Worship

He Must Increase, I Must Decrease (Gospel of John Series)

Posted on

Please open up to John 3:22-36. We’re back into the Gospel of John series we started a while back. Life is ever-so-slowly starting to look a little bit more normal – and I think it’s good to get back into the regular exposition of God’s Word as we were doing before.

Review

I think, since we haven’t been here since February, it behooves us to do a bit of a review of the Gospel of John up to this point.

I remember a while back when I was contemplating what series to do next – after coming back from that big stress leave I took – that I wanted to do something simple, straightforward, with lots of stories that wouldn’t be super complicated to study. And so, I figured I’d pick the Gospel of John. After all, a lot of people are told that’s the very first book of the Bible they should read, right?

Wow, was I ever wrong. When I sat down to work on the outline and overview of the book, I had no idea that just introducing the structure of the book was going to take 4 weeks. The Gospel of John is like an onion – every time you peel off a layer, there’s another one underneath. The book is, for lack of a better term, “intricate”.

The first line, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) kicks off a prologue that outlines and summarizes the whole rest of the book. It introduces Jesus as the condescended God, incarnated light of the world, John the Baptist as His forerunner, and the message of salvation through the “grace and truth” of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and Him alone.

It sets up the book as one full of rich imagery meant to expand the reader’s understanding of who Jesus is. It speaks of concepts like light and darkness, the Tabernacle and Moses, Law and Grace, our adoption as children of God, Jesus as the Lamb of God, the Son of God, and seven other important titles. The concepts in the prologue are then expanded on throughout the rest of the book – and the structure of the book is woven together like a tapestry.

In the first four chapters we see Jesus interacting with individuals, then from chapters five to eleven we see Him interacting with large groups – and always expanding geographically outward, with more people following Him. All throughout, we see the themes from the prologue keep coming back as John introduces Jesus using seven different miracles, or as he calls them “signs”, that point to who Jesus is.

We see Jesus as the source of Life when he turns water to wine, as the Master of Space and Distance as He heals a Nobleman’s son. We see Jesus as Master of Time as He heals a Lame man on the Sabbath. We see him as the Bread of Life as He feeds the 5000, and the Master of Nature as He walks on water and calms the storm. But, with the multitudes we don’t see growth, but instead we see more and more groups rejecting Him.

All throughout, Jesus is becoming more and more controversial. We see little breaks in the story as people are confronted with who Jesus really is and are forced to reckon with that reality. And along with more controversy comes more enemies, who get angrier, more jealous, and more violent.

Until we get to the sixth sign where Jesus heals a man born blind – something completely unheard of, and absolutely miraculous. His enemies argue and complain, but they can’t deny Jesus’ power. In this miracle Jesus shows He is the “light of the world”, able to bring light into the darkest of places, just like the prologue said. And His enemies respond by showing they “love the darkness” and hate the light, just like the prologues said.

Then, in the seventh miracle – seven being a very symbolic number in the Bible – Jesus does something completely otherworldly, something only God could do – He looks at Martha and says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:9). Martha says “yes” – and then Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.

You’d think this would solidify Jesus as Christ, Saviour, and God, right? How can you argue with someone who can raise the dead? Well, no. Instead, Jesus enemies loved the darkness so much that their response to seeing the lame walk, the blind see, the hungry fed, and the dead raised – was… let me read 11:53, “So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.”

At that point, the story of Jesus slows down to a crawl. The first half of the book, 11 chapters, covers about 3 years of Jesus’ life – the second half of the book, 10 chapters, takes place over the course of one week: Passion Week.

The Gospel of John is a truly incredible book. I haven’t even gone over all the ways that John divided and organized it. It’s incredibly interwoven and beautifully designed.

My hope is that this series we’re doing will inspire you to not only read the Gospel of John, but to appreciate it, to meditate on it, and most of all, to see Jesus in new and fascinating ways because of how He’s revealed here.

John the Baptist Exalts Christ

But let’s get into our passage today. I hope you’ve kept your thumb in John 3:22-36. This part occurs right after Jesus spends the night talking with the Pharisee Nicodemus about why he had come into the world, what His mission was, how it would all go, and how people would react.

Then, the next day, hopefully after Jesus got a couple of hours sleep, it says,

“After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison). Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.’”

Pause there a second. This whole section is about argument and interpretations of what’s going on. See the picture here, because a lot is going on. Remember, a lot of what the Gospel of John is doing is simply answering the question, “Who is Jesus?” and to do this he uses a lot of imagery and illustration – which we’ve already discussed a bit. Another thing it uses is contrast.

 I take a lot of pictures these days. I set up a lightbox in my office to take pictures of the various little projects I do. A lightbox is simply a big, white, cloth box that you shine a bunch of lights in. If you’ve ever seen anything sold by Apple, you’ll know they love lightboxes. They take their phone or whatever, and stick it on a completely white background. That’s what I try to do.

When I’m editing the pictures, there’s a bunch of settings I can use, but , to me, the one that makes the biggest difference is the “contrast” setting. The more contrast there is, the bigger the difference between the white and the object. The colours get richer, the blacks get darker, and whatever I’m taking a picture of pops off the screen.

Many times in the Gospel of John you’ll see the author boost the contrast so that we can see something about Jesus – when compared to someone else. In this case, Jesus is being contrasted with John the Baptist.

We’ve already seen that John the Baptist is called the “witness”, while Jesus is called “the light” (1:7-8). John the Baptist is a “voice”, Jesus is “the Word” (1:14,23). John baptizes with water, Jesus with the Spirit (1:33).[1]

Here we see both Jesus and John are having baptisms, but Jesus is in the Judean countryside, and John the Baptist is in Samaria. John is called “rabbi” (or teacher) – and this is the only place in scripture anyone other than Jesus is called “rabbi”, so you know something’s going on.

Ritual Washing

So, what’s happening there? The stage is set in verse 22-24, but the situation comes about in verse 25, “Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification.” This was a major point of argument between the followers of John and Jesus, and the rest of the Jewish leadership. The Jews, meaning the Pharisees and members of the ruling counsel, would often, it seems, come to John and confront him about why he thought he had authority to baptize people. He wasn’t an official in the temple, he wasn’t an authorized teacher, and he wasn’t even in Jerusalem. So it rankled them that people kept coming to John to be ritually washed – or baptized. For the Pharisees, as most of you know, ritual washing was a HUGE deal. They were all about rules and regulations and religion and ceremony. They were always upset with Jesus – not because He broke the Mosaic Laws – but because He kept breaking all the extra laws they had put on top of them.

For example – you know how we’re all about sanitization and washing hands right now? – well, we have nothing on the Pharisees. Consider this: at one point (in Matthew 15), a bunch of high-ranking Pharisees and scribes travelled all the way from Jerusalem to Gennesaret (which is, like, 130 kilometers) to ask him one, super huge important question that had been bothering them so much they just couldn’t wait. That question:

“Why don’t your disciples wash their hands before they eat?” (Matt 15:2).

For them, washing hands wasn’t about personal hygiene, it was about being ceremonially, religiously clean. Before a Pharisee would eat they had a special ceremony for washing. For them, the condition of your hands was the condition of your soul. Some taught that if you didn’t wash your hands, you could get a demon. Others, that it showed how much sin was in your life. Others said that if you ate with unwashed hands, you could forfeit eternal life.

Their ceremony was interesting. Every home had to have a certain amount of ceremonial water available. They were told to use the amount of water that would fill one and a half eggshells. They were to hold their hands upwards, have water pored over their fingers while the water ran off their wrists. Then they were to turn their hands with fingers pointed downwards and do it again. Then, they were to rub the fist of one hand in the palm of the other, and then do it with the other hand. If you were really devout, you would do this in between every course of the one meal![2]

You can see the heart of the one that came to John’s followers with questions about “purification”. Which is why, every now and again, one of the officials would take the trip to wherever John was and basically say, “What are you doing and why?” And start an argument.

John’s baptism wasn’t about an external show of religious devotion, or some kind of superstition. His baptism was one of repentance. It was an external symbol of what was going on in the heart of the person being baptized. They were saying, “I’m a sinner. I need God. I want to change my life and priorities. I want my heart to be ready and clean for when the Messiah comes.” And they would show that by publicly immersing themselves in water.

Everyone’s Upset

Which is why we see in verse 26,

“And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.’”

Apparently the argument with the Jewish official got pretty heated. Not only was he upset at what John the Baptist was doing – but he had brought a report that there was another person, named Jesus, who was nearby, just on the other side of the Samaritan border, who was baptizing people too.

This was all too much! The Jewish official was upset because now two people were breaking their ceremonial laws… and now the followers of John were upset too because Jesus was starting to gather more followers and baptize them. In fact, some of the people who had been baptized by John were headed over to Jesus to be baptized again. So, they ask, “What’s that all about?”

The Jewish official was mad because traditions were broke and his culture and authority were being insulted. The followers of John were jealous on behalf of their master, because Jesus was getting more popular. Everyone is upset because this ceremony, this ordinance, these ritual washings, were all being done by different people for different reasons.

John the Baptist’s Answer

So what does John the Baptist say? Remember, they have just called him Rabbi. John the Gospel writer makes a point of that. In other words, this Jewish Official and the followers of John, and everyone else gathered around them, look to John the Baptist, the teacher, for an explanation.

  And in essence, in his answer, John contrasts himself and everyone else – including the Jewish officials – with Jesus. He looks at them and

“John answered, ‘A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.’ He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”

What does John say here? “I might be a rabbi, a teacher, who talks about God – but Jesus literally is God and the source of all knowledge. I didn’t come up with any of this, it was given to me by God… and He’s right over there. I am the forerunner, He is the Christ. I am the best man, He’s the groom. I might be at the party, but the party is all for Him. I’m from earth, He’s from heaven. I’m a witness to the truth, but He’s the truth incarnate. I talk about repentance and wash people with water – Jesus utterly changes people and gives them the Holy “Spirit without measure”. I was chosen for a mission, but Jesus has been “given all things

“Therefore – now look at me everyone – look at me Jewish official – look at me disciples – look at me people who are here to get baptized… I am hereby announcing my retirement. I refuse to be a distraction to what Jesus is doing. I will not compete with Him. He must increase, but I must decrease. My job was to tell you the problem. I’ve warned you about the wrath of God, the death of your soul, the corruption of your religion, the poison of the Pharisees, and the need for repentance, and you’ve listened to me – but now instead of talking about the problem, I’m pointing you to the solution. He’s right over there… His name is Jesus, He’s the Son of God, and “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”

Conclusion

And that’s the point of this whole narrative – and where we can find something to apply to our lives. Just like the Jewish Officials, Christians and religious people argue about all kinds of things too. Just like John the Baptist’s disciples, the way we practice our faith, religion, Christianity can become competitive, and we can get jealous and upset as we argue about which teacher is best, which translation of the Bible is best, which music is best, which tradition is best, which church is best…

Individually, we can be like the Jewish Officials by being argumentative, stubborn, superstitious, overzealous for trivial issues. Or, we can be like John the Baptist’s disciples and start to worry more about our positions, traditions, focusing on numbers and finances and growth, rather than on Jesus or serving people. Both of these two groups had it wrong because they were worried more about the external things: teachers, washing, popularity, respect — and not worried enough about the internal things: Am I right with God? Is my heart full of sin? Where is my faith? Do I “believe in the son” and “obey the Son”?

John the Baptist’s words here, and John the Gospel writer’s intent here, is for us to stop comparing ourselves to others, stop comparing our ministries or church to others, stop comparing our families to others, stop trying to impress God and others through external things – and to realize that in order to be a Christian, it is our internal priorities that need to change. “Jesus must increase, and I must decrease.”

Over and over we see John the Baptist say what he’s not. “I’m not the Christ.” “I am not Elijah” (1:21), “I am not worthy to untie” Jesus sandals (1:27). Those are the words of a man that is more concerned about what God thinks than what anyone else thinks.

He’s courageous enough, and bold enough to stand up and declare what God wants to say – even if it gets him in trouble, even if it gets him arrested, even if it gets him beheaded. But every word he speaks, everything he does, points away from himself and toward Jesus. And when one of his own people try to elevate John – he reacts by debasing himself and declaring the praises of Jesus as God, Lord, Saviour and Christ, and in no uncertain terms, stepped away from the spotlight, humbled himself, humiliated himself, so Jesus could be seen all the more clearly.

And so, I want to ask you this morning: Do you see yourself in this narrative? Are you like the Jewish Official, more worried about external things than what’s going on inside you? Are you like John’s disciples, competitive with others, comparing yourself, your life, your church, your ministry, you marriage, your kids, your job, with others – always worried about success, and numbers, and finances, and what people think?

Or, are you willing, if that means Jesus gets more glory, to “decrease”. Are you willing to decrease your influence, decrease your expectations, decrease your finances, decrease your comfort, decrease the authority you think you have over any part of your life – and turn it all over to Jesus so He can “increase”?

You’ll often hear the gospel framed as a pitch for all the wonderful things that you can get from Jesus – and there are many wonderful gifts that come from Him – but there’s another part, a deeper aspect of faith. It’s that the closer you get to Jesus, the more you are with Him, the more you study about Him, and worship Him, the brighter He will shine – and the duller you will look. Are you ok with that? Are you ok if God uses you in a mighty way, changes people’s lives, speaks through you in a special way – but no one will ever know? Are you ok with never getting rewarded, praised, or thanked for doing the right thing? Or maybe, in your obedience, in doing the right thing, a whole lot of people misunderstand and it actually costs you. Are you ok with that?

I think of the story of David in 2 Samuel 6. Do you remember that one? The Ark of the Covenant, the very Throne of God, was coming back into Jerusalem for the first time in a long time. It had been taken by the Philistines, recovered and then profaned by Saul (which cost him is throne), and, because it was so powerful and dangerous, had been kept at someone’s home. But when David became king and heard that the one who had the ark was being blessed, he decided it was time to bring it to Jerusalem so the whole nation could be blessed.

And David, being a passionate, musical, worshipful guy who loved God, made it into a huge deal. It was like a parade with music and dancing and instruments and party food and sacrifices to the Lord. And it says in 2 Samuel 6:14, “And David danced before the LORD with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod.” A “linin ephod” was a simple version of the type of garment that priests used. So there’s the king of Israel, not walking all dignified in a fancy royal robe, but dancing with all his might, in a simple outfit, right in front of everyone.[3]

David’s wife Michal sees him and is super upset. Her dad, Saul, would never have done that. It says she “despised him in her heart” (2 Sam 6:16). Once the party was over and the Ark was set in its place, David returned home and his wife tore a strip off him. (2 Samuel 6:20)

“How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ female servants, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!” (2 Sam 6:20)

And what was David’s response:

“It was before the Lord [I was dancing]… and I will celebrate before the Lord. I will make myself yet more contemptible (other translations say “undignified”) than this, and I will be abased in your eyes.” (2 Sam 6:21-22)

In other words – I don’t care what people think. I was worshipping God, dancing before Him, and if it means more worship and glory goes to God – then I will become even more undignified. In other, other words: “He must increase, and I must decrease.”

I think of Jesus words in Matthew 5:11–12,

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

So I ask you: Are you willing to decrease, to be undignified, contemptible, abased, unpopular, reviled, persecuted, uttered against, falsely accused – if it means obeying Jesus and that Jesus gets more glory? Or does your self-image come before your obedience and worship of God?


[1] Borchert, G. L. (1996). John 1–11 (Vol. 25A, p. 189). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[2] You Are the Christ, David Whitcomb, Ambassador International, Pg. ??

[3] https://scribalishess.wordpress.com/2014/02/14/was-david-dancing-in-his-tighty-whities-2-samuel-6/

The Drug of Self-Deception (Gospel of John Series)

Posted on

Sermon Series Graphic (19)

**Sorry, no audio this week**

“So the Jews said to him, ‘What sign do you show us for doing these things?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” (John 2:18–25)

We talked last week about the cleansing of the temple and how important that event was – and how it’s connected to the miracle of water to wine during the wedding in Cana – but we never got to the response from the people. In John, the miracles of Jesus, whether it was water to wine, healing the sick, or raising the dead, are called “signs”. “Signs” are meant to point to something greater than themselves. So when Jesus does a miracle it’s never just about the thing He was doing – it’s a sign that points to more. We’ve talked about that a lot over the past few sermons, so I won’t belabour that further, but it is important to remember.

This whole section here is about how people are responding to the signs Jesus was giving them – the nature of their belief. After inaugurating His Kingdom at the Wedding in Cana, Jesus travels to Jerusalem with a few of his disciples and walks into the temple with a whip and starts flipping over tables, releasing the animals from their pens and cages, and telling people to stop turning His Father’s house, the place where the nations were to come and meet Him, into a shopping mall that exploits the pilgrims. It offends God on a deep level and Jesus demonstrates that in no uncertain terms.

“The Jews”, meaning the religious authorities like the Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Sanhedrin, were obviously offended by this because the whole shopping mall was their idea. So they demand that Jesus demonstrate His authority to tell people to take the things away and call the temple His “Father’s House” by showing them some kind of spectacular miracle that would convince them that He was a prophet. Jesus refuses. From the context, and the rest of the gospels, we know that it wouldn’t have worked anyway. Whenever Jesus did a miracle, the Jewish Authorities never responded with faith and humility, but instead more hatred and another plan to try to kill him.

His response, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” was a multifaceted answer that required a lot of digging and interpretation.

First, it was Jesus saying that He knew exactly what the Jews were planning to do with Him. He would spend the next couple years demonstrating in no uncertain terms that He was God in the flesh, and they would respond by murdering Him. They would never accept His authority.

Second, it was an indictment against their religious corruption, implying that the temple and their whole religious structure was so corrupt that it needed to be torn down completely and that He was the only one who could rebuild it the way God had intended it.

Third, it actually was a declaration of His power and authority. They demanded a sign that would prove He had the right to cleans the temple – He basically said that He doesn’t just have authority over matters like these, but in fact has authority over life and death itself.

Of course, the Jews didn’t want to hear any of that – they couldn’t hear any of that. Their hearts were so hard that the only thing they could hear was the absolute surface meaning of what Jesus had said. Sin had so overcome their hearts, their hearts had become so calcified through their false religion and hypocrisy, that the deeper meaning of Jesus’ words just bounced off without having any effect. Notice that later, Jesus’ true followers thought back to this moment and were able to begin to grasp the deeper meaning. But for the Jews, Jesus’ true meaning was impenetrable.

He Had No Faith in Their Faith

And that’s what this whole section is really about – especially from 23-25 – about how people perceived Jesus, what they believed, and the depth and substance of that belief. It’s a sort of summary of what had happened in Jerusalem over the course of Passover, and acts as an introduction to the stories that will come next.

The disciples see the sign of water to wine and believe. The Jews see Jesus cleanse the temple and refuse to believe. But Jesus performs some more signs among the people and many of them believe. But then, if you notice the next story, Jesus meets with the Pharisee Nicodemus – perhaps one of the men who had challenged Him at the temple, but certainly one who knew what Jesus had done there. Nicodemus is given a long teaching about the importance of being “born again”, of rejecting everything he thinks he knows about religion and instead of being utterly changed from the inside out by the power of God, and throughout the gospel, we see Nicodemus slowly coming to faith (7:50; 19:39). Then, in chapter 4, Jesus meets the Samaritan woman, who is also given a long dialogue about who Jesus really is, the “living water” (4:10) who offers “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (4:14)  and she and many fellow townspeople believed in Jesus as “saviour of the world” (4:42).

We go from the Jewish Pharisee Nicodemus believing in Jesus, to the Samaritan Woman believing in Jesus, to the final story in this section in John 4:46-54, about a Gentile Centurion in the service of Herod, coming to Jesus for a miracle, and then believing in Jesus.

Jews, Samaritans, and Romans. Religious experts, ignorant sinners, and desperate pagans. Men and women, young and old, teachers and wives and government workers, all meeting Jesus and believing.

That’s what makes this section in 2:23-25 such an important transition. Jesus is at the very beginning of His earthly ministry and is standing in Jerusalem at Passover and every type of person is there. Jews, gentiles, men, women, young, old, believers, unbelievers, religious, atheist, pagan, all there in Jerusalem with many witnessing His signs and “believing”.

But the undercurrent of this section is that we need to be very careful about how we read the word “believe”. The disciples believe Nicodemus believes, some ordinary Jews believe, the Samaritans believe, the Roman official believes. But what is the substance of that belief?

Do these Jews at the Passover, and all the others from then on, after witnessing the signs, believe that Jesus Christ is the true Messiah, the Son of God, the saviour of their souls who would have to die on a cross for their sins to be atoned for? Had they given their lives to Him? Was He their Lord and Saviour? Would they follow Him to the end?

Look at what it says,

“Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” (2:23-25).

There’s a bit of wordplay here in this section. It basically says that even though people entrusted themselves to Him, He didn’t entrust Himself to them. They believed in Jesus, but He didn’t believe in them. He had no faith in their faith.

Why? Because as God, as our creator, as One with divine omniscience, He knew exactly what was going on inside of people’s heads and hearts – and knew how the story ended. He knew the Jews that demanded a sign weren’t going to believe it even if they saw it. He knew that Nicodemus didn’t really need a rabbinical debate about what Jesus did at the temple, but needed to be born again through faith in Him. He knew that the Samaritan woman at the well didn’t just need water, but needed acceptance and compassion and conviction and hope – and when she tried to dodge Him confronting her sins and struggles, He didn’t fall for it. He knows people’s hearts and knows exactly how to clear away the smokescreen to get to their true needs.

Jesus isn’t fooled by us. He knows all our secrets, motives, reasons, and excuses. He knows how fickle we are and how easily we can deceive ourselves. He knows how squirmy we can be when confronted with our sin, or told to submit to His will, and knows how great we are at denial and self-deception. He wrote Jeremiah 17:9 which says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Not us! Only Jesus understands it.

Self-Deception

We should be very thankful for this. No one is better at lying to us than we are. Self-deception is a hallmark of what it means to be human. And couple that with our natural tendencies toward believing whatever we want to believe regardless of the truth and rejecting authority even if they’re right, and we’ve got a recipe for trouble.

Consider yourself for a moment, and how many times you have lied to yourself or winningly believed a lie because it’s easier. I googled examples of ways that we lie to ourselves and found a really interesting article on Psychology Today that outlined a few of them. See if any of these apply to you.

The first way that we lie to ourselves is to convince ourselves that “ignorance is bliss”. “Strategic ignorance” for the sake of not getting burdened with reality. Doing things like avoiding information sources that give differing opinions or refusing to study something too much because you’re worried you’ll learn something you don’t like. Do you do that? Only listen to news sources and podcasts you agree with? Only read books that tell you what you want to hear? Only hang around people that share your worldview? Have you ever refused to learn more about something, even something theological or mechanical or personal, because learning more means more responsibility, so you prefer not to know? “Don’t tell me how to add washer fluid to my car because then I’ll have to do it!”

The second was called “reality denial”. And it simply means rejecting information you don’t like so you can build a false sense of security. Someone gives you bad news and you just ignore it. An addict insisting they don’t have problem and can stop anytime. An abuser telling themselves that it’s the fault of the person their abusing. Ignoring your bank and credit card balance and heading to the store, hoping that the debit machine will work.

Another way we lie to ourselves is “overconfidence”, believing we are stronger than we really are – while another was the opposite, called “self-handicapping”, where we are afraid to see what we’re really capable of, or are afraid to fail, so we never really try.

Other ways were doing things like, excusing our own faults while judging others harshly for the same ones. Or “cherry-picking data” that supports our own preconceived beliefs. Another was our tendency towards “sour grapes” where we see something we want, but when we find out we can’t have it, say that it wasn’t probably that good after all.

The quote at the bottom of the article was really interesting. It said,

“Self-deception can be like a drug, numbing you from harsh reality…”

This was a secular article – but how much more should Christians, who know that “the heart is deceitful… and desperately sick”, understand our human tendency towards self-deception? And yet we keep falling for it. Take a moment to consider how many times you’ve lied to yourself, just this week!

Or if that’s too uncomfortable, consider how many times you’ve tried to convince someone else of the truth but they simply wouldn’t hear it. You could get the Bible, the dictionary, the encyclopedia, three peer-reviewed studies, and ten testimonies that all agree with what you’re saying – but if they don’t want to believe it, they just won’t. Instead, they react with argument, anger, rejection, running away. Why? They want to believe the lie because the truth is too inconvenient or difficult. They prefer the drug of self-deception. That’s human nature, and that’s what Jesus knew.

He knew that almost every single one of the people that claimed belief in Him, from the disciples who travelled with Him to the desperate Jews looking for a saviour from the Romans, to all the variety of gentiles, would reject Him in the end. Jesus’ could not count on them to carry Him through to the end of His mission. It was not He who needed them to surround Him with love and support and help – it was they who needed His love, support, and help. They were the walking dead, He is the life bringer. They are those trapped in darkness, He is the source of light. They were the ones who had fallen to temptation, He was the One who proved He never would. They were the blind fools, He was the only one with His eyes open, and who had the power to make them see. Jesus is the doctor, we are the sick. Jesus is the righteous one, we are the unrighteous. Jesus is the curse-breaker, we are the cursed. Jesus doesn’t need to believe in us – we need to believe in Jesus.

Conclusion

What conclusion can we draw from this section of scripture? I supposed it is twofold.

First, that we recognize our tendency towards self-deception, toward believing what we want to believe, toward rejecting truth because it’s difficult or requires us to humble ourselves and say we were wrong. If we can recognize that we are capable of being deceived, that not everything we think is right, that not all our feelings are accurate, that not everything we think about ourselves and others is true – we go a long way towards having a teachable spirit that God can infuse with truth and light. So long as we believe everything we think and feel is right we make ourselves an easy target for the enemy because He traffics in lies and is happy to tell us whatever we want to hear so we will remain steeped in sin and error. Then He can manipulate us into hurting ourselves and others – and we’ll think we’re right for doing it! Satan wants us to continue to believe lies because when we live in lies, we reject God – because God only speaks truth (John 17:17).

And second, once we humble ourselves to realize that we are easily deceived, that we need to pursue truth. Jesus prayed for us in John 17:17,

“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”

He wants us steeped in truth because the more we know the truth, love the truth, and learn the truth, the more we will be free from evil and live in the presence of God.

This is why God’s word says things like, if you have something against someone, go and talk to them, and seek truth and reconciliation (Matt 5:23; 18:15-20). Satan wants us sitting at home concocting stories and having imaginary arguments. God says, “Go and seek the truth.”

This is why Jesus says in John 8:31–32,

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Keep reading my word, stay in it every day, study it, listen to it read and preached and taught, because then you won’t be deceived. Satan wants you to read a verse or two and then come up with your own ideas, your own interpretations, your own conclusions about God and His will. He wants you captive to guessing and uncertainty and confusion and fighting with others based on your confident ignorance. God wants you to know the truth, because ignorance and self-deception is a prison, and truth is the path to freedom. Doing this takes work and humility though…

This is why God says go to church and submit to those more mature than you – those who are more steeped in the truth. Consider what it says in Ephesians 4,

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Ephesians 4:11-14)

We keep ourselves from being tossed around by lies by submitting to Christians that are more mature than us.

And this is why God warns us over and over not to trust our own feelings. says,

“Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.” (Proverbs 28:26)

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Proverbs 14:12)

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Proverbs. 3:5)

Turn to Romans 7:15–25 and see what the Apostle Paul, a godly man who loved Jesus, said.

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Jesus is Always Faithful (Even When We’re Not)

And so what is the ultimate conclusion – to realize our weakness, that God doesn’t need us, that Jesus doesn’t “count on us” or “believe in us”, but loves us anyway.

It should amaze us that Jesus knows the wickedness of our hearts and loves us anyway. When we are unfaithful, He is faithful. Consider the words of 2 Timothy 2:11–13,

“The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.”

What an amazing saviour! That even when we are “faithless”, even when we have a momentary lapse in trusting Jesus, a momentary fall into temptation, Jesus doesn’t reject us. He remains faithful because He has so totally identified with us, has so completely saved us, has so totally changed us, that we become like Himself. He found us when we were lost, forgave us when we were enemies, and adopted us when we had completely rejected Him. That’s the miracle of the cross – our sin exchanged for His holiness, our imperfection exchanged for His imperfection, which has allowed us to become brothers and sisters to Christ and children of God. We never lose our salvation – not because we are so faithful – but because Jesus is faithful to us.

He’s faithful even though He knows what’s in our hearts. Even though we keep failing, keep falling, keep fighting, keep sinning, keep trying to wrestle power back from Him – He remains faithful to us anyway. That’s one, big reason that we love Jesus so much and try to live in the light of His truth. We are easily deceived, but He is not. And therefore, we need His light, His life, His word, His Spirit, His mind, to overtake our own so we can rightly perceive the truth and by that truth know Jesus and be set free.

The Greater Meanings of Jesus Turning Water to Wine (Gospel of John Series)

Posted on Updated on

Sermon Series Graphic (14)

Please turn to John 2:1–12 and let’s read it together.

“On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’

Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.’ So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days.”

The First Sign Ripples Out

This is the very first “sign” of the seven miraculous signs of the Gospel of John. John calls them “signs” because they are not meant to stand alone, but to point to something greater. Like a road sign that points to a city or a store, the miracles of Jesus aren’t singular events for one person at one time but are meant to be a big arrow pointing us to something special about Jesus, His mission, His character, and His person.

When you’re reading the Gospel of John it’s quite helpful to use these miracles as sort of chapter divisions. As I’ve said before, there are more ways to divide up the book because it’s such an intricate tapestry of stories and themes, but using the signs is perhaps the most straightforward. Let me tell you what I mean:

This first sign, the first miracle Jesus ever performed, was Jesus turning water to wine at a wedding in Cana in Galilee. It’s rich with symbolism. It is an inaugural miracle not only displaying God’s mercy to the people who ran out of wine but as a way for Jesus to inaugurate the Kingdom of God on earth and tell us something special about Himself.

Two key phrases to look at here are when Jesus says, “My hour has not yet come” and at the end when it says Jesus “manifested his glory” and his “disciples believed”.

In the Gospel of John, the “hour” always refers to the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection and glorification when he would receive his true position and sit at God’s right hand. The hour where He accomplishes His greatest work in being an atoning death for all who believe, conquering death by resurrection, and then claiming victory in His ascension and giving of the Holy Spirit. But at this point in His ministry, especially since most people didn’t understand what the Messiah was really going to be like, it wasn’t the right time for Him to reveal Himself openly as Israel’s Messiah. He was telling His mother in no uncertain terms that her timeline was not His, that she didn’t have the right to demand things of Him, and that He was going about His heavenly Father’s business, not hers. Her response is to give control of the situation over to Him, “Do whatever He tells you.” and to step back.

After all, this was only the “third day” of His ministry. He’d gone about 10 Kilometers out of Nazareth, had just gotten the baton from John the Baptist, hadn’t gathered all the apostles yet, and had some things to do. But there He stands, His mother having requested help, the servants waiting for a command, the wedding party embarrassed… and He acts out of grace. But he takes that seemingly small miracle and makes it something huge. At that moment, by God’s appointment and His power, He uses that miracle to inaugurate His Kingdom in a very special way.

And that first sign ripples out all the way to chapter 4:42 – because in this first sign Jesus “manifested His glory” or “displayed” or “showed who He really is by demonstrating His sovereignty over the whole of the material universe and nature itself.” And that power, that demonstration, ripples out. Because Jesus didn’t just make wine – He showed people a “sign” of who He really is.

Wine is a powerful biblical symbol representing things like joy, happiness, conversion, and life itself. It was used in Jewish worship rituals and given as a sacrificial offering to God. It represented God’s covenant with Israel, which He would withhold for disobedience. It was served at times of celebration and to cheer hearts, and given to help the weak and sick as a source of healing and life.[1]

Israel at the time of Jesus was, in a sense, all out of wine and only had dirty water[2] left over. There was no celebration in the land because they were under great oppression from Rome and their religion had been almost thoroughly corrupted by the oppression of the Pharisees and the rest of the wicked Sanhedrin. For Israel, just like the wedding guests, the wine had run out, and all they were left with was dirty water. They needed a miracle.

And so, in this first miracle, Jesus inaugurates the His kingdom, declares his intention, and shows His power, by making wine. He is the wine-giver, the celebration maker, the life bringer, the healer of bodies and souls. But, in a way very typical of Jesus, this multidimensional, world-changing miracle was done in a very small place with very few people. He’s in the town of Cana, at a private party, and only a few disciples. It was a small inauguration but it rippled out.

Consider that Jesus’ next act was to cleanse the temple in Jerusalem. From little Cana to big Jerusalem. Jesus has just inaugurated His Kingdom, turned dirty water into choice wine, and comes into the temple as a warrior prince, defending His father’s castle, demanding they remove the corruption from His kingdom. Just as He had miraculously turned a bunch of dirty washbasins into the best wine anyone had ever tasted, He would also miraculously remove the corruption of sin from people’s hearts and flood it with His own presence and power, so everyone could see what real prayer, real worship, real faith looks like. Just as He purified the water, so He would purify His People and their worship.

Then in chapter 3, Jesus meets Nicodemus, a Pharisee and teacher of Israel, and says that the only way people can be part of His newly inaugurated Kingdom is to be miraculously born again. The Pharisee thought it had to do with obedience and strictness to the law – and Jesus says that’s impossible – and that the change must be far more dramatic. More than simply going through religious motions, a person’s whole being must be radically transformed. He says, “The only way to please God, the only way to enter His Kingdom is if you are completely renewed, reborn, changed from within, born of water and the spirit.”

Just as Jesus turned ordinary water into the best of wine, miraculously overcoming the laws of nature, so He would use His power to cause people to be reborn from worldly beings into spiritual beings. He would make the impossible possible. Just as it’s impossible to convince people that dirty water is amazing wine, so it is impossible for a dirty, corrupt soul to please God. No matter how much you stir or heat or cool or add to that dirty water – it’s going to taste like dirty water. No matter how many good deeds or religious actions you do, no matter how many donations you make or volunteer hours you work, no matter how bad you feel about your wrong or how much you try to ignore it, you’ll never make your soul palatable to God. You need a miracle of transformation.

And so, just like Jesus made dirty water into the best wine, so He takes dead spirits and corrupt souls, and makes them alive, and good, and holy, and acceptable to God. He takes sinners and makes them saints. How? It says at the end of the story with Nicodemus. Just as Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness so that any of the cursed people who looked upon it would be saved from the poisonous snakes, so anyone who would look upon the Christ who was lifted on the cross for their salvation would be saved. They would turn from water to wine the moment they looked to Christ for salvation.

Then, in 3:22-36 the miracle ripples from Cana to Jerusalem to all of Judea. Jesus is on the Judean countryside John the Baptist declares Jesus to be the source of eternal life. Just as the wine was used for ceremony and sacrifice, celebration and healing, and became a symbol of a good and blessed life – so Jesus would show Himself to be the perfected source of sacrifice, celebration, healing, and eternal life. Jesus was the life-giving wine-maker.

Then the ripples of the first miracle move out further, from the town of Cana in Galilee to the big city of Jerusalem, to the whole of the province of Judea, to world of unbelievers as represented by Samaria. And the similarities of the story of the woman at the well and the wedding in Cana are too obvious not to be a thematic echo of the first story.

Consider that both stories start with needing a drink and have water in jars. The first takes place at a wedding, the other is about a woman with many weddings and was currently living with someone out of wedlock. For those at the wedding Jesus provides wine, showing He is the life-giver, and for the Samaritan woman who came for water at the well, He says He is Living Water. At the wedding, He says, “My hour has not yet come” and then inaugurates His Kingdom but to the woman at the well He fully declares Himself to be the Messiah. At the wedding the disciples see the sign and believe, at the well, the Samaritans hear the gospel and believe.

The first four chapters of the Gospel of John all point back to that first sign, and use story after story, interaction after interaction to show Jesus declaring Himself to be the saviour, showing His power, inaugurating the coming of the kingdom of God, and then spreading that kingdom from a few people to the city, to the province, to the world. From insiders, like the few disciples and Jesus’ mother, to the outsiders like Pharisees and Samaritans.

So many people get caught up in arguments about what kind of wine Jesus made and how alcoholic it was (or wasn’t). They get caught up on Jesus calling his mother “woman” and wondering if Jesus was being rude to her or not – He wasn’t.  They get caught up on these minor details that they completely miss what the “sign”, the “miracle” was pointing to! That Jesus is the King, Healer, Life-Giver, Reason for Celebration, and Lamb of God who’s precious blood will be poured out as a sacrifice for people who wouldn’t understand, consumed by people who don’t deserve it, just as that unique and amazing wine Jesus made was poured out to the unsuspecting wedding guests in an act of grace.

Conclusion

There are two points I would like to pull out of this story as an application today.

The first is that things like this are why you need to study your bible. Not just read it devotionally, not just pick out favourite verses, not stick in your favourite books, but to actually study your Bibles. Stories like this one are like onions where you see the first layer and think you understand what’s going on – but then as you connect the story to the Old Testament, the sacrificial system, the imagery of wine, the timing of the story, the locations within, the author’s intention and themes – then the story really comes to life and starts to teach you about Jesus.

It’s one thing to know that Jesus is gracious enough to provide wine to people who needed it, it’s another to understand that this whole section is about the inauguration of the Kingdom of God, the promise of Eternal Life, of the picture of Jesus as not only the wine-giver but the sacrificial wine itself. Of watching that miracle rippling out from town to city to province to the world, and thereby seeing that Jesus’ love isn’t merely for the individuals at the party, or the few disciples that saw and believed – but his love extends to those who do not understand what He did, who drank the best wine not knowing where it came from. It extends to the Jewish people who rejected Him, to the Pharisees who kept challenging Him and made themselves His enemies, and then that to every other person in the world.

He gave His new-wine, His blood, His gift of eternal life to ordinary tradesmen, to his neighbours and friends, to the self-righteous hypocrites, the social rejects, the ones who worship wrong and reject His laws, those steeped in sexual-immorality, the abused, the anguished, the ones who don’t even understand how God or love or sacrifice works. He gives that wine, that grace, that love, that living water, the fruits of His sacrifice, to everyone.

But you can’t see all that unless you study!

Second, I want you to notice that this story speaks to us today.

Consider how this story should inspire us to celebrate our connection to Jesus and His love for us. Dirty water to wine, Repentance to Faith, being confronted by our sin and then offered forgiveness and eternal life from the hands of Jesus, should cause us to celebrate. When life is dark or difficult, the knowledge being part of Jesus’ Kingdom because He chose you from the beginning of time, is something to be thankful for. Knowing He is victorious and has destroyed death is always and ever something to motivate worship. When you are down or sad or afraid, take a minute to consider this story from John.

Jesus loved the disciples enough to show them His glory. Has Jesus shown you His glory? In your life have you witnessed His power?

Jesus loved the wedding guests by providing that which they did not deserve at a quality that astounded them. Have you seen Jesus’ hand of provision giving you undeserved grace? Have you ever gotten something from Jesus that was of such quality, such a gift, that you know it was a miracle? During difficult times, it’s helpful to recall the list of things Jesus has done in the past – for His people and for you.

Jesus loved His mother by reminding her that everything happens by His will and on His timeline. Has Jesus ever set you straight and told you to be patient? Have you ever jumped the gun on His will and ended up regretting it? Sometimes the love of God is shown in making us wait, or sternly reminding us to trust His will.

Jesus loved the Pharisee who kept making excuses and arguments by telling Him the truth and refusing to compromise. Jesus is the way, truth, and life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him. The Pharisee made excuses, and Jesus told him there was only one way. Have you been trying to argue with Jesus about how you should get into heaven, how He should operate in this world, how the church should go, how your future should be? Is He loving you right now by reminding you that He is Lord, He is the Way, He is the wine-maker, the life-giver, the living-water, and you are not? Is He showing you love by demanding you submit to Him and Him alone?

