary that said,

“The fact that the psalmist prays for so many things indicates how many things he knew he had lost when he plunged into sin.”

I know that feeling, and I’m sure many here do as well. Thank God for being a forgiving God who has much patience with His people.

Conclusion

There are a bunch more things I want to cover from this psalm next week, but this is a good start. Before we get into the Four Core Christian Disciplines we have to get our heart right and our motives straight which starts with repentance and seeking a pure heart, a steadfast spirit, and the joy of salvation. Then prayer, study, fellowship and service really bless God, impact our heart and bring our relationship with God to a place where He can use us to bring healing to the hearts of others.

 

Echo The Voice of God – A Mother’s Day Sermon

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[If you are part of my church — SPOILER ALERT — this is Sunday’s sermon! I’m sending this out into the world early to help folks who are looking for a little Mother’s Day inspiration. This isn’t just for mom’s though, it is a message for everyone with children in their lives — the Biological, Adopted, and Spiritual Mothers and Fathers throughout the Christian Church.]

Psalm 78 is a Historical Psalm. A Psalm that tells the story of the nation of Israel in song, and along the way draws out lessons from it. This is the longest of the Historical Psalms, but it only really has one lesson, and it hits it home over and over: Bad things happen when you forget who God is and what He has done. Today I want to read the first 8 verses where the writer of the psalm introduces the theme and gives the first challenge: Pass your faith along to your children so they won’t forget and fall away — then we’ll  key-in on verses 2-4.

“1 O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth.  2 I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old— 3 what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. 4 We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. 5 He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, 6 so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. 7 Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands. 8 They would not be like their forefathers— a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him.”

The Decline of Mom’s and Dad’s

Moms and Dads, I want to give you a challenge today. I want to challenge you to pass along your faith to the future generations and be the second most dominant voice in their lives after the voice of the Holy Spirit. Some of you may not be biological mothers and fathers, but that doesn’t mean you are not spiritual parents, just as Paul was the spiritual father of Timothy. Just because you don’t have biological children does not mean you have not been given the responsibility and privilege to be the spiritual mothers and fathers to the next generation. This challenge is for you too.

We need men and women who pass along their faith without compromise, without error, and without fear. We need an older generation who will be a consistent voice in a child’s life, pointing them to Jesus, to Scripture, to God, to Prayer, and to Wisdom. We have a generation of kids who have a head full of voices which are causing them to fall away from God. The dominant voices in their lives are corporate advertisers, a corrupt educational system, intellectual garbage throughout the internet, their own foolish peers, and a host of pagans who are leading them away from faith and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Dad’s have been absent since the industrial revolution which took them away from the farm or family business and stuck them in factories and buildings far from home for hours and hours per day. And since the sexual revolution and the rise of feminism we now also have a couple generations of children who have grown up without a consistent, faithful, positive, mother’s influence in their lives either. Instead they are raised by government institutions, television and their peers. Both Christian and secular studies are now showing how detrimental that has been to the children, and how messed up these kids now are.

I’m a Mama’s Boy

I’m the firstborn of two brothers and I’ll freely admit that I grew up a momma’s boy. I had a childhood that, I’ve learned, is exceptional these days. My dad was a shift-worker at the mill, my mom a stay-at-home mom. Both have been an active Christians for as long as I can remember. They are still married today and will celebrate their 37th anniversary this year.

When I think of my mother, one thing that comes to mind is her love of trying new things – something she’s passed on to me. She loves getting gizmos and do-dads from the shopping channel or other strange places and then seeing what they can do. She loves to experiment with food, decorating, crafts and lots of other things just to see what will happen – sometimes included me.

For example, I have very, very straight hair. One day, it crossed her mind that it might look nicer if it had a little wave in it, so she bought an at home perm kit. I wasn’t so sure about it, but she assured me that all she would do was me a little wave in my hair… what I ended up with was a very tight, very fuzzy perm that I had to explain to all of my friends for months to come.

My mom also made sure that I had some life-skills that most boys don’t have the luxury of knowing. She taught me things like etiquette and manners – like how to set a proper table with all the little forks and spoons (all of which I’ve almost completely forgotten). If a fancy dinner ever broke out in the cafeteria of my high school, I would have been prepared.

My Mother’s Voice

I didn’t get into all of the nonsense that many high school kids got into, and get into, these days, and I credit the grace of God and my mother’s persistence with that. At the time, it was very frustrating, and I argued with her about it, but she had a set of rules which she drilled into my head, and I lived by them. I give thanks to God for my mother’s voice, because I don’t have to deal with a lot of bad memories and regrets that others have to.

I had a secure home where I knew I was safe, accepted, loved and special. And in that home there was always my mother’s voice… and when I left that home, no matter where I was, she was in my ear, guiding me through life.

I remember, at times, wanting to do something bad… but not doing it… only because my mother wouldn’t approve. I had convinced myself, and my friends told me it was a good idea, and I wanted to, and it was right there in front of me… but there was always my mother’s voice… “Allan… that’s not a good idea. Allan… that’s trouble. Allan… that won’t end well. Allan… you’re not stupid, so don’t act stupid.” And so I’d walk away. My friends and peers, who didn’t have that voice in their head, got themselves in a lot more trouble than I did.

[It reminds of this song, which has the same message]

Moms, Dads and Spiritual Fathers and Mothers… my challenge to you is to be the voice in the head of the next generation. You may think that you’ve said it a 1000 times, and that you don’t need to say it again… but I tell you to say it 1000 times more. You may think that they are not listening, but I assure you, they are. You may think that it’s too late… but it’s never too late for a child feel love, comfort, forgiveness and wisdom from someone being guided by God.

One Generation

Turn for a moment to Judges Chapter 2 and listen to a scary passage. Judges 2:8-13,

“8 Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of a hundred and ten. 9 And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Heres in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.”

There was the generation under Moses who followed God and came to the Promised Land. Then there was the generation of Joshua who had followed God and conquered the Promised Land. Now, read from verse 10,

“10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. 11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals. 12 They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the LORD to anger 13 because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.”

One generation. All it took was one generation of parents not passing along the story, not teaching their kids, not being the voice in their children’s heads, for them to forget what God had done for them and turn to evil. How could a generation not tell the stories of Moses, the Red Sea parting, the plagues in Egypt, the pillars of fire and smoke, the walls of Jericho falling? How could they not pass along all that God had done? I don’t know, but it only took one generation.

And I believe it’s not different today. Surrounding us are a generation of children who were never told the stories of the faith – they are completely ignorant of Christianity. Their mothers and father’s didn’t pray with them, many because their grandparents didn’t pray either. We have a generation of parents who want to be friends with their kids… not their parent… they want to be cool, modern and culturally sensitive – instead of being loving, Godly and righteous.

We are surrounded by men and women who want to be politically correct instead of giving their child loving, godly guidance towards what is right, good and holy. A group of adults – parents and non-parents – who look at these children and say foolish things like “I just want to let them find their own way.” avoiding their responsibility to lead and guide them in the way they should go (Pro 22:6). We have a generation of adults who are not intentionally and proactively being the voice in the head of the child God has placed around you. Instead, they are allowing other voices to dominate. They are not the voice of reason, and truth, and godliness, teaching those children how to listen to God. And that’s all it takes to lose a generation.

Sharpen Your Children

I implore you not to give away this privilege and responsibility to others. Don’t let unbelievers and fools be the most prominent voice in the life of the young person (whether it be your own children, or the children God has placed around you). Mom’s especially — others do not love your child as much as you. Others do not know your child like you do. You need to be the dominant voice in your child’s life, the one they hear everywhere they go. Because if it is not your voice, it will be someone else’s. If you are not guiding them, teaching them, and helping them to see Jesus, then who is? Who are you allowing to be the foremost voice in your child’s life?

And if you do not have children, or you don’t have children at home, then you need to be all the more diligent and intentional about being inside the head of this generation. They are lost and they have no guidepost. They have no one pointing them to Jesus, to scripture and to wisdom – and the precious little time you have with them – whenever that is – is the time you must intentionally capture to give them a new voice in their heads. You can be the one voice in their lives that points them to Jesus when every other voice is seeking to corrupt them and turn them to an idol.

You may not think you’re cool enough, or have the right language, or understand technology, or the newest trends, but I promise you that none of that matters – the universal need of all people is for an authentic relationship with Jesus, and passing along that message has nothing to do with being culturally aware and everything to do with simply sharing your heart sharing with another person.

This is be heart of God for Christian mothers and fathers – and I would say by extension, spiritual mothers and fathers as well. Listen to what God said to the people of Israel when it came to passing along the stories. Listen to Deuteronomy 6:4-8,

“4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

DSC_0345The word “impress” there… is the word SHANAN and it means to be sharp, to sharpen or whet like a sword, or to prick or poke. Sharpen your children with these words. Poke your children with them. Drive these words into them. Let them be ever-present in their life, let them be everywhere they turn. Every day, all the time. When they wake up, they hear your voice, and your voice guides them to God. When they sit down at home, they hear your voice, and your voice guides them to Jesus. When they lie down to bed, the last thing they hear is your voice guiding them to know the Holy Spirit.

When they look at you and listen to you, they need to see and hear the heart of God. When they look around your home, on your doorframes, your walls, your gate, your fridge… they need to see the words of God, the stories of Jesus, the reminders of His Grace, provision, and protection. Parents, saturate your home and your children in the things of God – and remove the demonic, distracting, life-sucking, confusing and worldly garbage that has crept into your homes. You have been given the charge, the responsibility, and the privilege, and the gift of being the most consistent voice in this person’s life… will you guide them in the way they should go, or are you going to abdicate your responsibility and give that amazing gift to someone else? What voice will they hear for the most formative years of their life?