Jesus loved the woman at the well by – well, everything. He spoke to her when custom said not to. He indulged her arguments. He gently confronted her sin. He acknowledged her pain and fear. He worked with her wrong religious beliefs. He gave her forgiveness when, maybe, the whole community, and certainly a Jewish rabbi, wouldn’t. Then He used her, the social reject, as His vessel to carry his Living Water, His New Wine, to a whole bunch of people from her neighbourhood, changing their lives forever. All in the span of a few hours!

Has Jesus been confronting your sin, your wrong beliefs, your pain, and telling you to submit to Him as saviour and Lord, to forgive and be forgiven? Has He been gently reminding you of His love, entering into your pain, sitting through your arguments, telling you the truth, and then inviting you to give it all to Him? Has He shown you grace and is now offering to use you, one who went from dirty water to new wine, to help carry His gospel to your friends?

There’s a lot going on in this story – but it doesn’t just stay on the page. How is Jesus using this story in your life today? He’s still the wine-maker, the living-water, the grace-giver, for you today. My prayer is that you would discover Him in His word, in your prayers, and in your service to His Kingdom.

 

[1] https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Topical.show/RTD/cgg/ID/3831/Wine-Symbolism-of-.htm

Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Cana. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 405). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

[2] https://drivethruhistoryadventures.com/stone-jars-ritual-washing-water-wine-miracle-cana/

Why Jesus, Only Jesus? (Does Roman Catholic Doctrine Lead to Salvation?)

Posted on Updated on

My Post (1)

 

Turn with me to Hebrews 1 and we’re going to read some scriptures there about the supremacy of Jesus. The whole message of Hebrews is an argument about how Jesus is better than anything and anyone. The people who first heard this message were Jewish Christians who were under a lot of growing persecution. They were losing their families, friends, jobs, and homes, being put in prison, even losing the ability to buy and sell, because of their faith in Jesus. Many of them, because it was so difficult, were turning back to Judaism. This letter was written to basically say, “Where are you going to go that’s better than Jesus? Do you not see how crazy it is to turn away from the truth toward a lie just to make your life more comfortable? Jesus is better than anything you’re going to turn to, so don’t give up. Keep praying to Jesus, keep worshipping Jesus, stay with the people of Jesus. Don’t go join a losing team because they had a good period because, at the end of the game, Jesus wins.”

Let’s start in Hebrews 1:1-4,

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”

We talked about this last week. Jesus is not only superior to angels but is actually God Himself.

Now move forward to Hebrews 3:1-6 to the next argument.

“Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.”

If you recall, we talked about how great Moses was last week. This second argument is that Jesus is greater than Moses. Moses may have set up the Tabernacle, appointed the priests, and delivered the Law – but Jesus is the one who wrote the Law and whom the Tabernacle was built to worship!

Now move to Hebrews 4:14, something we’ve talked about as well (and here), and which takes up multiple chapters in Hebrews.

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.”

Jesus isn’t like human priests who have their own sins and failings, and then end up dying on you. Jesus is perfect, sinless, and stands eternally before God. Why trade the perfect Jesus, who stands before God interceding on your behalf, for some human priest? That’s crazy.

Now turn to Hebrews 9:11–15,

“But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.”

Why would you ever go back to human priests, a dead religion, temporary sacrifices, human mediators, and the old covenant of the law of death? Jesus is the better high priest, the better tabernacle, the better sacrifice, the better mediator of the better covenant. Why would you put your faith in anyone or anything else other than Jesus? Everything else is worse, or broken, the way of death, or a lie! Only faith in the finished work of Jesus on the cross allows us to be cleansed from sin, approach God in prayer, receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and gives us the security in knowing we have eternal life. Everything else is insecure. Everything else is lesser.

Now turn to Hebrews 10:19-25 where we see the Coup de Gras of the book of Hebrews. It summarizes everything that came before and prepares us for the last couple of chapters. It is the essence of everything a Christian believes.

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Confidence to stand before God because Jesus stands with us. A new and ever-living way to God because Jesus made the way through His blood. Clean hearts, clean consciences, new life because Jesus paid for our sins. Eternal security because Jesus is faithful. A family of believers who serve and love and encourage one another in His name, built on the love of Jesus. Jesus is Head of the Church. Jesus calls us to salvation, Jesus saves us, Jesus equips us, Jesus gives us good works to do. We love others because Jesus first loved us. We forgive because Jesus shows us how to forgive. We serve because Jesus shows us how to serve. Jesus rules and defends the church as King and dwells among us by His Spirit – and it is only by His Word, His Power, that it is upheld, and by which we are saved.

So why would we ever, ever trade anything for Jesus?

Jesus, at the Right Hand of God

Take a look at today’s lesson from the Heidelberg Catechism, which not only speaks of the truth and importance of the ascension of Jesus (which we’ve covered), but His glorification. Remember, we’re going through the part of the Heidelberg that is teaching the Apostles Creed and we’ve come to the last part of section 2 about what Christians need to believe about Jesus Christ.

Question 50 is,

“Why is it added, and sits at the right hand of God?”

the answer is

“Christ ascended into heaven to manifest himself there as Head of his church, through whom the Father governs all things.”

We’ve been covering the ascension of Jesus over the past few weeks and why that’s important to believers, especially with the gift of the Holy Spirit, but what happened to Jesus after He ascended?

Turn over to Ephesians 1:16–23, and let’s read it there. I want you to notice that Paul’s prayer for His church here is that they would realize how utterly crucial their faith in Jesus Christ alone is, how that connects to the work of the Father – and how the benefits of faith only come through Jesus. He says,

“I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

That last phrase is so critical. God put all things under Jesus’ feet and gave Jesus, the head and highest authority over everything in existence, to the church, and made the church the body of Jesus, His hands and feet on earth. One study bible I have says that

“Christ enjoys His position as head over everything for the sake of the church. Not only is Christ at the most exalted position in the universe, but He is also there representing believers and governing the universe for their sake.” [1]

His authority “exists for the sake of service” and as our Head, He delegates that authority and responsibility to serve to us, His body.

I know that’s a big thought, but it goes back to what we were saying before. Jesus’ ascension and glorification are not just things that happened – but are actually beneficial to the church. His ascension and glorification are an integral part of the plan of salvation.

Listen to the next question of the Heidelberg. Question 51,

“How does the glory of Christ, our Head, benefit us?”

“First, by his Holy Spirit he pours out heavenly gifts upon us, his members. Second, by his power he defends and preserves us against all enemies.”

Nothing can happen to a believer except that it comes through the hands of Jesus. He is our defender and preserver. Jesus told us that people are going to hate us because of Him (Lk 21:17.) He told us that when we follow Him we are going to make ourselves enemies of the demons and the powers of this world. The more we connect with Jesus, the more we participate in those Ordinary Means of Grace we talked about last week, the more we repent and pray and serve and share the gospel, the more Satan is going to hate us and the more difficult it will be. Anyone who proclaims Jesus as Lord and shares His gospel with tenacity is a target.

Jesus tells us in advance that this is going to happen, promises to go through it with us, and then delivers us from it. The enemies won’t win. That’s why it’s so dangerous to change teams. That’s why the author of Hebrews was so passionate in His arguments. He was deeply concerned for anyone who would water down or compromise the gospel for the sake of avoiding persecution. He didn’t want anyone to change teams in the middle of the game because it felt like Team Jesus was losing.

I think of Psalm 73 where the psalmist Asaph speaks about how close he was to changing teams,

“Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind….” (vs 1-5)

In verse 16 he says,

“But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.”

Alone, he couldn’t figure out why the world seemed so topsy-turvy, but as soon as he came to the place of God, heard the word of God with the people of God, He remembered that what he was seeing wasn’t the whole story. The game isn’t over after one or two periods, it doesn’t end at half-time. That’s the message of Hebrews, and that’s the point of today’s lesson.

There is no one better to turn to than Jesus. Any religion, whether they call themselves Christian or otherwise, that is not built on the foundation of Jesus – with Jesus as the only Saviour, the only Advocate, the only Way to God, and the highest authority, is a dangerous lie and does not have the way of salvation.

The Exclusivity of Jesus

That sounds exclusive. That sounds narrow and stubborn. It sounds discriminatory and politically incorrect. It sounds like I’m saying that not everyone goes to heaven. It sounds like I’m saying that Jesus chooses some people and doesn’t choose others. It sounds like I’m saying that even the most well-intentioned, faithful people, who do good things for their whole life and believe in their religion with all their heart, will still go to hell because they don’t believe in Jesus.

That’s exactly what I’m saying.

Turn with me to Matthew 7:13–27 and listen to the words of Jesus as He ends the Sermon on the Mount, the manifesto of the Kingdom of God. He ends with four warnings. There are two roads, the right one and the wrong one. There are two kinds of prophets, true ones and false ones. There are two kinds of disciples, Jesus’ and the enemy’s. There are two foundations that people can build their lives on, Him or the one that will be destroyed. There are only two teams and Jesus ends His longest sermon by warning the people to be on the right team.

Listen, starting in verse 13,

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

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.’

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

Roman Catholicism

Now, let me give a very specific and very politically incorrect warning and teaching, but one that must be heard. As I said, any religion, even if they call themselves Christian, that is not built exclusively on the foundation of Jesus as the only Lord, only Saviour, only advocate, only way to God, and interprets everything through the lens of the word of God alone, is a dangerous lie – and does NOT lead people to salvation. This includes Jehovah Witnesses, Christian Science, Mormons, and the Roman Catholic church.

I want to talk a moment about the Roman Catholic Church because we know a lot of people who either are Romans Catholics or are former Roman Catholics and the question comes up all the time, “Are they saved? Do I have to share the gospel with them?”

I turn the question back to you. Consider the exclusive claims of Christ that we’ve just covered, and now let me tell you a little bit about Roman Catholic beliefs.

The first thing to know is that Roman Catholics teach that the Pope in Rome is the “visible head of the church” and the “representative of Jesus on earth.” Roman Catholic doctrine states that when the Pope speaks “ex-cathedra” that his authority and infallibility is equal to that of the apostles, the Bible, and Jesus Himself. These teachings are bindingly “irreformable”[2]. His words are as authoritative as the voice of God – even if they contradict scripture or other Popes (which they have). And you can’t argue with Him from the Bible because the Pope has proclaimed ex-cathedra that He is the only one who can interpret scripture properly. Keep in mind, this isn’t some kind of ancient teaching from 500 years ago. You might be tempted to think that this was only something that people believed when Martin Luther was alive, but all of this was reaffirmed at the Second Vatican Council in 1965.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches all kinds of unbiblical heresy under this authority. Here are some:

  • They teach that God has made the Roman Catholic Church infallible and only Catholics go to heaven.
  • They teach that the Bible does not give the full way of salvation, but that one must participate in Catholic traditions to get the whole gospel.
  • They teach that people can earn their salvation through good works and even paying money – and they can do this on behalf of others so they can be saved too.
  • They teach that Jesus death on the cross was not enough for salvation, but that Christians need to do good works and punish ourselves or we can’t be saved – and that includes more punishment after death in Purgatory, where people go through a version of hell for potentially thousands of years before they’re allowed into heaven.
  • But they also teach that Mary and that the Saints were such good people that they built up a treasury of good works that the Pope has the authority to dispense to whoever he wants – even to the dead relatives in Purgatory – if someone does enough good things, pays the church enough money, or visits certain Catholic tourist spots. (In case you were wondering, that’s the doctrine of “indulgences” that Luther fought against and it is still alive and well today.)
  • And speaking of Mary, if you’ve ever wondered why they have such a fondness for her, it’s because they have elevated her almost to the position of Jesus. They even use Biblical terms reserved for Jesus and the Holy Spirit to describe her. Mary is sinless, Mary is their mediator and advocate and intercessor, Mary is the one who takes people to heaven, Mary delivers souls from death, and must be like God because their doctrines teach people to pray to and give their lives to Mary, the “all-holy one”. They even call Mary the “Helper”, giving her the same title as the Holy Spirit. [3]

So, do these Roman Catholic doctrines, which are core to Roman Catholic religion, reflect the teachings of scripture and hold Jesus Christ as exclusive head, total authority, sole saviour, and only mediator for all believers before God? Or do they teach something else?

Just because someone uses the name of Jesus, doesn’t mean they follow Him? Just because they say, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” doesn’t make them followers of Jesus. A corrupt gospel is not a saving gospel, even if many of the words sound Christian. Yes, you need to evangelize your Roman Catholic family, friends, and neighbours because if they follow Catholic doctrine, then their faith is not in Jesus alone and they are not saved. And that’s going to be an uphill battle because the lies are sometimes so close to the truth that they think they’re the same. This is why you must pray and study as you humbly share the true gospel with them.

Benediction

Let’s close with question 52 of the Heidelberg, which I think is a beautiful benediction of our hope in Jesus. The question is,

“What comfort is it to you that Christ will come to judge the living and the dead?”

In other words, why is knowing that Jesus, your friend, your saviour, your Lord, is the highest authority and will judge everyone in the end? That kind of answers itself doesn’t it? Imagine getting in trouble with the law, getting dragged before the court in handcuffs, uncertain about your future, and when the judge comes in, it’s your best friend.

Listen to the answer because I think it’s beautiful and can inform our prayers and our worship,

“In all my sorrow and persecution I lift up my head and eagerly await as judge from heaven the very same person who before has submitted himself to the judgment of God for my sake, and has removed all the curse from me. He will cast all his and my enemies into everlasting condemnation, but he will take me and all his chosen ones to himself into heavenly joy and glory.”

That’s who I long to see when my life is over and I hope it’s who you want to see too. The One who has done it all for me – and all who believe.

[1] The Reformation Study Bible, Pg. 1706

[2] http://www.uscatholic.org/church/2011/05/there-list-infallible-teachings

https://www.catholic.com/tract/papal-infallibility

[3] https://carm.org/catholic/list-of-roman-catholic-false-teachings

Why is Jesus called “Jesus”? (HC:LD11)

Posted on Updated on

My Post (4)

“Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:1–10)

Acts 2 tells the story of what happened on the day of Pentecost. At that time, thousands of Jewish people from all around the Roman world who had gathered in Jerusalem. The followers of Jesus had all gathered together in one room, about 120 people, and in fulfillment of the promise of Christ, the Holy Spirit came rushing in, filled each one, kicking off the next phase in God’s plan of salvation – the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the world. The followers of Jesus began to speak in languages they previously didn’t know and everyone who heard was amazed and wondered what was going on.

Then Peter, the leader of the group, stood up and addressed the crowd with a sermon outlining what had been happening in Jerusalem, how it fulfilled the prophecies, and how it all revolved around Jesus of Nazareth, someone that they’d no doubt been hearing about. He told them of His life, false trial, lawless crucifixion, and His miraculous resurrection which could be attested to by the hundreds of witnesses standing around them. He told them that it was their sin, their rebellion, which had put the Messiah, the Lord, the Christ, on the cross. Jesus was crucified by their hands.

Acts 2:37 says this,

“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’”

In Acts 16 Paul and his partner Silas are arrested, severely beaten, placed in stocks and dropped into a prison. Here’s what scripture says happens next,

“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, ‘Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.’ And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’”

What would your answer be to these people? Pretend you are Peter. There stands before you the very group of people that crucified Jesus. Among them are the very people that chanted, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” There stand the lawyers who kicked off the false trial, the people that spit on him as He carried His cross to Golgotha, who mocked Him while He was dying on the cross. A group of people corrupted by false teachers, full of hypocrisy, claiming to be the chosen people of God, but who despised and killed His Son, the Lord whom you love. Now they stand before you, their consciences on fire, frightened of the judgment of God, and they say to you, “What shall we do?”

Or pretend you are Paul. You’ve been working hard in ministry but almost everyone in town seems to be against you. They mock you, the crowds beat you, the city magistrates have you stripped and beaten, and you’ve just spent the evening in jail, lying naked in a pool of your own blood, your feet bound in stocks. Now, standing before you is this pagan, Roman, jailer. So far from Christian, it’s almost unfathomable. He’s been listening to you sing and talk about Jesus all night and has just had a brush with death as he contemplated suicide to escape the wrath of his masters, and now He’s worried about the wrath of this new God he’s been hearing about all night. He’s on his knees before you, terrified and confused, utterly undone. He looks up at you and says, “What must I do to be saved?”

What do you say? Maybe your temptation is to blast them. Stop being hypocrites! Stop persecuting us! Stop worshipping your own good deeds. Start listening to what we have to say! Get on your knees and kiss the dirt, thanking God he doesn’t blast you right here! And you, Roman Jailer, you pagan, your life is a total mess! You need a complete overhaul. Let me write a list for you of all the things you need to do in order to be a good Christian. First you need to clean up your life. Go to church, listen to some sermons, join a small group, start serving, and don’t forget to tithe… oh and pray and study your bible and fast and sell your belongings and stop drinking and smoking and playing cards and… and…. But that’s not right.

Paul’s answer was, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31). Peter’s answer was, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…” (Acts 2:38).

The answer to the question, “What must we do to be saved?” is a simple one. Believe Jesus is who He said He is – the friend of and saviour for sinners. Then, show that you believe in Him by admitting you are a sinner, repenting of your sin by changing your life, and be baptised in His name. It’s not that the repenting and baptizing save you. After all the thief on the cross who hung beside had no time to change his life, pay back his debts, do any good deeds, or be baptized, and yet Jesus says He’s in heaven right now (Luke 23:39-43). What saves you is faith. What shows your faith is a changed life and humbling yourself in baptism.

LD11: Why Jesus Alone?

Let’s turn to this week’s questions from the Heidelberg Catechism. If you recall, in this section of the Heidelberg we are studying the Apostles Creed and are on the second stanza, “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only-begotten Son, our Lord…”. So question 29 is,

“Why is the Son of God called Jesus, that is, Saviour?”

The name, Jesus in Greek or “Joshua” in Hebrew, was a common name at the time and literally translates to “Yahweh Saves” or “God Saves”. Many Jews gave their children this name as a reminder to wait for God’s salvation, but in Jesus it took on new meaning. It didn’t mean “God will save us someday”, but “Here is God’s salvation!”

So the question, “Why is the Son of God called Jesus, that is, Saviour?” is answered,

“Because he saves us from all our sins, and because salvation is not to be sought or found in anyone else.”

Question 30 follows by asking,

“Do those who seek their salvation or well-being in saints, in themselves, or anywhere else, also believe in the only Saviour Jesus?”

In other words, if we put this in our modern context, is everyone who talks about Jesus, knows the name of Jesus, or claims to have faith in Jesus – but clearly puts their faith in other things as well –saved? Is someone who says they are a Christian, talks about Jesus, sings about Jesus, but also believes in praying to saints, uses magic or astrology, lives superstitiously, or trusts in their own goodness or abilities an actual, saved Christian? What about Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, and Roman Catholics who all talk about Jesus but add a whole bunch of other beliefs and requirements to the gospel. Are they saved?

The answer in the Heidelberg and I believe it is scriptural is:

“No. Though they boast of him in words, they in fact deny the only Saviour Jesus. For one of two things must be true: either Jesus is not a complete Saviour, or those who by true faith accept this Saviour must find in him all that is necessary for their salvation.”

In other words, the Jesus they talk about, cannot be the Jesus of the Bible.

This is what Paul was saying in the passage in Galatians. When he said,

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” (Gal 1:6-7)

he didn’t mean that the gospel distorters were leaving the church or had stopped calling themselves Christians. He meant that they were staying in the church as teachers, but adding things to the gospel that were nullifying it, making it a message that damns instead of saves. (Check out this article)

This is what Paul’s letter to the Galatians is all about – false teachers coming into the church and teaching that not only do people need to believe in Jesus for their salvation but that there is a list of a bunch of other things they had to do as well.

I want to show you a video that outlines the whole of Galatians so you can see Paul’s full argument here. I’m doing this for two reasons. First, I believe that this video explains this much better, more visually, and more concisely what Paul is saying in Galatians. And second, because I want to inspire you to watch the rest of these videos on RightNow Media.

I’ve talked about the importance of starting up some small groups in this church, and this might be a great series to do in your home. You can find that series when you go to the Recommended Studies section of the Beckwith Baptist Church page on RightNow Media. And, if you want to study the book of Galatians in more detail, then I recommend a new study series that has come out by Kyle Idleman. I linked to it on the Heidelberg Helps section on our RightNow media church page. It’s only 6 weeks long, the videos take only 11 minutes to watch, the discussion guides are all free, and if you’re worried you won’t know how to lead it, the leader’s guide is only $8. No excuses not to have a small group in your home.

Back to our study though.

Jesus And

I hope you see, from scripture and the catechism here, how seriously God takes the idea of adding anything to the gospel. There is no salvation in “Jesus and something else”. Our human nature makes us want to add a bunch of religious hoops to jump through, traditions that must be kept, and lifestyle changes that need to be made in order to be saved, but that’s not how Christianity works. That’s how cults and false religions work, but that’s not the gospel of Jesus Christ. As Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) As the Apostles say, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

Our human nature, even when we are presenting the Gospel, even with the best intentions, makes us want to include a list of laws, books, and to-do lists with salvation. We want to tell people about Jesus and salvation, but also about how to clean up their lives and become good people – meaning, people like us. But that’s not the gospel. Jesus didn’t tell us to go and make versions of ourselves, turning people into little Pastor Al’s, or little you’s. He told us to tell people that salvation is a free gift from Him and to follow Jesus alone.

In the New Testament, it was the Judaizers who wanted people to add the Torah to the gospel. Then it was the Catholics who wanted to add traditions and religious superstitions. Then it was the Mormons and JW’s who wanted to add good works and strange rules and new bible books. All of these are equally wrong, offensive, and paths to hell. Why?

Because even if these people use the name of Jesus,

“Though they boast of him in words, they, in fact, deny the only Saviour Jesus. For one of two things must be true: either Jesus is not a complete Saviour or those who by true faith accept this Saviour must find in him all that is necessary for their salvation.”

In other words, they don’t believe in Jesus for salvation. They talk about Jesus but believe that his perfect life and crucifixion isn’t enough. They believe Jesus needs their help. Jesus needs their help. And Jesus refuses, God refuses, to share glory, to share worship, to share His holy temple, or the temple of your heart with someone else. To do so is blasphemy. To say Jesus’ perfect life, death on the cross, and glorious resurrection was insufficient to save, is blasphemy.

Do you remember last week when I said that believing God’s provision to be transactional only leads to pride or despair? This is the same thing. Believing that we are the ones who must save ourselves by following a list of rules will either lead to pride because we saved ourselves and therefore steal glory from God, or it will lead us to despair because we will always be worried that we haven’t done enough to earn God’s favour and will, therefore, be damned no matter what we do. That’s the message of the world religions, cults, and false Christian groups. Take pride in saving yourself, or always feel guilty, ashamed, and afraid because you’ll never be good enough for God. It’s terrible, and why Paul was so upset when he heard about it.

Conclusion

Let me close with this. The only way we can say we are ever right with God is because of our belief in what Jesus did for us – not because of anything we did for ourselves. All we must do is believe in Jesus as the risen Lord and we are saved. Yes, this requires seeing ourselves as sinners which leads to the desire to repent, and then to obey him by identifying ourselves as His follower through baptism and worship and joining a church and changing our lives – but none of that saves us. If we believe in Jesus, we are saved – no matter what sins we have committed, and even if we completely mess things up afterward.

That’s why 1 John 1:9 says,

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Not, if we beat ourselves up, or clean ourselves up, or do enough prayers, or read enough verses, or pay it all back, or anything else. Forgiveness comes to all those who believe in Jesus and ask for it. It’s automatic, built on the covenant He wrote, in His blood, on the cross. He did all the work.

I like something that Kyle Idleman, the guy who did the Galatians series on RightNow, said.

In Galatians… “Paul is letting the people in Galatia know that he has been down the religious road before and it doesn’t lead to freedom it leads to slavery. It doesn’t lead to transformation, it leads to frustration. It doesn’t lead to life, it leads to death. But Jesus has set him free from all of that. And what the gospel of freedom did for Paul, the gospel of freedom can do for you.” (https://www.rightnowmedia.org/Content/Series/229928?episode=Trailer)

Communion

In a few moments, we are going to have communion. We are going to come to the Lord’s Table, by His invitation, to celebrate and remember His life, death, and resurrection and His promise to save us if we would put our faith in Him alone for salvation from the consequences of your sins and the wrath of God. My encouragement to you is, as we sing the next song – maybe you don’t need to sing right now, maybe you need to pray instead while others sing – as we set up the table, as we stop for a moment, before we take the bread and cup, I want you to check your heart. Do you recognize yourself to be a sinner in need of repentance and salvation? Do you come to Jesus alone for that salvation or do you have other idols besides Him? Have you asked for and accepted forgiveness? Can you take the bread and the cup, knowing you are one of His children? Or, is there hypocrisy within you – false beliefs, other saviours that you turn to, the desire to save yourself, or secret sins that you refuse to admit or repent from? Are there people in your life you need to forgive as you’ve been forgiven, or you need to ask forgiveness from in order to be right with them and God?

You don’t need to clean yourself up to come to Jesus. You don’t need to be religious to come to Jesus. But you do need to admit yourself a sinner in need of Him as your saviour, and then get right with God in a prayer of confession. Take some time to talk to Him in song, in prayer, and in silence, before we take communion.

Awesome Wrath, Amazing Grace (Thanksgiving)

Posted on Updated on

My Post (7)

Audio:

Text:

How many here have Instagram? I do. I’m pretty much done with Facebook these days, and I’ve mostly shifted over to Instagram. I like it a little more because it’s a little more dumbed down. There’s not as much going on in the feed as there is on Facebook. It’s just a stream of pictures, comics, and quotes that I can thumb through, and then double if I like.

Most of the stuff on there, and I’m assuming this is how it works for you too, I just scan past and never think about again. But there was one quote that I saw recently that caused me to pause and has stuck in my brain. It’s a quote from a theologian named Steven Lawson.

It goes like this:

DnqLeudW4AEynno

“Grace is not amazing until you know the wrath of God.”

I tried to find the context for the quote, whether it was a sermon or a book or something, but couldn’t. And that’s ok because this short sentence is powerful enough on its own. The background is likely the famous song Amazing Grace which starts, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

And both of those echo what we read in Ephesians 2:1-9. Please turn there and listen to how we are described before Jesus saves us:

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 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—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Here we read how God sees us before we are saved, before He resurrects our hearts, before we admit we are sinners and accept Jesus as our Saviour. He sees us as dead in our sins, sons and daughters of hell, workers of disobedience to whom evil comes so naturally, we don’t even notice it. He sees us as His enemies, deserving of wrath, and condemned. Meaning that even the good we thought we were doing, wasn’t good at all, but actually worked against God. (Isa 64:6; Romans 1)

And yet, despite being a dead, wretched, lost, blind, enemy of God – He shows us an incomprehensibly great kindness by sending His only Son, trading His Son for us on the cross, and accepting his death for our sake. He then cleanses us from unrighteousness, comes to live inside us, and promises that from now on we will be with Him forever. And what is the cost of this great salvation? What must we do? Good deeds? Give money on Sundays? Go to church? Punish ourselves? No. Jesus completely paid the price, all we must do is believe He did it. That’s why we’re here, singing, giving, serving, and studying His Word today, right?

More Wrath More Grace

BUT, here’s the thing. Steven Lawson was right. “Grace is not amazing until you know the wrath of God.” It’s almost a mathematical equation. The more you understand how much wrath God had prepared for you, how much trouble you were in, the more amazing you will understand His grace and forgiveness and the work of Jesus to be. BUT, the opposite is true too. The more you think you deserve God’s grace, the less amazing you’ll think it is.

We just had that tornado touch down in Dunrobin outside of Ottawa, right? Every time something like that happens in the news I hear someone say the same thing, “Nothing like that ever happens around here. We live in such a boring place. I wish we would have something cool happen like a tornado or hurricane or something!”

I promise that no one in Dunrobin is thinking that way. None of the people who the tornado missed are jealously looking at their neighbours house and wishing it would have wiped them out. None of the parents are looking at those with terrified, injured children think, “Wow, my family is so boring. I wish my kid had been almost killed by a tornado.”

Why? Because they saw firsthand the devastation, the damage, the wrath of the storm. Because it touched them they have a respect for it, fear of it, and for many, a thankful heart that it wasn’t worse.

Those who are far from the storm, safe in their homes, watching it on the news laugh at the storm, mock the storm, even wish the storm upon themselves for fun. Why? Because they have not felt its fury. But those who were in it, closest, who were holding each in a basement other while the storm ripped their house apart, they respect the wrath. I watched a video of a man who was in his home with his daughter when the tornado hit. It ripped off the roof of their house, and his daughter went flying up. He grabbed her little hand as she was being pulled into the storm, and held on for dear life until it passed. That man isn’t at home joking about wanting the storm to come to his town. Why? Because he felt the wrath of the storm.

The Gospel Balance

Christians are often criticized because we talk too much about sin. We are sometimes characterized as being joyless, fun-sucking, lemon-eating, sourpusses who spend too much time thinking about how bad and undeserving and guilty we are. The church is sometimes seen as a guilt factory where people who come in needing some help or encouragement are told instead that everything is their fault and that they should actually feel worse. And in some cases, that can be true. Some churches, some preachers, even me on occasion, concentrate too much on the bad news. Which is why there are so many that refuse to talk about the bad news at all.

People generally don’t like feeling guilty, shameful, wretched, blind, or lost – so they avoid places, like the church, where those feelings happen, and instead, seek out places that affirm them. They join groups that make them feel good about their life choices, feel accepted no matter what they’ve done, encourage them to do it more, and get told that they should never have any bad feelings about it. This is great when a person is trying to lose weight, learn a craft, study for exams, or get free from an addiction – but it works the other way too. Alcoholics go to bars to be surrounded by people who won’t judge them, addicts go to clubs to be with people who do what they do, violent people seek out people who want to be violent with them, sexual sinners seek out people who sin like they do and won’t criticize them, and argumentative jerks go to online chat groups…

What they want is to get rid of the feeling of guilt, shame, and fear that what they are doing is wrong. They want to be surrounded by people who will say: “Despite how you feel, despite the warnings in your head, despite your feelings of guilt and shame, keep doing it. You’re fine. You’re good. You were built this way. You deserve it. Your excuses are enough reason. You’re the exception. All of your actions are justified – because you are just like us. And if enough people say that it’s ok, good, right, beautiful, helpful, and healthy – then we can start to believe that. And we’re going to make sure everyone else believes it too.”

The Gospel of Jesus Christ exists within a paradox where guilt meets grace. There is a tension in Christianity that we all hold at the same time – and it is in that tension that we must live in order to create within us a heart of praise and thanksgiving. Christians exist in the tension between God’s Righteous Holy Wrath against us sinners who deserve Hell and the mystery of God’s Amazing Grace.

We hold in our minds, at the same time, the knowledge that we are dead, wretched, lost, blind enemies of God who have utterly rejected Him, with flesh that keeps pulling us towards sin, loving sin and self too much, and failing God every day – and the knowledge that somehow, for some reason that we will never understand, God loves us so much that He traded His Son for us so that we could be with Him forever (Rom 11:28-36). Or as Romans 5:6-8 says it,

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

That quote that I mentioned before, “Grace is not amazing until you know the wrath of God.” could be restated, “Grace cannot amazing to you unless you know how wretched, lost, blind you actually were.”

That’s why Christians spend so much time talking about sin – because we know the damage it does and the consequences of not taking it seriously. That’s why Christians spend so much time praying. Because we know that we can’t really trust ourselves, our minds, our hearts to lead us the right way. That’s why Christians don’t run from guilt, but instead walk through that guilt into grace. If we ignore the guilt, we cannot get to forgiveness. Because when we feel guilty, ashamed, and afraid of God’s wrath, it forces us to go to Jesus to deal with it.

Jesus the Advocate

My daughter Eowyn memorized a verse this week that I really needed to hear. As she was working on it, I was going through a tough time, making some bad decisions, getting really down, Satan accusing me over and over in my ear – and she kept coming to me, handing me the book, and reviewing the verse to make sure she had it right. So I had to read it multiple times that day and eventually is sunk in. It’s from 1 John 2:1 and here’s what it said:

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

What a healing balm that has been to my soul this week. The apostle, in this book repeatedly calls Christians, “My little children”. I like that and needed to hear it so much. It’s a reminder that as grown up and smart as I think I am, spiritually I’m still a child. I’m not all grown up and mature, like my Heavenly Father. I’m still learning, growing, making mistakes, and tripping over my own feet. And God knows this. When I sin, He’s not looking down on me in wrath. No, I’m a Christian. I’m forgiven. I’m one of His kids.

Sometimes I still get afraid that God is mad at me for the things I’ve done. That God is punishing me. But then I remember Romans 8:15–16 which says,

“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…”

I have to remind myself: I’m a Christian. God is my dad. When I sin, He still loves me. I’m no longer under His wrath. And as His kid, His child, I don’t need to be afraid of Him.

People tell me sometimes that I can be sort of scary. I have angry eyebrows, a pointy beard, and a loud voice and that freaks people out. Do you know who isn’t scared of me? My kids. They’ve seen my face, heard my voice, and know me – so they don’t get scared when I talk – even when I want them to be! I raise my voice during a conversation for some reason, people turn their heads and wince, babies cry, sirens start going off in the distance – and my kids laugh. Why? Because they know I’m not scary. I’m their dad. That’s how God wants me to see Him too.

Next it says,

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.”

God doesn’t want us to sin. Part of the reason He wrote the Bible was to show us our sin. The Law of the Old Testament, the stories of Israel, the hard-hearted Pharisees, the cruel Romans, the arrogant Greeks, the false teachers, the superstitious pagans – we see ourselves in all of them, and we see our sin. The Bible shows us our faults and then guides us on how to make it right. God doesn’t want us to sin. He still hates sin and hates seeing His children doing it – and will oftentimes discipline us so we can learn about the wrong we’re doing.

Later in chapter 3:9-10 we read:

“No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”

Though we’ll never be free of our sinful natures until we get to heaven, God doesn’t want us to be “practicing” sin. We fall, we fail, we develop a bad habit, we go to the wrong place for comfort, that happens to all of us. But when Christians do it, we recognize it as sin. That means we don’t want to do it, even though we just did. We want to change, want to be holier, and we ask for God’s help. But sometimes we keep falling, right? Does that mean God hates us? Does that mean we’re not really Christians? That’s what Satan the Accuser wants us to think (Rev 12:10).

No, there’s an amazing but in there. It says,

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

And I’ll keep reading,

“He is the propitiation for our sins…”

If a human being was creating a religion what would that say? It would go, “I’m writing down all these things so that you won’t sin. But if you do sin, boy are you in trouble! You’d better not! Jesus won’t be happy with you!” But that’s not what it says, is it?

It says that Jesus is our Advocate. In other words, Jesus is our lawyer. He takes up the cause for us before God the Judge. He presents our defence, speaks to God for us, He mediates the conversation with God and He’s on our side. He’s our Advocate before God. And God listens because Jesus is “righteous”, meaning He is perfect. More than this, Jesus is also “the propitiation for our sins”. That means that Jesus was the sacrifice who bore God’s wrath against us so that we could be free.

This is where the understanding of “Grace is not amazing until you know the wrath of God.” comes into play again. Christians sin. Someone said to me recently that they didn’t want to come to church because they feel like a hypocrite. I told them, “It’s ok. We’re all hypocrites.” What did I mean? I meant that even though all the Christians in the church say we hate sin, we all keep on sinning. All of us. We keep sinning, keep doing things our own way, keep denying God and living as practical atheists, keep being selfish and bitter and trying to steal God’s glory. But what happens when we sin? Do we lose our salvation? Or does God simply forget about it? Does He pretend it didn’t happen? Do His kids get away with sin?

No. Do you know what happens? A Christian sins, again and again, and Jesus, our Advocate, says, “Father, don’t count that sin against them. Remember, I took the punishment for that sin. You poured your wrath out on me for that. They are still free.”

When Jesus was on the cross, God looked at the entire timeline of human existence, at the sins of all who would believe – from Adam and Eve to the very last believer at the end of time – potentially billions of people and billions upon billions of sins – and He poured the exact amount of wrath out on Jesus to pay for all of them. All our sins in our past and all the sins in our future are not forgotten by God – they are paid for by Jesus.

Christians who recognize that they are sinners, and how deep that sin goes, are people who recognize the immensity of the wrath that Jesus took for us – and recognizing that allows us to begin to understand how Amazing His Grace really is.

And understanding that grace, that undeserved merit, and then seeing all the other good things God gives us which we absolutely do not deserve – changes our lives. It makes us more willing to forgive others. Knowing that when we were enemies of God He forgave us allows us to forgive our own enemies. Knowing how generous God has been with us allows us to be generous with others. Knowing that Jesus came to serve us makes us want to serve others.

That’s why Christians take time to contemplate our sin and the wrath we deserved because of it – but the grace we got instead – it causes us to praise, to worship, to give thanks.

Thanksgiving

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Chances are when you sit at the table with whoever you are celebrating with, you’re going to say grace before you eat. At least I hope you do. It’s an important habit all Christians should have – to stop for a moment and recognize that where you are and what you have is a good practice to develop humility. But when you do sit down and say grace, when you think about all the things you are thankful for, I want you to remember that that list is much longer than you realize. One Christian leader said it this way: “Everything above Hell is grace.” (Bill Stafford)

Allow that thought to enter your Thanksgiving this season. Allow yourself to see how great a sinner you are and then, as you contrast your darkness with light, realize how great your Saviour is.

How to Prepare for The Lord’s Supper

Posted on

My Post (5).jpg

Audio:

Text:

Tonight we are going to be doing something a little special, something we haven’t done since I’ve been the pastor here, and that is to have an evening communion service. It’s interesting how this happened. Some people came to me and said that they felt like they wanted to “change up communion”.

If you know me you’ll know this immediately raised my hackles and made me wonder what was about to go down. I’m all for new worship music, trying things in church, experimenting with new ministries and seeing what happens, but I’m definitely going to have some issues with messing with the sacraments. They’re a big deal.

My first thought was an unfair one to them. I thought, “Oh great, these people want to make the Lord’s Supper cool by doing weird stuff with it.” And I’ve heard some weird things. I know of churches where those leading communion didn’t say anything, but just played a couple songs off YouTube hoping people would get the gist. I know of churches that refuse to serve gluten-free bread because it’s not as holy as bread made with wheat. I know of churches that make women wear doilies on their head or they won’t be served. I even lived next to one church that encouraged people to bring their pets to church so they could have communion too. I’ve heard all kinds of ways to fancy up Communion. Things like doing it at McDonald’s with hamburgers and coke or even serving it with French onion dip or whip cream.

Thankfully that’s not what they meant. The idea, they explained after I calmed down a bit, was that instead of having it as a short tack-on to the end of a worship service, to meet together at a special time so we can concentrate on what we are doing. Instead of little, tiny pieces of bread, serve an actual loaf and let people have something to chew on. Instead of teeny, Barbie-sized cups of juice, use dealcoholized wine in a bigger cup. The mission wasn’t about making it “cool”, but to make it more authentic, more prayerful, to take better care of how we do it, and to have a greater experience with it than is possible in the 10 minutes we spend at the end of a service.

That was something I could get behind and was more than happy to help plan. So that’s what we’re doing tonight. In my original plan, I intended on giving a short sermon explaining what communion was all about, but it occurred to me that speaking for too long might distract from what we are trying to do there, so I figured I’d give it a bit larger of a treatment this morning in preparation for tonight.

The Lord’s Supper and Signs of the Covenant

So with that in mind, please open up to Matthew 26:26-28, which tells us of the institution of the Lord’s Supper.

This is the Thursday evening before Good Friday, mere hours before Jesus will go to Gethsemane, Judas will betray Him, Peter will deny Him, the disciples will abandon him, and Jesus will be arrested by the wicked Sanhedrin, falsely accused, brought to an illegal trial, and then sentenced to death. It says,

“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Part of what you need to know about the Lord’s Supper is that Jesus didn’t invent it out of whole cloth. Jesus took an old ceremony and imbued it with new meaning. This was the festival of the Passover which had been instituted in the Law of Moses and celebrated for hundreds and hundreds of years so the Israelites would remember the miracle that occurred when they were slaves in Egypt; the plagues, the miracles, and especially the final miracle when God sent the angel of death to kill the first-born sons of Egypt, who could only be spared when a spotless lamb was killed and it’s blood spread on their doors.

Jesus took that powerful symbol, which all Jews knew intimately, and effectively said, “I’m the true Passover lamb. Sin and death hover over everyone, but I will be your spotless lamb who covers and protects you from the consequences of your sins. I will give up my body for yours and allow it to be broken for you. I will spill my blood so you can live.”

Jesus was creating a powerful object lesson. The broken bread and poured wine symbolized His death on the cross. But the cup had a double meaning. During the celebration of the Passover, four cups were traditionally drunk. This was probably the third of the four cups which would be passed around so all could drink out of the same cup. And before passing it, Jesus said, “…this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (vs 28) That was very specific language and there’s a lot going on there.

Covenants are simply agreements between two parties, like a contract. And throughout the Bible, God often forms covenants with His people and then seals them with a sign. He established a covenant with Noah not to flood the earth and sealed it with the sign of the rainbow. He made a covenant with Abraham and the sign was circumcision. When God rescued his people from Egypt and gave them the Law, He made a covenant with them at Sinai. It said,

“Then he [Moses] took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.’ And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.’” (Ex 24:7–8)

In the same way, Jesus took the Passover wine and amplified its meaning. As He was promising to be their Passover Lamb and save them from sins, He made a promise, a covenant with them and all who would believe, written in His spilled blood, symbolized and remembered every time we pour the wine, and then drink it, making it a part of us – and as we share the cup, share the wine, we become part of each other. The blood of Jesus, the covenant that saves us, is the banner we all come under during the Lord’s Supper. It’s a great levelling field and a powerful, important, and serious symbol – and that’s why we don’t mess with it.

Why can’t we use burgers and coke? Why can’t animals take it? Why do we give warnings before we do it? Why is it for believers? Why do we take it so seriously? Because it’s a very serious thing that Jesus told us to do, symbolizing the very essence of our faith.

When The Lord’s Supper Isn’t the Lord’s Supper

Now, please turn with me to 1 Corinthians 11:17-32. This is the passage I usually read when we have Communion, but I don’t read the entirety of it, usually due to time constraints, but I would like to today. This is another passage speaking to the serious nature of the Lord’s Supper, or Communion, and how important it is that we get it right. Now, when I say “get it right” I don’t necessarily mean “do the ritual properly”, which you will see as we read. If you recall, the Corinthian church was kind of a mess and had gotten a lot of things wrong, and the Apostle Paul was writing this letter to correct them. It says:

“But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.”

There are three things I want to point out in this passage to help guide what we are going to do this evening.

First, I want you to notice verse 20 which says, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.” What does that mean? This church was doing the same thing we have done each month for many years and will do again tonight. They were meeting together for worship and fellowship and then taking time to break bread and share the cup of the covenant together. So how could it not be the Lord’s Supper? The answer isn’t that they were doing the ritual wrong, but that their hearts weren’t right before God as they were eating and drinking. The offence was that instead of having the Lord’s Supper in the way Jesus intended, they were simply going through the religious motions (something many so called “Christian churches” are guilty of institutionalizing today, by the way.) What was the evidence that God didn’t accept their Lord’s Supper? Because of how they were treating one another. Sure, they had the elements before them, they were eating the bread and drinking from the cup, saying the words, and singing the songs – but the church was divided.

Paul says there were “factions” and “divisions” among them. They had separated themselves by class, race, economic status, gender, lifestyle, even by favourite apostle and beliefs. People were treating each other carelessly, with disrespect, forgetting each other’s needs, not caring for the poor and needy and oppressed among them, but instead were using those situations as a way to gain advantage over one another. They weren’t in “communion”, united under the banner of Jesus, and it showed in how they sinned against one another in so many ways. They weren’t caring for one another or forgiving one another, or doing most of the “one anothers” in the Bible. That meant they weren’t listening to the Holy Spirit, which meant they were still in unrepentant sin, which meant their hearts weren’t right with God, which meant they weren’t worthy or ready to take the Lord’s Supper, the very sign God gave us to demonstrate humility, sacrifice, forgiveness and unity.

I think that’s something our church needs to be very careful not to skip over. I know we are a friendly church, but I also know that there are a lot of hard feelings among the people here, offenses given and taken and not dealt with, old rivalries and unforgiveness, even bitterness here in our church. Don’t assume that this verse isn’t talking about us. Examine yourself. Why?

Because of how seriously God takes this offence? Look at verses 29–30,

“For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”

To “discern the body” has a two-fold meaning. First it means to understand what Jesus did for us on the cross, and second, that they are in right relationship with the Body of Christ, or other Christians. In other words, the Lord’s Supper is reserved for humble, believing, repentant, forgiven Christians. It is for people who understand what Jesus meant in Matthew 5:23–24 when He said,

“… if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

And in Matthew 6:15 where He said,

“…if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

God doesn’t want our worship until we’ve show sacrificial love to others, especially those who make it difficult.

How serious does He take this? Not only will He reject our worship, He actually brought sickness and death to the church to demonstrate His displeasure. Would God do that? Certainly. Consider what happened to Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 when they lied about their tithing and God struck them dead. Consider God allowing the city of Jerusalem to be razed to the ground, sending His people into Babylonian captivity, far from their Promised Land for 70 years. Yes, God takes our faith, His church, and the sacraments very seriously and will sometimes allow His discipline to show in serious ways. We talked about that a little bit a few weeks ago.

Why is It God Not Blessing Us?

This all reminds me of Isaiah 58 where the nation of Israel wonders why so many things are going wrong with them. Turn there, but keep your thumb in 1 Corinthians. God says to the prophet in verse 1,

“Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins.”

The next verse is dripping with sarcasm:

“Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God.”

Every day they come before God, perform religious rituals, read some bible, say some prayers, tell God how great they are and how much blessing they deserve, and wonder why everything around them is falling apart. In verse 3 the people say,

“Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?”

What’s going on here, God? We’re coming to church, singing the songs, studying your word, saying the prayers, doing the ministry stuff, going to meetings, eating the bread, drinking the wine, even fasting? Why are we not seeing victories, answers to prayer, miracles? And the answer comes from God,

“Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure…”

Stop there. That’s the problem. They’re not fasting or worshipping God. All they have in mind is their own pleasure. Back to verse 3:

“Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD?”

God is saying, “Do you think I just want you to go through some religious motions and then treat everyone around you badly? Do you think you can come before me and ask for things when I know that you are utterly indifferent towards those who I’ve told you to take care of!”

People sometimes ask, “Why isn’t God answering my prayers?” One answer is found here, and is echoed in the New Testament book of James 4:2-3,

“You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”

God was rejecting Israel’s worship, their religious activity, their prayers, and bringing harsh discipline to them because their hearts were not in the right place. How did that show? By the fact that they weren’t repenting from their sin, and were, in fact committing sins against one another, even against the weakest among them. That’s exactly what was happening in Corinth, and I fear, it may be happening here too.

The point is that what Paul is saying here, when he says, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.”, is that though they were going through the motions of Communion, performing the ritual of the Lord’s Supper, their private lives and how they treated each other showed that their hearts were far from God, and a far cry from the kind of sacrificial love that Jesus was trying to teach them through this sacred meal.

A Reminder of The Cost

Flip back to 1 Corinthians. The second thing Paul tells them in verses 23-26 was to remind them of the cost of their salvation, found in the elements – the very body and blood of Jesus. The reason we celebrate communion is to remember the Life, Crucifixion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus – to remember the cost of our sins and how terrible it was when we were enslaved by them. And then, to remember that our sins, no matter how terrible, are forgiven because of the goodness of God sending His own Son and the love of Jesus demonstrated on the cross. And then, to take that love and grace and share it with one another in His name, exemplified by eating and drinking His Body and Blood together!

Communion is a powerful time, but it becomes meaningless, even dangerous, when we do it with our hearts in the wrong place.

Self-Examination

That’s why the third thing I want to point out is what we are supposed to be doing before the Lord’s Supper – and that is to examine ourselves; to do an inventory of our head, heart, and soul, to examine our actions, thoughts, and motives. Look again at verses 27-29,

“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

We are commanded to invite God to open us up the way Psalm 139:23-24 says,

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”

To open the Word of God and allow the Holy Spirit to do soul surgery on us. As it says in Hebrews 4:12–13,

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

That is actually what we are going to spend the majority of our evening doing tonight. In order to obey Jesus in this way, we will be reading scriptures, privately confessing our sins to God, publically confessing our sins to each other, accepting forgiveness, and then having the Lord’s Supper together. My invitation to you is to take time to prepare for it today. To read scripture, get right with God, prepare yourself to confess to your brothers and sisters, and to accept Jesus again as your only hope of salvation, the only one who can cleanse you from sin.

A Mighty Mediator (HC: LD5)

Posted on Updated on

LD5 - A Mighty Mediator

Audio:

Text:

The more I study the Heidelberg Catechism, the more I like it. It appeals to me on so many levels – it’s beautifully written, theologically rich and complex, but is also laid out in such a logical way that it’s very readable and straightforward to follow. I wish that I had been able to go through this, or something like it, a long time ago – not as a pastor preaching a series, but as a congregant or student. Even to this day, I feel so far behind in understanding what are considered to be the basics of the Christian faith.

I admit I wasn’t the best student in the world, but I don’t really remember going through any kind of catechism as a child, teen, adult, or when I was in Bible College. Sure, we studied stories and books of the Bible but it seemed divorced, at least in my mind, from how it impacted my daily Christian walk. Even in seminary, as I was taking Hermeneutics, Systematic Theology, Baptist History and Thought, and Christian Ethics, I knew what I was learning was important, but it almost felt like I was memorizing trivia answers so that I seem like I know what I’m talking about, rather than really connecting those thoughts as an anchor to my faith.

I love learning, and I love knowledge, but for a long time that meant simply amassing a bunch of information rather than taking time to meditate on the meaning of what I was actually learning. I learned words like Law, Covenant, Atonement, Grace, Sanctification, and Justification and knew their definitions, but somehow there remained a sort of disconnect between those concepts and my daily Christian faith, my prayer life, bible reading, and personal relationships. I could preach, teach, counsel, and answer lots of questions, but I was more like a theological calculator than an actual pastor. It wasn’t until I started facing a bunch of personal difficulties that those concepts really started to sink in.

Maybe you’ve experienced this: You’ve been to Sunday School and learned lots of Bible stories. Went to Bible camp, got baptized, and sat through a bunch of sermons. You’ve been to Small Groups and read your Bible at home. But your connection to God wasn’t really growing. You know more stuff, and look like a confident Christian on the outside, but on the inside, you wonder if you’re really a believer at all. You keep sinning, don’t pray as often as you know you should, don’t read your Bible with the passion you feel you ought. You come to church and though it’s nice to be here but inside it feels like you’re going through the motions and you hope that no one notices. You like your Christian friends, but are fairly indifferent towards getting to know them better. You still talk about God, but it’s been forever since you actually shared your faith with anyone – partly because you’re not sure if what you have to offer is going to help at all… since you’re not sure how much it’s helping you.

I’ve been in that place, even as a preacher. Showing up on Sundays, sermon in hand, saying what I think are all the right things, but wondering if somewhere very deep down I’m simply parroting other people’s deep thoughts about faith because I’m afraid to look at myself in the mirror and face the realization that my own faith is so terribly shallow.

But then, and I don’t know how long ago it was, I started to get really interested in Theology. I think it came because of the mix of my need for good answers to tough questions, my longing for a deeper relationship with God, and my fear of standing up here as a hypocrite leading other people into error. I know a lot of it came because I was facing difficult times and my reaction showed how far I really was from God, how undisciplined, how unsanctified, and that realization started to scare me.

And so, I started asking God for help. And whereas before I was simply reading the Bible because I was supposed to, and reading books about “how to grow a church” or “how to preach” or “how to lead” – those books started to become distasteful to me – I believe God gave me a new interest in Theology. And as I started to study, it was like a healing balm to my wounded soul, like a big drink of cool water after being thirsty for so long. Suddenly those terms I had learned started to move from my mind to my heart to my soul. Suddenly the sermons I’d heard, even ones I’d preached, started to make a different kind of sense to me. Suddenly the music we were singing in church, especially the old hymns, started to speak to my problems, encourage me, challenge me, and build my faith.

A Mighty Fortress

Recall to your mind the first 4 or 5 weeks of this sermon series and then consider the words to the 500-year-old hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”:

“A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing: Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing. For still our ancient foe doth seek to work his woe; his craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal.”

That speaks of the problem of sin, temptation, and Satan. It continues:

“Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing; were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing. Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is he; Lord Sabaoth is his name, from age to age the same, and He must win the battle.”

What’s that about? That salvation from sin, death, temptation, and Satan is found in Jesus alone, not in our own strength. That if we try to fight him in our own strength, then we will lose. When I’m utterly ruined by guilt, shame, fear, doubt, trials and temptations – should I buck up, pull up my socks, and try harder? No? Who wins the battle? Lord Sabaoth, or “God of the Angel Armies” is His name. And it continues:

“And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us. The Prince of Darkness grim,—we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo! His doom is sure,—one little word shall fell him.”

But life is still hard, we say, still “filled with devils”, and it threatens to undo us. Why shouldn’t we live in fear? What reason can we give not to live in constant fear of all the things that can and will go wrong? Because God has promised that “His truth will triumph through us”. What does that mean? It means that even through our trials, storms, and sufferings, Satan is still losing. Romans 8:36-37 says that even if we face death all day long and are regarded as sheep for slaughter, we are still “more than conquerors”. Why? Because our enemy is already beaten and is “one little word” away from total destruction. What is that word? “Jesus”. He is the one that can say to a storm: “Peace! Be Still!” and it stops in a moment (Mark 4:35-39). He is the One before whom demons cower who can command them with one word to “Go!” (Matthew 8:289-34). Jesus is the one who, at the beginning of John is called “The Word… who was with God and… was God” (John 1:1), the LOGOS, the power through whom all things came into being.

The hymn concludes:

“That word above all earthly powers—no thanks to them—abideth; the Spirit and the gifts are ours through him who with us sideth. Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also: the body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is for ever.”

What does it mean to “abideth”, or “abide”. It means to continue, to remain. This whole verse calls to mind John 15:1-11, which is Jesus’ illustration that says that He is the Vine, we are the branches, and God is the Vinedresser. Jesus says,

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:4–11)

To abide, as verse 9 says, means to trust and rest and believe in the love of Jesus? What does that look like? That’s verse 10. It means we keep His commandments, or more simply “do things His way”, because it shows that we trust Him. Jesus says that the qualification for salvation, for answered prayer, for acceptable worship, and for bearing any kind of fruit in this world is that He abides in us and we abide in Him.

“The Prince of Darkness grim,—we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo! His doom is sure,—one little word shall fell him. That word above all earthly powers—no thanks to them—abideth; the Spirit and the gifts are ours through him who with us sideth.”

Some people don’t like these kinds of old hymns because they sound so dark and grim, talking about sin, death, hell, Satan, suffering – but it’s not grim – it’s hopeful! It’s a theological explanation, in song form, of why we need not be overcome by temptation, fear, sadness, or hopelessness. It’s a song that says if “we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing”, but that there is one who can win the battle, One who is greater than us, who has chosen to be “on our side”, and who will not only win for us, but will give us even more by granting us “the Spirit and the gifts”?

What does that mean? It means that Christians who abide in Jesus, who trust Jesus, who love Jesus and know that He loves them, will be given the gift of the presence of the Holy Spirit, the very person of God, to dwell in you just as the presence of God dwelt in the Holy of Holies in the temple of Israel (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:16-20). And with His presence comes spiritual gifts like you’ve never experienced before.

Beauty Under Our Noses

There’s a thing online that I come across sometimes that always makes me pause, and it’s the blogs and sites that are dedicated to before and after pressure-washing pictures. Sidewalks, decks, driveways, walls that have been left to the ravages of their environment brought back to their former splendour by some high-pressure water. It’s not that they were ruined, it was just that they were covered in the gunk of the ages.

Hymns and theological studies are kind of like that. We all like seeing a new car, new paint job, new building, or a new piece of tech because it’s so smooth and shiny, but it’s amazing how much beauty there is in the older things around us. Sometimes we walk by a plaque or building or walk down a sidewalk – or pick up an old hymnal, systematic theology, catechism, puritan classic, book of prayers – and assume that it’s just old, tired, useless, or broken down with age – but once we remove the gunk of our own biases and do a little study work – we start to realize the amazing beauty that has been right under our noses.

When I started to study theology, songs like “A Mighty Fortress” started to come alive to me. Not because of their own inherent beauty or power – which I think they have – but because they pointed me to the beauty and power of the promises that God had been telling me all along in His word, but that I was missing or misunderstanding or glossing over because I wasn’t doing the meditative work to allow them to penetrate my heart.

Christ the Mediator

Consider today’s study of the Heidelberg Catechism which speaks of the need for God’s justice to be fully satisfied by Christ our Mediator. Words like “Justice” “Justification” “Satisfaction” Mediator” are rich with meaning, but come across as cold and pedantic, old-timey and covered in the gunk of the ages. So when we hear them or read them they sometimes bounce off of us. But if we take a moment to ponder them, to meditate, study, and explain them, suddenly the beauty and joy of what is being said, starts to come forth.

Look at Question 12, and remember the context. We’ve just spent 4 weeks talking about the trouble and misery of sin. We’ve come face to face with mankind’s greatest problem, and our own guilty conscience. We’ve tried to make excuses, denying our guilt, blaming God, blaming others, denying the need for punishment and the existence of Hell – and hopefully came last week to the place where we finally relent and say, “I am a sinner, condemned by the Word of God and my own conscience. I have offended Holy God and deserve a just punishment for having a heart that loves sin and for the sins I have committed for my whole life.”

Now we come to question 12:

“Since, according to God’s righteous judgment we deserve temporal and eternal punishment, how can we escape this punishment and be again received into favour?”

How can we escape justice? Look at the answer:

“God demands that his justice be satisfied. Therefore we must make full payment, either by ourselves or through another.”

You cannot escape justice. Justice will be done.

Turn with me to Psalm 139 where the psalmist says,

“O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.

Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.”

You are caught in your sin, guilty before God. And what happens when we get caught? Our natural tendency is to look for an escape. How do I get out of this problem? Where can I run? God says, “Nowhere.” Justice must be served. We talked about that last week.

In question 13 you search your pockets,

“Can we by ourselves make this payment?”

And the answer is

“Certainly not. On the contrary, we daily increase our debt.”

The Judge has declared us guilty and demanded we pay for that guilt. He has seen that we are debtors who are in way over our head, owing more than we could ever repay, with interest working against us with every minute that goes by. Psalm 130:3 says, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” In other words, if God actually showed anyone the full weight of their sins – all they have done, said, and thought wrong, all the things they did but shouldn’t have done, or didn’t do but ought to – would anyone be able to argue with Him that they are perfect? No, of course not. At death, our Debt Collector, who is also the Judge, calls us in to pay the debt. Every moment of our life was a moment of grace. He could have called it anytime – and if we cannot pay him back, we must face the terrible consequence of Hell.

But the Judge, says this: “I want full payment, now! Can you pay it?”

In Question 14 we look around the divine courtroom, desperately hoping to find someone who can help us by paying the debt:

“Can any mere creature pay for us?”

Perhaps there is another human who is good enough to pay our debt? Perhaps God would accept an animal on our behalf? The answer comes:

“No. In the first place, God will not punish another creature for the sin which man has committed. Furthermore, no mere creature can sustain the burden of God’s eternal wrath against sin and deliver others from it.”

An angel can’t take our punishment because they are a spiritual being and the punishment for sin must be endured in body and soul. The death of an animal can’t satisfy the debt because it doesn’t have an immortal soul and cannot choose to take the punishment on themselves. Even in the sacrificial system of the Old Testament those sacrifices were only temporary and insufficient. Hebrews 10:3 says that “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins…”.

What about another human being? No, our debt cannot be paid by someone who also owes a debt to the Judge. They must pay for their own sins. If I owe a million dollars and cannot pay it back, then how could I turn to another human being – even if he be a saint – and ask him to pay? He’s in debt too because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23). We look around the courtroom, all around the world, and find no one who can pay our debt for us – and we know we are condemned.

Then Question 15 comes:

“What kind of mediator and deliverer must we seek?”

If no angel, no animal, and no human on earth can pay our debt for us, then to whom can we turn to save us from the consequence of our sin debt?

The answer comes:

“One who is a true and righteous man, and yet more powerful than all creatures; that is, one who is at the same time true God.”

As 1 Timothy 2:5-6 says: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all…”

Or as 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Conclusion

You stand before the Judge and Debt Collector who is God and know you are condemned in your sin debt to death and punishment in Hell. You look around the courtroom for anyone else who can pay it, and find no one.

But then, the Judge Himself looks you in the eye and says, “I have an idea.” And He calls in His own Son. He says, “Son, this one owes me more than they can ever repay. They are condemned to death and hell. Would you be willing to take their place, exchange yourself for them, stand before Me in judgement, and take their punishment? Would You take their sin debt and allow Me to pour the fullness of my wrath, all of Hell, upon You, for their sake? You are the only one that can do it. You are my Son and my Word, perfect in every way, and everything I have is yours. You have no debt. I’m willing to accept you in their place.”

Jesus has all the qualifications to be the perfect mediator between sinful humanity and perfect God. He is the perfection of God born as a man, and totally without sin.

Jesus looks at you and says, “I am willing if you want me to. Do you want me to?”

Jesus says, “I will abide with you. I will abide in you, just as my Father abides in me. I will take His wrath against you upon myself. All you have to do is admit that you can’t pay the debt and that you need me. I’m the only one that can do this. You cannot do this alone. There is no amount of good deeds or praying or religion you can do to pay this debt. Are you willing to let me pay it for you? If you say yes, I will give you freedom from sin, the Holy Spirit, a new purpose, spiritual gifts, a peace that passes understanding, and eternal life. I will reverse your curse and pay all your debt for every sin you commit from birth until death. And then I will stand before the Father in Heaven as your advocate, your mediator, interceding on your behalf. I’ll be the life-giving vine, you be the branch that I make fruitful. Do you want that?”

That is the offer of salvation in Jesus Christ. This is what it means that He is our mediator – not priests or pastors or popes or Mary or saints — this is a promise we only find in Jesus.

All we must do is admit we are sinners and believe that Jesus died on the cross and rose again to pay for that sin. That’s the gospel. This is how salvation works. And He’s willing to do it if we are willing to turn our lives over to Him.

These are the promises I see in scripture, in the study of good theology, and in the songs that point us to that promise. Will you accept them? Will you study? Will you sing?

Let me close with the words of Romans 8:31-38, which I have read many times, and will read many more:

“What then shall we say to these things? 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 with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Stewarding Wealth 2: Why Are We So Anxious About Money? (And What Can We Do About It?)

Posted on Updated on

57 - Stewardship of Treasure 2 - Anxiety

Audio:

Text:

https://player.rightnow.org/99573

So, that little video is a reminder of what we’ve been studying over the past while, especially last week where we looked at Jesus teaching in Matthew 6 about how we ought to be setting our priorities when it comes to stewarding our treasures (meaning our finances and possessions). The biggest thought there was that our relationship with our money and stuff is directly connected to our relationship with God.

Last week we studied Matthew 6:19-24 where Jesus teaches us about the folly and spiritual danger of storing our treasures on earth, about the darkness that creates in our souls, and how believers simply cannot ride the fence in this matter. He says in verse 24, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

This week I want to continue that study by moving on to verse 25 and look the conclusion of what Jesus was teaching in that sermon. Let’s open there and read:

What’s the Therefore There For?

“Therefore…”

Ok, so pause there a second. Whenever we see a “therefore” in the Bible, we always have to ask ourselves what it’s there for. Usually, it’s a way to tie the previous teaching to the next, and often, that next teaching is an application. The author will make a theological truth claim and then what we’re supposed to do with that truth.

In 2 Genesis we read about the truth about the creation of man and women. That section concludes with the application, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24) The relationship between man and woman, under God, makes its application in marriage.

In Exodus 4, God calls Moses to the burning bush to tell him that he’s going to be His messenger to Pharaoh. Moses comes up with a bunch of excuses about how he can’t talk good, which God refutes with a bunch of theological truths, and then says, “Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” (Exo 4:12)

And of course, the New Testament is full of them, especially Romans. It’s a deeply theological book, teaching a lot about how God works, but it almost always ends in an application.

Romans 1:22–23 concludes a long theological statement about how sin leads to idolatry and darkness of heart: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” We then read what happens when that darkness of heart is applied: “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves…” Idolatry of heart leads to the impurity of mind and body.

But in Romans 4:24-25 we read the theological truth claim that Jesus work on the cross did everything necessary to appease God’s wrath against sin, “It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” Which leads to the practical application of the next verse, 5:1: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” If what this says about what Jesus did is true, then the application of our faith to it means that we are no longer under God’s wrath, but are at peace.

That’s why we stop for a moment whenever we read a “Therefore” in the bible. It’s usually a key point that’s about to be made.

So here in our passage today we read the theological truth claim comes before: Worrying about your earthly treasures will fill you with darkness and cause you to hate God. Concern about your treasures in heaven will fill you with light and cause you to love God.

So what’s the practical application of that thought? Let’s read the whole thing together:

“Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

So, what’s the “therefore” there for? What’s the practical application? “Don’t be so worried about your treasures – or don’t be anxious about your needs.”

Spreading Anxiety

From the world’s perspective, and unfortunately, many Christians share this perspective, living without worrying about money is insanity. I think especially of the kids that are graduating high school soon, or within the next few years. Within the culture, there is this automatic reflex to ask these kids what they are going to be and to lay upon them all the anxieties of the world.

If we ask a child what they want to be when they grow up we used to give them latitude to give any answer they like: fireman, veterinarian, astronaut, doctor, scientist, race car driver, bus driver, an artist, a dinosaur…. but at some point, not too long in their future, many adults around them start to feel like it’s their responsibility to tell them the economic reality of that decision.

“Sorry, Johnny, I know the big yellow bus is cool, but being a bus driver doesn’t pay enough. And being a race car driver isn’t realistic, the lessons cost a lot of money, so do entry fees and travel and the car is worth millions, so you shouldn’t do that either. Being an artist doesn’t pay at all, so maybe do that as a hobby once you get a real job. And sure, you could be a doctor or an astronaut, but that means going to school for a really long time, and school costs money… and that’s why, Johnny, you can’t have a new bike.”

But the pressure gets worse in High School. As they reach graduation age all these 17-18-year-olds are not only supposed to know what they are going to do for the rest of their lives but also commit to training in a career for 3-4 years at the expense of tens of thousands of dollars – usually loaned to them. And heaven-forbid they say, “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure”… or worse, get two years in and realize that they don’t want to do that anymore, because then their 19 or 20 years old, have no job because they’ve been going to school, and are 20 thousand dollars in the hole.

So, starting when their 15 or 16, the guilt trip starts, right? How does every conversation go? “Mom and Dad, can I go to the movies tonight?” “No, you need to get your rest because you need to do better in school, because you need to get better grades, so you can get into a good university, so you can get a good career, so you can make lots of money, so you and I never have to worry about your financial future.”

“Mom and Dad, I’m really tired and stressed out. Can I spend time with my friends?” “Sorry, honey, that’s how life is. You don’t see me hanging out with friends, do you? You’re on 2 sports teams and in three clubs and doing after-school programs and volunteering because – you need a good transcript, so you need to get into a good university so you can get a good career so you can make lots of money….”

“Mom and Dad, I’m freaking out. I got so stressed out that I developed an eating disorder, got addicted to drugs, and started hanging out with some stoners that just let me exist rather than stressing me out and guilt tripping me all the time.” “Oh, no! Now your grades are bad, and your transcript is bad, and you’ll never get into a university, and you won’t get a good career, so you can’t make lots of money…. You have to clean up your life!

“Why, Mom and Dad? What does a cleaned up life look like?”

“Well, honey, it looks… anxious, stressed out, money and career driven. It looks like being a good consumer, making lots of cash so can buy lots of things and run away from your job for 2 weeks per year to go somewhere warm. It looks like a failing marriage, distant children, shallow friendships, and an empty spirit. It means not being able to sleep because you’re worried about the bills. It means ruining your reputation so you can get ahead.

It means yelling at your family and making them the enemy whenever things get tight. Who threw away the bread crust?! Why do you use so much toothpaste?! Why are all these lights on?! You’re not allowed to be sick today, I have to go to work! Don’t you know how expensive these things are?

It means putting off enjoying everything until some magic day in the future. Don’t enjoy your teen years because you need to worry about your future. Don’t enjoy your 20s because you need to be worried about your grades and career. Don’t enjoy your 30s because you need to worry about your job and accumulating enough stuff to impress your friends and hopefully a mate. Don’t enjoy your 40s because you need to worry about paying your bills and feed your family. Don’t enjoy your 50s because you need to worry about retirement. Don’t enjoy your 60s because now money is tight because you didn’t save enough or you added mortgages and a bunch of debt in your 40s and 50s so you need to find a job as a Walmart greeter or fast-food cashier. Then you can, maybe, spend your evenings watching tv. That’s the life I want for you, kid. Doesn’t that sound great?”

That’s insane, isn’t it? Why do we do that to our young people? Why do we do that to ourselves? But that’s what life looks like when our treasure is on earth and our greatest anxieties are about money. Instead of raising children of good character, and instead of pursuing good character ourselves, what do we pursue – career, money. Career wins over character in so many of our homes. I overhear it in so many conversations.

How many of you can say this: “I don’t care what my child or my grandchild does. I don’t care if they pump gas, pick garbage, dig ditches, or flip burgers – just so long as they are people of godly character who love God and love others.”

Now make it about you. Can you honestly say this about yourself: “I don’t care what I do for work. I don’t care if I stock shelves, sell used cars, or mix paint at home hardware – just so long as I’m developing godly character and have the opportunity to worship God and love others.”

Can you say that? Most can’t. Why? Because they are anxious about their life, what they will eat, what they will drink, about their bodies, and what they will wear (Mt 6:25).

Relieving The Anxiety

So how do we get out of that trap? How do escape the culture and relieve the anxiety of having to worry so much about money, career, future – and stop putting so much pressure on ourselves and others? Why shouldn’t we be anxious?

Because Jesus says not to be. Because we believe Jesus’ “therefore”. We believe what Jesus says. We trust that Jesus is telling us the truth here.

Let’s follow the argument that Jesus gives here, starting at verse 25. What is Jesus’ first premise? Your life is about more than food and clothing. What’s Jesus second premise? Look at verse 26. God knows your needs and will provide them.

Then, after giving evidence for this truth claim using nature as His example – God feeds the birds and you’re worth more to Him than a bird. God clothes the lilies, and you’re worth more to Him than a flower. – Jesus ties the two premises together by restating the theological truth claim as a conclusion in verses 31-32. If all this is true about God, then “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”

And then we read the practical application of what this looks like when the rubber hits the road in verse 33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

The “But” there is mean to contrast what the gentiles (or unbelievers, people who don’t know God) do. Instead of being anxious like an unbeliever, act like a believer. What does acting like a believer look like? Seeking God’s kingdom and his righteousness.

So, let’s put that all together with some simpler terms. Premise 1: Life is about more than money. We demonstrate that by where we put our faith – God or money. Premise 2: God knows what you need. We demonstrate that by allowing God to provide rather than being anxious. Therefore, if we believe that, then we must say that God’s priorities are more important than ours. Therefore, if we follow God and pursue righteous living (seeking God’s kingdom), then God will provide for us. Therefore, the righteous don’t need to be anxious about their needs.

This is how, logically, what we believe about God is directly connected to our anxiety about money – which is directly connected to our attitudes and behaviours. If we have faith and trust God, then our anxiety decreases and our attitude and behaviour improve. If we lack faith and don’t trust God, then our anxiety increases and our attitude and behaviour get worse.

Why Should We Be Anxious?

Sometimes it helps if we look at the contradictory, opposite logic. So, let’s do that. We’ll work through the same premises, but in mirror. So, why should we be anxious?

Premise 1: Life is about the survival of the fittest, gathering food, clothing, shelter, and stuff to protect us – and competing with others for those resources.

Premise 2: God doesn’t know our needs and refuses to provide.

Usually, these people give evidence in nature too. Fire, floods, earthquakes, famine, drought, wars. The planet is out of control and tomorrow may bring ruin.

When we tie those together, all the stuff that God and the Bible say about righteousness, good living, being generous, trying to be holy, is ridiculous and makes zero sense.

Therefore, the only way to be safe is to lie, cheat, steal, enslave, use people, ruin our relationships, and selfishly hoard things, and do whatever is necessary to keep it safe. Therefore, since it’s survival of the fittest, the first thing to seek is whatever makes you more powerful and secure, and to sin in whatever way you can to get ahead, because we’re all on our own. Therefore, everyone should be way, way more anxious about not only today but tomorrow – because we have no idea what’s coming.

Which way do you live? Anxious and stressed out, cutting corners and cheating to get ahead, not sharing, avoiding spiritual development because it’s wasting your time, not caring about your purity, because it doesn’t matter since God doesn’t know or care.

Or, do you trust Jesus when he says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Mt 6:33)

Jesus says it this way to all us anxious people later in Matthew 11:28–30 is, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Conclusion

Let’s close: In the desert, the Israelites were given manna from heaven every day. They couldn’t store it up because it would go bad at night. They had to trust God every day. They grumbled and complained and tried to make piles of it, but it rotted – and every day God still provided. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus teaches us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Mt 6:11) because a believer acknowledges that this is all we need. Too much or too little poisons our souls. In Proverbs 30:7-9 the wise teacher prays, “Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.”

His prayer is simply for God to give him what is necessary to live a holy and righteous life – because anything else is spiritually dangerous.

Piper’s Shells

The final thing I want to show you this morning is a clip from May 20, 2000. It’s one of the most famous modern sermons, known as John Piper’s “Seashells” message. This message exploded off the platform and has ripple effects to this day. I want to end with this clip which I hope you will watch prayerfully.

Ashamed to Be a Christian?

Posted on

Easter - Worship Requires Sacrifice.JPG

Audio:

Text:

We’re about to enter into a time historically known as “Passion Week”, starting on Palm Sunday and ending on Easter Sunday. It’s a week filled with history and meaning. This is the most important week of the Christian calendar. Centuries of history have revolved around it and believers from all manner of different traditions observe and celebrate it differently. Some people fast, others sing, some have prayer vigils, some read the bible from cover to cover, some even shave their heads. Each tradition has their own way to show worship by sacrificing something special in their lives to focus on God.

In their own ways they are living out what is written in Romans 12:1-2,

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Before Jesus came, believers use to present sacrifices of animals or grain to the temple on certain days, but now, because of the work of Jesus, we have moved from presenting our worship and sacrifices in a certain building to living out our lives as sacrifices to him – still trying to make them pure, unblemished, holy and acceptable to God, but knowing that we can only do this through the power of God.

Please open up to Matthew 21:1-11 and we’re going to tie together our series on Stewardship with the sacrifices of worship we see in the account of Palm Sunday.

“Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.’ This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, ‘Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’’

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’ And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.’”

Going Through the Motions

Our theme today is worship, particularly the importance of having a lifestyle of worship, but more than this – that worship in itself, true worship, is sacrificial – it costs us something. I just watched a clip of a sermon recently where Matt Chandler was gently confronting some people in churches in Texas with the understanding that just because you go to church doesn’t make you a Christian. He said,

“In the Bible Belt churches are jam-filled with people who have no mark of being Christians on their lives other than the fact that they attend once a week. No obedience whatsoever, no desire for obedience, no relationship with Christ, no seriousness about God…. You come, you check it, and you call yourself a Christian. And I want to lovingly tell you that if there is no desire for obedience and no obedience then you should not count yourself a Christian. You should consider yourself lost and in danger of damnation.”

That sounds like it could be harsh, but he’s right. He isn’t talking about “salvation by works” but the changed heart that comes when we turn our lives over to Jesus. He’s talking about sacrificial, lifestyle worship. There is no true faith without obedience, there is no true worship without sacrifice.

Most people here understand the concept of sacrifice. Parents know what it means to give up our time and resources for our kids. Military people know what it means to make sacrifices for their country. The disasters that keep coming at the world all have relief organizations that want some of our money to help people. Some people even donate their own blood for the sake of others.

I think we understand the concept well enough, but what we need to see is that to be a worshipper of God demands sacrifice. We see that all through the Bible: there is worship that God accepts and that God rejects, and most often the worship He rejects is the easy, mindless, going through the motions activities of religious people. Sing because it’s time to sing. Talk when it’s time to talk. Bow heads when it’s time to bow heads. Read the words written down because you’re supposed to. Look at the guy talking for as long as he’s talking. That disengaged repetition of mindless, religious activity is worship that God rejects.

But let’s take a look at some of the people involved in the Triumphal Entry of Jesus on Palm Sunday. We don’t see people dropping money in a plate, reading a script, or doing anything in the temple in this story. What we see is some of the ways Jesus required them to sacrifice to Him as an act of worship.

The Donkey Man

First, let’s look at the man who gave up his donkey. Jesus had told his disciples to go to the village ahead and get a donkey that was tied up. The book of Luke (19:20-34) sheds a bit more light on this situation: Jesus says,

“Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, `Why are you untying it?’ tell him, `The Lord needs it.’ Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’ They replied, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

Notice that little difference? The owner is in this one.

Imagine what was going on in this guy’s head. There he is, working on something around the house and some random guys come up try to walk off with two of his animals. The disciples are just being obedient, but what about the owner?

Consider yourself. You’re washing your car in your driveway. The door is open and the key is dinging away. You step into the garage for a moment to get something and a couple of guys walk up, get in the car, and prepare to drive off. You come running out and say, “Where are you going in my car?!” And the people inside respond, “The Lord needs it….”

Now it’s decision time, right? What do you do? Therein lay the sacrifice. The moment he heard that the animals were to be used by the Lord, his argument stopped. He sent his valuables, maybe his most valuable things, on with these strangers. Maybe God prepared this man in advance as he was praying, or maybe he didn’t. All we know is that when the Lord wanted something from him, he gave it up. He didn’t even know what Jesus was going to do with it.

The simple question for us is this: Would you or I have done the same? Would we have let the disciples take our car? We’re presented with this option more often than we think as God gives us the opportunity to sacrifice what we have for others. Someone gets into trouble, someone needs our time, energy, money, resources, and we are presented with the option to give. We feel the impression in our heart to do something. Someone calls us with a need. What do we do? We analyze the situation. We ask questions. We wonder about return on investment. We negotiate how little to give. We try to find other options. But what if the only reason we get is, “The Lord needs it”? Regularly giving up our resources is part of what a lifestyle of Christian worship looks like.

The Cloaks

There’s another group that gives of their resources in the story too. Verses 7-8 tell us that there are folks who were spreading their cloaks on the ground. As an act of worship, a way to show their deference to Him, and also a way to acknowledge and declare that He is their promised Messiah and King.

These weren’t their old “Goodwill” or “Salvation Army” clothes either. They didn’t run home and get the jacket they never use anymore. This was whatever they were wearing. But even that doesn’t sound like much of a sacrifice, right? A couple donkey hoof prints on there. But anyone who has ridden horses or has been to a parade knows that something else happens when animals go for a walk – there’s a reason the street sweepers follow the horses.

The point is that these people, upon seeing Jesus, started to worship Him and that worship required an immediate sacrifice of what they had. Honoring Jesus will require the use of our time and our resources. We cannot grow as a disciple of Jesus if we don’t spend our time and resources on Him. This, what we are doing here at church, is not the pinnacle of Christian experience and I feel sad for anyone who thinks it is. Sure, we have to get up, some people have to serve, but this is perhaps, the easiest sacrifice of our week. The real test of our Christian character, the real opportunities to give sacrificial, lifestyle worship come later in the week as we are presented with opportunities to give of ourselves to do what God wants us to do.