There are so many people that want to be the biggest voice in your child’s life. I pray that for your children, it is your voice. And that one day, as your child grows… that your voice will be mingled with, and then taken over by the voice of God, because you have taught the children God has given you to how to hear the voice of God.

Echo The Voice of God

And that’s the most important thing. That the words you repeat, that you embody, that you write on your homes, must be the words of God. Not your own personal opinion. Not your own worldly wisdom. Not your own hang-ups and fears. Not your own hopes and dreams for them, but God’s. God’s voice. God’s wisdom. God’s strength. God’s plans and hopes and dreams for that child, that boy or girl, that young woman or young man. What God wants may not be exactly what you want… let that be ok. I know that my mom never would have guessed in a million years that I would be a preacher one day… she still can’t! But she knows it’s the will of God. Point your children to the voice of God.

Let the words of Psalm 78 guide you. Commit to them. Let them be your commitment to your children. Commit to being different than the other voices out there.

A Pledge

I would like the mothers and fathers – those with biological children, adopted children, and the spiritual mothers and fathers who have spiritual children in their lives, just as Paul was a spiritual father to Timothy…  to stand repeat after me the commitment of the words of Psalm 78:2-4:

I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old—

what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us.

We will not hide them from their children;

we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD,

his power, and the wonders he has done.

Intentional Discipleship: Building Endurance (3 Steps of Maturity)

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12. Intentional Discipleship 3 - Building Endurance

Praise for AWANA

Have you heard of AWANA? Essentially, AWANA is a biblical, discipleship program for kids aged 2-18. Each week they play games, memorize scripture, hear the gospel, have a small group discussion, and participate in local and global missions. It’s been around for around 60 years and today more than 16,000 Canadian kids participate in the program. Globally, there are more than 20,000 churches are involved.

My kids have been part of a very well run AWANA program at a church in Ottawa. I’m consistently amazed by how intentional this ministry is at proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ (every event, every week, the unvarnished gospel is presented) and getting kids involved and excited about their own discipleship process.

My children have been working hard to get through the books and earn their awards. They’ve had to sit through special teaching times, write their testimony, find and interview a missionary, and lots of other great exercises, but the core of the book is all about memorizing, studying and understanding scripture.

They are, essentially, going through a catechism. Catechism is simply a summary of the principles of the Christian religion that is taught in the form of questions and answers. The AWANA curriculum presents concepts to the children and them gets them to reflect on, study, and learn the answers to some important theological questions. My son Edison is in a book right now where he’s learning “How do we know the bible is true?” and “What do I need to know about God, the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit?” Each week they memorize an answer to the question, define important terms, study and memorize the scriptural evidence to support it, and then put it into action. And they love going because it’s also a lot of fun!

My Own Lack

I am so thankful for this program because it is giving them a love for God, a great understanding of theology and salvation, a passion for worship and service, and helps them practice memorizing scripture. It has opened up a world of new insights, new conversations, new convictions, and new hope as they learn to put more faith into Jesus Christ. I can see that my kids are getting the tools to become strong Christians, and as they progress will be challenged to teach and lead others to the Lord and in scriptural study.

I didn’t have this. I actually went to AWANA as a kid, but I didn’t really memorize much, participate, and didn’t last for more than a year or two. My knowledge and experience with the Christian faith came later in life and I still feel like I’m playing catch-up for all the years that I wasted my time with other, lesser things.

I didn’t practice memorizing scripture and I struggle with it today. I didn’t get a good biblical grounding with a decent catechism so I’ve had to go searching on my own, missing huge portions of teaching because I simply didn’t know it existed. I didn’t have a good model of discipleship in the Christian faith while growing up, partly because I didn’t pay attention, and partly because my church had a fairly useless youth group and an uninspiring Sunday School program. Sure, I went to everything, but I can’t remember one thing I learned about Jesus there.

I tell you all of this because I’m sure that many of you have gone through the same thing. We talked a few Wednesdays back about our own journeys of discipleship and the story from each person was the same: “I got saved and that was it. No one told me the next steps. I had to figure them out on my own. I had no mentor, no spiritual father or mother, no process, no intentionality.”

That story is played out all the time in thousands of churches. People come in, get saved, and don’t know what to do next. Their excitement wears off and they either leave the church, bounce around looking for spiritual experiences, or join the throngs of nominal believers who are overcome by temptation, live in secret sin, turn in to consumer Christians, pray only when things get tough, read their bible when they feel guilty, or slip into a funk and just keep doing same devotional book for years and years – that’s it. Millions of nominal Christians who have not grown in their faith, but are just repeating the same learning and experience over and over and over. They are stuck in their maturity process, or never really entered into one in the first place.

It is my deepest hope, and the passion of my life, to change that. I want you each to be passionate disciples of Jesus Christ who have the tools and inspiration you need to pursue a deeper, consistent and more meaningful relationship with God. You might recognize that as the tag-line on the blog I write. That thought is the driving force of my life and ministry.

If I am to Love and Follow Jesus, I Must Know Him

12. Intentional Discipleship 3 - Love Follow Choose

It all essentially comes down to this thought: If I am to love and follow Jesus, I must know Him. I must know who He really is, how He thinks, what He’s done, how He plans, what His relationship with different people at different times has been like, what He expects of me, what He intends to do with me, to give me, to take from me, to do to me. I need to know Him.

Open up to Romans 15:4-6 and let’s take a look at a theme verse for what I’m talking about here.

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

If I am to know Jesus, find my “hope” in Jesus, live “in accord” with Jesus, “in harmony” with the body of Christ, “glorify God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”, I must know the Scriptures!

Let’s consider what Romans 15:4-6 says:

“Whatever was written in former days…” – that’s the Bible. For the folks who originally read this, it would have been the Old Testament, but we can extrapolate it out to include our whole scriptures today. They were “written in former days…” why? “… for our instruction.”

This reminds me of another passage in 2 Timothy 3:15-17 which says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

We have been given this book, the Bible, to instruct us. It was “breathed out” by God so that we would be taught what we need to know, rebuked for the wrong actions and thoughts we have, corrected and restored – a word which also means improved in our life and character, and trained – which is a word that means educated and instructed – a word used for cultivating the mind and morals of children. Herein are commands and admonitions for taking care of the body and soul. It has been given to us so we may know the story of Jesus and know how to live a Christ-like life.

Read Romans 15:4 again,

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

There’s a key word there that I want to pull out and examine. It’s important to understand when we are talking about the steps to Christian maturity that it will require something very important of us: The word is “endurance”. Something sadly lacking in the Christian church today, and is the reason why we don’t have enough mature believers.

Endurance

Let’s talk about this word “endurance” for a moment.

1. Endurance Comes from God

First, let’s note this: endurance comes from God. Endurance is a gift from God. I’m not about to tell you to pull up your socks, get to work and white-knuckle your way into a better relationship with Jesus. I’m not going to call you lazy or tell you to try harder to read your bible more. It’s not about getting up earlier, staying up later, gritting your teeth and making it happen. Yes, there will be some times where you will need to use some discipline, and it will require some effort, but running the race of Christian maturity isn’t about the effort you exert – it is about depending on the resources God gives you.

Look at Romans 15:5, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you…”. The endurance that I’m talking about comes from God. It starts with Him working in our heart, and then continues on to where we begin to pray for endurance, and then it comes as a gift as we work it out over a life-time of faith. He starts it, He finishes it.

Philippians 1:6 says, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” God begins the work, God completes the work. In the meantime, we lean on Him and ask Him for the endurance we need to accomplish what He has set out for us to do.

2. Endurance Comes Over Time

Second, let me say this, we gain endurance over time, not all at once. I’ve told you this before, but I want to repeat it – There are phases to Christian maturity, steps on the process. In scripture, at different times, believers are called babies, children, young men, old men, soldiers, civilians, athletes who are running a race, and those who have finished the race who are now called witnesses. There are phases in spiritual development, and with each phase comes a need for new skills and training, new temptations crop up, and new perspectives.

I put together a little chart of the kind of phases, or steps, that an average believer will go through. This isn’t perfect, but it’s an idea. I wish I had a cute name for each of these steps, but I don’t yet, so you’ll have to bear with me. Check these out:

Step One

12. Intentional Discipleship 3 - Step 1

The first steps of a Christian include Repentance, Baptism, Prayer, Studying Scripture, Church Attendance, Serving in the Church. That’s what the average new believer is going to experience.

They hear the Gospel, meet Jesus, and then they want to get to know Jesus more. They are now face to face with their life of sin so Repentance, Forgiveness and Faith is a huge part of their walk – it’s almost all encompassing as they feel forgiven, know Jesus loves them, thanks Him for dying for their sin, and then turning their backs on the sins that are getting between them and God.

Each Christian is then presented with a step of obedience that each must take – a public declaration of their salvation before others, and the ordinance (the order from Jesus) to be baptised.

The four most important things that new Christians need to do is to pray regularly, study scripture, attend church (in other words, be with other Christians and under good Christian teachers), and work out their faith by serving others in simple ways. This is the life-blood of their faith, the very core of their obedience.

This never changes at any level of Christian maturity. Prayer, study, attendance and service are the most essential ways that we meet Jesus, learn about Jesus, learn about our faith, and obey what Jesus says. For the rest of our lives, everything we do will be built on these four disciplines.

If I am to Love Jesus and Follow Jesus, I must Know Jesus – and I get to know Jesus best through these four disciplines.