St Patrick

Consider St. Patrick, whose special day was just a few days ago. Despite the day now being about celebrating Ireland, wearing green, and generating green vomit, the story of St. Patrick is one we shouldn’t forget.

Patrick was born in northeast England, not Ireland, in the late fourth century. When he was 16 years old he was kidnapped by Celtic pirates, taken to Ireland, and sold as a slave to a tribal chief who put him to work as a cattle herder. He was raised in the church but it wasn’t until he faced this level of suffering that his faith started to take root. Seeing the beauty of the Irish countryside caused him to worship God’s amazing creativity and it was in the total isolation of slavery in a foreign land where he really learned to pray.

He was held captive for 6 years until he escaped, made his way back to England, and joined the priesthood. He trained and served many churches but then, one day, at age 48 God told him that he needed to go and share God’s love with the unreached Irish Celts. This was unprecedented, totally controversial, and he gained little support – but after a time of negotiation the church finally, and reluctantly sent him off to the barbarians, likely to never see him again.

What was unique about the way Patrick did missionary work was that he didn’t go into the land and try to civilize it. He didn’t try to turn the Irish into good, English people, build English churches, and teach them English songs. He knew that wouldn’t work because he knew the people. So he gave up the way he was used to worshipping for their sake. He gave up his own style for their sake. He spoke their language, gave them his time, his prayers, his food and resources to the poor, and most especially his forgiveness. He gave his whole life to them.

It was this heart of sacrifice that enabled thousands of people to meet Jesus for the first time and gave rise to one of the greatest missionary successes of all time. Patrick was a man who knew what it meant to worship God by sacrificially serving others.

The Sacrifice of Reputation

There’s one more sacrifice I want to point out in the account of the Triumphal entry and that is the reaction of the crowds. Calling out “Hosanna!” to Jesus was dangerous. They put their reputation and their safety at stake. It was a thumb in the nose of the Jewish ruling class, the Sanhedrin. It offended the Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious leaders of the day. And, perhaps most dangerous of all, it risked reprisal from the Romans who did not take kindly to anyone claiming to be another king, “the Lord”, or “the Highest”. Their worship required risk.

Consider our own societies celebrity worship culture. Society holds them up for all to see, watches them on TV, listens to interviews, seeks them out on YouTube, wears what they wear, eats what they eat, reads what they read, go where they go. People on the sidelines of the award shows often yell things like “I love you!”, and companies make contests of just spending one hour with a certain celebrity, but it’s all with very little risk. We can shout how much we love Jennifer Lawrence or Vin Diesel from the rooftops until we’re blue in the face and no one cares – but have you noticed what happens when someone stands on a rooftop in front of a crowd and shouts that they love Jesus? Doesn’t’ really happen, does it? Why? Because that’s different, isn’t it? That’s got risk.

When the people in Jerusalem that day were yelling “Hosanna” they weren’t yelling “I love you!” They were yelling, “Save me!” Hosanna is literally the word “save”. They were crying out to Jesus for deliverance. This wasn’t about His celebrity status, but about deliverance. Deliverance from their Roman oppressors, their corrupt civic leaders, and the mess that their religion was in. It was a cry for mercy, an acknowledgment that He was the Saviour.

It’s one thing to yell that you love Jesus in public – you might get away with that in North America – but it’s totally something else to yell out that Jesus is the only Saviour and Lord of the Earth.

We have a hard enough time asking for help, don’t we? We’re all about self-help, self-determination, self-esteem, do-it-yourself. For some people, it’s almost agonizing to ask even those closest to them for help. So many people suffer alone, and it requires a massive sacrifice of pride for them to admit they need help.

But when we cry out to Jesus, that’s exactly what we are doing. We are asking for His help, admitting that we are not enough, that we require His intervention. As Christians we first admit that we are sinners, bent away from God, serving ourselves and messing up our lives and the lives of others. Then we ask for forgiveness, something only God can grant. We cannot forgive ourselves. Then we ask to be reborn, remade, changed from the sinner that we were into a new creation that hates sin and wants righteousness. Only God can do that. And then, every day, we admit once more that we are not strong enough, wise enough, good enough, to accomplish even one right thing without God’s help.

Many come to God in prayer but actually refuse to admit they actually need His help. They use God like 911 or like Santa Clause, the last resort or the way to get something they know is a long-shot. Some treat God like a help desk, asking for a minimal amount of help when they get stuck and then telling God that they’ll take it from there. They believe they are 90% strong enough, and that God gives them the other 10%. That’s not how it works.

A Christian recognizes their deep need and falls before Jesus saying, “I don’t have anything to offer. I’m dead inside. Whatever I touch gets worse. Even my supposed good deeds are done selfishly. I am a sinner in need of a Saviour. Hosanna, Jesus. Save me.”

And there are some that will admit this in private – but these people were doing it in public. Listen to Luke 19:37-40:

“As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’ And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.’”

The leaders of their city were offended and trying to stop them. Most Christians I know won’t even pray a simple prayer in public – they are too nervous, too ashamed, too worried about what others think. Some refuse to sing even in church because they’re worried what others think. Some go to work and literally no one knows they are a believer. Some won’t even say grace with their own families out of fear. But these people cried out for help right in front of their friends, the priests, the Pharisees, the Roman centurions.

According to Luke 19, as Jesus rode he wasn’t smiling, he was weeping because He knew what was coming. Jesus rode up to the temple, once again drove out those who were selling there, and then began to teach. Listen to what it says in verses 47-48,

“And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words.”

The people turning their hearts and attention to Jesus, crying out for his help in public didn’t convert the city – but instead threw it into an upheaval. Their sacrificial worship, their willingness to cry out to Jesus in public, was the catalyst that made the city leaders want to utterly destroy Jesus. And they tried. And that persecution caused all of the believers, even the disciples, to flee.

When you call out to Jesus, people are going to think you’re crazy. There’s a risk. Calling out to the Saviour has risk. Your friends, your family, your fellow church people, may see you as a fanatic, may tell you to calm down, not be so serious, that there are a time and place for that sort of thing. That’s what the Pharisees tried to tell Jesus and his followers.

Conclusion

My conclusion is simply this: the worship God accepts requires sacrifice. It is a reflection of our thankfulness for Jesus’ sacrifice. He gave up everything, came to a world that would hate Him, reject Him and crucify Him, for our sake. He lived as a servant every day and still lives as a servant to His people. Our response is to do the same to Him by giving our lives to Him. Not just one morning per week, but every moment, every action, every decision of our lives. And that will require sacrifice. Without sacrifice, there is no worship.

Do you live a lifestyle of sacrificial worship? Do you spend your time, resources, and reputation on Jesus? Do you risk your time, resources and reputation to worship Jesus? Or does it only happen in closed rooms and dark corners? Does your worship require sacrifice?

Is there something God has asked you to give, some way He has called you to obey, that you’ve refused because it was too much, too risky? What if “The Lord needs it” from you?

And, finally, ask yourself if you ashamed to call yourself a Christian. Does your lifestyle, your words, your deeds, your conversations, your prayer life reflect that you are a believer? Have you cried out “Hosanna” in the streets? I’m not asking you to get on a rooftop this week or stand on a street corner – but how about this: does everyone in your life know you are a follower of Jesus?

At the very least, will you take the risk of showing your faith in a practical way this week? Pray in public, share your faith, tell someone that you are a Christian.

Why We Don’t Pray More (and How to Start!)

Posted on Updated on

Habakkuk 9 - Intro to PRayer

Most of you who have been here for the whole series knows that the book of Habakkuk is essentially a prayer conversation between God and one of his priests. Habakkuk’s country is going through some difficult times and as he’s bringing his concerns to God, the Lord inclines to answer him – in surprising ways.

The third and last chapter of Habakkuk is a little different than the first two in that though it is still a prayer, God doesn’t respond. What we see in chapter 3 is the prayer of a man of faith, who has chosen to trust God even though God’s answer to his prayer means that there will be more difficult times ahead.

My intention when I sat down to write the sermon this week was to go through this prayer together, but as I wrote, I realized that I needed back up the conversation a little. So instead of outlining this prayer together, I want to pull back and talk more generally about prayer itself. So, we’re going to take a little break from Habakkuk and do an extended introduction , by looking at a section of scripture in the New Testament where Jesus teaches about prayer.

Why Don’t We Pray More?        

Prayer, though practiced around the world, and absolutely vital to the Christian life, doesn’t seem to come easily for people. If you ask any believer about their prayer life – and I would imagine this applies to any of us here today; me included – the most consistent evaluation would probably be “It could be better…”. Right?

It’s a bit of a strange thing though, isn’t it? Prayer seems to be something of a human reflex. When something either good or bad happens, whether it’s sickness and pain or a sudden piece of good news or uplifting experience, there’s something in the human spirit that wants to take that moment and connect it to something greater than ourselves, even if it is only a quick, “Thank God”, or “Oh my God”, or “Good, Lord”. These are often said in an almost instinctual way – not really prayers of the mind, heart or soul, but more of an unthinking impulse to raise the significance of that moment to God.

And yet, as instinctual as prayer seems to be, there’s also something incredibly difficult about fostering and developing what might be called a “deep prayer life”. Humans have been trying and failing at it for millennia!

Which is sort of ironic. The same people that will claim to be such ardent believers in God and the Bible, defending their faith and their right to worship, don’t actually dedicate time to talk to the Person they say they worship and obey. I’m not trying to guilt trip here – at least not yet. I’m lumped in here too. I’m merely stating that it’s a little surprising that we are a people who claim that God is the Source of all there is, the One who gave His Son to save us from eternity in Hell, is the great provider of all good things, performs miracles, knows us better than we know ourselves, and the One whom we are looking to spend eternity with… but most of us struggle to spend even 10 minutes, one-one-hundredth, of our waking hours talking to Him.

It’s not that we don’t need to. If we take a minute to think about it, there are lots of reasons we should be coming to God for help. We have struggles with our faith. We need direction and advice for how to make decisions. We are beset by temptations and keep falling into the same destructive patterns of sin. We lack resources and need help. We have physical sickness and pain. We have worries about the future, and baggage from our past.

Most people, when you get to know them – believers included – are lonely, afraid, confused, angry, bitter, depressed, and worried about a good many things. And if you to talk to them about their concerns for their spouse, parents, children, extended family, friends, church, work, neighbourhood, country and world, their list grows and grows and grows.

We Christians, though we know all of this – most of us pray very little. And worse – this is one of my pet peeves – when we finally do get together to pray and someone asks for prayer requests, a lot of people will say, “I’m good. You don’t need to pray for me.” That boggles my mind! Really? Nothing? Your physical body, spiritual life, finances, personal relationships are all exactly how you want them and there is nothing that you think the Saviour of your Soul, the God of the Universe, could do about any of them? Are you sure?

I know part of it is that people don’t like looking weak, admitting they have needs, or letting others in on their business. I get that. But why should that stop us from getting as many people to bang on the doors of heaven for our sake as we can? If prayer is as universal and important as we believe, or at least the Bible says it is, what is preventing us from doing it?

Reasons Not to Pray

There’s a few answers, I think.

First, some people think God doesn’t care about them. It’s not that God doesn’t carea bout anything – it’s just that they’re assumption is that God doesn’t really get involved in the minutia of their life because He’s only worries about big things like war and plagues, and helping widows, orphans and struggling missionaries. So, they conclude, why bother praying since if my prayers aren’t important enough?

Others think that God is like Mr. Scrooge; a penny-pinching, stingy, miser that doesn’t want to help anyone even though He could. They see God’s preferred method of dealing with His people as making them suffer, so if they want anything good out of life – any help, comfort or peace – then they have to go get it themselves. If they pray, God will just tell them to suck it up or make it worse. You’ve probably heard people say things like, “Don’t ask God not to send you to that country, because He definitely will!” “Don’t ask God for patience, or He’ll make your life worse!” So, they think, why pray if God’s just going to say no anyway?

Others think that getting answers to prayer is more akin to winning the lottery. Sure, some people get answers to prayer, but most people just pray and pray for their whole life and get nothing. So, why waste time praying if the chances of getting an answer are so infinitesimal?

Some believe that there’s no point in praying because they are too sinful to be listened to. They say things like “I don’t pray because I haven’t been much of a pray-er, and God only listens to people that pray, so I can’t pray because I don’t pray.” Or, “My life is too messed up for God to take me seriously. And every time I do pray, I just end up going out and messing up again and proving to God that I don’t deserve whatever I’m praying for. So I just quit because praying just made me feel guilty all the time.” They think, what’s the point in praying if He’s either not listening, or thinks you are a constant disappointment?

Others think that they do it wrong, so God’s not happy with their prayers. They’ve heard other people pray and it sounds so sincere, so intimate, so beautiful – and when they do it, it just sounds weird and fake. They’re not using the right words, they can’t quote the bible, they don’t even know whether to use “God”, or “Jesus”, or “Father”, or “Lord”, or “Sir”, or what! The whole concept of prayer is confusing and overwhelming to them. So, why bother praying if you don’t know how to do it and you just sound like an idiot, right?

I could go on, but you get my point, right? There are a lot of internally generated reasons why we don’t pray. That’s what those all are – internally generated reasons why we don’t pray. Things we’ve come up with to prevent us from praying. They don’t come from outside us. We are blessed to live in a country where we can pray anytime and almost anywhere. No one is stopping us from praying – most of the problem comes from within us. It’s all about the guilt or inadequacy we feel, or the false perception we have of God.

If any of those reasons resonated with you, what I want to do today is challenge you to consider that you are wrong about God and about what God thinks of you? I want you to consider one of the main ways that the Bible describes God: as a Good Father.

Talking to God, the Good Father

Turn with me to Luke 11:1-13 and I want to show you something about how Jesus talks about prayer. Let’s read it together, but we’ll take it apart on the way:

“Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’”

Two quick things here: First, notice that Jesus prayed. Our perfect model for life and faith is the Lord Jesus Christ. We want to pattern our lives after His. He prayed quite a lot. If for no other reason than to obey God and follow after our Lord Jesus, we ought to be a praying people.

Second, the disciples asked to learn how to pray because prayer is something that can be taught. The disciples were asking Jesus to teach them how He prays, so they could model it, and could be sure they were getting it right. They saw the power He had and knew it must be because of His close relationship with God, and they wanted a piece of it. That came through prayer.

And so, in response to their desire to learn, Jesus moves from modeling how to pray to teaching them how to pray, and does it in the form of “the Lord’s Prayer” and a couple of teaching stories. His lesson starts in verse 2:

“And he said to them, ‘When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.’”

Now, this prayer isn’t necessarily meant to be the only way to pray, repeated verbatim, word for word – though it is absolutely fine to do that. It’s also not an incantation or magic spell that forces God to do whatever you want. What the Lord’s Prayer is meant to teach us is the pattern for all Christian prayer. It contains the pieces, or the categories, that make a complete prayer. And so, in the interests of learning how to pray, let’s look at them a piece at a time:

Our Hallowed Father

First you have the word “Father”. Notice that this prayer doesn’t start with a list of problems or requests, but with acknowledgment that this is a conversation between a Father and His child. This is hugely important for us to realize today. All of our prayers, indeed our whole experience as a Christian, needs to start here. We must ask ourselves, before we pray: Who is God? Who is God to me? What’s He like? Who does scripture reveal Him to be?

It is crucially important that when we pray, we pray to the right God! What do I mean by that? Remember last week when we talked about idolatry. It is entirely possible for us to be praying to a god of our own design. All those things I listed before that block our prayer life – that God is absent, greedy, random, hard to talk to –come from our understanding of who God is. But, do they line up with who God really is? Or, are those ideas things we’ve made up in our own minds? We have to ask ourselves, where we got those ideas, and whether they line up with reality? Am I praying to the God of the Bible, or a God I made up for myself?

The word that Jesus uses, “Father”, is the Greek word PATER, but would have been spoken as the Aramaic word ABBA. That’s a hugely important word, and is used in other parts of scripture that teach us how to pray (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6), because even the early Greek believers used that Aramaic word to talk to God. The Jewish people would never have used that word– in fact, it was only the pagan nations that called their god’s “father”, so it was even less palatable for them. Yet Jesus introduces God not as YAHWEH, the One you cannot look upon and the Name you must not say, but as ABBA, a special, intimate term only used by family members.

Think of it as the way we use “Dad”. The only people in the world that call me “Dad” are my kids. No one else. That’s what Jesus invited us to call God. Not just “GOD” or “LORD”, but “Dad”. Keep that in mind because Jesus comes back to it.

In the next part of the prayer Jesus moves from our relationship with God to our first request of Him… and what is it? For food, safety, health? No: “Hallowed be Your Name”. Our first request, and the beginning of all Christian prayer, is not for God to meet our needs, but that we would partner with Him to bring Him glory.

We start by asking our Father in Heaven to cause His name to known as holy, special, unique and worshipped as the One, True God. In this request we acknowledging that the chief end of this world is not to fill our bellies or bring us comfort, but to bring glory to our Father.

This is the flip-side of addressing God. We call Him “Dad”, but we also call Him “God Almighty”. It’s sort of the ultimate “My Dad can beat up your Dad”. God Almighty is my Father. He’s perfect and sinless, but loves me anyway. He laid out the plan for the entire universe, and brought everything into existence with the power of His Word, but He also knows my heart and takes time to listen to me. He is in Heaven being worshipped by angels, but He also speaks to me with patience and love. We want everyone to know about this Father God we hallow!

Those thoughts naturally lead into the next part that says, “Your Kingdom Come.” In other words, “We can’t wait until we can be with You! Father, may your Kingdom Come to more people as you grow your Kingdom on earth! May our whole lives be lived sharing Your love and bringing You glory, until you establish your perfect kingdom forever!”

Asking For Our Daily Needs

The whole first section is about getting our hearts in the right place, realizing who God is, who we are, what He’s done, and what we’re here to do. It forces us to lift our eyes off of our problems and gaze upon the splendor of our Father the King. It changes our perspective of our problems and places God in charge of everything. It reorients our priorities. In short – these are words of worship and praise.

Next Jesus turns to teaching us to ask for our needs. Remember, Jesus isn’t teaching us an incantation that gets us whatever we want from God, but showing us the categories of prayer. And the two things we need to pray for most are our physical needs and our spiritual needs:

“Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins… and lead us not into temptation”.

This part of the prayer is an acknowledgement that we are utterly incapable of doing life ourselves. We are the receivers of God’s necessary care. We cannot fulfill our own physical or spiritual needs. We may think we can – which is why a lot of people don’t pray – but we can’t. The body you have, the time you get, every breath you take, your physical strength, your mental capacity, your emotional stability, your ability to talk and move – they are all gifts from God.

In this part of the prayer you are telling God that you believe He is the provider of your physical needs! You are alive because God kept you alive. He gave you what you needed yesterday, and you are coming to God to say “Thank you, Father. May I have what I need for today?” You pray in expectation that your Dad will certainly feed you.

When kids wake up every morning, it likely doesn’t occur to them that I might decide not to feed them that day. Why? Because when my kids are hungry, I am concerned. Their lack causes me to do something, and I want them to have what they need.

Secondarily, we are acknowledging our spiritual needs. We don’t just need “daily bread”, but daily forgiveness for our sins and protection from our spiritual enemies. Again, we are acknowledging  that we cannot forgive ourselves or protect ourselves. We cannot excuse our own guilt and we are not strong enough to fight temptation. We cannot make peace with God by ourselves, but need Jesus for that, and we know that we are in a spiritual war and need His help. This part of the prayer is a form of surrender to Him. “God, ultimately, I can’t do anything without you and anything I do myself is pitiful in comparison to what You can do through me.”

Don’t miss this point! As we pray, “forgives us our sins”, we are telling God that we believe we are sinners, people who don’t deserve His grace! We’re not coming to “the big guy in the sky” as equals, marching up and demanding things, or arguing with Him and trying to prove a point. We are simply saying, “I’m wrong. I’ve made mistakes, hurt people, fallen for Satan’s deceptions, stolen Your glory, broken my promises, taken what isn’t mine, abused my body, and neglected to do the good things I was supposed to do. And I’m not worthy of your presence – but here I am anyway, Dad… because you said you’d forgive me and help me.” It’s an admission that we are fallen and need Someone greater than ourselves.

But, the question remains for many, will God give us what we need? The answer to that question is what keeps a lot of people from praying. They’re not sure if God will forgive or give them what they need. They don’t want to be disappointed by yet another person who says they will do something and then not follow through. They don’t want to come to God, ask Him to forgive them, ask Him for help, and then be told “No.” It would hurt too much to be rejected by God, too.

What Kind of Father is God?

Jesus knows that’s how a lot of people feel, and He addresses it right away. Look at verses 5-13. The unspoken questions are: “What kind of Father is God, because there are some really terrible fathers out there? Is he the stern kind? The stingy kind? The abusive kind? The angry kind? Is he the kind that lets people get away with anything and everything? Is He the absent kind? What kind of father is He?”

In answer to this, Jesus tells two stories that are meant teach us something about God. The first is from verses 5-9,

“And he said to them, ‘Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.”

What’s the point of this story? Simply this: God is a better friend than we are. In the story, you have a whole bunch of friends. One friend drops by unannounced and wants a midnight snack. Another friend runs out in the middle of the night to ask his friend for bread.

Everyone in the story is annoyed. The first friend is going hungry, the second friend is running around at midnight trying to get a snack together, and the third friend has been woken up by someone who won’t stop knocking on his door asking to eat what was going to be his breakfast.

And yet, what happens? The man gives up the bread and the host gets to feed his guest. The question is this: Do you believe God is a better friend than those guys? The reason that the third friend finally gave up the bread wasn’t even because they were friends, but he was impudent, or persistent, or bold enough, to bang on his door at midnight.

Now keep reading in verse 9:

“And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

The implication of these stories is this: If that’s how it works here on earth, among sinful, selfish people – how do you think it works with God? God doesn’t just provide the basics, but is willing to go all out and even give the presence of His Holy Spirit to live in the hearts of everyone who asks! God Himself, living in each one of us, speaking to us, helping us, convicting us, guiding us – that’s the greatest gift God can give!

These story lessons from Jesus are meant to shake up our understanding of who we think God is and tell us that God loves it when His people are bold enough to come to Him and ask Him for what they need, because they know they are His children and they love their Father in Heaven.

  • Moses and the nation of Israel are thirsty and God has him hit a rock with a stick, and BOOM! water.
  • Samson completely ruins his life, and yet at the end he prays for strength and God answers it.
  • Elijah is hungry and a widow is starving. He prays that the oil and flower never run out, and they don’t.
  • Elijah asks God for a public miracle where God would bar-b-cue an entire bull by blasting it with fire from the sky. Before God answers, Elijah douses the whole thing with buckets of water. And God not only answers, but does so in such a fashion that the fire totally consumed the wood, the bull, the rocks and the water!
  • Countless people came to Jesus and asked for help with disease, demons, and death and He stopped what He was doing to help them. More than once he saw that people were hungry and fed them before they even asked.

George Mueller

God’s answers to prayer aren’t just bound to scripture! There are lots and lots of accounts of God providing for people throughout history. One of my favourite stories is about a man named George Mueller. He died in 1898, but was a man of great influence during his time. For those who know the names, he worked with DL Moody, preached for Charles Spurgeon, and inspired Hudson Taylor to be a missionary! (source)

He spent most of his life in Bristol, England as a pastor, but this story comes from his time as the patron of a series of orphanages. He refused to go into debt by borrowing any money and truly believed that God would meet the needs of the children if they just prayed. The story goes like this:

One morning the children woke up and came downstairs for their morning meal, but the plates and cups and bowls were all empty. There was no food in the cupboards and no money to buy any. The children were standing and waiting for breakfast, wondering what to do, when Mueller said, “Children, you know that we must all be in time for school.” He then lifted his head and prayed, “Dear Father, we thank you for what you are going to give us to eat.”

As he sat the children down at the empty table there was a knock at the door. There stood the baker who said, “Mr. Mueller, I couldn’t sleep last night. Somehow I felt you didn’t have bread for breakfast and the Lord wanted me to send you some. So I got up at 2am and baked you some fresh bread.” Mueller thanked the man and no sooner had he closed the door than there was another knock. He opened the door and there stood the milk man who announced that his milk cart had broken down right in front of the orphanage and he would be happy to give the kids his fresh cans of milk so he could empty his wagon and repair it.

This was no isolated incident either. This type of thing happened over and over in his life. In his life he claims to have seen over 50,000 answers to His prayers for help. So much so that he became known as “the man who gets things from God!”

God still answers prayers today: I personally know what it’s like to have my prayers answered. I’ve been in ministry for almost 12 years now and I’ve never gotten a job by sending out a resume. He has always brought me to places through mysterious means. I’ve seen God literally provide my family with money out of nowhere when we only had ten cents in the bank and prayed for help. I’ve asked God for guidance on decisions that would alter the course of my family’s life, and then flipped open my Bible and received the exact answer. And I believe that every day, as I read His Word and talk to Him in prayer, that He not only listens to me, but also speaks, and meets my physical and spiritual needs.

Are You Praying About That?

I wish I could get into more scriptures about God and prayer, because I think this is an incredibly important topic, but I’ll close with this: There’s a reason, throughout all of the thousands of years that believers have been around, that there have been faithful men and women who have been repeating the same thing over and over and over to those who come to them with their struggles. Prophets, priests, elders, deacons, and pastors have been asking the same question and giving the same advice forever: “Are you praying about that?”

Why do mature Christians always go back to that question? Because we know that so many troubles come from messed up prayer lives. James 4:1-3 says this:

“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”

Your fighting and worrying and arguing and desire to sin has got you all messed up… why? Because you aren’t talking to God. Your passions are out of control because you won’t get on your knees and say “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done.” “Not my will, not my name, not my kingdom… Yours.”

You covet and quarrel to get things that you think you need, terrified you won’t have enough, worried to the point of hurting those around you to get it. Why? Because you’re not talking to God and saying “…give us our daily bread. Forgive us our sins. Lead us not into temptation.”

James says, “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly…” In other words, your life is messed up because your prayer life is messed up. You have real needs – but your desires are all wrong. Your Father wants to help you, but you want all the wrong things! God offers forgiveness and daily help, but you won’t humble yourself enough to ask. “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly…”

Let me encourage you to take a very close look at your relationship with God by taking a very close look at your prayer life. Your beliefs about prayer will tell you a lot about your faith in God.

And after you’ve looked at your prayer life, make some changes. Commit that you will pray every day this week, that you will read the Bible, and get to know who God really is – not content to believe who you think He is. I promise you that He will speak to you, meet your needs, and draw you to Himself.

“You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly…”

Woe to the God-Makers (Why People Think They Can Get Away with Anything)

Posted on

Habakkuk 8 - Woe 5 - Idolatry.JPG

Review      

We’re currently on week 8 of our 3 week series on the Old Testament book of Habakkuk, and this week we’re concluding our study of the five Woes Against the Chaldeans that we find in chapter 2.

If you remember the other sermons in this series you’ll remember that we’ve seen quite a downward spiral over the past series of weeks as we’ve been looking through this chapter. We’ve seen that the Chaldean nation was full of pride, fueled by addiction to alcohol and sex, which had them thinking that the world existed for their pleasure and conquest. Their addiction became a voracious appetite that required them to break out from beyond their borders in order to consuming the people around them – including Israel – eventually becoming one of the greatest empires in history; the Babylonian Empire. (Greatest in size, not in quality!)

As they conquered nation after nation, tallying up victory on victory, God Himself was making his own tally of the sins they were committing. Habakkuk pronounced woes against them, and all those who would follow their pattern. Remember, a “woe” is simply a pronouncement of judgement against people who don’t realize how dangerous their situation is. The Chaldeans, later called Babylonians, thought they were the kings of the world – but their whole nation was built on sin and God was saying that He would exact justice on them soon.

The first woe was against their out of control greed that drove them to take things that weren’t theirs from their neighbours. The second woe was against their sense of self-security, where they believed that conquering the people around them and building piles of wealth would bring them safety. The third woe was against their self-centredness. All that they had was covered in the blood of their neighbours and they didn’t care. And the fourth woe was against their abuse of others – anyone who didn’t join them in their addictions would be either killed or exploited for their pleasure.

For each of these woes we have drawn parallels to our own nation and individual lives. We’ve been confronted by our own greed and selfishness. We’ve been forced to evaluate where we find our security, and in what ways we act self-centredly, using people to feed our own appetites, instead of loving them as God intends us.

The Real Problem is Idolatry

Today we’re going to look at the fifth of the five woes and it is perhaps the most damning of the bunch. It shows the central problem that all people have that drives them to the sins of greed, pride, addiction, self-centredness and exploitation. The real issue is idolatry.

“What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it. But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.” (Habakkuk 2:18-20)

What makes people assume that they can do whatever they want and get away with it? What would make the leaders of a nation think that the world exists for their conquest and pleasure, and that it doesn’t matter how they treat their fellow man? What causes someone to think that they can commit criminal acts, covet and steal what others have, harm those around them, commit murder, cause fights, lie, gossip, slander, disrespect authority, insult God, boast in their own accomplishments, invent new ways of committing evil, disobey their parents, and live foolish, faithless, heartless and ruthless lives? Where does that come from? (Based on Romans 1:28-31)

The answer is all over scripture, and the answer is idolatry. For the Chaldeans, they had many god’s and literal idols that they had carved to represent them all over their land. They had gods for the elements, for storms, the sun, the moon, the air, for love and war – all kinds.

As Habakkuk points out, these false gods were merely human inventions. They were shaped by human stories and then carved of wood, metal and stone. They had no real power. They were “speechless idols” who could neither give wisdom nor strength.

God, through the prophet Habakkuk, pronounces woe on these people because they look at a piece of wood that they have carved and tell it to “wake up!” or “get up!”, thinking it might actually work. The woe is against those who have placed their faith in their “own creation” and actually believe that it will be able to “awake” or “arise” at their command. But it’s just a piece of wood with some gold or silver overlaid on it. “There is no breath at all in it.”

The consequences of this woe come from the folly of asking their “own creation” to teach them. “Can this teach?” Habakkuk asks. It’s the foolishness of circular reasoning. “I’m doing this because my god told me to, and I know exactly what my god wants me to do because I’m the person that invented that god, carved the image, and wrote down what it he would say.”

That’s the danger of creating our own idols – that we are merely creating a god for ourselves that will parrot back to us whatever we want it to say. The answer to the question, “Can this teach?” is obviously, “No!”. You cannot gain more wisdom or information from something you have created yourself! If you invent a god and then write your own holy book, there is no way for you to gain any more teaching than you had before. Woe to that fool.

But God is Real

“But”, verse 20 says, “the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.” Habakkuk says to all these idolaters: Your gods are dead, but the LORD is both alive and awake. He’s not powerless like one of your human creations. He’s powerful and self-existent. He doesn’t require us to command Him to awaken or arise. He has wisdom, knowledge and authority beyond our human capacity, and is therefore able to teach!

Therefore, Habakkuk says, “let all the earth keep silence before him.” That’s Bible talk for “SO SHUT UP AND LISTEN!” That’s another phrase we find a few times in the Bible. In Psalm 46:10 we read one of many Christian’s favourite passages: “Be still and know that I am God.”, but most people don’t know the context. We read it with such sterility and quietness, but that’s not how it was written! Let’s read the context:

“The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. ‘Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!’” (Ps 46:6-10)

The picture is of God, with a word, wiping out every human power we have, shaking the foundations of the planet, melting the very earth with his voice, causing every piece of weaponry to explode into flames before Him as he shouts to the word, “Be Still!… See and witness the truth of who I am… KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt that I AM GOD. Not you, not your kings, not the idols that you have fashioned – ME. And I alone will be worshipped.”

This is what’s behind the words of Philippians 2:9 that says:“

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” It’s not talking about just Christians – but everyone, from His human enemies to Satan himself –will bow their knee and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. They won’t have a choice. At His voice the earth will melt.

It’s not talking about just Christians – but everyone, from His human enemies to Satan himself –will bow their knee and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. They won’t have a choice. At His voice the earth will melt.

Woe to anyone who has their allegiances in the wrong place when Jesus comes and kindles his wrath against them. (Psalm 2)

Mocking The Folly of Idolatry

There’s an amazing section of scripture that illustrates this and mocks those foolish enough to worship idols. Turn to Isaiah 44:9-20 and let’s take a look at a truly funny passage of scripture, dripping with irony and sarcasm:

“All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame. Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing? Behold, all his companions shall be put to shame, and the craftsmen are only human. Let them all assemble, let them stand forth. They shall be terrified; they shall be put to shame together.”

This is similar to what we’ve just been talking about – how these idols, in reality, are incapable of helping anyone. But next we see Isaiah show how lost, stupid and utterly blind to their own foolishness these people are. Continue in verse 12:

“The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint.

The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it.

Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, ‘Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!’ And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, ‘Deliver me, for you are my god!’

They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, ‘Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?’ He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, ‘Is there not a lie in my right hand?’”

Is this not the height of irony and irrationality? Isaiah starts with a picture of an ironsmith, using his own muscles and sweat to make his idol. He gets hungry and tired, looks around and sees no water. He is dying of hunger and thirst as he creates the god that he’s supposed to pray to for his food. How ridiculous!

The picture then shifts to an expert carpenter, using his skills to design a beautiful idol for his home. He too uses his mind and strength to plant and harvest the wood he will use… and he gets hungry too. So he gathers his own meat, and makes his own fire so he can roast it himself. But there’s a problem: which part of the tree he has just cut down is is the part that he’s supposed to burn as fuel for him to cook over and which part is the god he’s supposed to say grace to?

By verse 18 you can almost see Isaiah face-palming. These dummies are so blind – in their eyes and their hearts – they don’t even consider what they’re doing. They have no discernment, no knowledge, to even understand of how stupid it is to think that half of the tree is fuel and the other half is god!

He closes by saying, “He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, ‘Is there not a lie in my right hand?’” This guy should be looking down at the idol he just crafted and think, “Hey, maybe I’m wrong here! I’m such a dummy for thinking that this piece of wood has any kind of power! How stupid is it to think this dead thing I just created can somehow bring hope and joy to my life? ” But nope – we keep on fabricating our own idols generation after generation after generation, and we still don’t get it.

Our Idols

So my question to you today is this: Are we any different? Perhaps you’re not sitting in your blacksmiths or carpentry shop carving little wooden and metal images to decorate your home, but are there things in your life that basically have the same function?

I was teaching my class at the Christian School this week and we were talking about “The Christian Ninja’s Source of Power”. The whole point of that class was to get the students to ask themselves one thing: What is the main motivation for what I do?

For a Christian, our “source of power” and reason we do what we do is our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We know that Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches.” (John 15:5) and we’re ok with that. He’s our source of strength, wisdom, knowledge, help, courage, conviction, and whatever else we need. We turn to Him because He’s our source.

However, there are a lot of people, including Christians, who find their strength in other places. We all have a source of power, a source of strength, or an overarching motivation behind what we do, and we could easily call that our god. Some people have religious motivations, others are driven by more selfish pursuits, but we all have them.

Some people use astrology, Wicca, paganism, deism, and other forms of human religion as their source of strength. They seek help in this world by believing they can use the spiritual realms to manipulate the world around them for their own benefit. It’s all demonic, but they’re also idolaters who are crafting their own rules about the universe and then live by them, often picking and choosing what they want to believe, based on what makes them feel good, or what makes sense to them, sometimes even making it up out of thin air. These people are deceived, not only by their own blindness, but by the demons they turn to.

Other people are less religious terminology, but they still put their faith into things of their own making – their weapons, money, possessions, technology, or medicine. They elevate these dead, man-crafted things to the level of deity, placing their faith in them, sacrificing a lot of their life to them, in the hopes that the idols will ultimately save them.

They stockpile their weapons and make great walls to keep out the bad-guys so they will be safe. They save and invest and purchase more and more believing that the more they have the more secure they will be. A lot of people today worship science and scientists as their gods, believing that the salvation of the world, the gift of eternal life, and a utopian future is just around the corner with the next medical or technological breakthrough.

But they make the same mistake as the blacksmith or carpenter that Isaiah is mocking. They’re doing the same thing that Habakkuk is pronouncing a woe against the Chaldeans for. They’re putting their faith into something man-made. They believe that man can make something that transcends man. That we can think up something that goes beyond human knowledge. That we can create something that has the power of a Creator.

But are they not merely “feeding on ashes”? They shout at their creation to “Awake! Feed me! Clothe me! Keep me safe!”, but it sits there silent – or only repeats back to them what they have commanded it to say. They cry out, “Arise!”, but it can only go as high as it has been built to go.

We know in our heads, when we take a moment to think about it, that “there is no breath at all in” our hand-crafted idols, our horoscope, our pagan rituals, our security systems, money, possessions or technology – so then why do we keep turning to them over and over for hope, joy and salvation?

The Source of Idolatry

Turn with me to Romans 1 and we’ll read the answer together. This is a complex bit of scripture, but taken as a whole it both makes sense and explains why we have such a penchant for crafting our own idols. The reason is simple: We love our sin and sin makes us blind to the truth.

Read Romans 1:16:

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

The Gospel of Jesus Christ states two very important things: first, that we are great sinners condemned to eternal death, and that the only way to be saved from the consequences of our sin is to believe in Jesus, our great Savior. A lot of people are “ashamed of the gospel” because they don’t like one or both of those ideas. They don’t think thinking that they’re sinners, or they want their salvation to come from Jesus alone. The Gospel, as presented in the Bible doesn’t allow for that. To be saved, we must believe we are sinners and come to Jesus alone for Salvation.

But instead of confessing their sins and coming to Jesus, most people embrace their sins and then fashion for themselves another god that tells them what they want to hear.

Keep reading in verse 18:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

In other words, every human being knows right and wrong because they have a conscience that condemns them, and they know that God exists because the whole of creation testifies that there must be a Creator. “What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.”

But, they hate this truth. The existence of a moral law and a Moral Law Giver that holds them accountable is detestable to them. They hate the idea that they can’t make up their own rules and judge themselves based on their own ideas of right and wrong so they “suppress the truth.” Every time they have a twinge of conscience, they stuff it down deep and pretend that they didn’t feel it. Every time their mind says, “Wow, this is something transcendent about this universe, something beyond my ability to comprehend, maybe there is a God after all”, they crush that thought and refuse to listen to their own minds.

Keep reading in verse 22:

“Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”

This is what we’re talking about today. They’ve denied that the real God exists, but they need something in His place. They can’t simply say that they are the creator of their own universe, so they must supplant the true Creator, and find something that will explain why everything exists and how everything is supposed to work.

So they invent a god of their own design and have it say whatever they want it to say. Now they can have their cake and eat it too – they get to worship a god, and call themselves faithful, and claim to have a relationship with a higher power – but don’t actually have to listen to God, the actual Moral Law Giver. They can write their own moral law.

Now look at verse 24 and we see God’s response to this folly:

“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”

God’s judgment on these idol makers is a simple one: “Ok, have it your way.” Sometimes God does give us what we want, and in this case, He gives those who create their own gods exactly what they wanted. He “gave them up… to impurity”.

There stands the One, True God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, and humanity has turned their back on Him to worship a created thing. Why? Because they don’t like the way God does things. God was preventing them from doing what they wanted to do with their bodies, so they preferred the lie to the truth and the created to the Creator. You’ve heard the phrase many times: “My body, my choice. No one can tell me what to do with my own body.” Well, God says that He wants to tell you what to do with your body. The only option is to find a different god.

Now look at verse 28, where you’ll see the words “God gave them up” again, and it shows the outcome of what happens when we worship gods of our own design. We go from a dishonouring of our bodies to a debasement of mind… :

“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”

This is what ultimately happens when we worship creation rather than creator. I asked at the beginning, after we had talked about the ancient sins of the Chaldeans and the Babylonians, “What makes people assume that they can do whatever they want and get away with it? What would make the leaders of a nation think that the world exists for their conquest and pleasure, and that it didn’t matter how they treated their fellow man?” And then I read you this list.