Step Two

12. Intentional Discipleship 3 - Step 2After obeying Jesus in those four areas for a while God will begin calling us to get more involved and to give more of ourselves to Him and His church. We will begin needing answers to deeper questions, hitting sins that we can’t overcome by ourselves, needing conversations that need more time that we get after church, we will desire Christian friends to replace the ones we lost when we became a Christian, we will need more information about Jesus, more experiences with Jesus, and a better understanding of the person and work of Jesus.

This is what comes next: Joining a Small Group, becoming a Member of a Church, begin Tithing, study Apologetics, being Discovering our Spiritual Gifts. These seem to be the next logical steps in Christian development. Again, this isn’t perfect, and isn’t universal, but it’s quite standard.

Joining a Small Group and becoming a Member of a Church are natural and important part of progressing as a believer. You love Jesus, are learning to relate to Him, and as you pray, study, attend and serve, God naturally calls you into a deeper relationship with Him and His church. I’ve talked about that before, so I don’t need to belabour it.

It is also around this time when the person starts realizing that there are areas of their life that they haven’t turned over to the Lordship of Jesus – and the biggest one is almost always their money and posessions. They realize that scripture tells them to be generous and to contribute financially to the work of the church. This is a huge step for some people, and is a very simple one for others. It’s a step of necessary obedience that happens when a person desires to go deeper with God and give a greater portion of themselves to Him.

Another thing that happens around this time is that a bunch of really tough questions come up like: “Why does God allow suffering and evil to exist?” “How reliable is the Bible?” “Do science and the bible conflict?” “How can we know for sure that God exists?” “What about all the other religions?” – some of these can be earth shaking, faith challenging, confusing, and even painful questions which expose the cracks in a person’s faith in God and understanding of scripture. This is where it is so important that the church, the mentor, the small group, and the individual Christian, start to look into studying Apologetics – which is the logical and rational defence of the Christian faith. This is where the Christian really solidifies their faith and finds good answers to those deep, important questions.

As a sort of bonus, after studying, one of the amazing things that starts to happen is that hymns and spiritual songs start to come to life. Consider the words of “Before the Throne of God Above” which is chock full of scriptural imagery and theological language.

“Before the throne of God above I have a strong and perfect plea.

A great high Priest whose Name is Love, Who ever lives and pleads for me.

My name is graven on His hands, My name is written on His heart.

I know that while in Heaven He stands No tongue can bid me thence depart.

When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within,

Upward I look and see Him there who made an end of all my sin.

Because the sinless Savior died my sinful soul is counted free.

For God the just is satisfied to look on Him and pardon me.

Behold Him there the risen Lamb, my perfect spotless righteousness,

The great unchangeable I AM, The King of glory and of grace,

One in Himself I cannot die. My soul is purchased by His blood,

My life is hid with Christ on high, With Christ my Savior and my God!”

After some time studying the Bible, this song really starts to come alive. Studying the word not only fills our head with knowledge, but informs our heart and deepens our worship times.

At the same time, as they study,  believers also begin to discover their Spiritual Gifts. Up to this point they have been serving in general areas in the church, or perhaps working out of their natural talents – like computers or music – but now they discover that God has given them something they didn’t have before they got saved, something special to use for His Kingdom. This is where they do a Spiritual Gifts inventory, start to explore other areas of service, where they start to hone in on their life’s mission and are encouraged by other believers to live it out.

Step two is a very exciting time for many Christians because they really start to come together with who God has created them to be.

Step Three

12. Intentional Discipleship 3 - Step 3Step three is where things start to get harder, because this is where the need for “endurance” really kicks in. This is where the chinks in the armour really show up. Moving from Step Two to Step Three is a seismic shift, and it is very challenging. Most Christians don’t make the leap. Instead, they stay in Step Two, or slide back to Step One. If you haven’t been consistent in prayer, study, attendance and service, Step Three will be too big a leap. If you haven’t gotten past the big questions, don’t have the support of a small group and a committed church, and have not begun to realize the cost of following Jesus even in tithing, then Step Three will seem impossible – only for super-Christians and trained professionals – not to be tried at home.

Step Three is where a Christian really moves into action. In hockey terms, this is really where they get the ice-time – which means they get more goals, more skating, see more intensity, and learn lots about the game – but they also get hurt more, suffer more injuries, and discover the weaknesses in their game.

Step Three is where the Spiritual Disciplines get put into practice, the Christian starts practicing Spiritual Warfare, where they practice Stewardship of their Time, Talents and Treasures, and where they start learning how to practice Leadership and proactively Disciple others.

Technically, the Christian has been doing this all along, but now they really kick it into high gear. I used the word “practice” over and over, because that’s what they are going to do now. They are going to really practice Spiritual Disciplines in a way they haven’t before. They learn the arts of meditation and fasting. They begin to practice the disciplines of simplicity and solitude. They learn the power of confession and worship. New levels of maturity lead to new experiences in discipline and spiritual power.

They also begin moving away from general areas of service (which they are leaving open for the Step One Christians) and specifically serving in the area of purpose that God designed them for. They discover their greatest, God-given purpose purpose as husband and father, a wife and mother, and as a teacher or preacher, evangelist, missions worker, or administrator. They enter into mercy ministries, start giving away their stuff to provide for others, or leading teams to greater effectiveness. This is where their life, their family, their ministry, and their church really start to thrive as they serve Jesus with their gifts.

They also start to experience what it means to practice Spiritual Warfare. Certainly all along they have realized that they are tempted by demons, that Satan is real, and they have been praying against his works and effects – but now they start storming the gates of Hell as Jesus calls them to go on the offensive. There is a lot of study and spiritual development in order to do this, but it’s amazing to experience.

And certainly, all along, they have been turning more and more of their lives over to Jesus, but there seems to be a point where Jesus says, “Ok, now I’m going to do something extra…” and He starts asking for things that are more difficult to give up. He wants more Time. He wants us to reevaluate how we see and use our possessions and wealth, even our hobbies and collections. The little stuff that we never thought about before suddenly becomes a big deal – how long we spend watching TV, what kind of movies we watch, the books we read, what kind of car we drive, our commitment to other clubs, organizations and teams… everything seems up for grabs at this point! Jesus really starts to stretch us and prepare us for something greater. We talked a lot about that last week.

Step Three is also where we start to realize that we have come a long way – maybe it’s only been a few years on the calendar, but our former life feels like an eternity ago. God has really changed us and has made us something new, and we look around and see a bunch of non-Christians, new Christians, or nominal Christians who are floundering in their faith and need guidance. For the first time you realize that God is telling you to walk with one of these folks, listen to them, guide them along a path, help them in a special way – to be their mentor, their leader, their guide. And this requires some skills, some training, some time, some emotional energy, and some spiritual maturity. This requires humility and perseverance, and a strong core of faith and dependence on Jesus Christ.

Step Three is a place most Christians never get to experience, but it is a truly wonderful adventure. It’s never boring, and is a place where you really get to see what God can do. You meet a Jesus you never knew before.

3. Endurance Comes Through Suffering

One final note on endurance, and this is, I believe, the reason that many people don’t get to Step Three of their maturity process – because in order to build endurance, you must suffer.

 “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5)

The Christians you look up to, the ones who have great character, who exude hope, who love Jesus, who know Jesus, who listen to Jesus, and who don’t live with shame, who know God’s love, who overflow with the love He is pouring in their hearts, who have a supernatural power by the Holy Spirit – the Christians we want to be like and who amaze us – have suffered.

God wants great things for you, and wants you to follow His steps toward Christian Maturity, but the journey will always involve suffering. He says, “I want to build your character, use you in special ways, build something unique in you, teach you how to worship, build your fellowship, make you a force for missions and outreach, help you serve others, and make you a passionate disciple of Jesus, and the only way I can do that is to teach you how. And sometimes the lessons will require suffering in order to learn them well.”

Many of us will look at God and say, “I’d rather have comfort than character” and we miss out on taking the next step of maturity. I don’t want that for you. I want you to learn to love scripture. I want you to love Jesus. I want you to love God, and love growing in Him. I don’t want you to be afraid of suffering, but embrace it and even rejoice in it, to trust God’s path and keep walking because God is doing something great in you and will use you greatly for His glory, your good, and the good of those around you.

 

Intentional Discipleship: Count the Cost

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(Here’s the link to the video. Warning, there’s some yelling…)

Last week I promised that we would be getting into the practical aspects of discipleship. I’m afraid we’ll have to put that off for another week because the Lord seems to have something else for us…

11. Intentional Discipleship 2 - Count The Cost

You Were Saved To Be A Disciple

Let me start with this first, and it’s something that I’ve said many times, but can’t be overstated: The call to salvation is a call to discipleship. When you are saved – when you give your heart and put your faith into the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, you are making Him your “Saviour” and your “Lord”. In other words you are not merely saved to be saved, but were made from a dead thing into a live thing, an enemy soldier into a faithful troop, a child of hell to a son or daughter of the Heavenly Father. You were saved on purpose for a purpose.

When Jesus came to you offering salvation He said, “Follow Me”. We follow a person, not a book, a doctrine, an idea, a way of life, or even a religion. We follow Jesus. Jesus didn’t say “Follow my rules”, He said, “Follow Me”. He invited us into a relationship with Him. He would be our God and we would be His people. He would be our Saviour we would be the saved. He would be the Teacher, we would be the disciple.

Discipleship is a Journey

Next, let me say this: Christian maturity is a process – a journey. Everyone is on a different part of the journey – a different phase in their relationship with God. We will never reach the end on this side of Heaven because there will always be more things we can learn about Jesus, more missions for us to follow, more sins that must be crushed. Each part of our life will have unique challenges and blessings, and Jesus will be discipling, leading and moving us along the path that He has laid out for us in different ways, at different speeds.