The answer to why we think pornography, abortion, human trafficking, gluttony, rage, hatred, greed, consumerism, gossip, and all the rest are okay, is because we take God off the throne, throw out His Moral law, and put our faith in things that humanity creates for itself. The only trajectory when we do that is the downwards spiral of sin. When we create our own gods to tell us what we want to hear – all that we will hear is: “Do whatever you want.”

Identifying Our Idols

The worst sin that humanity can commit is not drunkenness, covetousness, violence or injustice. The greatest and most dangerous sin, the source of all our other sins and all human suffering, is idolatry – worshiping a created thing instead of the Creator. It’s literally the first commandment. (Exodus 20:3)

Now, in your mind, you might still be thinking of an idolater as a member of a far-flung tribe bowing down to carved, wooden or golden statue. But that’s not right, is it? An idol is, potentially, anything we give our time, energy, resources, attention to. It’s what we put our hope in and turn to in times of desperation or celebration. We may not give blood sacrifices to giant metal statues, and pour incense on altars, but we do worship idols every day.

Here are some questions to help you identify your own idols:

  • Where do you turn for comfort when you are feeling lonely, weak or sad? Food, alcohol, shopping, tv, porn, or just going to sleep? That’s your true source of power, your idol, your god.
  • What, if it is damaged or taken away from you, makes you feel angry, depressed, anxious, or afraid? Your home, your money, your car, or another possession, or perhaps even a friend or spouse? Think about the last time you blew up at someone, or got really scared – which of your idols was threatened? What couldn’t God supply for you that that false-god provided?
  • If you were surprised by a $20 windfall, what’s the first thing you’d want to do with it?
  • What man-made idols do you pray for that are meant to stand right by Jesus in your heart?
    • “Jesus, I’ll worship you if you keep me and my family healthy.”
    • “Jesus, I’ll worship you if you keep me comfortable.”
    • “Jesus, I’ll worship you if you pay all my bills.” (source)
  • What would cause you to be angry at God if He decided to take it away?
  • What do you complain about most?
  • What makes you happiest?
  • What do you dream and fanaticize about in your private thoughts?
  • If you had one wish, what would it be for? Money? Fame? Sex? Popularity? Revenge? A better body? For someone to come back to life?

Conclusion: Consider The Folly of Your Idol

Whatever your answer is, I want you to take time this week to consider the folly of worshipping that idol.

  • Why are you giving your time, resources, energy and attention and hope to something that is dead or dying in favour of the God who is alive?
  • Why would you bow your knee to someone or something that has less power than Jesus?
  • Isn’t it utterly irrational to elevate ourselves so high that we think we can actually create something greater than the One, True God — that we can invent something to overthrow and replace Him!?

Every time we turn away from God, our life begins to dry up. We walk away from the stream of life (Psalm 1), or remove our branch from the Vine, and we plant ourselves somewhere else. We begin to hunger and thirst, physically and spiritually, and our souls cry out for more. It is that moment that we have a choice: Turn back to God, or keep asking the false-god-of-our-own-making to feed us, heal us, bring us joy, and strengthen our spirits.

Think of the damage and devastation that comes to our lives when we seek hope from, and obey the words of, false gods that we have created for ourselves. They only feed us ashes and tell us what we want to hear.

So, which will you turn to? To Jesus Christ who offers the only path to a relationship to the One, True and Living God, or side with the dumb, blind, mute and dead god-of-your-own-making. You cannot save yourself – you need Jesus.

 

 

Woe to the Self Secure: You are Not as Safe as You Think

Posted on Updated on

Habakkuk 6 - Woe to the Self Secure.PNG

Parable of the Rich Fool

Let’s begin today by reading “The Parable of the Rich Fool”:

“Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’ But he said to him, ‘Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?’ And he said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’ And he told them a parable, saying, ‘The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:13-34)

This section opens up with someone in the crowd yelling out to Jesus to tell his brother to give him his share of his father’s inheritance. Maybe he’s been ripped off, maybe he’s being greedy – we don’t know. But Jesus’ answer has nothing to do with the inheritance, but instead – as usual – gets to the real problem in verse 15. He says:“Take care, and be on your guard against all

“Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

As usual, Jesus flies past the presenting problem and gets to the heart of the issue, which was covetousness. Covetousness is simply a desire to have something for yourself that is currently possessed by someone else – so they won’t have it anymore. It could be something they own, their social status, their financial position, their wife or husband, or anything else that they have and you don’t. You want it so badly that you wish you had it and they didn’t.

Jesus goes past the presenting problem – the issue with the inheritance – straight to the actual problem: this person is breaking the 10th Commandment: “Thou Shalt Not Covet”. His problem wasn’t the lack of inheritance. He had a sin problem which showed a heart problem: He wanted something that someone else had and it was causing trouble for him and everyone else around him. His family was fractured, his relationships were strained, and he was in a state of anger and jealously because he wanted what his brother had. Think of it this way: it had gotten so bad that he was willing to run up to Jesus, interrupt Him right in the middle of His talk, and shout out “TELL MY BROTHER TO DIVIDE THE INHERITANCE WITH ME!” There’s more going on there than a simple dispute over a will – there’s some massive personal, relational, and spiritual problems in that statement.

Tying Them Together

So let’s tie this together. First we have a man running up with the presenting problem of an inheritance squabble, which Jesus quickly diagnoses as a spiritual problem with covetousness. Then Jesus tells the story of a wealthy farmer who reaped a great crop and decided to use the proceeds to buy himself a comfortable, hedonistic life. In that story, Jesus has God Himself confront this man and call him a “Fool”! Why was he foolish?

Both the covetous man and the Rich Fool had the same spiritual problem: greed. Their priorities were out of whack and it was causing them to miss the big picture. They though that life consisted of “the abundance of possessions”, which was foolish. What good would that inheritance or bigger barn do them when they came face to face with God!

That abundance of possessions wouldn’t be a blessing to them, but would actually be used as a testimony against them because it was a symbol of their disconnect from God. The bigger their pile grew, the less they needed to trust God. The more they accumulated, the greedier they became. And finally, as greed took over their heart, they would declare, “Everything is mine and I can do with it as I wish! I choose not to share! I will use it all for my own pleasure!”

And so Jesus warns, through His teaching and His story, that everyone listening needs to be careful about how they view the things of this world. Jesus seems to say, “Don’t be like this fool who interrupted my teaching time, or the fool in the story. Instead of worrying so much about the things you can accumulate during your short time on this planet, make sure you are right with God, so that your eternity is secure!”

The Root of the Problem

If you’re following along in your Bible, there’s probably a chapter division after verse 20 – as though the next section is separate from the one we just read. In my Bible there’s a big space and then the next part is titled “Do Not Be Anxious” and seems to be starting a whole new thought. But I want you to notice the first word that Jesus says next. What is it?

“Therefore”! That means that whatever came before – the interruption by the person with the inheritance problem and the “Parable of the Rich Fool” – are directly tied to that which is going to come after. So let’s read that:

“And he said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?

Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!

And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.

Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12:22-34)

Jesus says, “Therefore”, and digs deep into the root of the problem. Why was the covetous man so desirous of his inheritance? Why was the Rich Fool so focused on keeping all that wealth for himself and not using it to bless others as God intended? Jesus gives the answer over and over: Anxiety – another word for worry, or simply, fear.

He uses the word “anxious” over and over, then in vs. 29 He uses the word “worry”, and then in 32, he changes it to “fear”. Jesus ties anxiety, worry and fear, directly to the problems of greed and covetousness. Why did the man want his inheritance and the Rich Fool build bigger barns? They was worried they wouldn’t have enough.

The man’s anxiety over money, caused him to be covetous of his brother who had more, and that anxiety drove him to argue with his brother and make a public scene in front of Jesus and His followers.

Woe to the Self Secure

Now, turn with me to Habakkuk 2:9-11 and let’s get into the second of our Woes to the Chaldeans. Listen to how similar this woe sounds to what Jesus has just been talking about.

“Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house, to set his nest on high, to be safe from the reach of harm! You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples; you have forfeited your life. For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond.”

The first woe, which we talked about last week, was against Chaldea’s greed. This second woe is against their sense of Self-Security.

Let’s take this apart a bit and see how it ties into what Jesus has been saying:

“Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house…” That could be restated: Woe to him who gathers an “abundance of possessions” without regard toward being “rich towards God”. Evil gain is merely possessions that are gained in a way that God doesn’t authorize.

The next part is “to set his nest on high”. The word “to” tells us the reason that they went after their “evil gain” was to take their “nest” (or their home or nation) and “set it on high” where they would be “safe from the reach of harm.”

Do you want to learn something neat?

The Greek word for “worry” that Jesus uses in Luke 12 is the word METEORIZOMAI, the root of which is where we get our word “meteor”. It’s a compound word from META meaning “beyond” and AER which means… “air” – Meteor: “Beyond the air”. It simply means something “lifted high in the air” or simply “a thing high up”.

Jesus says, “do not worry”, and the word picture is that of a person who feels they are high up in the air, holding on to nothing, no ground to stand on, freefalling.

What phrase does Habakkuk use to describe what the Chaldeans are trying to do “set their nest on high”, which could be literally translated “place their nest in the heavens”.

In their pride they wanted to get their nest, their home, their nation, as high as possible – set it in the heavens, where it would be above everyone and safe forever. But the consequences were dire.

These people were driven by not only greed, but anxiety, worry and fear. They wanted to pile up their abundance of possessions so they could be safe. Their anxiety and desire for self-security drove them outside of their borders to take, by force, the wealth of other nations – so they could be safe, high up in the air, beyond anyone’s reach.

But remember what a woe is! It is a pronouncement of judgement and warning against a self-satisfied person who doesn’t realize their dangerous condition. They think they’re doing just fine, and yet their fate has been sealed. Habakkuk pronounces woe to them because “you have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples; you have forfeited your life.”

In their worry and desperation for self-sufficiency and security, they – like the man who wanted his inheritance – have actually hurt themselves. Instead of gaining more security, they are in a free-fall of worry and are cutting themselves off from other people. Their covetous and greedy hearts told them not to trust God’s provision or be a good neighbour who builds security through friendship and cooperation. No instead, they told God to get lost and then coveted, pillaged, robbed and overthrew their neighbours, driving away anyone who would be their friends, because they felt they would be safer that way. They weren’t secure in the heavens above everyone – they were in a free-fall of anxiety: their life securely affixed to nothing but air.

The man that addressed Jesus had, almost without a doubt, ruined his relationship with his brother, family, and his friends and neighbours too. As covetousness and greed took over his heart, his relationship with God declined, and all he could think about was getting his money. Then, to seal the deal, Satan played the fear card: “What if you don’t get your fair share? What if you don’t have enough? What if something happens? Where’s your security, your nest egg? What’s going to keep you safe? You could starve! You could be out in the street, cold and naked! You need to get that inheritance!”

But, ironically, as Habakkuk’s woe says, all of their hoarding of the abundance of possessions at the cost of the people around them didn’t bring them safety. In fact, he says, in doing so, “You have forfeited your life”. That’s the woe. They thought they were safe – but they weren’t. All of their security was merely an illusion.

And worse, in the same way as we read in Jesus story, their possessions actually worked against them to become the very thing that God uses as a testimony against them because it was a symbol of their disconnect from God. “For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond.” It’s the same! The woe against the Chaldean’s self-security is the same message that Jesus gives in the Gospel of Luke: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions…. Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God…. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Anxiety Today

So, what does this mean for us today? It occurred to me this week that this series of messages on the Woes to the Chaldeans come at a very appropriate time of the Christian calendar. These woes revolve around pride, greed, addiction and covetousness – which are all summed up in Jesus’ warning about getting our hearts right in regards to wealth and possession – is coming during the season of Lent, the historical season where Christians purposefully remove worldly things from their life so they can concentrate on spiritual ones.

This problem with being possessed by our possessions is a common one. The church fathers knew that, which is why they created the season of Lent – a time of forty days of fasting before Easter – so we could takes some time to evaluate the things in our life that are pulling us away from God. Jesus talked more about wealth, money and possessions than anything else, because He knew that it was going to be a problem for us.

We just sang Amazing Grace a couple days ago at Jennifer’s memorial, and in that song it says, “Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come…”. This world is full of “dangers, toils and snares” and it is so tempting for us to take our eyes off of God and start to believe that we need to build our own security. It’s easy to start to think that the best thing to do in this world is to accumulate an abundance of possessions, get what we can, and keep it to ourselves so that we will be secure. Sure, we’ll share a little of the extra – but not at the expense of our security. That’s just crazy talk! Lent forces us to re-evaluate our relationships with our wealth and possessions.

Go back to Jesus words in Luke 12 and see how he takes apart every single one of our anxieties over security.

Worried About “The Economy”

In verse 22 he addresses our anxiety about our basic needs, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on.” Safety, food, and clothing. Jesus says, don’t spend so much effort worrying about this for two good reasons: First, because life is more than food and second, because God knows what you need.

We still get worried though right? And so we gather more money, more clothes, more retirement savings, seek more wage increases, more pension payments.

What’s the biggest concern when we’re voting in a new government? The economy: Let the government kill the babies, murder the sick, teach our kids to be sexual deviants, ignore the staggering suicide and addiction rates, kill the environment, attack marriage, and outlaw religion – All I care about is “How much money am I going to get and will I still have a job next year.”

Jesus implores us to realize that life is so much more than the economy!

Worried about “Death”

Next in 25 he addresses all the anxieties we give ourselves about trying to cheat death. “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” All of your fussing and complaining and fighting and worry – is that actually going to add an hour to your life? Do you know when and how you’re going to die? Nope! You could have an aneurysm right now and drop dead. You could be hit by a bus crossing the street. You have NO IDEA.

It doesn’t stop us from worrying though, does it? We need more vitamins, more diets, more fads, more trips to the doctor, the chiropractor, the naturopath, more locks on the doors, more security systems, more borders, more police, more military – anything so we can feel like we have taken control and can ward off the spectre of death for a little more time.

Anxiety destroys our soul! It drives us to do things that destroy our relationships with God and others. We turn into covetous people that want what others have because we think they are safer than us. Why should they have it and not us? Bitterness and jealousy set in. We become the Chaldeans who, instead of partnering with others in sacrificial friendships where we meet each other’s needs, we see others as competitors that need to be vanquished – or better, eliminated so we can take what they have. Have you ever hated someone simply because they had something you felt you needed or deserved? Have you ever wished someone to be gone, dead or fired so you can have what they possess? That’s anxiety and greed driving you to sin.

The Real Problem is Faithlessness

But Jesus goes even deeper. The man showed up with an inheritance problem and Jesus answered him by pointing out his covetousness – and then turns to the crowd and goes one step deeper. The real issue isn’t covetousness. It’s not even anxiety. The real issue is faith.

Coupled with His statements about anxiety is a question of faith. Jesus says, “Don’t be anxious about life, food or clothing” and then says, “Consider the ravens… consider the lilies… of how much more value are you than the birds… or grass?” That’s a question.

Do you believe that God finds you more valuable than a bird or a flower?

If the answer is “No, God cares more about birds and flowers than He does me.”, then you’d better get to work making your nest and getting it full of stuff. You’d better make big piles of fertilizer so you can have lots to eat, because God won’t do it for you!

But, if the answer is, “Yes, God cares way more about me than the birds.”, then I guess you’d better show it by living His way. The birds just do what they’re told and God arranges the world to care for them. The flowers simply open their leaves and accept God’s rain and sun as He deems fit to give it to them. Do you believe that God can do the same for you? Do you believe that God is caring enough to give you what you need, when you need it? That’s a faith question. Your anxiety dissipates as your faith in God’s care for you grows. If God doesn’t care about you, then you’re in trouble. If God does care, then you need not fear.

Jesus says in verse 32: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” That’s pretty great. Jesus calls them – and us – His “little flock” and then reminds us that God’s plan isn’t just to help us with living in this world, but plans to give us the entirety of His Kingdom to enjoy! Does that not remind you of Psalm 23?

“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want… He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul…. [He] prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies. [He] anoints my head with oil…” It’s His house in which I will dwell forever.

I guess the question is: Are you part of Jesus “little flock”, and if so, do you trust the Shepherd?

A Lot of Questions

Let me close with this: Woe to those who find their security in themselves, seeking evil gain for their house, trying to set their nest on high where they can be safe – because in doing so you have forfeited your life and your soul. If you believe that you can remove your anxiety through the abundance of your possessions, then you are in real trouble. God calls you a “fool”.

And so, my encouragement to you today, and the application for this sermon, is found in verse 33-34: “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

“Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

No, this doesn’t mean that you need to sell everything you have. Jesus isn’t asking you to sell everything you have and live in a cardboard box. He’s telling you to hold what you have in loose hands, not tied to earthly things. He’s saying that we need to evaluate what we have to see if we are being greedy or covetous, or if we have our security in our possessions rather than God. What this means is that you need to evaluate your heart for the things in your life that are separating you from God.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What do I have that is simply there to give me a false sense of security?
  • What do I currently possess that I got using resources that God gave me to care for someone else? (Is someone hurting because I decided I wanted something else in my big barn?)
  • Do I know someone who is legitimately needy, but chose not to help because I was afraid that God wouldn’t provide enough for me if I did?
  • Does God have access to everything I have?
  • Where is my treasure?
  • Where is my heart?
  • Would I choose Jesus if it meant living in poverty?

A Woe to the Greedy & Warning about Debt

Posted on Updated on

Habakkuk 5 - Woe to the Greedy

Changing Sin

Confronting people’s sin isn’t very popular these days. More and more the world is handing out excuses rather than judgements and punishments. It’s not that I’m advocating for the return of the Salem Witch trials or the Spanish Inquisition, but I do believe that we have lost something incredibly important to human society when we are no longer able (or allowed) to call out evil and declare something a sin.

Even our movies have changed. It used to be that we knew the bad guy because he had the black hat and twirly mustache. He didn’t need much of a back-story – he was the bad guy. “Once upon a time there was a witch who hated everyone…” or “Once upon a time a young girl was sent to visit her grandmother’s house, but when she got there her grandmother was replaced by a wolf…” was plenty enough information for us to know that the witch and the wolf were bad guys.

Not anymore. Now the witch and the wolf have backstories that explain why they went bad. The witch was hurt by an untrustworthy boy she liked, and the wolf came from a broken home in a bad neighbourhood. Implicit in these backstories is that everyone has an excuse for why they do what they do – nothing is their fault. They are merely a product of a broken system. If they had grown up in a different place, with good education and the right meds, then they would be just fine.

Words and stories are very powerful things because they shape our worldview. And if we get rid of words like right and wrong, good and evil, sin and righteousness, then we end up rewriting our understanding of the greatest problem in this world and losing sight of what must be done to change it. If our greatest problem is sin, and the solution is Jesus, then we need to be able to declare that sin exists. But what happens when we stop using the word sin? How can we get to the solution, when we’ve changed what we think the problem is?

Consider the fact that we’ve all but lost the categories for sin today. Last week I read a passage from Galatians 5 which outlined a whole list of sins that God says we need to take seriously, because when we commit these sins we show that we are out of step with Him and are working against His Spirit. The passage went like this:

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal 5:19-21)

Now that sounds bad when you use those words, right? “Not inheriting the Kingdom of God” is a big deal, right? This is a problem that needs solving! We need Jesus to fix this!

Well, let’s modernize them and see what happens.

  • First, let’s turn “sexual immorality, impurity and sensuality” into “expressing your feelings for someone in a natural way”, “a healthy expression of one’s inner desires”, “dating” and the ever-popular, “safe sex.” That way we can turn something like “adultery” into “a love affair” (that sounds nice, doesn’t it) or “finding my soul mate during a troubled marriage”.
  • Next let’s turn “idolatry” into “consumerism”, “a beautiful expression of culture.”  and “personal religious constructs”.
  • We’ll turn “sorcery” into “silly superstitions”, “using pharmaceuticals to improve life”, “being in touch with mother nature” or “living a naturalistic lifestyle”.
  • We’ll change “enmity”, “strife”, “jealousy”, “fits of anger” and “rivalries”, “dissensions” and “divisions” into “having a competitive spirit”, “wanting to be the best you can be”, “winning at all costs”, “survival of the fittest” or simply “being passionate about excellence”.
  • We’ll turn “envy” into “looking up to someone more successful than you”, “wanting to get what you deserve.”
  • And finally “drunkenness” and “orgies” can become “getting a little carried away at a fun party”.

Ok, so let’s summarize, and we’ll use the modern translation that we’ve just come up with:

“Now, the works of the flesh are… expressing your natural feelings for someone, sharing in the beauty of your culture, living a natural lifestyle, being passionate about excellence, looking up to people more successful than you, and having fun at parties… those who do such things (?) will not inherit the kingdom of God…”

Now, that sounds a little harsh doesn’t it? How can God be against people expressing our feelings, sharing beauty, living naturally, pursuing excellence, and having fun?! Do you see why words are important and how dangerous it is that we are living in a culture that won’t call sin sin?

Quick Review

What we’re about to study today is a passage known as the “Woe to the Chaldeans” and it’s all about calling out sin. We talked a bit about this last week, but I want you to remember the context. This intense section of scripture is full of hard language and threats, but is there for a reason. It’s pointing out how much God hates sin – which is what we talked about last week – but also how He intends to deal with it. Some people are going to be disciplined, others punished. No one will get away with anything.

Christians love to sing “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound”, but in order to understand the first part, we need to understand the “that saved a wretch like me” part. In order to understand forgiveness we need to see what we’ve been forgiven for. In order to understand mercy, we need to see the wrath from which we were spared. In order to comprehend the amazing love of God for His people, and the sacrifice of His Son on our behalf, we have to come face to face with the depth of our sin and depravity, and the weight of judgement that faces each person that doesn’t know Jesus as their Saviour and Lord. It’s awesome to talk about amazing grace, but it only makes sense in the light of knowing we are wretches first.

So, as we look at this, let’s keep the context in mind. Habakkuk, a priest in God’s temple, was living in a nation that was almost totally corrupt. Suffering, injustice, violence and sin were everywhere. His heart is breaking and he starts to pray, asking God why He’s not doing anything about it. God sends Habakkuk a vision that explains to him and us how he plans to deal with the sin of His people and, by extension, the sins of the world. God says his plan is to discipline his people by sending their enemy, the Chaldeans (later called the Babylonians), to wipe out Jerusalem and drag the people off into captivity for 70 years.

Habakkuk, a priest in God’s temple, was living in a nation that was almost totally corrupt. Suffering, injustice, violence and sin were everywhere. His heart is breaking and he starts to pray, asking God why He’s not doing anything about it. God sends Habakkuk a vision that explains to him and us how he plans to deal with the sin of His people and, by extension, the sins of the world. God says his plan is to discipline his people by sending their enemy, the Chaldeans (later called the Babylonians), to wipe out Jerusalem and drag the people off into captivity for 70 years.

Habakkuk asks a follow-up question, wondering how God could justify using a greater evil to punish a lesser one: “Why would he use the pagan Chaldeans to punish the lesser wrongs of Israel? Why should the Chaldeans get away with being evil when Israel won’t?”

God’s answer is that He is a God of justice and that no one will be getting away with anything! He’s going to use the Chaldeans as a rod of discipline against His children, and then make sure that the Chaldeans receive their judgement for their sin too. God isn’t slow to act, nor has He forgotten. He’s been patiently waiting for His people to repent, but they won’t. And while they’ve been rejecting Him and His prophets, He’s been preparing the world for a change of empires – the rise of the Babylonians – who though they don’t even believe in Him, God intends to use bring Himself glory and bring salvation to His people.

Last week we talked about the inner workings, the heart, of the Chaldeans – their pride, addiction and greed – and now this week we’re going to get in the specifics of God’s problem with them.

What I want to do over the next few weeks is look at the passage in context and then extrapolate out what those sins would look like today because God’s standards haven’t changed.

The big take-away from this sermon, I hope, is that God is very serious about sin, and we need to be serious about it too. And, perhaps the second take-away is that even when the world seems very dark, God isn’t being idle – He’s being patient – and He’s preparing the world for something even greater. Let’s turn to Habakkuk 2:6-20 and let’s read the passage together and then take it apart piece by piece.

“Shall not all these take up their taunt against him, with scoffing and riddles for him, and say, ‘Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own—for how long?—and loads himself with pledges!’ Will not your debtors suddenly arise, and those awake who will make you tremble? Then you will be spoil for them. Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.

‘Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house, to set his nest on high, to be safe from the reach of harm! You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples; you have forfeited your life. For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond.

‘Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity! Behold, is it not from the LORD of hosts that peoples labor merely for fire, and nations weary themselves for nothing? For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

‘Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink—you pour out your wrath and make them drunk, in order to gaze at their nakedness! You will have your fill of shame instead of glory. Drink, yourself, and show your uncircumcision! The cup in the LORD’s right hand will come around to you, and utter shame will come upon your glory! The violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, as will the destruction of the beasts that terrified them, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.

‘What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it. But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.’” (Habakkuk 2:6-20)

What are Woes

There are five woes and I want to look at each of them, but first, let’s answer the question: What is a “Woe”?

A “Woe” is a declaration of judgement for the miserable, deplorable condition of the one being addressed. It is not a good thing to receive a “woe”. Someone receiving a “woe” is most often living in a fantasy world, thinking they are doing well, when in fact they are utterly wretched and blind to the truth. They are self-satisfied, and don’t realize their spiritual condition, or the future that awaits them.

A “woe” is a pronouncement of judgement and a warning to someone who thinks they’re doing just fine, and they are found throughout scripture. In Matthew 23 Jesus pronounced woes on the Scribes and Pharisees who thought themselves to be so great and holy, but were in fact under the terrible judgement of God, destined for hell. It’s an expression of grief at the terrible condition of the sinner – people that are so utterly lost, they don’t even know it.

I want today’s message to serve as a sort of woe to each one of us, and perhaps to our friends and neighbours too. I hope that as we read this passage, we will have a realization of the depths of our sin problem and God’s hatred of it. We are far too comfortable with our sin, and it gets us into great trouble. We make excuses for it, play with it, think it no big deal, and start to think that God doesn’t care about it either. We desperately need the conviction of God and the knowledge of our sin, or we won’t come to Jesus. As long as we think ourselves righteous and good – perhaps only needing a little divine help here or there – we will not be on our face asking God for daily forgiveness and crying out in need for His love and presence.

I believe that desire starts with the acknowledgement that we are sinners and that there are serious consequences for our sins: for the believer and the unbeliever! Woe to any of us who do not listen to these words and not feel the weight of conviction on our souls and desire to come before God in repentance. If you can read these words and not feel some kind of conviction, then there is something wrong with your soul.

Ok, so let’s get into them:

The First Woe: Greed

“Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own—for how long?—and loads himself with pledges!’”

The first woe is against this nation’s greed. We talked about this last week. Their pride, fueled by drunkenness led to addiction which gave birth to an unquenchable greed. Woe to the one who keeps hoarding things they cannot pay for. Notice that these things aren’t theirs!

The first woe is against this nation’s greed. We talked about this last week. Their pride, fueled by drunkenness led to addiction which gave birth to an unquenchable greed. Woe to the one who keeps hoarding things they cannot pay for. Notice that these things aren’t theirs!

This isn’t a woe against materialism, ownership, or having nice things. This woe is specifically against those who take things from others that aren’t theirs. They didn’t work for what they had, they took it from others. They weren’t spending their own money, they were spending other people’s money.

The term “loaded himself with pledges” is a figurative term meaning that these conquering Chaldeans (or Babylonians) weren’t the owners of what they had, but were merely borrowing it. They were extorting money from people, seizing their land by force, and using military might to make their victims into slaves. Woe to them, God says, because that loan is going to be paid back!

What goes around comes around and all of the borrowing you’ve done is going to be taken back. A larger nation will take it from you and give it back – which is exactly what happened when the Persians conquered the Babylonians.

Their sin was greed. They wanted someone else to do the work for them so they could come and take it. They stole other nation’s homes, lands, cities, walls, cattle, money, and people. Instead of building, they plundered. Instead of working, they conquered.

Greed Today

The Chaldeans were doing this on a national level, but we do this on a personal level all the time. Consider the explosion of Credit Card debt we have today. According to a few news articles I read this week, consumer debt is at an all-time high. We might be in a recession, but that hasn’t stopped us from filling up our credit cards and getting new loans from the bank. And it’s not for food and shelter. The big costs, according to the Globe and Mail[1], are Restaurants, Cars, Home Improvement, and New Furniture. According to the CBC[2], the debt-to-income ratio for Canadian households is 163.3 percent. That means that for every dollar we earn, we owe $1.64 in debt. If that’s not greed, I don’t know what is. It’s the same thing!

The thievery and conquering of the Chaldean armies is phrased in the language of loans and pledges because they didn’t own any of it! It was merely borrowed from other nations, and ultimately borrowed from God. Their short-sighted thinking had them believing that this world was about the accumulation of good for pleasure, no matter how they got it. And their decision was to take what they wanted from others.

The Gospel Consequences of Greed

Our society runs on the back of this kind of greed. Credit cards, high-interest pay-day loans, tax fraud and evasion, and more, are crippling our society today – and the church. Let’s take a minute to consider the terrible consequences to living a lifestyle of greed, consumerism and debt. Being greedy and seeking to accumulate things you aren’t willing to work for has some huge consequences to your life, family and ministry.

Let me ask you a few questions:

Are you making decisions with your money, or is your debt making decision for you? Proverbs 22:7 says, “… the borrower is the slave of the lender.” What that means is that once you are in debt, you lose a lot of your ability to make decisions.

If God were to call you to give generously to help someone who needs your help today, could you? Or is your money tied up in paying off the debts you have after buying things you don’t need?

If God asked you to pick up stakes and serve Him somewhere else, could you? Or have the decisions you’ve made with your money got you pinned down and unable to be flexible with your future. You have to say, “No God, don’t ask me to do that, I just can’t.”

Do you feel the pull to volunteer more of your time or give more of your energies to your church or your community, but can’t because you need to spend more time at work?

Has it ever crossed your mind that you are doing your family a disservice by working so much – that you need to either pull back the hours, get a different job, or quit altogether – but you can’t because you have too many debts to pay? You feel the pull to be a better parent, grandparent, grandchild, uncle, aunt, brother or sister – and know that you need to make a change, but you can’t because you decided to buy something you didn’t really need.

You’ve made yourself a “slave to the lender”. Your greed has caused you to take something that wasn’t yours. You, like the Chaldeans, have used money that isn’t yours to accumulate things for yourself you weren’t intended to have. You didn’t work and save for them, but instead got someone else to do the work for you.

God is no longer making decisions in your life, and neither are you. The Bank is deciding how many hours you work. Master Card is deciding how great a priority your family is to you. The loan company is your master now, and they get to tell you where you can live and what you can do with your time.

Debt makes you a slave! God’s woe to the Chaldeans was that the ones that they have borrowed from would rise up and destroy them. They thought that their conquering and accumulation would bring them happiness, but all it did was create the opportunity for their enemies to destroy them. It made them gluttonous and weak. It’s the same thing today.

Satan loves it when God’s people are greedy and in debt. It paralyzes them. As long as they are spending their money on themselves and digging themselves into financial ruin, then they aren’t spending their money on acts of mercy, giving generously, sharing with others, or spreading the gospel. He loves it when we’re being greedy and in debt.

Conclusion

So that was the first of the five woes, and that’s all we’re going to cover today. Let me close with the words of Jesus regarding the importance of being faithful with our money. This is found in Luke 16:10-13 and comes after the parable of the dishonest manager. Jesus says:

“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Luke 16:10-13)

Being greedy and living in constant debt isn’t just a money issue – it declares a spiritual truth. It shows God that He’s not our Master or our God, someone else is. It shows that our priorities are out of whack. It shows that we care more for the things in this world than the people in it.

As a church, we cry out to God to use us for His glory and ask Him why He won’t give us more and more opportunities to obey Him. Is it possible that His answer is, “I gave you a few little things to take care of – a little pile of money, a little house, a little family – and you used it dishonestly and unfaithfully. Why would I entrust you with true riches?

I gave you everything you needed, but you didn’t think it was enough, so you borrowed more from pagans and non-believers. You felt that they were better providers than Me. And now, because of your debt to them, you serve them… and cannot wholly serve me.”

I encourage you to pray about this. Are there any changes you need to make financially? Is there anything you need to take back to the store or sell because you couldn’t afford it? Do you need to ask God’s forgiveness for seeking things He didn’t want to give you? Have you been greedy? Are you being faithful with your finances?

 

[1] http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/personal-finance/household-finances/canadian-households-still-adding-debt-but-pace-slowing-equifax/article26366796/

[2] http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/canadian-households-are-racking-up-more-debt-poll-suggests-1.3146766

What is a “Good Church”? (Part 3 – Inspired Worship)

Posted on

Burning Questions 7 - A Good Church 3.PNG

We’re currently in the middle of a mini-series-within-a-series called “What is a Good Church?” – which is inside the “Burning Questions Series”. Now you know what happens when I give myself a few bumper-weeks in my sermon planning – we get series-within-series. I hope that isn’t confusing, because my intention is neither to confuse you nor bore you, but to teach you what the Bible says and point you to Jesus – and it would be a great crime for me to make that either boring or confusing for you.

Two weeks ago I did an extended introduction to the topic of “What is a Good Church?” where we discussed “Christian consumerism”, and we followed that up last week by talking about two mistakes that Christian Consumers make. The first being “using human standards to judge whether God’s church is good or not” and the second mistake being “crafting God’s church into our image.”

In the midst of all that I’ve been talking about four was that God, according to the Bible, defines a “good church”. A “good church” according to God’s Word is one with Biblical Discipleship, Loving Fellowship, Inspired Worship and Spirit-Led Evangelism. You’ll recall that I added those adjectives last week in hopes of helping the conversation, knowing they aren’t perfectly chosen and are open to interpretation.

Last week we talked about the first two, Biblical Discipleship and Loving Fellowship, and so this week I want to discuss the next one, Inspired Worship.

For those who are new this morning, I apologize. You’re sort of jumping in in the middle of a multi-part sermon. I made the case over the last couple weeks, and now I’m just going to jump into the next part. If you did miss the last couple sermons, you can go to my website and read and listen to them to catch up.

Please open up to our key-text in Acts 2:42-47 and let’s read it one more time so we can have it fresh in our minds. Remember, this is the description of the first, Christian church that developed after Peter’s first sermon on the day of Pentecost. God convicted thousands of people of their sin, the repented, got saved, and came under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and His Apostles.

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

Awe Upon Every Soul

Let’s talk first about God’s Biblical qualification that a “good church” is a “Worshipping” church. You’ll notice in this first church that “awe came upon every soul”, that they “attended the temple together”, and that they “praised God”. These are the marks of a worshipping church.

Look at that phrase used in verse 43: their “souls” were full of “awe”. That word “awe” is an interesting one. It’s the word PHOBOS, from where we get the term “Phobia”. It mostly translated as the word fear, but it also means terror, and panic! It’s the term for respect and reverence.

It is the word used in Luke 5:26 to describe after people heard Jesus claim to be God, forgive a lame man’s sin, and then command him to stand up and walk. “And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, ‘We have seen extraordinary things today.’”  This describes more than surprise, more than interest, more than being impressed – it’s the feeling we get in the presence of something that truly shakes us to the core.

The other night I gave a talk to a group of kids about sharing their faith. As an illustration I used a bunch of things that people are afraid of – their phobias – spiders, heights, snakes, loud noises, needles, etc. We all know what happens when we bump up against one of our phobias. We tense up, we lose control of our bodies, our heart races, our fight-or-flight response is activated, adrenaline floods into our blood stream, we say and do things that we wouldn’t have done a moment ago. I once jumped out of a moving vehicle because a scary bug landed in the back seat. There have been multiple times when I have used my children as shields from bees. I’m not proud of it, but I was scared.

That’s the word we’re talking about here when we say that “awe came upon every soul.” This is where we talk about “Fearing the Lord”. Psalm 33:8, “Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!”

After Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on the cross, taking the fullness of the wrath of the Father against Him, making the final payment for all who would believe in Him, it says,

“And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’” (Matthew 27:51-54)

 This is the heart of worship that the church is to have. Certainly speak of God’s love, faithfulness, miracles, closeness, intimacy and the peace that is made between us and God through Jesus Christ. It is good that we give thanks to Him for all of these things – but the mark of a “good church” isn’t merely thanksgiving for all the gifts God has given us, but a sense of awe, fear, reverence, and deep respect for God, His Son, His Spirit and His Word.

For those who are saved, and have the Holy Spirit within is, the presence of God in our world, church, lives, and hearts, fills us we AWE and we are “inspired” – literally inspired by the Spirit of God and inspired by all of the Truth we know about Him (John 4:24) – to bring Him worship.

A Jealous God and a Consuming Fire

To emphasize this point about having awe in our hearts, I want to read a passage from Hebrews. Remember, the author is here writing to a group of people who wanted to turn away from following Jesus because it was causing them suffering and would soon force them to choose between life or death. They wanted to go back to the Jewish way, or the Roman way, and he reminds them that turning away from God is a terribly foolish thing to do.

He starts by speaking about the terrifying events of the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai – how Moses shuddered with fear, the thunder and clouds, and punishment of death that came to anyone who even set foot on the mountain, and says,

“See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:25-29)

It’s almost like the author of Hebrews is saying, “This isn’t a game. You don’t get to pick and choose who you worship or how you worship. The worship that is due to God because of who He is and what He’s done, is not optional. You ought not to be thinking of going to lesser gods or empty religion. You ought to be grateful because you have been given a greater gift than the Romans or even the Jews at Sinai. Your response to this God should be worship, reverence and awe. Why? Not because God is love – he doesn’t go there – because “our God is a consuming fire!”

Some of you may have Joshua 24:15 at home written on something. It records the words of Joshua to Israel telling them to choose between the idols of the nations around them or the One, True God. It says,

“Choose this day whom you will serve… as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Part of me wishes that this wasn’t written on so many cute things, because they are not cute words. Joshua didn’t give this option lightly. We must continue to read the next verses. Turn to Joshua 24 where the bible records this conversation between Israel and Joshua. Look how many times Joshua warns them to take their pledge seriously:

“Then the people answered, ‘Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.’

But Joshua said to the people, ‘You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.’ And the people said to Joshua, ‘No, but we will serve the LORD.’ Then Joshua said to the people, ‘You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him.’ And they said, ‘We are witnesses.’ He said, ‘Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD, the God of Israel.’ And the people said to Joshua, ‘The LORD our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.’

So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem. And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. And Joshua said to all the people, ‘Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD that he spoke to us. Therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God.’ So Joshua sent the people away, every man to his inheritance.” (Joshua 24:15-28)

In the Bible, God reminds His people that He is a “jealous God” who doesn’t share worship with ANYONE. In the 10 Commandments, the Moral Law of God that stands for all people for all time, God says,

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image…You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:4-6)

Yes, God is where we put our hope, and where we find our strength. He is full of love, compassion and mercy – but we must not forget another side of His character: He is to be feared because he has wrath against sin. He does not take idolatry lightly and jealously pursues His people as a husband pursues his wife. In Hebrews 10:26-27 he said that those who would forsake their faith, or would continue to sin after being told about Jesus, should live in “fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”

Our church must remember this aspect of God – that He desires our full, uncompromised worship.

Fear and Repentance

Go back now to Acts 2:43 where “awe came upon every soul”.

Where did that awe come from? Back up a few verses to verse 36 and read the crescendo of Peter’s sermon,

“’Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.’ Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’ And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’” (Acts 2:36-41)

          Their awe and fear of God was a result of coming face to face with their sin. Jesus, the Son of God, died because of their sin. They were the cause of the death of the God’s only begotten Son. And Jesus, the one who died, was “both Lord and Christ”. He was their king and their saviour, and they killed him.

Their response was not to shed a single tear and walk up the aisle while “Just as I Am” played softly in the background. They were terrified. The Holy Spirit entered their hearts and they saw why Jesus died – it was their fault. They saw their sin and rebellion against God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, and they were utterly afraid of what God would do. “Brothers… what shall we do?” was an acknowledgement of this. “Oh no! We are in serious trouble. We are doomed! God is right to be angry with us. We deserve Hell. We scorned His Son! Whatever can be done to save us?!”

Then, after telling them the bad news, Peter tells them what they must do: He demands that they “Repent”. That word means change your mind, change your priorities, change your ways, change your heart, change your allegiance, and come to the Son. Perhaps Psalm 2:10-12 jumped into their minds:

“Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”

Repent! Change your allegiance. How do you show your change of allegiance? By being “being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ”. Make it public. Make it known to all. And do it soon.

It is by your repentance and confession that you are saved. Later, Paul would write in Romans 10:9-10, “…if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Not just in your heart, but with your mouth. Show it to all that you’ve repented from your sin and come under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Why? Once you have repented and confessed your sin, you will receive “the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” This is the amazing grace of God! He hates sin, but offers forgiveness. He brings wrath, but also mercy upon those who would repent. He is a consuming fire for all his adversaries, but He put His Son through Hell and then offered Him as payment for our sins.

Then it gets better. We don’t just get forgiveness, but also the gift of the Holy Spirit, the very presence of God in our hearts, reminding us of all He has said and leading us every step of this life! We have access to the very voice of God every day. We are adopted into God’s family. And as Romans 8:17 says,

“Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

Who He Is and What He’s Done

 

“If you will not worship God seven days a week, you do not worship Him one day a week. There is no such thing know in in heaven as Sunday worship unless it is accompanied by Monday worhsp and Tuesday worship and so on.” (AW Tozer)

Part of the reason for my emphasis this morning is that we sometimes don’t take God seriously enough, which is why we don’t worship Him enough.

As I said, God loves you and has given you every reason to worship Him. He is God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, the One who formed you in your mother’s womb and gives you every breath you take. He is the most powerful force in existence, able to manifest universes with a word, sustaining all of existence by His power. He is worthy of our reverence and fear. As Jesus said, “…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.” (Matthew 10:28) God’s very nature, what He is, should draw us into awe-inspired worship. We should worship God for who He is.

And we should worship Him for what He’s done. He is also the friend of sinners, the one who traded His Son’s life for yours so you could be with Him. He is Love incarnate. He is the source of joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentles, and faithfulness. It is only in a relationship with Him that we have an abundant life.

He is always worthy of worship because of who He is and what He’s done.

A Good Church Worships

And so we come back to our question about “a good church”. What is a Good Church? One which has Inspired Worship. Not inspiring worship! This isn’t about whether the music, the song or the people inspire us – it’s about whether or not the church is inspired to worship because they have a holy reverence and thanksgiving for who God is and what He’s done.

This is the question I ask of myself and of this church. Is my life, and the lives of the Christians in this church lived, every day, as an act of worship? Is there a palpable fear, respect and spirit of thankfulness when we meet together? Do we speak often of who God is and what He’s done, or do we think we have something better to talk about?

Another important question: Are there any idols in our church? Is there anything that stands above the Word of God as our guiding light? Is there anything we hold as more important than giving worship to God?

Another question: Is there anything in this church that is keeping people from worshipping God? Are there disagreements, unforgiveness, slander, or sin among us that prevents us from being able to worship God?

A “good church” worships God, and that starts with every believer in the church committing themselves to a lifestyle of worship. The words of Romans 12:1 must convict us today:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.”

Let’s go back to that Tozer quote: “If you will not worship God seven days a week, you do not worship Him one day a week”. Showing up and singing a few songs and trying to stay awake for a sermon is not worship. Worship is a lifestyle, every day. Remember, God is a jealous God. He doesn’t want to share you or your worship with anyone else. We must take worshipping God as seriously as we take the right reading of His Word because He takes His worship very seriously.

A good church knows this, and encourages everyone in the church to worship every day, because God is worthy. So let is speak, and sing, and read, and serve, and pray, and honour God in the way that people have, and should, be praising Him for all time, and into Eternity.

“Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.” (Psalm 145:3)

“For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.” (Psalm 96:4)

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:11)

Let us be a worshipping church.

 

Total Depravity and Thanksgiving Dinner

Posted on Updated on

Total Depravity and Thanksgiving Dinner Web Banner

Podcast Audio:

Let’s talk about Nehemiah 8. But before we do, let me give you a quick background to what’s going on. After the peaceful reign of King Solomon, the son of David, was over, the kingdom of Israel split in two. Israel to the North where 10 tribes were living, and Judah to the South which were the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi.

Not long after the split, the Assyrians came in and took over the Northern kingdom, conquered them, scattered or enslaved the people living there, and basically wiped out the northern kingdom. The Southern kingdom of Judah remained, so some of the people from Israel fled south and it grew. Many of them moved to Jerusalem and it became a very large city. To defend themselves they built huge walls around the city.

Meanwhile the kings of Judah are going back and forth between trusting God to protect them and allying themselves with pagan nations. King Hezekiah does the right thing and trusts God, but when his son Manasseh takes the throne he stopped worshipping God, put up idols all over the place, allied himself with the Assyrians, started performing child sacrifices and killed off many of the prophets of God. His son, Josiah, took over the throne at age 16 and stumbled across a copy of the first 5 books of the Bible, the Torah, and was convicted by God to clean things up. It was hard because his father kept working against him, but He did all he could.

The kingdom of Babylon is on the rise and they take over the Assyrians. Because the people of Judah had rejected God, built idols and rebelled against His law, God prophesied through Isaiah and Jeremiah that the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, would attack Judah, the walls of Jerusalem would be destroyed, the city would be ruined, and all the people would be exiled to Babylon. There they would live as outcasts and slaves for 70 years. After that time they would be allowed to come home again.

Rebuilding The People

What we are about to read here is the story of the Jewish people who had come back from exile to Jerusalem to find it absolutely ruined. The first seven chapters of Nehemiah are all about the rebuilding of the walls so the city will be defensible once again. But then, in chapter 8, the story turns from the rebuilding of the city, to the rebuilding of the people within the city.

Nehemiah was a Jewish man and a trusted official – a cupbearer – under the king of the Persian Empire (who, by this time, had taken over the Babylonians). Nehemiah had heard about how bad things were in Jerusalem and was heartbroken for his people and his city. He talked to God about it and then asked the king if he could leave and help rebuild Jerusalem.

Ezra also worked for the king of Persia, but was a teacher of the Law, a descendant of the High Priest. In an amazing miracle, he was given a mission by the king to lead a group of Jewish people back to and teach them about the laws of God. When he arrived he saw a lot of the same sins that got them in trouble in the first place, and it broke his heart.

So there are your two leaders, Nehemiah and Ezra, tag-teaming the rebuilding of the city and its people by teaching them to how rebuild their homes, their lives, and their hearts. What we read in chapter 8 is the story of Ezra, as he finally takes all of the people, gathers them together behind the city wall, appoints small group leaders, and then reads the entirety of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy – , the Book of the Law, the Torah.

“And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” (Nehemiah 8:1-8)

So that’s the picture. Ezra reading the Bible to the people, in full, and then a group of appointed bible teachers explaining it to anyone who didn’t understand it. And as the understanding of what God had written sank in, people started to change.

Sin Sinks In

“And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, ‘This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.” (Nehemiah 8:9)

Their spirits were stirred and their emotions were gripped when they began to understand what the Bible was saying to them. They began to understand the depth of their rebellion against God, and the enormous grace God had shown them even though they didn’t deserve it. They read of the creation of the world, and the perfect place God had created for them… and how that was marred by sin. They read of the jealousy of Cain towards his brother Abel and felt it prick their hearts as they realized they had done the same thing their own brothers.

They listened to the story of the Exodus from Egypt and realized how much God loved them and would go to any lengths to redeem them and save them. And they listened to the story of the people who refused to even go into the Promised Land… the land they were currently standing on… and how they instead of trusting God, they would wander the desert for 40 years.

And they looked up around them, at the city they had been working so had to rebuild – the capital city of their Promised Land – and realized that they sat on holy ground because it was a gift from God, and God dwelled in a special way in this place. Then they remembered why they had been sent into exile, how they had rejected this God, His law, His prophets, His warnings, and began to see how even though they had returned from their exile, that they were still doing the very same thing. They were face to face with their sin, and they couldn’t escape it.

Then Ezra began to read the 10 Commandments and the people realized that they had broken every one of them, and they stood guilty before God. And they wept.

They read of the blood sacrifices, the lamb that was slaughtered after the High Priest placed the sins of the people on its, this one symbolic act that was required to cleanse the people from their sin. The read of the scapegoat that would be ceremonially driven from the city to show the people how God was driving away their sin. And the bull that would be slaughtered before their eyes, its blood spilled, because that’s how serious God takes sin.

And it sinks that it had been a long time since they had repented. A long time since they had been obedient to fulfill the law. It had been years and years since most of them had celebrated the Day of Atonement. Decades of sin – years and years of guilt – was piled up against them. God had a right to be angry.

If you are a Christian, or if you’re not but God’s been working on your heart, then you know what this feels like. God starts to get hold of our hearts, and we begin to understand what the Bible says about us. It is absolutely appropriate, when we come face to face with our sin, fr it to bring an emotional response. In this case, we’d call it conviction, guilt, shame, and fear. They saw themselves through the eyes of God – contrasted their lives against his perfect, moral law – and it’s something they hadn’t thought about before, or hadn’t thought about for a long time. They weren’t “good people in a bad situation”. They were depraved, broken, lost, sinners. Under the wrath of God, surrounded by evidence of His righteous judgment, and their hearts broke.

Blame Shifting

There is power in the public reading of the scriptures. The Bible contains the best news, and the worst news, in history! The world is condemned, sin has separated us from our Creator, all hope was lost, and we are all destined for hell because of the perfect and necessary judgment of God. And we can’t argue with it. We cannot stand before Holy God and argue that we’re good people – our consciences testify against us and what we read in the Bible won’t allow it. That’s the bad news. But it is absolutely necessary to hear and understand the message of the total depravity of our hearts before we can grasp the amazing grace of salvation through Jesus Christ.

We don’t really like to talk about sin – at least not our own. Our society, in general, prefers to deflect blame onto someone or something else. It’s never our fault, and therefore none of us ever really sin. It’s not a new thing. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the snake.

Adulterous men and women blame their spouse for driving them into the arms of someone else. Corrupt business leaders say it’s the economy that made them steal from so many people. Thieves blame the security system saying that if they didn’t want it stolen, they should have protected it better. People with addictions blame the substance, the manufacturers, the pushers, or the peer pressure. Gossips blame the tabloids and the people who listen to them. Slanderers blame the object of their scorn. Jealous and envious people blame the advertisers. Pornographers blame the consumers. Perverts blame the objects of their lust. Parents blame schools, schools blame parents. Everybody blames the government, and the government parties blame each other. Nothing is ever anyone’s fault.

But one of the core messages of the gospel is that we are sinners and that when we stand before God one day, He is going to pull out our rap-sheet, all of the excuses in the world are going to melt away and all that will be left with be us, our guilt, and perfect judgment of the all-knowing God of the universe.

The Importance of Guilt

Christians, those who believe in Jesus Christ as their Saviour and Lord, know that the first step to freedom in Christ and being saved from sin, is to admit guilt. Admit we are sinners. Admit fault. To say, I am a sinner who has willingly, and willfully broken the law of God over and over. I wanted to, I chose to, I meant to, and I did it again and again.

I worshipped things that weren’t God. I stole things that weren’t mine. I lusted after people that weren’t married to me. I lied. I promised things to others and didn’t follow through. I promised things to God and didn’t follow through. I used God’s name as a curse word. I worked for my own glory, and my own fame, as much as I wanted, not giving glory to the One who created me but taking it for myself. And often as I worked, I did it at the expense of others. In my anger I’ve wanted people to be dead, and I’ve done things to hurt them. I did it. No one made me. I am without excuse. If I were put on trial for everything I’ve ever done or thought… I would be guilty a million times over.

And when we come face to face with that sin, it will either harden our hearts to God – causing us to tell God to get lost because He just makes us feel bad – or it will break us, causing us to fall on our face before Him in sadness, fear and repentance.

My prayer is that our sin breaks each one of us. That come face to face with our sin destroys the pride that makes us think we are our own highest authority. That it destroys the image in our mind of how good we are, how lucky God is that we call ourselves one of His people, how blessed people should be to be around us. That it obliterates that false theology of believing that we are good enough to be in the presence of Holy God in Heaven, because we know in our very soul, that we’re not.

Coming face to face with the reality of our sin is supposed to breaks our hearts, just as it breaks God’s. There’s a reason God chose blood to represent sin. Because it’s disgusting, scary, horrible, repulsive and permanent. Sin kills. And when we figure out that we are sinners… not just people who make mistakes and have good excuses, or just need to try to do better, or deserve a second chance because deep down we’re good people … when we start to see our sin, and revile it – it becomes disgusting to us – and we learn the consequences of our sin, it should break us. And it’s right that it does.

That’s exactly what the people who were listening to Ezra read the law felt. They wept because they felt guilty, they felt ashamed, they felt the conviction of God weighing heavy on them.

Standing Condemned

I hope you have felt that. I hope that you haven’t been sold some kind of garbage that God is going to let everyone into heaven because He loves everybody so much.  I hope you don’t believe the nonsense that says that you people are basically good on the inside. We’re not. Without Jesus, I’m not, and neither are you. Without Jesus, we are dead in sin, absolutely selfish, lovers of idols, and children of hell. We are people in rebellion against God, on the path of destruction. It is only because of His common grace to this world that most people can draw their next breath, because if He called in their chips today… they would be condemned.

Anyone who has not dealt with their sin will be exposed and judged. That is why these people wept. And why anyone who has not dealt with their sin, who harbors unrepentant sin, who hasn’t come to God for forgiveness, should weep.

The Good News!

But that’s the bad news! And Nehemiah and Ezra, after they had read the law, looked out to see the people’s hearts breaking, and their weeping, and realized that even though their conviction and guilt is right – that they haven’t grasped the whole truth of what was just read in the scriptures. They didn’t understand the whole story!

“Then he said to them, ‘Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.’ So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, ‘Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.’” (Nehemiah 8:10-11)

They were saying, “Listen everyone! I know you’re heart is broken because you have seen your sin… but you need to remember… this day is holy to God. It is set-apart and special to Him. This is the day where the hearts of His people broke before Him. Where, after such a long time, His people finally figured out how far they were away from Him, and wanted to be different. The children of God finally looked around and saw that they were living in sin and slime and rebellion… and they got up and wanted to come home. And they humbled themselves before Him, and repented, and God is absolutely pleased today!”

I can almost see Ezra rolling back the scroll of the book of Exodus 34:6-7 and saying, “Everyone, remember!

 “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin….”

…God’s got it all in perfect balance! Your fathers were the ones who rebelled. But you are the thousands who have turned their hearts back to Him and He will forgive you. To you He is slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and will always be faithful to you. Do not grieve today, but give thanks! ‘The Joy of the Lord is your strength!’ He has joy because of you, and will share that joy with you!

You can’t have God’s joy when you are still in your sin. It’s impossible. That kind of radical freedom, absolute peace, and powerful, overflowing love is only possible when God gets a hold of your heart, forgives your sins, cleanses you from your unrighteousness, and sets you on the straight path that leads to life and eternity with Him! Do not let grief be the end of this day! No, know that because of your repentance, your hearts are right with God, and there is great joy and rejoicing in Heaven because of you.”

I hope you know both sides of this today. I hope you have felt the conviction of your sin, and have turned to God for salvation.

Jesus was the final sacrifice of the old system of the Law. He was the perfect Passover lamb. His blood was shed for your sin and mine. His perfection completed the entirety of the Law of God, and He offers to exchange His righteousness for our guilt and sin. I hope you’ve felt conviction and guilt and shame – and that you know what it’s like to be forgiven and purified and made new in the name of Jesus Christ.

I hope you have wept over your sin – and now know that the Joy of the Lord is your strength!

A Real Thanksgiving

And now we come to the even better news. What is the proper response when you finally realize all of this is true? What should happen when you finally figure out that the burden of your sins, your condemnation to hell, has been lifted from you, atonement has been made by Jesus for your soul, God is your Father once again, and you are His forever and no one can take that away? What’s the right response?

The right response is to have Thanksgiving Dinner! Verse 12, “And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.”

That word “because” is the most important word in that sentence. When these people sat down to eat that day, they had a real thanksgiving dinner. They didn’t do it out of tradition. It wasn’t because it was on the calendar. They didn’t just get the good wine, order a turkey, and invite everyone over because they wanted to be with their family. They did it “because they had understood the words that were declared to them”.

Words of life. Words of hope. Words that changed the way they saw themselves, the world, and their God forever. Words that drew them into a brand new relationship with their Father in Heaven that they hadn’t had for years.

We need to do the same thing. Did you know that the original act of parliament from January 31, 1957, which created the Thanksgiving holiday in Canada says this:

“A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed … to be observed on the 2nd Monday in October.”

It was started as a day to thank God for His abundant blessings to us.

So let me encourage you that when you come into the Thanksgiving season, that you do it with a mind towards the grace God has shown us in Jesus Christ. He loved the world so much that He sent His one and only son, that whoever would believe in Him wouldn’t have to die in their sins… but would be able to have eternal life with Him forever. And He walks with us throughout our entire life, and promises to never leave us nor forsake us, no matter what.

Praise God that it’s not about how good we are, but how good He is. It’s not about how much we punish ourselves, it’s about the punishment He took for us on the cross. It’s not about how religious we are, because religion without Jesus only leads to death. Those who understand this have the most reason to give thanksgiving because they have experienced the resurrection of their souls – they have gone from death to life.

I hope that’s true for you. I hope you have admitted your sin and turned to Jesus. Today is the day of salvation. And a day to begin giving real thanks.

Be the Frame Not the Picture

Posted on Updated on

mona lisa frame

Podcast Audio: 

Do you know what this is? It’s quite famous and has been around for over 100 years. Millions and millions of people have seen this, probably including yourself. Now can you identify it? Of course you can. Interesting isn’t it? When people go to the Louvre in Paris, not too many even see the frame, do they?

Brad Paisley has a song called “Mona Lisa” which is all about a man who knows that when him and his girl walk into a room, no one is looking at him – and he’s ok with that. In fact, he’s not just ok with it, he’s thankful. The chorus goes, “I feel like the frame that gets to hold the Mona Lisa and I don’t care if that’s all I ever do.”

John the Baptist could have written that. He’s willing to be the frame that few people remember, so that people can see Jesus. And in his life is a message for all of us.

Fame Junkies

We live in a world consumed with a lust for fame. We have “Reality TV” shows that turn regular people (not really that regular, actually) into celebrities. Almost everyone has a camera phone and can immediately upload any moment of their life so their “followers” can see and immediately comment on what they are doing or eating. People on YouTube are all looking for how they can become the next viral sensation by doing something funny or dangerous. We have dozens of magazines dedicated to following celebrities – what they wear, where they vacation, what their family is doing, who they are dating. We are a society of fame junkies willing to do almost anything – even lewd, offensive or idiotic things – trading pieces of their soul so they can get the attention of strangers for only moments. And when the fame starts to slip, they do even more lewd, even more offensive, more damaging and more idiotic things to keep it.

But living to pursue fame – wanting to be the Mona Lisa so much that you won’t accept being the frame – destroys people. It destroys relationships and lives.

Yes, You Have a Pride Problem Too

Some might be tuning out thinking that you don’t have “a desire to be famous”, but we all struggle with the root problem – which is pride.

  • There are some who have a messiah complex, wanting to help and fix everyone and everything around you, feeling guilty when you can’t help – and that’s a pride problem because your trying to do Jesus’ job.
  •  Some want to be known as the completely self-reliant, able to stand on your own, even able to dole out your riches to the less fortunate –you are the one who feeds people, you sustain the world by your own power and might – and that’s a pride problem because you’re trying to be God.
  • Some want to be the Creator, the one who is so clever and smart and wonderful and creative. You want them to come to have your cooking, your art, your writing, your poetry, your garden, your lawn. You want people to look to you to as the fount beauty and joy. You want to be Jesus.
  • Some want to be the final authority. You want to have control, know everything that’s going on, have a say on everything that happens, and it all must run through you. And when someone doesn’t ask what you want you get mad because you’re not getting your say. God help anyone who would disagree with you. You want authority over people, telling them what is best – and that’s Jesus’ job.
  • Some want to be worshipped and adored, so you perform, and dress up, and put on your signature scent, place yourself at the centre of attention. You want what belongs to Jesus alone.
  • Some want to be the fount of all wisdom and knowledge, above all in their intelligence and opinion.  You know you’re smarter, more educated and wiser than anyone else, and so everyone should come to you with their questions. In other words, you want to be prayed to, and you want to answer those prayers with your own mind. You want to be Jesus.

And every one of those things are ways that we live life trying to be the Mona Lisa and not the frame. And we can learn a lot about that from John the Baptist about how important it is that we learn to accept life as the frame.

A Life Set Apart

John had known his role since birth. His father Zechariah had been told by an angel, while standing in the temple of God, that John would be set aside for a great work. The angel said,

“And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (Luke 1:14-17)

For his entire life, by God’s decree, John was to be limited. From birth there would be things that he wasn’t allowed to do. His life would be different, and the way he lived it would reflect that. He wouldn’t be allowed to do the things that others could do. He wouldn’t live the way others lived. He would be powerfully used by God, filled with the Holy Spirit, great in word and deed, but only when he submitted himself to God. He committed himself to never drinking wine, and as an adult, went even further to committing himself to living as an Essene – a Jewish sect with strict rules about living simply and following God wholeheartedly. They lived in the deserts, made oaths of loyalty to God and one another, to hate wickedness and love truth, obey the elders, be honest with each other and be fiercely loyal to the exact words of scriptures. A new follower wasn’t even allowed to eat until he took the oaths.

They would sell what they had and give it to a common storehouse, spend their days working and studying the scriptures and other important books, and most didn’t have a family. If you broke with the laws, you were expelled from the group which usually meant you would starve to death in the desert.

John chose to live with this group not because he was an extremist or a fanatic, but so that he could concentrate on God and the mission God gave him. He gave up everything for the sake of the call.

Submitting To the Word of God

And it wasn’t just in His life that John the Baptist submitted himself to God. He also limited his message to only speaking what God wanted him to say. When he confronted Herod, it wasn’t by his own words, but by the words of God. He was a powerful, influential preacher, with a strong message, but the message wasn’t his – it was given to him.

He placed himself under the Word of God, and that gave him the strength and conviction to proclaim such a hard message to so many different groups. He knew the words of scripture, and knew God’s requirements of His people. And therefore, not in his own voice, and not by his own wisdom, and not in his own anger, but with God’s, he stood before the Pharisees and Sadducees – the religious elite of his day – and call them a “brood of vipers” who needed to repent of their sin. He stood before the crowds and commanded them to give up their comfort to care for one another. He stood before the powerful tax collectors and commanded them to be honest in their work. He stood before armed Roman Soldiers and told them not to steal and lie, and to be content with their wages. Knowing his message was not his own, but was from God, was why he could stand before King Herod and say, “You were married to one woman, lusted after another man’s wife, divorced your own, and took his. That’s sin and you need to repent!”

They weren’t his words, but were the words of God. Not because he was a prophet, but simply because he had studied the scriptures and was willing to open his mouth against sin.

We are sorely lacking in both those categories today. We lack people who understand the scriptures well enough to actually know what they say, and we lack people with the courage and conviction to actually stand up and tell people what it says. We care too much for our own opinions and our own comfort. We worry too much about what people will think, and not enough about what God thinks. And so many believers, and many churches, are quiet, weak, afraid and defeated.

Christian Application

Let’s talk application. There are of similarities between how John the Baptist lived, and how we are meant to live. We talked about this last week, so I’m not going to rehash it, but let’s remember that we too have a high calling and are meant to live differently.

Listen to what Peter writes to the church in 1 Peter 2:9-12:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”

He uses very specific language to describe who Christians are and how Christians should live. We are “chosen”, “royal”, and “holy”. That means we are like John the Baptist — set apart, different than the world. God picked us, you and me, to be His own people – a special group of His own choosing. Just like John the Baptist, before we were born, we were set apart to be His. (Rom 8:29)

The Apostle Peter then tells us why we have been set apart – “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you”. Same mission, same message, as John the Baptist. Not our words, His words. Our mission isn’t to promote ourselves and share our message, but to promote Jesus and share His message. We are not to “proclaim the excellencies” of our way of life, our church, or even our faith – but to proclaim the glory and excellencies of God.

  • We are the medium, He is the message.
  • We’re the envelope, He’s the letter.
  • We’re the radio, He’s the signal.
  • We’re the web-browser, He’s the internet.
  • We’re the frame, He’s the Mona Lisa.

If people are seeing only us, then we’re not doing it right.

Mark Driscoll

This hits home to me as I watch more and more ministry and secular leaders flame out around us. We all know about the people who are disqualifying themselves though sexual sin by having affairs, getting caught with porn, or doing foolish things like taking digital-pictures of themselves in compromising positions and hoping it never gets seen. And we know about the ones who are disqualifying themselves because of their love for money and they get caught with their hands in the cookie jar. We’re seeing that in industry, government and in the church. But one sin that seems to fly under the radar, and is just as disqualifying as money or sex for the Christian minister….

Some of you know who Mark Driscoll is and others of you don’t. He is mega-church pastor from Seattle Washington who has had a very dramatic effect on my life. I’ve been listening to his sermons for my entire career, subscribe to his blog, follow him on facebook, listen to his conferences, have bought almost all his books, and listen to his podcasts. I’ve jokingly called him my “patron saint” because of the effect he’s had on my life and ministry.

He’s known for his strong, straightforward, biblical leadership and preaching style. He’s edgy, media savvy, incredibly intelligent, has a near-photographic memory and can recall large portions of books and scripture at will, is evangelistically minded, biblically driven, and totally sold out to Jesus. A sermon that would take me 20 hours to prepare only takes him 2 hours.

But in the past 2 months, I’ve watched as Driscoll’s ministry has latterly fallen apart in front of him and the rest of the world. He and his church were rebuked and then removed from the church network that he started. He had to cancel the conference he started. His books have been pulled from shelves. He’s been accused and brought up on official charges by dozens of pastors that he’s worked with in the past, and who currently work for him. And just in the past week, he’s been asked to step down as pastor of the church for an indefinite period of time.

Now, I’m not going to stand up here and claim that I know what’s going on in a church 4500 kilometers away. I only know the details that I’ve seen in the news and from statements released by Driscoll and the church. But what seems very clear is that his fall didn’t come because of sexual or financial sin, but because of pride.

The accusations that have been leveled at Driscoll are all about him getting too big in his own mind and then harming those around who challenged him.. I have no doubt that he places himself under the authority of Jesus, but what caused such huge controversy and destruction in his ministry, is his huge ego. He wasn’t held accountable enough by the people around him, his pride inflated, and he started to believe he was the whole show. He lashed out verbally against his elders, fellow pastors, and other people online. He used his amazing intellect and speaking ability to crush the spirits of people around him with insults. He plagiarized people’s work calling it his own, misappropriated church funds, and consolidated power so he couldn’t be questioned. His conduct has been called “ungodly and disqualifying” and “spiritually abusive” – but it wasn’t sex or money that got him – it was his prideful character. (Sources: 1  2  3  4)

Over and over and over God says in scripture that “pride goes before destruction.” (Prov 16:8; 16:5; Jeremiah 20:23; James 4:6). On the list in proverbs of things that God hates, number one is “haughty [prideful] eyes.” (Prov 16:16) And right now, because of his unchecked pride, Driscoll is sitting at home, his church in agony, his ministry crumbling, the people around him broken hearted, and his church, his followers, and people like me are bewildered and depressed.

Yes, I Have a Pride Problem Too

And this hits me extra hard because pride is a daily struggle for me too. I fear that one day I too will be disqualified – not because I’m going to cheat on my wife or steal from the offering plate, but because of my character. That list I gave you of ways that you can be prideful are all problems for me. I struggle with all of those.

I fight against accountability too much. I spend too much time thinking about what others think of me. I am drawn to puff myself up through social media. I like it far too much when people “like” and “share” the things that I post online. I think too much about who will hear me, how far my voice will carry, how cool and creative I’m being, and not nearly enough about what God thinks of what I’m saying and doing. I spend way too much time thinking about success and not even close to enough time considering whether I am being obedient in the moment.

And, if left unchecked, if left unaccountable, if not brought under the Lordship of Jesus, if not held accountable by the elders, the church and my wife, and without God’s daily provision of grace, humility and self-control, I will one day lose my ministry. I will lose my voice. I will lose my testimony. I will be like so many of the kings in the bible who start out ok, but don’t finish well. I know that. And it scares me all the time.

But it’s not just ministers that run this risk, is it? It’s everybody. You’ve heard it before – “Character is king.” This is a mistake we all make – to care too much about what we are like on the outside, and not enough about who we are on the inside. This isn’t a new message, but it is an important one – character is king and pride kills our character.

He Must Increase But I Must Decrease

At one point John’s disciples came to him concerned that Jesus was making more disciples and baptizing more people than he was. This is when many people would panic. John’s ministry was shrinking! Someone else was getting the glory! John’s fame was decreasing! There’s a new guy down the street and everyone’s going to Him! John, John, what are we going to do? You’ll be out of a job!

“And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.’ John answered, ‘A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.’” (John 3:26-30)

If there is one line that summarizes the life and ministry of John the Baptist, that’s it: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” And it was the reason that he was so mightily used. That’s why he could live simply and stay committed to God’s will.

He lived to bring glory to the Son of God. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” He was sent to “prepare the way” for Jesus, and He lived that way. He knew he wasn’t the main show – he was the opening act. He wasn’t the movie he was the trailer. He wasn’t the meal, he was the appetizer.

The Gospels all introduce John as the forerunner, the one who “prepared the way”. He is there to gather a crowd, get them warmed up, introduce Jesus, kick off His full-time ministry, pass along some of His followers, and then get out of the way. His job wasn’t to be on stage – it was to prepare the stage for someone else. That’s what we’re here for too.

And when people started to think he was the Christ, he made absolutely sure they knew he wasn’t. In Luke 3:15-16 it says,

“As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, ‘I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.'”

When people started to admire him for being such a great frame, he always pointed them back to the picture. “Don’t look at me – look at Him! If you’re looking at me, you’re going to miss everything!”

Imagine flying a friend to Paris, getting a cab to the Louvre, standing in line, fighting the huge crowd to get to front, finally getting to the viewing spot, and only being allowed your 15 second glance before you are shuffled off so others can see.  – And then you go outside for some fresh air and ask your friend, “So, what did you think of the Mona Lisa?”.  How hard would you smack them if their answer was, “Oh, I have no idea! I didn’t even see it. I was too busy looking at the pretty frame around it.”?

Now let’s get even more ridiculous. Imagine taking your friend, flying to Paris, getting your cab to the Louvre, fighting the crowd and getting to the front only to find that the curator has decided to take down the Mona Lisa and leave the frame. Would you be upset? Of course you would! No one comes to see the frame!

And here’s the unpopular message that you need to be told: Your life will be better if you realize that you are the frame and Jesus is the picture. If you get that confused, and try to live to be the Mona Lisa, you are going to be miserable.

There are too many people living today who refuse to be the frame – they want the glory that only God deserves. They want to be the Saviour, they want to be the Word, they want to be the Creator, they want to be the final authority, they want to be worshipped, they want to be the one that sustains the world with their own might, they want to be the fount of knowledge. They want to be Jesus. But living and trying to be Jesus is not only a miserable way to live – it’s foolish! You’ll never outshine God. He will always be the greatest! One day, the scriptures promise that every knee will bow – yours included! And worse, it’s demonic. It’s pride! It’s the path to destruction!

If you ever feel indispensable, remember John the Baptist. Our lives will be infinitely better if we figure out that it’s not about me, or you, or our church, or our plans – it’s about Jesus. We exist to follow Him, worship Him, obey Him, serve Him, and bring glory to Him. He’s the only one worthy of it. I’m not, you’re not, no one is.

And if that bugs you, then you have a pride problem. If it bugs you that you’re not the centre, you’re not getting your way, you’re not getting what you want, you’re not who everyone turns to, you’re not in charge, you’re not the focus – then you’ve got a pride problem – and it’s going to lead to your destruction.

In John 1:19-23 it says,

“…when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, “I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No.’ So they said to him, ‘Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ He said, ‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.’”

That’s our answer too. John was content with his role. “No, don’t think I’m something special – I’m not Elijah. No, I’m not the Messiah. I’m not some great prophet. You know what I am? I’m just a voice yelling a message – Jesus is coming. That’s what I am. Don’t concentrate on me, you should be worried about Jesus.”

That’s what our lives should say too, in everything we do – whether that’s at work, or at home, at school, playing with our kids or grandkids, it should all point to Jesus. That’s why Paul can say in Colossians 3:7,

“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Having Faith During Suffering and Crisis

Posted on

Podcast Audio:

And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” And he went with him.

And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. (Mark 5:21-43)

Crisis After Crisis

This was a busy time in Jesus’ life! Consider what has just been happening to him. Jesus has been crossing the sea, back and forth from crisis to crisis. And no sooner had Jesus gotten off the boat than he was presented with another catastrophe – actually two!

Think back to what we’ve been reading. At the beginning of Mark 4 we see Jesus spending a bunch of time on one side of the sea teaching the people and his disciples. Then, at the end of Mark 4, he gets into the boat and is beset by a huge storm and crazed disciples who doubted Him, His power and His goodness. When He landed on the other side of the shore, the moment Jesus stepped from the boat – I mean, His feet were probably still wet – Jesus was immediately confronted with a legion of demons possessing a super-strong man. After delivering the man, everyone around there begged Him to leave.

And so, back into the boat He gets, probably with wet sandals, and heads back to the other side. On the other side, as the boat was landing, a huge crowd was gathering – waiting for more teaching and miracles. And again, as Jesus stepped out of the boat—another crisis!

So Jesus, feet still wet, is confronted by the ruler of the synagogue who is facing an emergency… and moments later a woman who is in desperate need. Crisis after crises after crisis. Relentless. And yet Jesus is never phased. Never overwhelmed. And gives comfort to all around Him. He is a rock, a cornerstone, a deliver, a strong tower. He is the one to whom we come when things are out of control and messy. He’s the one who can untangle things and deal with the billions of issues coming at us at once. He is Jesus, He is God, and we are not. And that’s never more clear than when we are in crisis.

Dealing with Crises

How we deal with emergencies, disasters, illness and difficult times tells us a lot about ourselves and our faith. It gives us insight into how much we really trust God. It opens our eyes to how patient we are. It reveals our idols and the places where we take comfort. It tests our prayer life. Difficult times open us up to a lot of divine diagnostics.

I’ve had my own crisis over the past couple weeks. It told you last week about the morning I was hit by lightning. That was crisis that came out of the blue and created a lot of havoc. It upset my time schedule, affected my health, wrecked my car and killed my computer.

I went to the hospital and got checked out, replaced some parts in the computer, and got my van boosted and running. I thought it was all done until my van started making some weird noises and I found out that the engine is now toast. More phone calls, more dealing with insurance, more frustration. All little stuff by comparison to what many people are going through.

And as I was dealing with this, I was talking to God, and He brought me to Proverbs 21:1 which says, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; like the rivers of water he turns it wherever he wishes.” That reminded me that God’s in charge of what’s going on. He’s in charge of the mechanic, the insurance people, and everything else. He can turn things the way He wishes. Therefore the best person to talk to about it is Him. The question is whether I will have the faith and trust to let Jesus do whatever He wants with the situation.

Contrasts

Let’s talk a little about how we react to crisis, and how Jesus deals with our problems, through the lens of these two people that came to Jesus after He got off the boat.

The Characters

First, let’s note how different these two characters, the leader of the synagogue and the woman, while at the same time noticing that they both end up at the feet of Jesus. And I want you to see yourself, your own story, or the story of your loved ones in this.

The man is a religious layman – like our elders or deacons – respected and well known in the community. We can presume the man was very well known because Mark very rarely gives names to the characters in his stories, so perhaps he did so because many reading might have known his name. The woman was his opposite. Because of her issue with constant bleeding, she would have been ceremonially unclean and therefore wasn’t allowed to be in the temple or permitted to be in public without making people aware of her uncleanness. The woman would have been ostracized, considered cursed, hurting and desperately lonely.

And they both end up at the feet of Jesus. There is no one kind of person that comes to Christ. Famous, rich, spiritual, religious people  — and rejected, broken, outcasts – are welcome at the feet of Jesus Christ.

Let me tell you what was going on here with this poor woman. According to ceremonial law, if she touched anyone, they would also become defiled and unclean. It was a huge risk for her to touch this popular rabbi!

So see how gently Jesus seeks out this woman. Of course He knew who touched Him, but He didn’t want to call attention to her! For years and years, every time she went out in public, she had been forced to call attention to herself to tell everyone she was unclean. For years she hadn’t been allowed to touch anyone. And she had dared to reach out and touch a famous rabbi – one who is on an important mission for a leader of the synagogue! How terrifying for her. So Jesus allows her to be the one to announce herself, to show her courage, and to bring testimony about her healing. He called her to tell her story, but never considered forcing her or pointing her out.

Jesus called her “Daughter”. She was older, not a young woman, so what was this all about. It was about reminder her that God had never turned his back on her. God had never left her. She was rejected by people, removed from the temple, pushed away in her pain, suffering in fear and loneliness, but all along God still saw her as His daughter. And so Jesus addresses her as such.

That’s how Jesus operates with us to. What a picture of how we are all saved. We come, in faith, in fear, having no idea what is going to happen, but only knowing that getting a little bit of Jesus is going to do something! But the risk is great! Coming to Jesus has such huge consequences in our life… and Jesus knows this. So, when we show our faith in Him by repenting of our sins and making Him Lord of our life, He heals us, calls us His “sons and daughters” (1 John 3:1), and gives us a chance to tell our story. He doesn’t hold us up like a trophy, but gently calls to us, drawing us out of the crowd, and gives us the chance to courageously tell our story.

The Crises

Their crises were very different when you contrast them too. The woman came for personal healing of her own problem, the man came on behalf of another. The woman had suffered for 12 years and had tried everything she could think of – spending all her money on doctors, medicines and methods – just to be well. Nothing worked, and the treatments themselves brought even more suffering.

The man had come, not because of a long-term problem, but because of an emergency. We don’t know what was wrong with the little girl, but we know from the account in Luke 8 that it was his only beloved daughter, and she was twelve years old. It could have been an accident or a sudden illness. Whatever it was, it was urgent. And when a dad sees his little girl on the edge of death, he doesn’t mess around with things that might help, he goes to the one he knows can help.

And they both end up at the feet of Jesus. We all have different types of crises. Some of them are long-term problems that we’ve dealt with our whole lives. Some come upon us suddenly and without warning. Some are of our own doing because we have been foolish. Some are the actions of others trying to harm us. Some are just because we live in a fallen world. No one is to blame, but the danger, fear and pain is very real.

All these problems are welcome at the feet of Jesus. If we mess up, we can bring it to Jesus. If we have the same problem for years and years, we can still bring it to Jesus. If we are in an emergency, our first stop needs to be Jesus. There is nothing beyond His reach or power.

The Miracles

How each person acted out their faith, and the miracles Jesus performs have contrasts too. The man came to get Jesus to bring Him to his daughter. The woman came to see Jesus and was hoping to get away unseen. The woman was suffering for a long time and was healed instantly. The little girl died and was resurrected. The woman who was unclean reached out to touch Jesus, and Jesus reached out to touch the dead girl who, because she had died, was now unclean.

The woman pressed through the crowd, doing all she could to get to Jesus – no one was going to stop her. The man had all but given up after receiving news of his daughter’s death.

And they both experience the miraculous power and healing of Jesus. They both had faith – perhaps the woman had more since the man had almost turned away – but it was present in both. But it wasn’t the measure of their faith that determined the miracle – just who they had faith in!

The woman didn’t need a faith boost, so Jesus said to her “Your faith has made you well…”. However, to the man who was losing faith in what Jesus could do about the situation, He said, “Do not be afraid any longer, only believe.”