None of us will do this perfectly. There will be times we rebel, where we decide not to listen, where we let an idol into our lives. And while that’s not ideal, Jesus will be there to forgive and to help us get back up and walk further with Him.

There will be times when we are going to concentrate on different parts of our walk. At times we will be more about serving – giving of ourselves to Jesus and to others. There will be times when we are on a study binge because Jesus wants us to learn something – and we will be drawn to sermons, and books, and teachers, and of course, the scriptures. Other times we will feel a thirst for worship and will find that we can’t get enough of the Psalms, Christian music, concerts, and may even find ourselves writing music. And all of this is ok! This walk with Jesus will be dynamic and exciting at times.

There will also be times when God purposefully leads us through a dark time, “a dark night of the soul”, a “valley of the shadow of death”, which will be very difficult – prayer won’t come easily, doubt will always be at our door, the scriptures will be difficult, people will hurt us, and we will feel crushed and forgotten. It may have nothing to do with something we have done and is not a consequence of our own actions, but something God decides to lead us though and intends to use to demolish and rebuild some of the very foundational parts of our soul – a time when He is preparing us for something more – a deeper relationship with Him or a special purpose to serve a unique group of people. He will do this sometimes, and it will be very difficult, but He promises in Romans 8 never to waste any of that pain, and to use it for His glory, our good, and the good of others. It won’t feel good as we go through it, but He promises there will always be a light at the end of the tunnel. He asks us to keep walking.

There are times where we will be disciplined by Jesus because of something we have done. We will need to walk through the consequences. He will be there to guide, teach, comfort and help, but He will not miraculously remove the discipline because as a good teacher He knows the best way for us to learn.

Count the Cost

“Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him,30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.’” (Luke 14:25-33)

As I said last week, it is vital that we get our motivations straight when it comes to this journey of discipleship. Yes, there is joy and a peace that passes understanding. We will find the greatest treasures of our life when we are walking with Jesus, talking to God, and filled with the Holy Spirit. There is no greater love than the love of God, and no greater life than the Christian life. But it is not an easy life, and Jesus never said it would be.

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26)

That’s the crux. If there was ever a reason why someone would follow Jesus, this would be it – because what is the point of living a temporary life where we gain a bunch of useless possessions and fleeting nonsense if we lose our very soul and spend eternity in hell? What is the point of flailing about, spending our time and energy on things that will not last to the end of this generation, let alone eternity? If God offers a life that will matter – and will matter forever – then why would we waste our lives on anything else?

Many Fall Away

Jesus said in Matthew 22:14 about those who would hear the message of salvation that “Many are called but few are chosen.” There are many who will hear the message of the Gospel, the true message, but few who will listen to this call. In fact, just two chapters later in Matthew 24:10-11 Jesus says,

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.”

This happens all the time, and is a reality in many churches in Canada. When the heat is on, and the true Gospel is preached, and discipleship gets hard, many many fall away. The church starts to eat one another as brother betrays brother. False prophets start to stand up and proclaim an easy gospel, a Jesus who is easier to follow, a salvation without cost, and many will end up following them straight to hell.

A Hard Saying

People walking away from Jesus is not new. It happened to Jesus even when He walked the earth.

“When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’ 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, ‘Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.’ (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.’

66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ 68 Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’” (John 6:60-69)

That is my deepest prayer for each one of you here. That you would accept this hard teaching and not walk away. That you would accept the call to discipleship, to follow Jesus, and that you will not walk away. That you will hear the words of salvation spoken in the scriptures, and see that “the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” and not be like those who did not believe, or those who wanted something else, those like Judas who would listen to Jesus, walk with Jesus, hear the message of Jesus, and still not allow it to sink deep into your heart, accept Him as Lord, and change you.

I have known too many Christians who simply said “it’s too hard.” I have known far too many who have said, “I know what the right thing to do is, what God is calling me to do, what the Bible says, but I don’t want to.” I have not known enough Christians who will look at the crucified, broken Jesus – and keep following Him to the cross. I have not known enough Christians who hear hard teachings like renounce your wealth, walk away from your comfort, go and fix that relationship, turn off the idiot box, purposefully and intentionally study the scripture every single day, be faithful to your church – and then accept them because they are right, good and commands from Jesus.

I have known too many Christians who have been offered a way out, and have taken it. I have not known enough Christians who look at Jesus through blurry, tear filled eyes, confused about what they are hearing, knowing the difficulty of the journey, and when Jesus says to them “Do you want to go away as well?”, say to him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.””

Commissioned by Jesus

Consider Matthew 10. In verse 1 we read that Jesus called his twelve disciples over to him and gave them spiritual authority and power before He sent them out to proclaim the Gospel. He has done the same to anyone here who has accepted Jesus as Saviour and Lord. You were saved to be an active disciple, not a passive one. In verses 5-15 Jesus commissions them to go and spread God’s mercy and healing, to preach the good news and the judgement of God, to bless the homes of those who would accept the message and curse the ones who would not.

And then in verses 16-33 he gives them a warning about what it would be like to be on mission with Him. He did not send them out believing that everyone would listen, that their life would be easy, that He would solve all their problems, and that being followers of His would make their journey a happy one.

No, when He commissioned them He gave them dire warnings about persecution, betrayal, hard times, and death. He warned them that their own families would turn against them. He told them that they shouldn’t walk from town to town, but run because the time is short. He told them that even though they had the message of light, they would be so misunderstood that they would be called demons.

But after each of His warnings came a message of hope. Listen:

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

24 A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.

26 So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”

He promises elsewhere that the wisdom we need will be given when we ask. He says that when you don’t know what to say, God Himself will speak though you. He says that it will be hard, but you will never need to doubt your salvation, because that is assured. He promises that you will never have to go where Jesus didn’t go first – He knows everything you are facing. He says that you need not fear because God knows exactly what is happening and is a perfect, gracious, just God who will exact perfect justice against those who do wrong against you. He says that God knows every, tiny, little part of you, and not one hair, not one tear will fall without Him seeing it, weighing it, and accounting for it. The names of the faithful will be acknowledged by God Himself.

These are words of hope, assurance and a message that gets me very excited about serving Jesus.

What is the Real Cost?

I’m going to talk about the steps of maturity next week, and the activities of a disciple, but I was reminded this week about how it is important that we chew on the message God gave us last week, and is giving us still. I don’t want to rush into the application because I want us each to understand the cost, and the joys, of discipleship.

The costs of discipleship are easy to list – following Jesus costs us everything. Remember His words from Luke 14:33 “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”

Everything. Our plans, our career, our homes, our money, our future, our family, our pets, our hobbies, our prized possessions, our bank accounts, our retirement plans, our time, our skills and abilities, our pride, our excuses, our introvertism, our extrovertism, our control issues, our laziness, our books, our study time, our tv shows, our sins, our secrets, our passions, our loyalties – everything. Following Jesus costs us everything.

But, as Jesus said in Matthew 16:26, “… what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” — So what if it costs everything?! What is the real cost? The cost is all the temporary things that we are going to lose anyway! The cost is only things that we have given a perceived value – not anything of real value!

And the alternative is so much better! We are trading the world, which is passing away, and all of our own worldly gain for eternal joy and glory.

Some Costs

Listen to some of the promises in scripture and consider the cost:

Control

Some of us don’t want to give up control of our plans and our stuff. God says in Jeremiah 29:11,

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’”

In Proverbs 3:5-8 it says,

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. 7 Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. 8 It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.”

Why do you desire control of your life when God can do a much better job? What’s the cost of giving control over to him? Your own crooked paths? Give them up!

Security / Hurts

Some don’t want to give up the security of their religion because doing religious things makes them feel good. Some here don’t want to give up their hurts and bitterness because they have held onto them for so long – their bitterness is the fuel of their life.

Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-29,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

What is the cost of giving up your religion? The burden of trying to impress God, the guilt of not knowing if you’ve ever done enough, the self-righteousness is so tiresome to keep going. What is the cost of giving up your bitterness and hurts that fuel your life? Surely you are weary and tired from carrying that pain around for so long. Jesus says that when you join with Him, are yoked with Him, He will take that burden from you, and free your heart.

Wealth / Security / Comfort

Some don’t want to give up their wealth and possessions. Some have a lot to give up, others not as much, but you hold on to your wealth with a tight fist. You’ll give up a lot, but are not even willing to accept the possibility that Jesus might be asking you to give it up for a greater purpose. Some are not willing to consider that their retirement years are not meant to be years of rest, but years where they are freed to work more for the Lord. Some couldn’t even consider taking a different job, or pursuing a life of ministry or mission because it would cost them their comfort? What is the cost of releasing that wealth?

Jesus says in Philippians 4:19,

“And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.”

God has more than you do, and will give it as you need it! The riches you are holding on to may actually be keeping you from experiencing a greater blessing! Imagine what it would be like if you were to meet God and He were to say, “I had so much more I wanted to give you, so much more planned for you, so much blessing in store, but you didn’t want to put down what you already had in your hand. All you had to do was let go of the lesser thing, and I would have given you something greater. You desired comfort for yourself, but I wanted to use you to change the world!”

Some of you have a secret addiction or a guilty pleasure that you don’t want to give up because you enjoy it or believe it will be too hard to do. How heartbreaking it is that you would trade that temporary, addictive, worldly high, for what God wants to do with you.

Get Hot or Get Cold

Let me close with the words of Jesus to the church in Laodocia from Revelation 3:15-22. I read these all the time and they are greatly convicting to me. They shake me out of complacency and remind me not to trade earthly things for heavenly ones.

“This is the message from the one who is the Amen—the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s new creation: 15 “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! 16 But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! 17 You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. 18 So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. 19 I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference. 20 Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. 21 Those who are victorious will sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne.

22 ‘Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.’”

Intentional Discipleship: A Warning

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We’re in the home stretch of The Foundations Series. We’ve certainly covered a lot of ground in the past 9 weeks, and it is my prayer that it has been helpful and has given you a new understanding of the Christian faith, Christ’s church, your responsibilities as a believer, and a newfound joy of being in relationship to your Lord and Saviour.

10. Intentional Discipleship 1 - A Warning

God Isn’t A Gumball Machine

I’ve worked hard over the last bunch of sermons to prepare for the next four. What I’ve been doing is laying the groundwork for the part that most Christians I know really want to get to. I’ve had many people over the years sit across from me in my office, or at a small group, or after service, and ask the same question: What do I need to do to grow as a Christian?

What many of these folks want is a program, a system, a list of things to do that will deepen their faith, help them know the Bible more, answer their theological questions, challenge them to serve more, and help them become a better Christian. I’m thankful for these folks. They have a desire, but they don’t know how to get started.

Other people will ask that same question, “What do I need to do to grow as a Christian?”, but they are not doing it out of a thirst for more, but out of a place of pain. What they are really saying is,

“I’m barely holding on to the faith here. My life is a mess, my priorities are messed up, I’m addicted to things that are hurting me, my relationships are in turmoil, I haven’t felt peace for a long time, I’m not enjoying church, I don’t have any close friends, I don’t feel worship, I think I’m losing my faith, my salvation, and maybe my soul.”

They are crying out for help. They want to know what spiritual activity will fix these problems and will make God bless them so they can feel better. I certainly don’t blame them for wanting that, and I most certainly want to help in whatever way I can.

This is why I’ve  spent so many weeks leading up to the next four weeks. I needed to build up an understanding of what it means to be a sinner, to be saved, to have faith, and to be a Christian. I needed everyone to have an understanding of the basics… the Foundations… of Christianity before I got into the “how-to” section.

I’ve been putting off this practical section in hopes that you won’t come into it believing that doing all of these things will give you the answers. No, these are tools by which you can access the answers you are looking for.

I’m going to say something strange now, so please pay attention: If you are trying to grow as a Christian, or are trying to figure out how to get out of the messes in your life, you don’t need to know how to pray better. You don’t need to read your bible more. You don’t need to fast, or join a class, or go to more worship services, or get a mentor, or get baptized, or learn more verses. It is not about what you can do.

As we come into this practical section it is absolutely imperative that you grasp that what I’m going to teach you is not a way to build up credit with God, twist His arm, impress Him, or anything else that will make Him indebted to you. Spiritual disciplines are not a way to make God bless you. Putting in more time in prayer or reading the bible does not equal God’s blessing. God is not a gumball machine that you can put in a quarter, spin the dial, and get something. This is not like exercise where if work hard enough you are guaranteed to see results. It doesn’t work like that. Your spiritual life doesn’t work like that.

Everybody – everybody! gets this wrong at some point. They look at God and say, “I’ve done so much for you, now you should do something for me.” And they site all of their spiritual works, their service, their church attendance, all the things they’ve given up, and list all the ways they have been a good boy or girl that deserves a cosmic cookie from God.

It doesn’t work like that. And if there is something that I wanted you to get out of the past 9 weeks it is that your salvation is a work of Jesus, out of the mercy and great love of God, nothing that you have done. God has poured out blessing to you, but it is from His grace, not out of a sense of indebtedness. He saved you from Hell, gave you a new heart, a new life, the gift of the Holy Spirit, of the church, and so much more, not because you deserve it, but because HE LOVES YOU SO MUCH.

Go to Church and Sin

Turn to Amos 4:4-5 and lets chew a while on the proper motivation of our hearts towards these spiritual disciplines. It is critical that we see that God is after our hearts, our love for Him, our relationship with Him, our obedience to His will, and NOT about our religious activities. He wants a relationship like a child has with a father, not like a bank has with a client.

This is such a common temptation that we have to snuff it out at the onset. We cannot come to our daily devotions, to church, prayer, study, visiting the sick, tithing, or anything else with the hopes of trying to get something out of God. It must, must, MUST be motivated by our love for Him, our thanksgiving for salvation, and our relationship with His Son, Jesus Christ.

Listen to how God talks to His people to show them how ridiculous their spiritual activities have become to Him. He says:

“‘Go to Bethel and sin; go to Gilgal and sin yet more. Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three years [some translators say “days”]. 5 Burn leavened bread as a thank offering and brag about your freewill offerings—boast about them, you Israelites, for this is what you love to do,” declares the Sovereign Lord.”

Can you hear the sarcasm? There’s a lot going on here, but let me summarize. Gilgal and Bethel were important places of worship for the Israelite people, and they were full. They were equivalent to some “mega-churches” today, or the big revival tents of old. (Please understand that I’m not about to bash megachuches. Some of them are AMAZING, Christ honouring, God-fearing, people loving places, with amazing pastors and congregations!)

They were abuzz with religious activity. People were coming from all around to be a part of this amazing “church”. Let’s take a look at the description of what these churches were like 5:21-26 – but we’ll do it in reverse. God is speaking with derision and hatred towards them, but let’s look at them from a human point of view. Perhaps you’ll see some of yourself in these descriptions:

 “21 I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.”

These folks were having great festivals, parties, and assemblies. People were moving and shaking at this church! They were following enough of the religious language and ancient practices that they could call themselves a “church”, but not so much that they were being hampered by the old, boring, restrictive practices of the Law of Moses. Like many Christians today, the people who went to Bethel and Gilgal appreciated the modern twist that this church had taken on their worship times.

 “22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.”

This church, and these people were into new worship, new modes, the fun assemblies — the really good stuff — not the boring, orthodox stuff. In chapter 4 which we read before it says that the were coming either every three years or every three days… the idea being that they allowed people to sacrifice either less or more often than they were required so they could show how open, spiritual and cool they were. Show up whenever you want and you don’t have to follow the rules.

Verse 5 says they were bringing “leaved bread” to their sacrifices, which was strictly prohibited by Leviticus 2:11. So in other words, “Worship whenever you want, however you want, in the way you want, with the things you want, and the people you want – it’s all about you!” I can just hear them saying, “God is all about love! Love wins! God isn’t just about rules and regulations, He wants you to enjoy life, to be successful, to have great bounty… so come, bring your sacrifices to the church if that’s what you’re into – or don’t.  In fact, this is a place where you can and celebrate your offering — bring your good stuff, your “choice fellowship offerings” and we will make sure that we tell everyone – then God and everyone who comes will be impressed with you! Or don’t… whatever! It’s all about you!”

“23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.”

This church had a great band too! All the most modern instrumentality, the coolest singer, the nicest light system. This was a good show to come and watch!

 Skip to verse 26, “You have lifted up the shrine of your king, the pedestal of your idols, the star of your god—which you made for yourselves.” Another translation has this, “You shall take up Sikkuth your king, and Kiyyun your star-god—your images that you made for yourselves…”

They had some cool stuff that other churches didn’t have. They were so inclusive! Not only did they worship Yahweh, but they allowed you to worship Sikkuth and Kiyyun who were associated with astrology and the planet Saturn. They had pagan idols right inside the church. This church didn’t make you feel bad for checking your horoscope, in fact they printed it right in the bulletin. They had all the coolest religious stuff from all the different religions – prayer wheels, and native spirituality, worshipping mother earth, you can call God a “she” or an “it”… they let you worship however you wanted, whenever you wanted and whoever you wanted. Worshipping these other gods also had the added benefit of allowing you to circumvent the Law of God and indulge in all kinds of sexual immorality and become wealthy through any means possible. You could have your religious cake and eat it too!

This church wouldn’t judge you. They would accept you with open arms. They would let you feel like you were worshipping the One True God, but also let you have a couple of other pagan gods on the side. They wouldn’t make you do anything you didn’t want to do, believe anything you didn’t like, or do anything difficult. They were all about health, wealth, freedom and peace.

A Church You Can Brag About

Look at the end of Amos 4:5:

“‘…brag about your freewill offerings—boast about them, you Israelites, for this is what you love to do,’ declares the Sovereign Lord.”

This is a church you could be proud to call home. They are in all the papers, the pastor is on all the tv shows, he writes best selling books, the band has their own top 10 CD! I bet that was their slogan: A Church You Can Brag to Your Friends About. This church was all about letting people do what they “love to do.”

A lot of people want this kind of a church and this kind of Christianity. They are quietly ashamed of their conservative church that believes the Bible is the Word of God and that Jesus is the Only way. They wish their church would get more press, be more popular, compromise a little more, and have some of the things the cool churches have. They wouldn’t say it in public, and they certainly wouldn’t say it to their church, but they quietly believe it in their hearts. They can’t brag about their church because it is too closed minded, too conservative, to bible-thumping, not open enough to current trends, current thinking, the new social agenda, modern viewpoints and other worldviews. I believe this is why many Christians swap churches. Not because of any biblical reason, but because their church isn’t cool enough for them.

A Pagan Mindset

(Found on tumblr from “thoushallalwayskill”)

Why do I tell you all this in the context of personal, spiritual development and as an introduction to our “how-to” about intentional discipleship and growing in the faith? Because I need you to get the motivations of your heart straight before you ever start down this path of Christianity. I need you to have your heart in the right place before you take the next step of discipleship. I need your spiritual life to be motivated by your love for your God, your thankfulness to your Saviour Jesus Christ, and a passion to connect with His Holy Spirit – not by a selfish desire to get health, wealth, comfort or anything else.