How ironic. I wonder how many people this synagogue leader had said those very words to as people in his congregation came to him with problems. How many times did he tell them, “Don’t be afraid, have faith.”  How many times had he reminded people about the power of God and the miracles in Israel’s past? How many people had he encouraged to pray for a miracle? How many people had heard him say, “Don’t be afraid, have faith”? And when it was time for him to have faith — it failed him. But that didn’t stop Jesus from helping him. Jesus didn’t walk away, did he?

It’s not unheard of to have a crisis of faith during a difficult time, is it? John the Baptist had a crisis of faith when he was unjustly locked up in prison. Peter had the same when Jesus told him that He would be crucified. We all do. Emergencies, illness and disaster really let us know where our faith is.

Granted, this was a pretty big ask of Jesus. His daughter was dead – that’s usually the end of the story. But Jesus looks at him and says, “Don’t worry, don’t be afraid, don’t fall apart, don’t quit on me. I’m still here. I still have power, this story isn’t over. When I’m involved, death isn’t ever the end of the story. It looks bad now, but I’ve got this under control. I’m not surprised, and since I’m here, you’re not helpless. Let’s go.”

And when Jesus and the father of this young girl got to the home, they were confronted with the mourners. Jesus told them not to worry because He was there to deal with the problem. In fact, this death was going to be so short that it was going to look like a little nap.

Different Miracles

In the same way, as these two miracles were so different, the way Jesus deals with our problems is going to look very different. Sometimes the healing will be immediate and powerful. Sometimes we’ll see the physical, or financial, or emotional, or relational miracle happen before our eyes. The addiction will disappear. The cancer will go away. The money will just show up. There are times when we come to Jesus with a desperate issue and it’ll just happen.

Other times, it’s not going to happen the way we think. Sometimes the miracle comes after death when we, or our loved one, sees Jesus in heaven. Sometimes the miracle isn’t in the physical healing we want to see, but in the testimony this person is able to have as a result of their suffering. Sometimes the healing is spiritual, or emotional, and not physical. Instead of healing the body, Jesus does something better and heals the soul. Sometimes, God chooses to allow the suffering because it is the best way to help the person to grow stronger in their faith.

The father would never have wanted his daughter to die. But that’s how Jesus wanted it to happen. He could have healed her from a distance, but he had a different plan for her and her family. This man needed to see something different from Jesus so his faith would grow. The presenting issue of having a dying daughter wasn’t the real problem – the problem was the faith of the family, the faith of the community, the trust that they had in Jesus, and their need to see His power. And He would do it, not through healing a sick girl, but raising one from the dead.

The mourners were mocking and called Jesus foolish – and maybe even the father for bringing Jesus there at all. And we’re going to get mocked too, for having faith in Jesus, and bringing Him problems that seem impossible to solve. We are going to get mocked for having faith in Jesus, and for believing that even though He can heal us (or our loved one), He’s choosing not to and it’s for a good reason.

Sometimes people are going to stand in our way and tell us to “stop bothering God”, just as the people who came from the man’s house said, “Why trouble the teacher anymore?”. They’ll tell us to quit praying. It’s not working. Clearly God isn’t listening. He doesn’t care. But that’s not true! There is so much that is done as we pray and trust.

And just as I’m sure this woman with the bleeding received hundreds of pieces of advice, remedies and miracle cures, so will people tell us to try all manner of human means of fixing our problems. They’ll tell us to take it into our own hands, manipulate the situation, compromise our integrity, just fib a little. They will be like Job’s wife who, after seeing the suffering of her husband said, “Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9) Just quit! Give up!

Suffering Builds Us

But we believe as Christians that Jesus knows better. We do not quit praying and we trust that He knows best. If God choose to bless us with an immediate miracle – we will thank Him. If He chooses that we must suffer in this life, and that the miracle will only come when we see Him face to face, we will thank Him!

Why? Because he is faithful! He is worthy of our trust! He is wiser than us, and He knows us better that we know ourselves. And we believe Romans 5:1-5 which says,

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 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. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 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.”

And we agree with James 1:2-4 which says,

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be complete, not lacking anything.”

 

How Temptation Works

Posted on

Virtual_Bug_Zapper1

Podcast Audio:

The Bug Zapper

Have you ever sat outside next to a bug zapper? My parents have one. It’s a little gadget that hangs from the roof of their patio and glows. And the light that emits from it attracts bugs… and when they get close… ZAP!

I know exactly how those little bugs feel, because a couple of days ago, during that big thunder storm on Thursday, I was hit by lightning. I was sitting at my computer, in my basement – which is next to the window on my driveway – and all of a sudden, ZAP! I got absolutely fried. It killed my car, my computer, and scared the heck out of me. I walked upstairs shaking and texted my wife. A neighbour took us to the hospital and I was checked out, so I’m fine now… but it’s something I’m never going to forget!

Those bugs though… you’ve got to wonder about what’s going through their little brains. I didn’t know I was about to get zapped, but that little bug has some time to think about it. It’s flying along, minding its own business, when it sees this light and thinks, “Hey, that’s cool! I’m going to go check that out!”And the closer he gets to the light, the more he hears ZAP, ZAP, ZAP! He notices that the air is filled with the smell of burning bugs. You’d think the little bug would start to wonder what’s going on. But the light is so pretty that he keeps moving forward. And as he gets closer, the ZAPS get louder. He looks down and sees hundreds of bugs lying around, dead, and sizzling. There’s his Aunt Mildred and Uncle Lou… and they’re whole body is smoking.

You’d think that at this point he would stop and think, “Hey, maybe this isn’t the best idea. Maybe this light isn’t as great as I think it is. Maybe this pile of fried bugs should tell me something about this light.” But nope. And ZAP goes the bug.

We’re Not That Dumb, Right?

Bug’s are so dumb. I mean, humans are so much smarter, aren’t we? It’s not like we would ever do something like that. Can you imagine a human being flying mindlessly into the same trap that so many others have been destroyed by? No way! We’re so much smarter! We’d look at that light, we’d hear the warnings, we’d see the carnage it was causing… and there’s no way we’d just keep going… would we?

Honestly, I’m not sure we can think ourselves much more intelligent than the bug sometimes. We live in a world where people are constantly getting zapped, over and over, in the exact same way.

Pastors and politicians are getting zapped for all the same reasons. Business leaders keep getting zapped and ruining their lives, their families and the people that work for them. Famous athletes and celebrities go flying into the same light over and over… ZAP! Stay at home and working moms get zapped every day! Plumbers, carpenters, evangelists, school teachers, computer techs… ZAP, ZAP, ZAP! All of them flying into for the same foolish light.

“Hey look, drugs or alcohol! That seems like a good idea! I’ll be the exception to every other person whose life has been destroyed by it.”

“Hey look, money! I’m sure my life will be super-great if I’m at work all the time, or spending it all the time, or hoarding it in great piles!”

“Hey look, porn! I’m sure I can keep it a secret, and that it won’t affect my present and future relationships, or my future / current wife, or my kids, or my job.”

“Hey look, anger, or guilt, or unforgiveness, or jealousy! I’m sure that if I hold this inside of me it won’t consume and destroy me, or make me like so many others that live with bitterness all their lives. I’m different!”

ZAP, ZAP, ZAP!

Satan’s Favourite Weapon

We talked a lot last week about the Biblical understanding of Satan and Demons. We learned a bit about their back-story, how people perceive them today, and what they are really like. The Bible is crystal clear that we have an enemy who is bigger, stronger, faster, and smarter than us, and who has been lying and manipulating people for thousands of years. He devotes time, energy, resources and all the forces of hell to destroying you, me, our family, our friends, our church, our town and our country.

The final point was about working in God’s power to “Go on the Offensive” against Satan’s plans. I talked about the Armor of God and how each piece represents a way that we can combat all that Satan and his demons want to do in this world. And though we talked about a lot of ways he works, today, I want to talk a bit about Satan’s favourite weapon against us – temptation.

Secure in Jesus but Oppressed by Satan

If you know Jesus as your Saviour today then Satan can’t touch your soul. You are absolutely secure in Jesus. Think of John 10:27-30 where Jesus talks about a Christian’s relationship to Him as their Good Shepherd,

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? You can see Jesus flexing His muscles a bit here, and talking about the kind of power that He has over His enemies.

But even though a Christian’s salvation is secure, that doesn’t mean you are off the hook from being affected by Satan. Remember last week when I said “demons cannot possess a Christian, but they can oppress them.” We talked about a lot of ways Satan attacks us – by inflicting physical and mental illness, or by being the voice in a person’s head that is constantly accusing and heaping ungodly guilt, fear and shame on them. But Satan’s favourite tactic isn’t something so obvious as trying to harm us physically or even emotionally. His favourite thing to do is to use temptation so we will destroy ourselves. If he can get us to do that then his work is a lot easier.

You Are a Target

If you are a believer, then, to some degree, you are a target of Satan. He hates your guts and though He knows He can’t touch your soul, he wants to destroy your joy in God and minimize any damage you can do to his kingdom.
Satan doesn’t want you to be a good mom or dad, brother or sister, aunt or uncle or grandparent. He wants to ruin your influence among your friends and family, wreck your confidence in God, shut you up, shut you down, and keep you from fighting against to him.

He doesn’t want you passing along your faith to people who are lost and without hope. He doesn’t want you being a peacemaker in all of the relationships that he’s destroying. He doesn’t want you setting up barriers to keep people from sinning. He doesn’t want you to study the scriptures and teaching the truth to people because he doesn’t anyone to see through his lies. He doesn’t want you to show that it is a wonderful thing to live in simplicity and humility because he’s trying to hard to convince people that this world is all about pride and indulgence. He doesn’t want you to be a person of prayer, living in the power of God, because then you will be a real threat to him.

And so, every time you oppose him: by committing yourself to daily bible reading and prayer, giving generously, teaching the truth, sharing your faith, serving others, asking or seeking forgiveness, attending church, or any other way you grow in Christ, the big red bulls-eye on your back gets bigger, and Satan wants to eliminate you. That’s why those things seem so difficult. He has limited resources. He doesn’t want to have to fight you. So if he can get you to quit doing things that fight against him, then you are no longer a threat. But he doesn’t usually work against you in the way you might think he would.

Temptation

Sure, he’ll use fear, threats and false promises to try to stop you. He’ll put thoughts in your mind like:

“You’re going to look weird, so don’t take this religion thing to seriously.”

“That church is going to let you down, so keep them at a distance.”

“That addiction is no big deal. Everyone has their vice. Don’t worry about it.”

Or “If you give up that sin, I’m going to make your life miserable – so just keep doing that and I’ll leave you alone.”

Satan will threaten and lie, but for many believers that won’t work – so for most of us, he has another, more preferred weapon – temptation.

Jesus calls Satan the “father of lies” and says that “lies are his native language” (John 8:44). Now, even though Satan’s does have great strength, his preferred method of harming humans is not physical. His preferred methods are much subtler and far more underhanded. Once he can get people to buy into his lies, he doesn’t need to expend a lot of physical energy, because they be more than willing and able to destroy themselves.

All Satan does is give us a little push in the wrong direction, and we take over from there. This little push is called “temptation” and the Bible says that these temptations find their roots in the desires of our heart (James 1:14-15). The demons watch us, get to know how we tick, and then designed a way to present something to us that is very desirable (something we want to have – like pleasure, security, meaning, distraction, wealth, fame), but ensure that the pursuit of that desire will ultimately lead to our destruction and/or the destruction of others. Sometimes the desires are good things – like the desire for love, or happiness, fulfilment or companionship. God invented pleasure, even sexual pleasure and the wonderful feeling we get from eating tasty foods, but the demons are experts in helping us fulfil our desires in a way that ruins us, rather than builds us up.

I’ve been doing a lot of fishing lately and his method is a lot like fishing. He dangles the bait, and it looks good so we bite, but just as my intention isn’t to feed the fish something wonderful, but to fool them into thinking it’s something wonderful so I can drag them to shore and eat them, Satan’s intention is never to bring pleasure, but to drag us away from life and lead us to death. He doesn’t want us to experience companionship, he wants to break up relationships. He doesn’t want to give us pleasure, but steal our joy. He doesn’t want to fulfil the deepest desires of our hearts, but to create crippling addiction and teach us to worship created things rather than the creator God. He’ll do anything to make us ineffective in our home, work and ministry. He wants us to be broken, hopeless and unproductive.

That’s why we are told in 1 Peter 5:8 to

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

He’s not trying to get us where we are strongest, but where we are weakest. He’s not our friend, though he pretends to be: he’s the devourer.

How to Win with a Losing Team

How does this work? Let me give you an illustration:

Imagine a football game, and you’re the coach. You’ve been doing okay in the standings, but you’re about to come against the best team in the league and they are better than you in every way. Their team is stronger, faster, hungrier and more skilled than yours. Their coach is smarter and has way more plays in his book than you do. Their quarterback is the greatest player to ever play the game – He’s never missed a single throw and only been sacked once – and somehow even on that play he ended up scoring more points than any other QB ever!

So knowing all that, how are you going to beat them? You’re not going to be able to get new players, and no matter how much you practice, you’re never going to be good enough to even make a dent in them. You will never beat them on the field. What’s the solution? Keep them off the field.

Do everything you can to make sure they never make it to game day. Now obviously the guard at their door won’t let you in if you’re standing there with a baseball bat, waiting to break their knees. So what do you do?

Use pleasure. Donate a nice, big TV with all the channels and new computers with super-fast internet to their dressing room and to every player’s home. Send them boxes of all their favourite snacks. Send them links to shows they should watch and sites they need to visit. Tell them they’re missing out. Tell them to watch the sports channels all day, because that’s just like practice. Then, even if they make it to the game, they’ll be so they are out of shape that they won’t be able to play.

Then start sending e-mails and making phone calls about the playbook. Start arguments about how to interpret the plays. Remind them that there some players don’t get to be on the field as much as others. Ask who the best player is and who needs more practice… and then let the team argue it out. Get them to fight about the playbook instead of practising the skills within it.

Talk to the defensive-lineman and ask him them why he’s are not the quarterback. Isn’t he good enough? Doesn’t the coach trust him? Why should the QB get all the glory? When’s his turn to shine? Make sure each player spends more time complaining about their positions on the field than practicing what they are supposed to be doing.

Tell the star players that they need to be more humble and stop trying so hard. Or remind them of that time they made that huge mistake, that everyone remembers, and that no matter what they’ve done since, they are really nothing, worthless, guilty, unloved, unappreciated, powerless and broken. They shouldn’t even come out to the game – they shouldn’t even try.

Then have the cheerleaders for your team knock on some doors, send some texts, and “accidentally bump into” whoever is left standing, distract them with all manner of sexual invitations, promises and compromise. Destroy their hearts, ruin their marriages, ruin their reputations, and make them love your cheerleaders so much that they don’t even want to play anymore.

Satan can’t take you off the team. He can’t take away your salvation. But, if he can keep you off the field, or keep you fat, stupid, distracted, self-absorbed, and addicted, then at least he doesn’t have to worry about you playing against him. That’s how temptation works. He gives you that little push, based on the desires of your heart, promising pleasure and fulfilment – but granting only pain and destruction.

The last thing he wants you to be is focused on God, reading the playbook and Powerful on the field. The last thing he wants you to do is learn how to pray, read your bible and serve your church. If he can stop your prayer life, bible study and keep you out of church, then he can put a kink in the hose of your life and stop your connection to God. The water’s there, but it’s not getting to you.

A Christian that doesn’t pray is like a body without a heart to pump blood through the veins… dead. A Christian that doesn’t love scripture is like a body that without a brain to guide it’s functions. A Christian that doesn’t attend and serve a church, is like a body that is missing it’s hands and feet. And Satan will use every manner of temptation to kill your spiritual life.

If he can convince you not work within God’s plan for your life and keep working in your own strength and not God’s, then you become a limited threat to his kingdom. If he can distract you into believing that amassing stuff, building yourself up, or experiencing pleasure is what life is all about, then he wins!

The Truth About Temptations

But Satan’s greatest weakness is the truth. Truth is to Satan what kryptonite is to Superman. If you look through the smoke-screen that Satan throws up when he tempts you, and see the truth, it dismantles his whole plan. So let’s finish off today with the truth behind temptation so you can see what’s really going on there. And we’ll start off at 1 Corinthians 10:6-13.

“Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.’ We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

1. You Are Not Alone In Temptation

Paul gives us a huge list of things that the Israelite fell into and it reminds us that Satan hasn’t changed his play book much. They had a pillar of fire and smoke ever before them to remind them of the presence of God. Moses spoke directly to God and then passed along the messages to the people. They were constantly seeing amazing miracles. And they still fell into idolatry, sexual sin, grumbling, and fear. They were fed by manna from heaven in the mornings, and drank rock from a stone, and then worried that God had abandoned them.

One of the big things we need to get over is thinking that we are the only ones facing temptation. It drives us into secrecy and keep us from strengthening our relationships with God and one another. As long as we believe that we’re the only ones who have to deal with it, and that to admit it would bring shame and ostracism, then we will feel alone and be battling Satan by ourselves – which can’t work. We need to share our temptations and sins with one another because it drags it from darkness into the light, and takes a huge amount of the power away from Satan.

We need God’s help and others. Verse 12 says, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” The Israelites were very sure of themselves, to the point of pride, surrounded by God’s presence – and they fell over and over. We need God’s assistance through prayer and the truth of His word, but we also need the help of our Christian brothers and sisters to overcome temptation.

James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” You are not the only person who is tempted to drinks too much. You’re not the only person who has a desire to look at porn. You’re not the only person who struggles with pride. You’re not the only person who has anger issues. You’re not the only person who has been addicted to something. You’re not the only person who has cheated. And if we work together, as brothers and sisters, dragging those temptations sins into the light, then we will be stronger against them.

2. Being Tempted is Not a Sin

Verse 13 says, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.”. Everyone is tempted. Adam was tempted, Jesus was tempted (Luke 4:2, Heb 4:15), I am tempted, and so are you. But temptation is not sin. Sin is committed when a person gives in to temptation. Don’t be shocked or surprised that you have shortcomings, failures, and predilections toward some sins. Everyone has them. Satan and the demons want you to believe that being tempted is sin because then, if you feel tempted, you think you may as well go all-the-way, because you’ve already sinned anyway. That’s not true. And if you get this confused, thinking that feeling tempted is the same as sin, you will always feel guilty, shameful, weak and defeated. And that will keep you from God and others. Being tempted is not a sin. Everyone faces temptation, every day. And people have overcome this temptation many times – and can help you.

3. Temptation Isn’t Complicated

The verse says that these temptations are “common to man”. Satan wants you to think that you are a special case, that no one will understand, that you’re the only one, and that getting out from under the temptation is going to be super complicated.

But 1 John 2:16 says that there are only 3 kinds of sins, and therefore only three kinds of temptations.

“For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.”

Let me read that same verse from the New Living Translation:

“For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.”

There’s your three categories, and all our sins fit into one of them. You are either going to be tempted through “physical pleasure”, or tempted to amass piles of all you see, or to place yourself over God in pride and boasting in all you have and can do. That’s really it.

For Adam and Eve it was all three. They saw the fruit was good to eat, and wanted to physically experience it’s taste. They were jealous that God had something they wanted – knowledge of good and evil. And they pridefully wanted to be god’s themselves.

Same with the temptations of Christ. They were to eat bread and satisfy his physical hunger, show everyone how great He was by dive off of the temple mount and not get hurt, and turning away from God’s plan by bowing His knee to Satan so He could have all the kingdoms of the world. Same three things.

Knowing this allows you to realize that Satan doesn’t have a lot of tricks – He just uses them very effectively. It allows you to open your heart to God because you can know that Jesus was tempted in the same way. It allows you to know you can be forgiven because you’re sin isn’t special. It’s not the worst one. It’s just one version of the same thing that everyone goes though. It might feel big, scary, and complicated to you, but the truth is that Jesus went through it and defeated it, many other Christians have been through it and defeated it, and by leaning on Jesus and His church, you can defeat it too.

4. There’s Always a Way Out

The next lie Satan wants you to believe is that you are trapped. Say you believe the rest of what I’ve said. That you’re not alone, that temptation isn’t a sin, and that it’s no different than anything many other people are going through. That doesn’t mean that temptation isn’t going to come. And when it does, Satan wants you to think that you’re cornered, with no other option than to follow through. Your body will want to, your mind will dwell on it, you’re heart will fail, and it will feel like you have absolutely no choice but to fall for that temptation and sin. Satan wants you to think that it’s inevitable. You’ll fall. Every time.

But as verse 13 says,

“God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

God knows what you are capable of withstanding by His grace, and in His power – which is a lot! God’s promise is that He will always keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can’t stand up against it. You’re sin is never inevitable. There is no temptation that has not been approved by God and that is not designed to help grow you in character, love, hope and spiritual strength. He promises to use all these temptations to grow you into a stronger Christian, and will never make the task too strong.

We can never say, “I couldn’t help myself. I was overpowered. I couldn’t resist anymore.” God knows what we can handle and will never tempt us beyond what we can take. He might take us to the edge – but only because he wants us to push our boundaries and grow stronger. And He’ll always give you a “way out”.

Sometimes the “way out” is very obvious, even to a thick-headed guy like me. Here’s how it works: You’re being tempted to sin, and you start to mull it over in your mind, and consider your excuses, and just want to quit fighting… and the phone rings, or the internet and e-mail shuts down, or someone comes to the door, or your roommate or kid or spouse suddenly comes in, or you suddenly really have to go to the bathroom. You get interrupted somehow, and there seems to be a hurdle between you and committing that sin. That’s God going, “HEY!!! WALK AWAY!!! HERE’S THE WAY OUT!!!” I’m sure you’ve experienced this too.

Sometimes the “way out” takes more effort. Maybe it means admitting the problem to your pastor or a friend and asking them to walk along side you for a while. Those people are a provision from God. Maybe your “way out” is getting into a program that teaches you some skills about how to kick the problem.

And maybe your “way out” is just practising some common sense like if you struggle with overeating, you shouldn’t have cupboards full of treats. Or if you struggle with anger, you shouldn’t be stimulating yourself with coffee and sugar. Or if you struggle with porn you need to turn off the computer, leave the laptop at work, get a porn blocker or a program that e-mails all of the sites you visit to your mother. Or if you struggle with pride, maybe you shouldn’t put yourself in places where people are going to stroke you.

Maybe your “way out” is exercising the mind God has given you to practice some wisdom. Figure out where you are when you feel the most tempted. Who are you with and what are the circumstances? Are you usually in the same time, same place, doing the same thing? What day of the week are you most likely to fall? If you’re greatest temptation comes when you are in a certain place on Friday nights – then find somewhere else to be in Friday nights. If you struggle with a certain person putting pressure on you – find someone else to be around.

Satan wants you to think you’re trapped, but God promises to give you a way out. This is where we pray:

“Lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil, because I’m surrounded by it right now. I haven’t fallen yet, but I feel like I will. Help me be like Joseph who ran away from Potiphor’s wife, and live like 2 Timothy 2:22 says, ‘[Fleeing] the evil desires of youth, and pursuing righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.’ Father I want a pure heart, and I need your help right now. Deliver me from the evil one who wants to ruin me, my heart, my life, my family, my church, my credibility, my spiritual strength, my mission and my joy.”

And God will always, always answer that prayer. Keep the Armor of God on and keep battling Satan, but always remember: He is defeated and he is a liar.

Satan and Demons (Origin, Powers, Defeat and Going On The Offensive)

Posted on Updated on

Podcast Audio:

Three Realms

Sun Tzu in “The Art of War” says, “Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.” That’s a great quote and it’s hugely applicable to the Christian life. One could almost summarize the path of discipleship using almost those words. Being a Christian means getting to know Jesus, ourselves, and our enemy – and the Bible teaches us about all of those.

24 Mark 5 1-20 Satan and Demons - THREE REALMSThe primary message of the Bible, from Cover to Cover, is about Jesus – hopefully you know that by now. The secondary message of the Bible is the story of humanity – or getting to know ourselves. And, perhaps the tertiary message of the bible is the story of the spiritual realm, how angels and demons work. Everything in scripture revolves in those three spheres, and in all the stories we watch as those spheres cross over each other, revealing something about all three of them.

God wants us to know Him, and so He’s revealed Himself in many ways – through Jesus, creation, scripture, circumstances and other people. But God also wants us to know ourselves – and so He uses those same mediums to help us learn about who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. And, God wants us to know that it’s not just Him and us, but there is another realm – the spiritual realm – where things occur that affect us every day. And it is our responsibility to not only believe that, but to live accordingly.

In today’s scripture we find those three areas – Jesus, Humanity, and the Spiritual Realm – overlapping and intersecting, and teaching us a lot about all three.

“They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.

The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.” (Mark 5:1-20)

There are so many things we can learn from this episode in Jesus’ life, but before we take apart what is happening here specifically, I want to take the time to talk about that third realm – the spiritual realm – and specifically, Satan and his demons.

A Romantic View of Satan

24 Mark 5 1-20 Satan and Demons - ROMANTIC SATANThere only seem to be three ways that people in North America seem to think about Satan and demons. The first is the Biblical worldview, not held by most people, and we will talk about what that is in a minute. Second is the opposite view, the atheist worldview, again not held by most people, that Satan and demons don’t exist at all. The third view, which we can call the “Romantic view”.

I use the word, Romantic, in the sense of the definition that they have an “idealized view of reality”. In the same way that love-struck people idealize their sweetheart – that they have perfect skin, a perfect attitude, could never do anything wrong, and that they will be wonderful for all time, without exception, ever – many people in our culture paint Satan with a personalized, romanticized interpretation, not in keeping with reality.

The average person, when asked what the devil looks like will picture him as a little red guy, with horns and a pitchfork, that sits on your shoulder, giving you bad advice. Or, they picture some huge, terrifying, winged, red-skinned giant, wreathed in flames. Or, if you’ve watched some movies, they will picture a handsome man in a business suit, or a seductress in a red dress, who promises will give people all the power and pleasure they could ever ask for, if they would only sign on the dotted line and forfeit their souls.

Anti-Heroes

And to complicate matters, we now have characters in our favourite movies and TV shows which are “anti-heroes”. They aren’t the classic white hatted, good-guy who saves the town, but instead, wear the black hat of the bad-guy, are associated with evil. Some are even demons. These anti-heroes, more and more, are the lead character and person we end up cheering for! We are encouraged to cheer for the outcast demon who just wants back into heaven, the bank robber who is outwitting the police just so he can be left alone, the car thief who just wants to get back home, the adulteress who just married the wrong guy, the serial killer who is just struggling his own form of with addiction, or the manipulative businessman or shady cop who breaks the rules, drinks like a fish, and can’t keep his family together – but gets the job done. Examples include Severus Snape, Spawn, Ghostrider, Hellboy, Constantine and of course the most famous anti-hero, Batman.

Each of these pictures, though accurate in a small way, are only a caricature of who Satan really is. Yes, he is a tempter, but he’s not small or cute. Yes, he is terrifying, but he is also a spirit, so we don’t know what he looks like. Yes, he is seductive and full of lies, but he does not have power over souls. Yes, he is ruthless, but he’s also under God’s authority. And though entertaining and interesting, these anti-heroes cloud our judgement and help us practice making excuses for why bad people do bad things, and how, deep down, even Satan has a back-story that can excuse everything he’s doing.

We must be absolutely clear that Satan and demons are not just misunderstood anti-heroes. They are not just bad guys doing bad things with the excuse of trying to accomplish something positive – at least from their perspective. No, we must not be clouded in this – they are evil and are the source of evil in this world.

Evil is Real

A Christian must believe that evil isn’t just an idea, but is a real, tangible, experientially substantive force in this world. When Jesus spoke about evil and Satan, He spoke of them not as ideas to be overcome, but actual persons and forces in this world. He cast real demons out of people. He spoke to them, rebuked them, ordered them around.

If you don’t believe in hell, demons, evil, Satan or the spiritual forces in the heavenly realms, then much of the Christian faith, the message of the Gospel, the reason for prayer, and a huge portion of scripture, simply won’t make any sense to you. A Christian with a Biblical Worldview believes that evil is real, Satan is real, demons are real, and hell is real.

A Biblical Understanding of Demons

Let’s talk about that and go through a little of what the Bible says about Satan and Demons.

The Backstory

Let’s start with the backstory of where Satan and demons come. Unfortunately, though much ink has been spilled on the matter, we really don’t know much about how demons came about. We know that they existed before the creation of the world because Satan was there and ready in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). What happened before that is a bit of a mystery, but if we tie together a few passages from the Old and New Testaments we can get a bit of a picture.

The first passage is from Luke 10:17-18 which is when Jesus is getting a report back from the 72 disciples he sent out to preach the gospel, heal the sick and cast out demons. It says,

“The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’ And he said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.’” Jesus is likely saying here, “Yeah, Satan is defeated. I was the one who knocked him out of heaven in the first place!”

Now, let’s tie that to a passage in Revelation 12:3-4, which gives us a bit more information about what was going on in the spiritual realm as God was preparing the world for Salvation.

“And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne…”

This is a picture of what was going on behind the scenes during the creation of the world and the Christmas story. Satan is the “great red dragon” whose “tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth” Those “stars” are the demons that were in rebellion with Satan. And we can see that “the dragon” was trying to kill the “male child” who is Jesus.

Now, let’s tie those two passages to Isaiah 14:12-15 which many believe is a picture of the fall of Satan, and which gives us a bit more back story to why Satan was cursed and removed from heaven. It says,

“How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit.”

Finally, let’s tie in Ezekiel 28:11-19, which gives us a little different picture of the event:

“You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond… 17 Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground…”

Now, there is a lot of speculation going on here, and theologians are divided on this, but this is our classic picture of what happened when Satan fell. Satan was, likely, a great, beautiful, powerful angel, serving God in heaven before the creation of the world. At some point, he took his eyes off God and caught a glimpse of himself – and was taken over by pride. He decided he wanted to be equal to God. And led a rebellion of demons. It didn’t work, and he was cast out of the presence of God.

He became a powerful outcast, and took to tempting God’s new creation with exactly the same thing that got him kicked out of heaven – to become God. He fell from grace, and then wanted us to do the same.

Similarities Between Humanity and Demons

Actually, there seems to be a lot of similarity between demons and humanity.

First, we are both created beings. Certainly demons are powerful, spiritual beings – often depicted as serpents or monsters in scripture – but they are still creations who exist under God’s authority.

Second, demons and humans were given freewill to make choices. From what we read about them in scripture, demons are free to do a lot of different things, but, like us, they are always under God’s dominion. Think of the beginning of the book of Job where God gives Satan permission to attack Job’s family, but is withheld from being allowed to touch Job himself (Job 1). Satan could attack him however he wanted, but it was limited. In the same way, humans can do many, many things, but we are still under the authority, and within the bounds, of what God allows.

And third, both humans and demons rebelled against God because they wanted to be Him. Both of us exercised our freewill and, in our pride, tried to usurp God and be our own gods.

And fourth, we know, from what humanity was like before the Flood, that left to ourselves we will become as corrupt as the demons. Genesis 6:5-6 describes the world like this:

“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”

In verse 11-12 it says,

“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.”

That’s a great description of a demon – but it’s used to describe humanity! The only difference between us and the demons is that God has given us grace, and has chosen not to give grace to them.

Demons exist with their wills permanently opposed to God’s. They are fallen, without the presence of the Holy Spirit, without conscience, without anything good. They hate everything that God loves. They despise goodness, truth, Jesus, the worship of God, the church, and even the world God created.

And what blows my mind, is that demons are exactly what humans would be if God took away His hand and allowed evil to take over humanity – just as we talked about last week.

Demons Now

So what are Satan and the demons doing now that he has been cast from heaven? 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 tell us that even though they have power, and are a very present, powerful force in the world today, they are also defeated and are awaiting final judgement.

But in the meantime they are doing exactly the same thing that they’ve always done: everything they can to make as many beings as possible rebel against God. They are doing what comes naturally to them as beings who are opposed to God: spreading hate, addiction, fear, pride, and anything else that kills the soul and distracts from God – and especially opposed the work of Jesus Christ.

No one in history dealt with the demonic and spiritual opposition more than Jesus. Satan and his demons did everything they could think of to ruin Jesus’s work, His reputation, and His mission so they could keep salvation from coming to the world. They wanted Jesus to succumb to temptation, so they hit him hard, every day. They wanted to keep Jesus off of the cross so that humanity would be damned forever. Satan wanted the same thing he’s always wanted: to rule the world as a god, and have everyone under his boot.

But, as we talked about last week, Jesus won the battle and destroyed the power of the Satan, death and sin over all humanity for anyone who would believe in Him! And that really ticks Satan off. He’s defeated, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to stop fighting. The evil forces in the heavenly realms still have a lot of strength, intelligence, and experience messing with humans – and they are going to do it right up until the end. To take as many of us with them as possible.

Some Points on Satan

Satan is not God’s opposite. Satan is not all-knowing, all-seeing and ever-present (Job 1:7). He is a created being under God’s authority. He can only be in one place at a time.

He has a host of demonic allies under his command, and Jesus says that they are working together to do anything they can to accomplish their mission (Matthew 12:22-26). They will inflict or exploit physical and mental illness, tempt with every form of pleasure, accuse and bring every possible allegation possible to a person’s mind so they will be racked with shame and fear, and even oppress and possess them – just like we read about in our passage today.

Demons cannot possess a Christian, but they can oppress them. When a demon possesses someone, it means they physically and mentally take over someone’s body and mind – which is a terrifying thought – but it can’t happen to a Christian because God’s Holy Spirit dwells in us, is stronger than any demon, and will never let us go (Luke 11:20-21; 1 Cor 3:16; 1 John 4:3-4; Romans 8:11, 35-39). As 1 John 4:3-4 says, “…every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”

The Bible says there are only two teams: Satan’s and Jesus. Anyone who is not on Jesus’ team works for Satan’s and can be used by him to further his mission. But that doesn’t mean that demons can’t affect a Christian. They can and will certainly attack them, tempt them, and influence those around them in an attempt to harm, distract and destroy their joy, their witness and their love for God and others.

Going on the Offensive

We are told in many places in scripture that we can “resist” or “oppose” the demonic forces (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8-9). Resistance isn’t meant to be passive, as though we are locked in a bunker just trying not to get blown up. It means to work against, or try to prevent, to make a stand against what Satan is doing. It means “to exert oneself so as to counteract or defeat” the enemy.

That means that we are not only defended by God, but we can actually go on the offensive with Him. Ephesians 6:12 says that our battles aren’t really with the people around us, but are with demons. It says,

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”

The Armor of God represents a series of ways that we resist, or work against, or counteract, all the things Satan is doing around us.

It means we have a commitment to telling the truth when we are presented with demonic lies.

It means that we promote righteousness in the face of demonic temptation and sin.

It means we spreading the good news of the peace that comes from the Gospel of Jesus Christ, opposing the demonic messages of pride, indulgence and hopelessness.

It means having a strong faith, and building up others in faith, even while all of the flaming darts of temptation and accusation come flying from all directions from the evil one.

It means being studious in our minds, pursuing wisdom, and being assured of our salvation by the word of God in the face of demonic doubts, distractions and trickery.

It means having a fierce commitment to the Word of God, which is the sword by which the Holy Spirit destroys demonic strongholds in this world.

And it means we are always in prayer, always connected to God, always depending on Him, keeping alert, persevering, and praying for one another – because we realize that it is by prayer that we work with God to dismantle the plans of Satan. (Ephesians 6:10-20)

Conclusion

“Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.” (Sun Tzu) It is my prayer that you will know your enemy, and that you will know yourself – but it is my deeper prayer that you will know Jesus Christ. For, if we know Jesus and take up His armour, working out our faith every day, then we will know ourselves and know our enemy – and we will see him defeated over and over.

We will go through hundreds of battles in our lifetime, but through the power of Jesus Christ, and because of His love and commitment for us, we will overcome.

Cultivating Desperation for God’s Voice

Posted on

2 God Speaks Today - Desperation - TITLE BANNER

Podcast Audio:

We’re continuing our sub-series in the Gospel of Mark which I’m simply calling “God Still Speaks”. Last week we talked about seeing the condition of our hearts, and how we have a responsibility to make sure we are not crowding out God’s voice with unrepentant sin or other things we are giving higher priority.

But there’s a problem, isn’t there? We look inside ourselves, and we see dry ground, or stony ground, or thorns taking up places where God’s Word should be – and we don’t know what to do about it! Half the time we don’t know what’s going on in our hearts, so we can’t make a decent diagnoses of what’s wrong, and certainly don’t know what to do to make changes.

Perhaps you felt that this week. You went home last week convicted, but looked inward and didn’t know where to start. Or you did try to do something different, but failed after a couple of days. It just didn’t work. Why?

The Problem: We Don’t Know Our Own Hearts

Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Whenever you hear the word “heart” in a context like this, you need to read it as an all-encompassing phrase talking about our thought life, reasoning, wills, and emotions. It’s describing who we are on the insides, why we do what we do, how we make decisions, and how we set our priorities. The core of our being.

And our “hearts”, without the presence, power and guidance of God are messed up. They are “deceitful”, lying to us, tricking us like trying to drive on a crooked, bumpy, twisting, dark road. We don’t know what’s going on and never know when the next curve or crash is coming from.

And they are “desperately sick”, incurable by any human method. They are easily addicted, easily broken, and extremely weak. So, that being the case – that our hearts are twisted and dark, and are sick beyond help – how can we possibly understand what is going on in there.

I’m sure you’ve experienced this. You sin and you wonder why you just did that! You knew better, you knew the consequences, and you did it anyway. And you think, “What’s wrong with me?” We are attracted to things that are harmful to us, and which hurt us – and we don’t even know why. We like things, but we’re not sure why we like them. We fall in love with someone, and have no real idea why that person attracted us. Or, we are attracted to people we don’t want to be attracted to, because they are harmful or because we are already committed elsewhere.

For no reason you can understand you find yourself crying, or angry, or lusting or afraid. You try to talk yourself out of it, but it doesn’t work. Depression sets in and no matter how hard you try, you can’t break free. You’ve tried to tell your heart to get with the program, cheer up, and get over it – but it won’t. And you feel trapped within yourself – hating your heart, fearing your heart, crushing your heart, and trying to turn it off so that it doesn’t cause any more problems.

And we look at our hearts and we think – “What is wrong with me? I don’t understand why I do what I’m doing. It’s like I don’t even have control of my own decisions. I feel like a ship tossed about on a stormy sea of my whims, emotions, desires, and fears.”

Then a counsellor sits across from you and asks, “Why did you do that?” And you think, “I have no idea! I just wanted to. It felt good for some reason. My brain said no, my spirit said no, but my feet and hands kept going. I don’t know what happened.”

God Knows Our Hearts

Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” That’s the question. Jeremiah 17:10 gives us the answer, “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” We may not know what’s going on in there, but God does.

God is the perfect judge, and in order to be that, He is able to know what is happening inside the heart and the mind of every individual on earth. And He offers to us – who are struggling with understanding what is going on inside of us, our thought-life, motives, temptations, and all the rest – two important things: a new heart and a map of our heart.

Ezekiel 36:25-27 gives us a picture of what being saved by Jesus is like:

“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.”

When David comes to God to ask forgiveness of his sins he knows that the changing of a person’s heart can only happen by God’s power so he says,

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)

In the New Testament, there were people wondering if Gentiles could be saved. Did Jesus really die for everyone in the world? The Apostle Peter said,

“And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.” (Acts 15:8-9)

God knows our hearts and cleanses our hearts when we put our faith in Him.

Paul says it this way in 2 Corinthians 5:17,

“ Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

That new creation includes a heart.

This isn’t something we do ourselves! The world teaches that we can “self-help”… but we can’t. The heart is still a mystery to us. In fact, most things are still a mystery to us. We like to think we’re so smart, scientific, enlightened and educated – but we’re still incredibly in the dark about most things in this world, under the earth, and the universe which surrounds us – and we are perhaps most ignorant of the inner workings of ourselves and our own hearts. The presence of evil still mystifies us. Why people would do anything good or self-sacrificing is still a wonder to us. And when we look inward at our own condition – we are even more confused about what’s going on in there.