Does God want to give you good things?

Will you find peace if you do these things?

Will you be comforted? Will you be able to deal with stress, and loss, and fear, and anxiety better?

I would say unequivocally YES!

I believe that if you practice these disciplines you will, without question, grow as a person, become a better person, a better husband or wife or child, a better worker, be able to save your money, live on purpose and feel like you are contributing to the world, be physically, emotionally and spiritually healthier! BUT If you are doing these things for that reason, you are completely missing the point. I hope you understand that!

Read what Jesus said in Matthew 6:31:

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”

The pagan mindset is to try to manipulate the spiritual realm for advantages in the physical realm. They build whole religious systems around manipulating their gods to do things they want to do. They do horrible things like cutting themselves or child sacrifice so they can prove their worth and their fear, and they do ridiculous things to impress their gods so they can get goodies from them.

A pagan worries every day about whether or their god is going to bless them, curse them, give them good things, or wipe them off the planet. They just don’t know. And it is completely un-Christian, counter to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for a Christian to think that way about their Heavenly Father! He’s not a petty, angry, easily manipulated, easily distracted and sinful pagan God, but a loving Father who knows your deepest needs and has already made provision for you by sacrificing His beloved Son on your behalf.

In the next verse Jesus tells us how we need to approach spiritual maturity and our study for the next 4 weeks. He says,

“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Sometimes, as you seek God’s Kingdom and Righteousness first, God will take you places you never wanted to go, lead you to do things you never wanted to do, and use you in ways you never dreamed possible. The fruit that is going to come out of your life when you turn your life over to Jesus (and stop trying to use Him as a spiritual ATM) will surprise you, and will always require sacrifice. He will ask for more and more of you as you give yourself more and more to Him.

And as you do that, I promise you, you will not be thinking “Wow, I had it better before, when I was a pagan.” You will be thinking, “I can’t believe where I am, how much I care, how hard this is, how much of me this is requiring… and I can’t believe how much joy there is here! I would never have chosen this for myself, but knowing I’m where God wants me gives me something I could never get from the pleasures of the world.”

Your life and mine can be a flourish of religious activity, and our hearts can still be far from God. It’s possible, like in the time of Amos, we could see a revival of sorts happen in our church, but have it be a worldly one. It’s possible that you could do everything I’m going to talk about over the next 4 weeks, and do it with all your might, and have none of it deepen your relationship with God, but instead puff you up with pride because you feel so super religious – or cause you to feel absolutely depressed because it’s not working and you feel like God’s not doing His part. I don’t want any of that to happen.

True Revival

Let me close by quoting what J Vernan McGee’s commentary says about Amos 4:4-5 (Pg 354):

“It’s very easy for us to join a large, happy religious crowd, enthusiastically sing rousing songs, and put money in the offering plate, and yet not be changed in our hearts. The test of a spiritual experience is not ‘Do I feel good?’ or ‘Did we have a big crowd and a good time?’ The real test is “Do I know God better and am I more like Jesus Christ?’

The people in Amos’ day didn’t return home determined to help the poor, feed the hungry, and care for the widows and orphans. They went home with the same selfish hearts that they had when they left home, because their ‘worship’ was only empty ritual (Isa 1:11-17). Any religious ‘revival’ that doesn’t alter the priorities of Christians and help solve the problems of society isn’t a revival at all.

It’s interesting that Amos mentioned music, because that’s an important part of the church’s worship. However, what the Jews thought was beautiful music, God considered nothing but ‘noise’ (Amos 5:23). People today pay high prices for tickets to ‘Christian concerts.’ Yet they won’t attend a free Bible study class or Bible conference in their own church….”

I find that very convicting, and will spend time seeking God in the next while for places in my heart where I have been trying to manipulate Him like a pagan or where He has been changing me, and asking me to respond, but I have stopped Him because of my own fear, prejudice, unmet expectations, or plain laziness. I encourage you to do that as well this week and as we get into the practical steps towards spiritual maturity next week.

Growing at Church – Make Love Your Priority

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I like learning and teaching theology. I have thoroughly enjoyed preaching this Foundations series because it has been full of deep, biblical, gospel truths – the very bedrock of what we should build our lives on. I love being able to help people know God better by answering questions about God through scripture. In my own personal studies there is no greater joy for me than discovering another piece of understanding about the nature of God.

But there is one thing about the nature of God that I continuously forget – God is love. Maybe you don’t have this problem, but I do. I think more about God’s other attributes like His unchanging immutability, His power, His omniscience, His graciousness, His wrath – more than I do His love. It is the difficulty I have always had with taking my faith and helping it make that 12 inch journey from my head to my heart.

I’m not sure why this is a problem for me, because the love of God is overwhelming in scripture (and in my life for that matter). Three times in one chapter (1 John 4) it says that “God is love”. I don’t want to get into a theological discussion about the love of God, but I do want to use this as a jumping off point to our topic today. The whole point of 1 John 4 is to remind us that God is love, and that His love empowers our love.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 Jn 4:7-8)

Thanks to Joslynn for this great pic!

Our Highest Priority

This must be our first and most essential thought. I/We must remember that all of the characteristics of the Christian life – faith, hope, mission, purpose, joy, worship, forgiveness, peacemaking, communion, baptism, — none of them mean anything unless they are motivated by the love of God for me and are then lived out in loving actions towards those around me.

I can understand discipleship, walking behind and learning from my Master, but if I am not doing the things He is doing, my learning means nothing. I can recite the True Gospel word for word, share scriptures until the cows come home, but if those verses don’t take root in my heart and give me daily hope, a stronger connection to Jesus, and are shared with others in a way that shows the love of God, they are powerless. I can revel in the mastery and simplicity of the Five Solas: Scripture Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Christ Alone and the Glory of God Alone – and believe them with all my heart, but if those truths do not spill out of my heart and mouth to others, if I am not becoming more gracious to others, if I am not stirring up another’s faith, if I am not pointing others to Christ, if I’m not in a community of believers, worshipping God with others – all of that knowledge is pointless.

Doubtless, those of you who know scripture are hearing echoes of 1 Corinthians 13, which says:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (vs 1-3)

I’m reminded about the context of those verses. They are written by the Apostle Paul after he spends time teaching us about the power of the Holy Spirit lived out in our spiritual gifts and the importance of recognizing our need of others, and their need for us, in the body of Christ.

The verse right before “If I speak in the tongues of men and angels…” says this:

“And now I will show you the most excellent way.” (12:31).

That is a very meaningful, challenging verse to me. The act of loving others is more excellent than desiring, having and using our spiritual gifts! Being loving is more excellent than speaking in tongues, prophesying, teaching the scriptures, administrating our resources, and even miraculous healing. Witnessing an act of love is more excellent than anything else we could see in our lives.

We all desire God’s blessing and when we ask “What can we do to become a church (or a family, a person, a workplace) that God blesses?” the answer isn’t all that complicated. It isn’t having better pews to sit in, more contemporary music, great preaching, changing our leadership style, getting into our community [whatever that means], doing more missions, engaging the youth, or anything else that we can do. It doesn’t mean traveling the world, buying cooler stuff, finding our perfect job, or worrying about every moment being perfect. The answer is simply that we must desire the “most excellent way” of living. The answer scripture gives to “what must I do to be blessed?” is to of love God and each other more, better, spontaneously, sacrificially, and consistently. When we do that, we will live a blessed life.

The Heart of the Kingdom

“And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, ‘Which commandment is the most important of all?’ 29 Jesus answered, ‘The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 And the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’” (Mark 12:28-34)

This questioning scribe was closer than the others to understanding the Kingdom of God because he understood that God’s highest priority is love, not the actions of religion. He wasn’t quite there because he didn’t understand that Jesus was the beloved Son of God who had come to suffer for sins on his behalf, but he was a lot closer than the others because he understood something fundamental about God and about His Heart for the Kingdom – Love comes first.

Love is an Action

But what is Love? What I believe the thing that most people don’t understand about love is that it is not primarily an emotion – it is primarily a decision, and secondarily an action. It becomes an emotion only after a person has decided to love and then acted on that love.

Think of Romans 5:8, “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He made the choice to love us, acted on that decision and made a way for us to be saved. He didn’t do this primarily out of an emotional connection to us, but because love requires action.

Ephesians 2:4-5 says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…” Despite our condition of being dead in our sins, and as he just called us in verse 3, people who deserved His “wrath”, God chose to show us love.

That is the decision which we all need to make, and which I wish to compel you towards today. Decide today that you will be a loving person. Don’t wait until you feel like it, make the decision to do it. Commit in your heart to God, and ask for His help, to make the choices a loving person would make. God doesn’t leave wiggle room in scripture for anything else to be our highest priority.

Here’s an example of what I mean: In Matthew 5:44 Jesus says:

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

We can’t do that until we have made the decision to do so. Loving our enemies is not something we are going to do naturally, nor is it something that we are going to feel – it is a decision, a choice, that we have to make well before we are faced with an enemy to show love to.

If we are primarily living with the understanding that love is an emotion, then we will never be able to obey the scriptures and be people who are characterized by love. We will be far too easily swept around by things like how we feel, how the other person feels, whether we are sick or well, happy or sad, in plenty or in want… all of those things will factor into whether or not we will love someone at that time. But, if we have made the decision to love, and intend to live by the rule of love, then it will be far easier to be consistent in loving others.

The saddest example of this I can think of is the reason so many give for why they divorce – they fall out of love. If the marriage is built upon something as transient as emotion, then the marriage is doomed from the start. I’ve been to weddings where the vows are not vows at all, but flowery words about a love devoid of commitment. I read a great quote this week online which said,

“‘I do’ is becoming something more like ‘I might’, as one in three couples refuse to vow ‘til death do us part’ at the alter.”

I get this. If you’re going to be honest, it’s pretty hard to say that you are going to be in emotional love with someone for the next ten, twenty, fifty years. It would be exhausting to try to feel loving towards another person 24/7 until the day one of you died. All it takes is one good argument, or a passing thought about another person and boom! the feelings begin to falter. So  you have to leave some room just in case you or the other person doesn’t just feel it anymore.

My How They Love One Another

Here’s the part where I’m going to get preachy… this same principle applies to church as well. In John 13 Jesus famously said:

“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love for one another.” (Jn 13:35)

There is a famous story by an ancient Christian writer named Tertullian who told of a time when the Roman government was worried about what was going on among this group of people who called themselves Christians. They were increasing in number, but they wouldn’t say that Caesar was Lord. All they had to do was put a pinch of incense before the alter of the emperor, but they wouldn’t do it. This worried the Romans who thought they might be disloyal. So they sent a spy to gather information about what the Christians did at their meetings and when the report came back it confused the pagan leaders even more.

It said something like: “These Christians are a very strange bunch of people. They meet together in an empty room to worship. They don’t have a statue or an image, but they speak of one whom they call Jesus, and whom is expected to come at any time. But there is one thing I can say for sure: My how they love Him, and my how they love one another!” (Adapted from a story told in J. Vernan McGee’s “Thru The Bible” Commentary)

That’s what’s supposed to happen when someone meets a group of Christians – or a Christian individual I might add. They might walk out confused about the songs we sing, the scripture we quote, the way we dress, the traditions we hold, or what was happening at our meetings…. They might walk away thinking you are weird, and use strange words, and do strange things… but if there are two thoughts they walk away with they must be: “Wow, do they ever love this Jesus person!” and “My goodness, do they ever love each other!”

A video I watched this week said it this way:

“If you’re a Christian, and I spend the whole day with you and can’t tell if you’re a Christian or not… you’re doing it wrong!”

I realize that I’m not saying anything earth-shattering here. I also realize that as simple as this is, it’s also the hardest thing in the world to do right. While processing this idea I went through my bookshelf looking for books that talked about the importance of loving one another… and that was every book I have.

I opened a theology book and discovered the central theme of God’s love throughout scripture and how important it is to study about God’s love. I looked at books about how to live wisely and it showed me how critical it is to live with love as a priority first, and all else will follow. I read a book about how to hear God’s voice and was told about how God speaks through serving others and listening to other believers, so if you want to hear God’s voice get close to them. I looked at the authors who teach about how to organize and grow a church and it was there too – don’t worry as much about methodology as you do about teaching, experiencing and sharing God’s love.

When we ask, “How can I become a more mature disciple of Jesus?” the answer is that we need to learn how to love God in their heart, and then act out that love towards others with our hands and words.

When we ask, “How can I get more out of worship?” the answer is that we need to focus on singing, sharing, and speaking about the love of God, and then allowing that love to effect us in such a way that we not only believe it, but feel it also.

When we ask, “How can I do outreach to my family, friends and community?” the answer is that we live out the love of God in a way that is obvious to everyone around us.

When we ask, “How can I have meaningful relationships with people?” the answer is that we need to make the choice, the decision, to step out of our routine, our comfort zone, and get ourselves into a place where we can be loved and show love.

Practical Love

          Ok, so it’s practical application time. Let’s close out by looking at a two ways that we can do this.

1. Make the Family of Believers a High Priority in Your Life.

I’m a big fan of The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. The second purpose he says we were created for is that “You Were Formed for God’s Family.” His points are simple but profound. Warren reminds us that all Christians, when we are saved, are brought into a new family. It was God’s desire to have us be His children, and when He speaks, He speaks in terms of relationship. He is our Father, we are His children.  Ephesians 1:5 says, “His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ.”

He reminds us that scripture teaches that we are to prioritize the body of Christ, the Christians around us, in our life. 1 Peter 2:17 says “Love the brotherhood.” (Another translation says, “Show special love for God’s people.” CEV)  Galatians 6:10 says it this way, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

Why? Because of what Jesus said about how people are to know that we are His disciples – because of our love for one another. We were saved through Jesus TO BE members of his family.  Ephesians 2:19, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…”

Certainly this is a command in scripture, to make time to be with and love other believers, but it is also a joy for us. We grow in community, we serve in community, we exist for community. And we primarily exist for the community of faith. Remember, the whole reason we have spiritual gifts is so we can do good for one another. (1 Corinthians 12:7)

So, if you are given the choice between attending church and going somewhere else, prioritize attending church. If you are given the choice to bless a non-believer or a believer, bless the believer. If you have something and want to give it away, ask other Christians first. If you want to talk, or find a partner, or do something with another person, find another Christian.

The lower down your brothers and sisters get on your priority list, the further you will find yourself from God, the more easily you will fall into temptation, the greater the chance is you will adopt false teaching, and the less love you will experience in your life.

2. Go Be Where You Can Love and Be Loved.

The Message version of Romans 12:4-5 says this:

“Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we?”

A lot of Christians, in my experience, live like chopped-off fingers and toes. They desire to be useful, feel they are made with a purpose, know deep in their being that God is calling them towards something greater, but they aren’t able to pick up any traction when they try to figure out what that is. And I believe that’s because they are trying to do it on their own, outside of the church, away from other believers.

Perhaps you have been burned by people, let down by them, hurt by something people did to you. That pain has caused you to erect a wall around yourself which you use to protect yourself from greater hurts. You’ve worked hard to make that wall look good. You’ve painted it up, put a smile on it, and when you are around others, it’s like there’s not even a wall there at all. They see the façade, but they never get to see the real you.

Consequently you keep God at a distance, because you know that if there’s one thing that He want to do, it’s get into your business, know the real you, get emotional with you, and mess around with your innards. You also keep the church at a distance because you are afraid that if you let down your defences you’ll be let down or even hurt again.

And so you live a bi-polar life where part of you is committed to Jesus and He is calling to you a greater relationship with Him – but you are trying to do it away from the church. It won’t work.

How do you get over that? What you must do is to put yourself into a place where you can be loved. Your natural tendency will be to only go when you feel like it, but as I said before, love is a choice, so you must make the decision to go places where you can love and be loved. I’m not saying you have to go and pour out your guts to the first person you see, but you must begin by making the commitment to consistently be around believers, where they can love you and where you can love them back.

Satan wants you alone. God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Satan wants you to himself, Jesus wants you with Him and around other believers. Just go. When the church is open, be there. Invite believers into your home and invite yourself over to other believer’s homes when you can. Join Christian book clubs. As a Christian leader to introduce you to someone. Join Christian chat groups online. Just be around other believers. This is one of the lessons Jesus has taught me over the years – the blessing that can come just by sucking it up and showing up even when you don’t want to.

Conclusion

(I’m going to borrow from Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven Life” a bit more.)

It is in the church where you will be identified as a genuine believer and where you will be able to express your membership as one of the Body of Christ. It is your church family who will keep you from becoming self-centred and isolated. It is your church family who will help you develop spiritual muscle. It is in the church where you will find that you have purpose and meaning, and where you are needed. It is through the church that you will share in Christ’s mission in the world. And it is the church family that will keep you from back-sliding.

But it’s your choice. If you are a Christian you have been born-again, but it is your choice whether you will prioritize other Christians and put yourself in a place where you can love and be loved. “The Christian life is more than a commitment to Christ; it includes a commitment to other Christians.” (Pg 139 PDL Expanded Edition)

“Why?” – An Easter Sermon

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(Click here for the sermon video)

I’ve watched the Passion of the Christ on Good Friday almost every year since it came out in 2004. It’s not that I love the movie, or that I find it entertaining… in fact most years it’s not even convenient. If you were here on Good Friday, or perhaps in your own personal reading time this week, then you’ve been through the story of the crucifixion of Jesus. It’s a powerfully intense section of scripture to read. The movie The Passion brings out that intensity in a very meaningful way to me, and I am both repulsed by it and captivated by it at the same time.

Why - Easter

The reason that I watch The Passion is because I am drawn to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Part of me wants to look away and never turn it on again, or read that section of scripture again, because it’s so intense. However, because of my relationship with Jesus Christ, and my understanding of His sacrifice on the cross for my behalf, I make myself read it, and watch it, and remember why He was there.

Though we all come from very different perspectives, everyone who knows the story of the crucifixion of Jesus asks the same question when they are done reading or watching it: “Why?”

Why did they hate him so much?

Why did He put Himself through that?

Why didn’t He just come down off the cross?

Why was it so violent?

Why did it have to be done that way?

Why would Jesus endure such pain and agony especially if He is the son of God?

If you understand the story of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and you are in a personal relationship with Him, then you are probably in a place where you can answer some of those questions… at least intellectually. But even if you have a good understanding of the gospel, you still don’t have all the answers to those “why?” questions?

Especially when the question changes from “Why did it happen that way?” to “Why did Jesus do that for me?” or “Why, if I believe His agony was a payment for my sin, do I keep sinning, complaining, and wondering if God loves me?” Somehow, the simple (though right) answer of “Because He loves me” doesn’t seem good enough. When we start to comprehend what Jesus did, and the gift of salvation He made available to us, we are overwhelmed and can’t fathom a love that sacrificial, that strong, that deep. Not for us anyway.

Perhaps you have come today with a true and real understanding of the cross, the resurrection, and the cost of your sin. Perhaps you have come today because it is your tradition, but not because you really understand or believe in the Easter story. Perhaps you have a small faith, but there is something that is holding you back from really believing and exercising that faith in your daily life. Or perhaps you once believed with all your heart, but you have fallen away from that belief. Whatever reason brings you today, I’m glad you are here because I want to share with you the gospel. I believe all men and women everywhere have a hunger for truth and love. And I believe that the deepest desires of our heart are found in Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ as it is told to us in the Bible.

Startled by the Love of God

I want to share the story of Jesus from a section of scripture that you may not usually associate with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus – the Old Testament book of Isaiah. Part of what amazes me about the Bible is how well it holds together, and how it all points to Jesus. The scripture I want to read with you was written about 700 years before Jesus was born – and about 100 years before crucifixion was invented, but it describes the day of Jesus crucifixion in great detail. It talks about what Jesus would go through, why He would need to, and what He would make available to the world by doing it. Fee free to open up and follow along with Isaiah 52:14. I’m going to read it from the New Living Translation, so your Bible might be a little different.

 “But many were amazed when they saw him. His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human, and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man. 15 And he will startle many nations. Kings will stand speechless in his presence. For they will see what they had not been told; they will understand what they had not heard about.”

It’s amazing to me that we who sit here today are some of those who are “startled” by this. We are part of the nations that are startled, surprised, and wonder at the story of Jesus. Everyone, from the King to the lowliest person, once they grasp the message of salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ stand speechless in wonder. Even the most hardened atheist, the most jaded skeptic, can’t help but be moved by the story of One who would endure so much out of love for people who didn’t deserve it.

My heart breaks often for those who don’t understand that there is Someone who loves them. Perhaps even you have placed your personal value on what you have, what you can do, how you look, what you can produce. There are many who base their self-worth on things like their possessions, their education, their family status, their ego… and when it is taken away or found to be lacking, they lose their identity, their dignity, and even their self-worth.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us that God finds every person in the world to be valuable and worthy of love. You, despite any sin you have ever committed, before you had been born, before you had a chance to do anything of value, were loved, created for a purpose, and given a path that would lead you to into the very presence of God. That way was paved for you at great sacrifice.

Isaiah says that people who begin to grasp this kind of love from God, they “understand what they had not heard about”. When the love of God and the sacrifice of Jesus for their sins sinks deep into their souls, they are startled, speechless, standing in awe of God. It’s an amazing thing, and I hope you have experienced it.

A Different Kind of Saviour

Continue in Isaiah 53:1 and let’s read how Isaiah summarizes the life of Jesus. What brought Him to the cross? What kind of life did He have?

“Who has believed our message? To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm? 2 My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. 3 He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.”

Here, Isaiah tells us about the contrast between the reality of who Jesus is and how we treat Him.  Jesus came to a world which was akin to a dry river bed during drought season, a land unable to produce good fruit. He came to a world that could not feed people what they need to grow closer to God, where rains had not come for a long time, and where no one was able to produce seeds of righteousness that would grow other healthy spiritual plants. Jesus defied logic. He was tender and green, despite the conditions. He was a deeply rooted, seed-bearing, fruit-bearing plant, growing in dry, cracked ground. He was different and had a source of power beyond what anyone else was able to connect to.

He is the Son of God, the creator of Heaven and Earth, the One whom angels worship, but when He came, He chose to leave that majesty behind Him.  He did not come as a super-attractive, physically strong, handsome superman who would whisk the world off its feet and blast evil with his laser eyes. He didn’t come as a slick talking, well tailored, lawyer that would twist words and make people feel foolish. He didn’t come as a rich man who tricked people into following Him with grandiose promises of worldly wealth. His beauty and majesty wasn’t worn on the outside… it was inside. Those who were attracted to Jesus, were those who needed to meet love incarnate, not some kind of cheap knock-off.

Women who were deeply hurting, rejected by society, living in sin, who were used and abused by men, came to Jesus because they found Him to be loving, forgiving, gracious and safe. Rich men who were hated by all of their own people, didn’t hate Jesus, but instead wanted to be near Him. People who were despised because of their physical sickness, came to Jesus because He loved them in a way they had never experienced, and could heal them with a power they had never seen before – not just from their sickness, but from their deepest emotional hurts. Wise men sought Him out so they could be wiser. Ordinary, cowardly, fishermen were changed at the core of their being to become leaders in the most influential group of people that has ever walked the earth.

Rejected and Despised

And yet, though He spoke nothing but the truth, showed nothing but grace, conveyed passion and love at all times, wept with the hurting, performed miracles for the sick, opened up the scriptures and taught things about God that no one had ever heard before… most people rejected Him.

As the Gospel of John 1:10-12 says it:

“He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.”

He wept over Jerusalem, over the temple, over the world, over our sin. In the end, He was alone in Gethsemane, even His friends couldn’t stay awake long enough to pray with Him. At the cross, many people mocked Him openly while others turned their backs and walked away. There was only a handful that would stay with Him in the end.

He was despised by the world then, and even today the rejection continues. He died for us, we refuse to acknowledge His very existence  He lives for us, calls to us, speaks to us, gives us scripture, gives us the church to encourage us and be served by, and yet… many live as though they could care less.

And yet. Let’s read from verse 3, but verse 4 starts with one the most powerful words in scripture: “Yet…

“We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. 4 Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! 5 But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. 6 All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.”

This is why I say that if you have an understanding of the Gospel, you cannot read the story of the crucifixion or watch the Passion of the Christ and walk away unmoved, unchanged.

When we see Him weak and weighed down with the cross, it was not His own weight He bore, it was ours. Mine and yours. When He is spit on, rejected, and insulted, He is bearing our insults. The rejection He is feeling from us, we should be feeling from Him. The fear we should be experiencing, the judgement we should be crushed by, the wrath we should be under… He took for our sake.

When the nails pierce His hands… I see my hand. I pray you see yours.

It is not His sin that put Him there… it is our rebellion that should have put us there… and yet there He was. Sometimes we are tempted to think that this has nothing to do with us. It was something in the past, something done for someone else. It’s not me, it couldn’t be me. But the truth is that every stripe, every part of that, was our doing. He took it for those who would believe in Him.

Costly Peace

“He was beaten so we could be whole, whipped so we could be healed.”

What a strange picture! The word “whole” is the word SHALOM, which means “peace, safety, complete, friendship, tranquility, contentment.” He was beaten so we could be at peace. He was buying SHALOM for us. We could not experience peace and contentment with God because of the sin which separated us from Him. We could not have friendship with the Spirit because of our unrighteousness. We could not know tranquility in this world, or with the people of this world, or even with ourselves, because of how warped our souls are because of Sin. If it wasn’t for what Jesus went through, we could never know peace!

We Are Sheep

The Bible calls people “sheep”.  Listen to what Jesus said in John 10:11-18.

“11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.

17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

I looked up in my commentary what it means when we are called sheep in the bible. It means “Stupid and helpless”. We have all, like sheep, wandered from our shepherd. Put ourselves in danger. Went our own way. We don’t know how to save ourselves. We get ourselves into trouble all the time. We get stuck in the most foolish places. And we are helpless to do anything other than bleat that we are in trouble! God laid out a path for us to follow, and we decided we wanted to go another way – we though the grass would be greener somewhere else and we left the safety of our Shepherd. And it’s not. It’s like we were digging a hole and then fell in our own hole – and decided that the best solution would be to keep digging!

But instead of God writing us off as stupid, helpless, troublesome sheep who He would be better off without, He is the Good Shepherd, who came and got us. John 3:16, “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

We were in debt far beyond our ability to pay. Jesus the good shepherd paid our debts in full. We were lost in the forest, surrounded by wolves, and Jesus, the good shepherd, fought off the wolves, and brought us back to His pasture. We left and sold ourselves into slavery, utterly rejecting who we were created to be, and Jesus didn’t leave us there but instead came and bought us back at His own expense, cleaned us up, and made us part of His family again.

It Is Finished

Skip down to Isaiah 53:11, and listen to the end of the story. After Jesus has been through the worst punishment ever conceived by humanity, He says from the cross “It is finished”, or “It is accomplished.”  And Isaiah says,

“When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.”

Jesus went to the cross, and came away satisfied. He made it possible for all who would believe to gain something they could have never gotten for themselves. He made it so that the unrighteous could be counted righteous. He made it so that the sinner could be called a saint. He opened up the door to eternal life for all who would believe.

And we celebrate at Easter time, the seal of this promise. The truth hangs on one event. It would be one thing to know that Jesus had done all of this and died for our sake. But there is more. Not only did Jesus die, but He rose again to new life.

How do we know the Gospel is true? How can we know that the love we’ve been talking about is available to us? How do we know that we can have new life and be reborn as a Christian? How can we trust what Jesus and the Bible says? Because of His resurrection!

The story didn’t end on Good Friday but on Easter Sunday when Jesus showed that He has the power to conquer sin, and conquer death. And by His resurrection He has opened the door for all who believe to be resurrected with Him. We need to fear judgement, sin, death, or anything else, because our Lord, our Good Shepherd, loves us, laid down His life for us, and then took it up again of His own accord. He made a way for us to experience a love beyond that which we can understand. It is through a relationship with Him that our greatest needs are met and our deepest desires are satiated.

This is what we celebrate today, and this is what has changed those of us who believe. We are radically different than before we knew this, because it has touched us at the deepest level of our self.

I urge you to investigate this truth, to investigate why Jesus did this for you, to accept that you are a sinner, tell Jesus you accept His salvation, and let Him be God to you. Today is the day of salvation. If you once believed, but have fallen away, ask forgiveness and start again with Him. He has never left you, and will never forsake you. Please, take that step today.