God’s Word is a Map to the Human Heart

This is where the great gift of the Word of God comes in. When believers read the Bible, because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in their life, it shows them the condition of their hearts. God’s Word is like a map that explains what’s going on inside us.

Like a good doctor, it analyzes what’s going on in there and then explains it in language they can understand. And then, like a good doctor, it and then gives us access to what we need in order to make changes. Sometimes it means doing something simple like changing our habits or learning something about ourselves, and sometimes it means allowing God to do a complete overhaul of something that is completely broken in our life.

Cultivating Desperation

What I want to do today is build a case for why it is so critical for us to be in God’s Word every day – because it is the way by which we can know our own hearts, and the means by which God changes us. Now, please don’t tune out just yet.

I have no doubt that every person here would agree that they should be reading their bibles more, and probably every day. I’m not looking for intellectual assent to the idea of reading our bibles – I want to talk about the need for cultivating a desperation to experience the presence and the power of God by reading the scriptures. I’m talking about seeing our time in the Bible as more than an option – something to do when I feel like it – but more the way we see eating or breathing – absolutely necessary for life, and without which we starve and die. This is part of what Jesus meant when He said in Matthew 4:4, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”

This is what the Psalmist meant when he said,“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (Psalm 42:1-2). In Psalm 63:1 we read about how David felt when he was on the run, deep in the wilderness, far from God’s people and the reading of the Word of God. He said, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

How can we become desperate like that for presence of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit, through the reading of God’s Word? I believe that it has to do with how we see the Bible.

More than a “Good Book”

Some Christians read the Bible – though not as many as used to, considering the articles I’ve been reading about how biblically illiterate most people are. A few Christians study their Bibles – which is good, because I’m a big believer in Bible Study. But I believe there are only a slim few Christians today who prayerfully read the Bible as God’s message to them every day. As I said last week, there are a lot of people who study God through His book, but there are precious few who listen to God as He speaks to them from His book.

Reading, studying and meditating on the scriptures has to be so much more than simply the reading of a good book – even “The Good Book”, or the pondering of great, godly thoughts. When we pick up our Bibles, we aren’t meant to be simply learning about God and storing up wise thoughts that will help us live out our life. What we are reading is more than just wonderful stories of good and bad, moral and immoral, faithful and unfaithful people that lived long ago, from whose lives we are meant to learn lessons. If those are the reasons you read your Bible – to ponder big ideas and learn morality– then you are missing the most important part of reading the Bible! You’re missing the fact that the scriptures are your connection to Jesus.

The prayerful reading and studying of scriptures is perhaps the most important way for us to connect to Jesus. We know Him, experience Him, understand Him, and hear his voice, when we read the Bible.

The Living and Active Word of God is the Living and Active Jesus

Let’s look at Hebrews 4:9-16. I want to study this passage in depth next week, but I want to read it for you today so you can, perhaps, hear it in a new way. Maybe you’ve read it before thinking that it’s talking about the importance of regular reading your bible every day, or going to a weekly bible study, but I want you to hear it again in a different way. I want you to hear it as a plea from a pastor to his people to be desperate for the word of God. He wants the church to experience the presence of Jesus by experiencing the power of the Word of God, the Bible. He wants them to see the words of scripture as their life line – their umbilical cord – connecting them to Jesus. Listen to how he builds his case…

“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” (v 9-11)

Do you see that? In God there is rest. And the writer of Hebrews wants Christians to strive to enter that rest. He wants them not to make the mistakes of the people of Israel under Moses who refused to enter into the Promised Land because of fear, but to do everything they can to take hold of the promises of all the promises of scripture – peace, joy, love, purpose, heaven, eternity with Jesus. All of those things can be summarized in that one phrase: “Sabbath Rest for the people of God.” And that rest is available to everyone who believes in Him. But how do we “strive” to get that? How do we enter into that kind of rest? How do we avoid missing it by our disobedience?

 “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”(v 12-13)

We enter that rest, and connect to Jesus, through the Word of God. Not just reading it, not just studying it, but by allowing the Spirit of God, who is the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, to change us through us experiencing, interacting with, submitting ourselves to the text. By submitting ourselves to the word and listening to what it says, we are submitting ourselves to Jesus and listening to what He says. And Jesus is always seeking to lead us closer to Him, closer to God, and into that Sabbath Rest.

The writer of Hebrews makes the connection obvious in the next verses as he shows that the “Sabbath Rest for the people of God” is connected to the “Word of God”, which is connected to the person of Jesus.

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (v 14-16)

Do you see how our connection to scripture is our connection to Jesus – and He is our connection to reconciliation and peace with God? It’s all about connecting to Jesus and listening to Him through His word.

Jesus is the Answer

To you who are hungry for something greater than what this world offers, Jesus says,

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)

To those who have tasted what this world is giving, who have been drinking from the temporal well and are always thirsty, Jesus says to you what Jesus said to the woman at the well,

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

To those who have felt the dryness of their hearts, who desperately need the healing rains to come down to their parched and gasping souls, Jesus stands up and cries out,

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37-38)

To you who are weary of chasing the fleeting and useless things of this world. Who have amassed piles of garbage that you carry with you everywhere you go. Who have a weighed down soul full of burdens and cares, anxieties and fears, Jesus says,

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)”

To you who are in the dark. Who live in the shadows of sin, who only crawl out to go to work or be somewhere you must be. Who live in the dark land of secret sin, always battling your private demons, never winning, and who have resigned themselves to living forever in the dark — Jesus says,

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

To you who have been desperately looking for the answer to salvation and eternity. To you who seeks the answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” Who have tried the world’s faiths, human wisdom, atheism, deism, and can find no rest for your soul. Jesus says,

“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:9-10)

To you who have looked at all the religions this world has to offer and see nothing but thieves and wolves. To you who have been let down by the leaders in this world. Who gave your life to politics, but found the politicians corrupt. Who gave your heart to a human, and had it stepped on. Who found a leader you thought you could follow, but who it turned out was only in it for themselves. You who is so tired of giving your life to people, systems, governments, ideas, programs and religions, only to be let down again and again, Jesus says,

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:11-15)

To you who have lost a loved one in Christ, or who is looking in to the face of eternity. You are facing death and wonder at its mystery. You who see the end as nothing but an abyss of darkness, uncertainty and dread. Who live everyday feeling the grip of time and the uncertainty of tomorrow. Jesus says,

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26)

To you who have been lied to and believe that there are many ways to see God. Who has been told that there are many truths, and that all religions are basically the same. To you who think that salvation is of their own doing, that it is found in your good works, or that God saves everyone, or that salvation is found in any other name (Acts 4:12), Jesus says, “Jesus said to him,

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

 And finally, to you who desire to know why they are here, who wants to know their purpose – their reason for being. To you who feels like they have no worth because they have no direction in their life. To you who lack wisdom and needs instruction, who sees but does not understand, who is surrounded by options and doesn’t know what to choose, who cannot figure out what is right or just or fair, who is up to their ears because of their foolish decisions and wants a better way, who feels simple and stupid, who fears their inexperience will cause harm to themselves and others, who wakes up in the morning and has no idea what to do with themselves, or who has so many different thoughts that they don’t know where to start, Jesus says,

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)

Seek, Seek, Seek, Jesus!

It’s not about reading your Bible — it’s all about seeking and wanting Jesus. We show our love for Him by seeking Him in his Word. We show our desperation for Him when we are desperate for His Word. We show our dependence on Him by having a dependence on His Word. Over and over in scripture we are told to seek God.

Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”

In Deuteronomy 4:29, “…you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

And Isaiah 55:6 says, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near…”

In Amos 5:4 he says to His people, “Seek me and live…”

In Lamentations 3:25 he says, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.”

In 1 Chronicles 16:11 we are told to “Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!”

In Hebrews 11:6 it says, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

And Jesus Himself says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33) “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)

It is though our love and desperation for, and dependence on, Jesus that we are able to draw near to the presence of God with confidence. And it is there that we find the mercy and grace that our spirits so desperately need.

If God speaks today, why don’t we hear Him?

Posted on Updated on

 

God Speaks Today - The Four Soils - TITLE BANNER

Podcast Audio:

We’re getting back into the Gospel of Mark today, but as we step back into it – into Chapter 4 – I want to do it by way of a mini-series, of hopefully only two or three sermons, about something that is very near and dear to my heart – meeting God through bible-reading and devotional journalling. I’ve preached on “how to study your Bible” a few times, but this is different. This is about listening to God speak to you, individually, every day. This isn’t about studying God through His book, but listening to God as He speaks to you from His book.

God Still Speaks

My premise today is that God still speaks, and we need to be careful to listen. I hope you can appreciate what I just said. I hope that fills you with awe, and wonder, and hope and fear. “God still speaks.” I don’t mean “God wrote the bible, and we need to read it” or “I’m preaching so you better listen to me because God’s speaking.”  No, what I mean is that “God Himself still communicates with His people, in special ways, on an individual level.”

The Creator of everything – the One who holds all things together – who writes history, knows the beginning and the end, formed the oceans, the moon, the stars, the mountains and even you yourself in your mother’s womb. I believe, with every fibre of my being, that He still communicates with people on an individual basis, in special ways, today.

Don’t Misunderstand Me

I realize that what I have just said is an incredible statement. One that can be misinterpreted and turned into something very dangerous. I’m not saying that God is giving new Bible books to people. No, we believe that the providence of God has given us the full counsel of scripture – what theologians call “the closed canon of scripture.”

I’m also not saying that God always speaks audibly to everyone. Clearly, that’s not the case. There’s no biblical reason that says God wouldn’t speak audibly today, and we certainly have enough proof in scripture that He has. Over the course of the 1000s of years of history the Bible covers, God speaking audibly only happens a handful of times, so clearly this is the exception, not the rule. And even then, it’s not always clear that it’s not just an “inner voice” or a “mental impression”. (Got Questions)

What I’m saying is that if a Christian is paying attention to God, He will communicate with the believer regularly and specifically.

God speaks “Regularly”, meaning that we’re talking something that happens all the time – in daily devotions, during special prayer times, during times of crises, during worship times, or after asking for wisdom and guidance.

God speaks “Specifically” meaning that it’s He doesn’t just speak in general principles, but gives unique and clear answers to current and relevant situations that believers face every day. He may point to a principle, or to a general rule, but it will apply to the specific need in the believer’s life.

Only Special People?

I’m not sure that most Christians really believe that God speaks regularly or specifically though. I haven’t met many who do, anyway. Sure, they believe that Jesus died for their sins, and that they need to be renewed, and that God gives really good principles for living, and even listens to our prayers… and even answers our prayers. But I don’t know many Christians who really believe that communication with God is a two way street – or have experienced it.

There are some Christians who will say that God still speaks today, but just not to them. God speaks to foreign missionaries, and people like Mother Theresa, but He doesn’t speak to everyone… does He? I believe that He does! I believe that God’s voice is available all the time, that He is sowing seeds all the time, and that it is not He who has stopped speaking, but we who have stopped listening.

We read stories like Moses and the burning bush, or the young boy Samuel hearing God when he was in bed, or Job hearing God’s 70 questions to him, or the appearance of the angel to Mary, or the tongues of fire coming on the people at Pentecost, or Paul’s Macedonian dream… and we think in our heart of hearts… “Why doesn’t God come like that anymore? If I could just have that kind of experience, then my life would be changed!” My message today is that the experienceyou are longing for is available today, and you can truly hear from God regularly and specifically, if you are willing to listen for Him.

That’s where my passion for this topic is coming from. I’ve experienced the difference in my life that comes from hearing God speak regularly and specifically in my life, and I want that for you.

Imagine how radically different your life and ministry would be if you heard from God regularly and He was addressing specific issues in your life. Imagine how different the churches, families, marriages, and communities around would be if people were coming to God for direction, listening to what God was saying, and then obeying Him in what He told them to do! What a world this would be!

Access Isn’t The Problem

I believe that God is always speaking, but most don’t listen. It’s like a radio station. It’s always on, the waves are in the air, but most people aren’t tuned in. Or, to use an illustration from Jesus, God is constantly sowing seeds, throwing them everywhere, easy to find, but people are not allowing that seed to penetrate the soil of their hearts, let it germinate in their souls, and grow and bear fruit in their lives.

We live in a time that is literally called the “information age”. We are inundated with messages all the time. We can access information on anything, at any moment, almost anywhere. If I want to know the capital city of Uganda, I can pull it up on my phone while waiting for the bus. If you can’t remember the name of a song, there is software that you can hum the tune into and it will tell you what song you are humming. People anywhere in the world can connect with people anywhere else in the world instantly!

And we who are seeking God’s will, and who want to hear from Him, not only have access to him in prayer and Christian friends, pastors and counsellors, but we have access to more Bibles, commentaries, preachers, teachers, schools, retreat centres, nature walks, Christian book stores, internet sites, blogs, songs, radio stations, than any culture in history. We can pray everywhere about anything. There are dozens of churches and pastors and elders and Christian counsellors around to ask questions of, and a zillion other resources that can help us understand God’s word.

We have more time-saving devices and technological help than any generation before us, but we are busier and more stressed out than ever. Our work has become easier and more efficient, but we remain anxious and overwhelmed. God has given us the time to be able to do exactly what He wants us to do, and the energy to do it – and access to Him for the wisdom, resources and help to get it right – but our society is more distracted, relationally distant and addicted than ever!

What’s the deal? It’s because we aren’t connected to God every day. We are lost, and at the end of our means and abilities, and instead of turning to God for help, comfort and sustenance – we go elsewhere. We get busier.

God voice can be heard all the time, everywhere. He speaks externally to our eyes and ears, and internally to our hearts, minds and spirits. The question is simply… are we listening? The need to hear His voice and feel His presence is desperate, and we all feel it, so then, why don’t we do it?

The Parable of the Four Soils

Please open up to Mark 4:1- 20:

Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”

And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

I know that there have been times in my life where I have chosen not to listen, been too distracted to let it take root, or allowed negative thinking or worldly gain to become more important than God’s voice — and there have been times when I have listened very carefully. And I can tell you that during those times when I really want to hear from God, He has never let me down, and is always there to tell me something, show me something, or let me experience something that tells me more about who He is, explains something I’m going through, or where He simply allows me to know that He is near and draws me closer to Him.

But that doesn’t happen when I allow my heart to get hard. And I believe, based on scripture, the hardness or softness of our hearts is based on the choices that we all make.

How Does a Heart Harden?

Hardness of Heart is something that happens as a result of our decisions and by the will of God. Both are present in scripture. When a person’s heart gets hard, two things are happening. First, the individual is rejecting the Word of God. They have sinful habits or attitudes like pride, hatred, lust, addiction, gossiping and it produces a condition where their hearts are not as soft towards God. While at the same time God is allowing this to happen as a consequence of their sinful attitudes. Their hard heart is their decision, and God is allowing it to happen. Let me read you a few scriptures.

In Hebrews 3:8 we read an exhortation from God saying, “…do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness.” Here, God is saying that just like the Israelites wandering in the desert, our own bad attitudes, frustrations and grumbling about our situation can harden our hearts towards God.

A couple verses later Hebrews 3:13 we read, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Before it was our attitudes, but here, our decision to sin causes the further hardening of our hearts.

Both of these imply that the hardening of our hearts… or from the parable, the condition of our soil, is a choice we make.

Our desire for sin allows satanic birds to land in our hearts and steal away what God is trying to say before it ever really reaches their ears. Our lack of listening to God means we are probably listening to other voices – and that allows anxiety and fear to take over as the primary voice in our life. Or, our hearts move from loving God to loving the world and we start to believe the “deceitfulness of riches and the desire for other things enters in” and we are no longer listening to Jesus who says, “…one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15) and our soil gets harder and God’s words about simplicity, generosity, and storing treasures in heaven don’t take root.

Confusing Verses in the Middle

Which helps us understand the somewhat confusing verses that come in between the parable and the explanation in verses 11-12, which I want to look at first. It says,

“And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that ‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand,   lest they should turn and be forgiven.’”

What is Jesus saying? And why is it here? He seems to be saying that He tells these simple stories, these parables, no so that people will understand and get saved… but so they won’t understand and they won’t get saved! What does that mean?

Well, this goes right back to the condition of our hearts. We’ve all asked the question, “Well, if God really wants to make Himself known, why doesn’t He just show up in the sky? Write a big message on the moon, or take over all the tv’s and show us that He’s there. Make the ocean freeze over, or turn the Rocky Mountains upside down or something. Why doesn’t He make it obvious?”

What Jesus is saying here is part of the answer. Jesus says that the reason that God doesn’t do these things is to show the conditions of people’s hearts. To those who are listening, and who want to hear, and want a saving relationship with Him, His Word is available loud and clear! For them, these parables unveil truth, open up mysteries, change their lives, and let them know God better. But to those who are like the Pharisees, with hard, rebellious hearts, these simple stories are mysterious, confusing and frustrating.

Think of it this way. It’s like going to a 3D movie. Imagine if some of the people knew it was 3D and got the glasses, but others didn’t. For those with the glasses – the eyes to see – the movie would be jaw dropping, beautiful and interactive – a great experience.  They would tell their friends, and would want to go back and see it again! But for those who did not get the glasses, who didn’t have the eyes to see – their experience of the same movie would be blurry and confusing and they would walk out complaining, confused and want their money back. Same movie, but only some had the eyes to see.

I believe that today, the movie is playing all the time… God is speaking all the time… but He does in a way that expresses the condition of a person’s heart. Only those humble hearts that desire His voice… quiet minds that want to listen… repentant hearts that know they have done wrong… broken people who know they need mending… lost people who know they need finding… sinful people who are desperate for cleansing… only they have the soft heart to listen.

That’s why Jesus speaks in parables and why God wants us to come to Him humbly. It shows Him, and us, the condition of our hearts.

Which Soil are You?

But there’s not just one condition of our hearts – and not just one way that our hearts get hard. In Jesus parable there are four kinds of soil. That’s an amazing thought. Even though Jesus is the sovereign Son of God, with power over every atom in creation, He does not take over our freedom to make a choice. He allows us to choose. He opens the door, and invites us to walk through. He sets out the food, and invites us to eat. He brings out the signed adoption papers, but asks us to put our name on the line. He sows the seed, but we are the ones who control the condition of our soil… and there are four types of responses.

1. The No-Growth Response

First there will be the No-Growth response. There are people who will walk around the gospel and the message of salvation, who will have the scriptures and the love of God available to them, who will have access to the voice of God… but they will not listen. Verse 15, “And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them.”

This has less to do with the birds and more about the condition of the soil. God speaks something to them. either through a person, a book, a song, a billboard, or into their heart, their mind or their spirit… , something that specifically address their deepest need, that tells them exactly what they need to hear to find peace and joy and hope…  and as soon as they hear it, even though it is absolute truth that can change their lives forever… they have a hardened shell of emotional or intellectual barriers that simply won’t let God’s voice in. Their wills are set against repentance. They may hear it, but there is no way that they are going to change their minds, or turn around and go the other way with their lives. So the seed bounces off and goes nowhere. They outright dismiss the wisdom and guidance of God.

You can hear these folks, and perhaps you’ve even done this in your mind. A truth comes in like “You need to put that down… you need to admit your wrong and ask forgiveness… you need to submit to that authority… you need to soften your heart… you need to be generous with that blessing…” and immediately it’s countered with “NO! That’s mine! I don’t want to! I earned that! It’s their fault! I need it! That’s crazy! That’s too hard!” And our hard heart causes God’s voice to bounce right off, the seed takes no root, and no effect happens at all.

This is most often what happens when unbelievers hear the Gospel message, but their hearts are hard towards God. They won’t listen to the Gospel. But this also happens to Christians who are caught in habitual sin or are distant from prayer and reading their bibles. God’s voice gets quieter until it has no effect. And it happens so gradually to believers that sometimes they don’t even notice! They don’t realize they’re ignoring God. He’s been speaking, but they’ve been tuned out.

What does one do about this? This requires a miracle, so we must pray. No matter how much seed we scatter on dry ground, it won’t take root until the rains come. We must pray that God sends rain. If you sense your heart getting hard, then pray and ask others to pray for you. If you know someone who has a hard heart, who won’t listen to God, who is falling away and is despising the word of God… the only response is prayer. No matter what you say, it won’t penetrate. Only God can change a hard heart into a soft one.

2. The Shallow Growth Response

Second is the Shallow-Growth response. These are the ones to whom the voice of God is like seeds “…sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away”

So God is speaking, and these people hear what He says. Their soil isn’t dry and hard, but it’s full of unhelpful things. At first, God’s message is very exciting to them, but it doesn’t go deep. They hear of Jesus dying on the cross for their sins… but they don’t repent of their sins. They hear that God has a plan for their life, but they don’t make Him their Lord. Their love for Him doesn’t captivate their wills, change the way they see life, reorient their hearts, and put them onto a totally new path. They are emotionally affected, or intellectually stimulated, but it doesn’t impact the rest of their life. They don’t grow in maturity. For them, a relationship with God is about what they get from Him… not about knowing Jesus as their Lord, Saviour and Friend.

These are the folks that are “born again” at a revival, or turn to God during a tough time in their life, or they feel something during a powerful moment of someone sharing with them… and they are interested in a time, but it doesn’t go anywhere. They never get involved in a church. Or if they go to church, and they stay on the periphery. They don’t share their burdens or sins or temptations with others, and never go deep with the Christians around them. Their prayer life is scattershot, their bible reading is sparse, and when they do pray it’s more like a list for Santa Clause, or like a note to the suggestion box, telling God what they want and don’t want, rather than the deepening of a relationship with someone who loves them.

And so when tough stuff happens they don’t have a substantial relationship with Jesus which can sustain their spirit. They never anchored themselves to Him, and are still adrift. They don’t have the answers to tough questions like “Why does God let bad things happen?” and “What do I do when I’m tempted?” or “Does God still love me when I sin over and over?”, or someone starts to mock them, or challenge their faith… they don’t know what to do. So, they fall away out of guilt, or shame, or fear. God isn’t saying what they want to hear, so they go back to the voices they used to listen to… and their spirits shrivel up.

This happens to a lot of church people, and most people I know who claim to be Christian are in this position. They like the idea of God’s love and forgiveness, but not of His wrath, judgement and requirement of obedience. Being a real Christian becomes too demanding for them. Jesus asks for too much. He wants full commitment, but the cost is too high. They were fine when it was about being saved and going to heaven, but when Jesus starts asking them to give up their idols, their addictions, their comfort, their relationships… it’s too much. They love being forgiven by Jesus… but granting forgiveness is another thing. So they say no.

So they come to church, sing the songs, but when anything tough comes, they walk away – join another church that requires less of them and talks less about sin, they stay home for a few weeks, or quit coming altogether. And they form a Jesus in their own image that does things the way they want him to.

How do we combat this problem with having soil that is too shallow? The answer is commitment. We need to commit ourselves wholeheartedly to God. Fish or cut bait. No lukewarm faith. In or out. It means going all in with Jesus as our Saviour and our Lord and our God. Not dancing on the outsides in cultural Christianity, or religious feel-goodness… but saying to God, “I’m all yours and I will do whatever is necessary to obey you!”

Have you made that commitment yet? Is Jesus your Lord? Your Boss? Your Commander? Combat shallow faith by committing wholeheartedly to Jesus.

3. The Stunted Growth Response

The third response are those who have Stunted-Growth.  This is where God speaks, and is received, and their heart is affected, and they want change… but they have a divided mind. They are seeking to worship two gods, live two lives, have two sets of priorities, and it kills their faith.

These are the ones who Jesus says the voice of God is “…sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”

These people become a large plant, they have deep roots, emotional faith, intellectual faith, good standing in the church, and may even have a regular prayer life. They really try to listen to God… but their heart is divided. Their trying to grow two things at once in their soil – fruit and thorns – and hoping they will coexist.

They have worries and concerns about all the other things in their life other than the kingdom of God. They want financial security, a good job, comfortable living, a good reputation, lots of friends, an easy life, new things… or something else they value as much as their relationship with God, so they forfeit times of spiritual growth so to ensure they get it.

If you ask them about their faith, and they can tell you their testimony, when they were saved and baptised, and all about the scripture they read that week. And with the same energy, though usually more, they can just as tell you all about their job, their boat, their stock options, retirement plans, sports teams, tv shows, the clothes in their closet, the car in their shed, favourite hobbies, exercise routines… and all these other desires choke out the priority of hearing God’s Word. They are distracted by these other good things, and they lose out on the greatest thing.

Yes, they have deep roots, but when it comes to bearing fruit, they can’t. Lots of height, lots of depth… no fruit. This is another group of Christians I meet in the churches I’ve pastored. People that can quote bible verses and attend every event, but they don’t share their faith with anyone. If you ask them for a story of something God has done in their life, the stories they tell are decades old – because they haven’t seen fruit in many years.

They are nice, but they don’t sacrifice their time for others. They are happy enough, but they don’t spread joy. They sing songs and serve in church, but there is no passion in their hearts. They give out of their excess, but never at great cost to themselves. Their time is divided between their worldly interests and the Kingdom of God, and if push comes to shove, the Kingdom comes in second. Their money and energy are tied up in gathering toys or building worldly security, so it cannot serve God’s purposes, and they bear no fruit.

They will attend a dozen business meetings and talk about whether to spend 50 or 100 dollars on something… but there is nothing in their life that God is using to change their neighbourhood. They will get elected as teachers, deacons and elders because they’ve been around, know their Bibles, and are willing to take the position… but they have not borne fruit, are overwhelmingly dispassionate about ministry, and skate over the surface of everything they are involved in. They don’t prepare for teaching, or meetings, or anything because after all “it’s just the kids, it’s just small group, it’s just the church”… and all the people they affect are equally dispassionate… because the church follows their leaders.

Their branches grow high for all to see… they have roots in God and will be saved in the end… but they bear no fruit because they have two loves – God and the world. Whenever God tries to steer them towards Kingdom things, in their hearts the Kingdom is put at the same level as the world, and the voice of God is choked out.

What must we do to solve this? To have our priorities straight. Jesus said it this way,

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”(Matthew 6:19-21)

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:2-5)

“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Revelation 3:15-17)

It is not that we ignore material things, but they must come after Kingdom things. Our anxieties and worries are not to be ignored, but they must be seen in the light of our faith. Our other pursuits may be of value, but they must come second place to the kingdom. Our other interests are often gifts from God, but they can be used by Satan to distract us from His voice, and become so important to us that we are unwilling to obey what God wants from us.

Jesus says in John 15 that God prunes us so that we will bear more fruit. But if we love the world too much, we will not submit to that pruning – we won’t let go of the things that are stopping us from bearing fruit – and we will become a dead branch.

4. The Full Growth Response

Let’s end on the good news. The Full-Growth response. “But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” (vs 20)

I hope that today, you are able to say that you are fertile ground, accepting the seeds that God is saying casting onto your heart. I hope you’re tuned into his station. It is my deep prayer that you are receptive, listening, not distracted, and soft enough to embrace what He is saying and do what He is asking you to do.

That’s my prayer for my life. That I would hear God’s word, accept it readily, and then go out and bear much fruit. The only way that I, or anyone, is going to be able to be able to hear the words “well done my good and faithful servant”, is if we are willing to give it all up for His sake. To listen and obey. To till the soil of our hearts and be open to whatever He desires.

And over the next couple weeks, I hope to give us a tool to be able to do that.

Jesus Died

Posted on Updated on

Palm Sunday - Jesus Died - TITLE BANNER 2

Podcast Audio:

As the sun gets warmer and the trees start to bloom, I find myself looking forward to summer vacation. I’ve heard of one place that sounds nice… but I’m not sure that I’d ever go there for a holiday. I think you’ll understand why once I tell you about it.

A Not So Lovely Vacation Spot

Behind the University of Tennessee Medical Center is a lovely, little wood-lot on a hillside where people are often seen lying in the sun or reclining in the shade, as squirrels and other little forest creatures play in the trees.

It is out on this hillside where a man named Arpad Vass, a scientist at the University’s Anthropological Research Facility, works every day. All those folks spread out there in the Tennessee heat didn’t get there on their own. They are not lying down because they need a tan, but because they’re all very much dead — they are cadavers, sprawled out intentionally as a way of studying modes of human decomposition.

They are the lifeless bodies of people who have donated their bodies to science, and it is Doctor Vass’s job is to evaluate how these bodies decompose under various conditions: buried in shallow graves, stuck in car trunks, wrapped in plastic bags, submerged in a man-made pond, just to name a few. He figures out all the different ways the human body can be disposed by a murderer. The data collected helps detectives throughout the world catch murderers.

Maybe you’ve heard of this. There is a TV show that I used to watch called Bones. At its core, Bones is a drama about forensic science. Each episode focuses on solving the mystery behind someone’s murder by examining the remains. They are brought to Dr. Brennan’s forensic anthropology team at the Jeffersonian Institution, and by studying whatever is left over of the person, they are able to figure out ‘who-dun-it’. The series is somewhat based on the life and writings of a real life forensic anthropologist named Kathy Reichs.

Death Sanitized

The truth is that in the 21st century, death has been almost thoroughly sanitized for our protection. We simply don’t like to think about death. We don’t even like to say that someone died. We’ve come up with all sorts of nicer ways to say it. They “Passed away”, are “deceased”, have “ceased to be”, are “no more”, have “gone to the other side”, , “shuffled from this mortal coil”, “gone into that good night”, are “in a better place”, have “crossed over”, are now “asleep”, are “dearly departed”, “pushing up roses” or have  simply “kicked the bucket”. We’ll come up with any way to say it other than, “They died.”

Consider funerals. Many people spend thousands of dollars to pay an expert to prepare the body for us, so we don’t have to see it. We get them to put makeup on the body so they will look like they are only sleeping and not really dead. Then we pay them to put the dead person into very nice clothes, complete with jewelry and a new hairdo, and lay them into ornately carved, plush box full of silken pillows. Then after paying all this money to dress up the body, we close the box so no one has to see it, cover the box in flowers, so we don’t have to think about the box, and then we bury it in the ground — and put up a very expensive, beautifully carved piece of stonework to mark the spot. Even the hole we dug for the body gets decorated.

And sadly, people don’t even have to be dead for us to put them out of sight. It seems that anyone that reminds us of death is locked up and sent away. The elderly, the sick, the dying are stuffed away in special hospitals and homes, away from eyes of our society, so we don’t have to think about death – especially not our own.

Easter & Death

The way we celebrate the Easter season points to our phobia about death. These days, when most people think of Easter, their minds are filled with pink bunnies, new bonnets, marshmallow chicks, plastic grass, colorful eggs and candy! Even crosses – the symbol of the bloody death of Jesus Christ – is sanitized and decorated to make it easier on the eyes. We want to fast forward to Easter Sunday – and forget about the crucifixion.

But, scripture teaches us that as important as new life in Christ is – and the wonderful truth of the resurrection – it doesn’t overshadow the death of Jesus. Please open up your bibles to 1 Corinthians 15:1-8:

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”

Nearly every year since it came out I’ve watched “The Passion of the Christ.” Not because I like the movie, but because it remind me of the price that Jesus paid for my sin. It shows me courage Jesus showed on His march to the cross. It reminds me of the love our Heavenly Father has for us, that He would send His Son to go through that for our sake.

Think back to you you’ve done on Good Fridays in the past, and how you’ve responded to Holy Week – from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. Have you taken the time to remember what happened – to acknowledge the death of Jesus Christ – or do you avoid thinking about it in favour of more pleasant things?

The thing is, if we had to pick a decoration theme that the Easter season, it wouldn’t include flowers and bunnies – it would more resemble Halloween! There’s a corpse, burial clothes, embalming, a tomb, ghosts, screaming, torture…

I hope you come to the Good Friday service this week. Even though I don’t have control over what all happens there, I do get to preach, and it is my hope to remember the Amazing Grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Good Friday that was necessary because of our sins.

Why? Because, as Paul said to the Christians in Corinth, it is of “first importance.”

Uncomfortable Friday

You see, along with our discomfort with death comes the same kind of discomfort with Good Friday. We know the story and want to skip to the good part. We don’t like the part where Jesus is wrongly arrested, falsely accused, beaten, tortured, abandoned, crucified, stabbed in the heart and then placed in a borrowed tomb, alone. We want to skip to the good part on Easter Sunday.

We like to forget that the disciples and the women who went to the tomb on Sunday morning were fully expecting to the dead and already decaying body of their friend and teacher, Jesus. They did not go to His tomb to see His resurrection. They intended to make certain that the body of their friend, their mentor and their rabbi was properly and respectfully prepared so that it could decompose quickly and with dignity. That’s what the spices they were carrying were for. And then, later, the bones could be taken and put in an ossuary or “bone box” and then buried somewhere else.

We can make no mistake. The women and disciples expected to find a corpse. Although Jesus had told them of His resurrection all the time, they really didn’t get it. Even though He said that He would rise in 3 days, they didn’t really believe it. Jesus said in John 14:1-3,

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

Jesus said it over and over, but on Easter Sunday, there was absolutely no doubt in the minds of the women who were coming to the tomb (Luke 23:56-24:1, 10), that that when they arrived they would find the lifeless body of Jesus… and they wouldn’t need a forensic scientist to tell them how He died. Most of His followers didn’t have the stomach to stay and watch, but they knew. He’d been on a Roman cross – and while you go up on a cross alive, you always come down dead.

RABBONI!

That’s why they panicked! Let’s read the story from John 20:

“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.

And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher).”

In a lot of translations there’s exclamation point there on “Rabboni!” That’s possibly the most under-rated exclamation point in the entire Bible. Seeing Jesus alive was the most incredible thing that she had ever seen – and the last thing she would ever expected!

First Importance

And that’s the point the apostle Paul drives home in 1 Corinthians 15 when he writes to the church about 20-30 years later. Verses 3 and 4:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried…”

You see, back then there was no funeral homes to preparing bodies for burial. Family and friends were the default morticians. Their culture knew what death smelled like, what death looked like, what death does to a body. Tombs were closed, barricaded by large rocks and stone, but everybody knew what was happening inside the darkness of the sealed tomb. In fact, before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Martha reminded Jesus of how much it would smell.They knew what tombs were like, and what went on in them.

When Easter happened, those first witnesses saw something unprecedented in the history of human remains. The material, fleshly body of Jesus of Nazareth, somehow became a former-dead-body! They had seen Lazarus come to life after 4 days, sure… but that was Jesus healing someone else. What they were seeing here was different. This was someone actually bringing himself back to life! No one performed a miracle. There was no doctor, no prophet, no prayers. But He came back!

Even modern science hasn’t found a way to change dead bodies into live ones. They can take the parts from a recently dead body and transplant them into the living – like heart or lung…. but they can’t raise the dead.

The Miracle of Resurrection

When Paul is writing this to the Corinthians he’s addressing something that was being wrongly taught in the church. Some people were saying that there was no resurrection from the dead… no life after death. Even people today have a problem with that concept. But the church in Corinth had people who were teaching that there was no such thing as someone rising from the dead. Paul’s whole point here… his whole reason for writing this section… is to give proof and testimony to the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is a critical, uncompromising part of the Christian faith. It is the central part of the Christian faith – that DEATH HAS BEEN OVERCOME!

Paul hammers this message here: Jesus was dead, and then He was alive. And Jesus, as a live, post-crucified person, was seen by numerous individuals whom he lists in verses 5-8.

“…and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”

The disciples did not make the resurrection up. To them it was a crushing defeat. Peter returned to fishing… the disciples has scattered… the followers of Jesus knew He was dead. They were not just gullible witnesses who were testifying to a hope that they had… they were people who were telling the story of the hard evidence that had stood right in front of them!

Resurrection = Hope

Here’s why it’s important: Look at verses 16-19 of this same chapter:

“For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

This is how monumental the death of Jesus is to Christians. Our salvation is only possible if Jesus died and rose again. As Hebrews 9:22 says,“… without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” That’s a restatement from the Law of Leviticus 17:11, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement…” Jesus had to die.

If Jesus didn’t die, our sins wouldn’t be paid for. And if He didn’t die, then he couldn’t be resurrected. And if there is no resurrection, then we have no hope.

If Jesus wasn’t raised, if the tomb isn’t empty, if death can’t be reversed somehow, then, as verse 14 says, “your faith is futile”. If Jesus’ death didn’t pay our penalty for sin… then we “are still in our sins.” If There is no resurrection, then all those who have died before us… no matter what they did… “Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” They’re dead in their sins because “the wages of sin is death, and the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ …”(Rom 6:23)

Paul says, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” If the only reason that we are Christian is because of the perks we get while we are alive on earth… then we are to be pitied. One of my commentaries says it this way:

“If all the preachers lied (15:15) and no one will be raised, then not only is faith meaningless for this life, it is meaningless in death. Those who believed in Christ believed a lie; those who died because of persecution for their faith perished for no reason. The consequences of believing the lie that there will be no resurrection shake the very foundations of the Christian faith…. If the only promise of the Christian faith applies to this life, then why believe in it? Why believe in a faith that brought –in this culture and even still in many places in the world – persecution, sorrow, death, ostracism, separation? Without the resurrection, there would be no hope for final judgment and justice or hope for a final dwelling place with God. There would be nothing but death to look forward to. If the end is the same for everyone, then why not live like the pagans in sensual pleasure (15:32)? Why deny oneself? Why be miserable if the other choices bring the same result?” (Life Application Bible Commentary – 1 & 2 Corinthians)

The bodily death and burial of Jesus is truly of “first importance” and is the very linchpin of human history. His dead body, coming to life, has made all the difference, and has given hope everyone who believes.

Three Things to Remember

So there are three important things that I want us to remember during the next week of the Easter Season, and they are found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.

1. Jesus’ Death was Always the Plan

First… Jesus died for our sins “according to the scriptures”. The death of Jesus as the substitute for our sins wasn’t something that the church or the Apostles came up with. It’s wasn’t something that God came up with on the spot. The crucifixion of Jesus was always God’s plan to save humanity from the consequence of sin, right from the beginning.

The Phrase, “according to the scriptures” refers to the Old Testament prophecies regarding this event that would come true in the future. Plans that God wrote into every book of the Bible. Plans He would carry out.

The People of Israel were waiting for God to send them a Saviour, and the reason they were waiting was because of the prophecies about the Messiah that would come, that God would send!

It is so important that we know that Jesus’ death as a sacrifice on our behalf wasn’t a way to make good of a bad situation. It was exactly the way the scriptures said He would save us – hundreds and thousands of years before.

2. Jesus Was Buried

The second thing I want us to remember is that Jesus was “buried.” The fact of His death is revealed in His burial. Everyone in Paul’s day there were false teachers of trying disprove the death of Jesus Christ.

But Jesus did die on the cross and was buried in a tomb. It’s a historical fact. Some have tried to say that Jesus only passed out… usually called the “swoon theory”. But consider that it was a Roman Soldier who told Pilate that Jesus was dead… not a follower of Jesus or someone with a political agenda.

And remember, they didn’t break His legs because they knew He was dead. They even stabbed Him in the side, right into his pericardium (his heart sac), making “blood and water” pour out of Him (John 19:34). Then Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took him and wrapped his whole body in traditional fashion and placed it in the tomb themselves (John 19:38-42). Then the enemies of Jesus, the Pharisees, stationed a round-the-clock guard so no one could mess with the body. Jesus did die.

Consider for a moment the lives of the apostles after they saw Jesus alive. One theologian (David Strauss) said this, “It is impossible that a being who had stolen half-dead out of the sepulchre, who crept about weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required bandaging, strengthening and indulgence, and who still at last yielded to His sufferings, could have given to the disciples the impression that He was a Conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of Life, an impression which lay at the bottom of their future ministry. Such a resuscitation could only have weakened the impression which He had made upon them in life and in death, at the most could only have given it a [mournful] voice, but could by no possibility have changed their sorrow into enthusiasm, have elevated their reverence into worship.”

3. Jesus’ Resurrection is a Historical Event

And the third thing that I want us to remember is that it is this week, as we gather together to celebrate and remember Holy Week, is that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. Permanently. He did not die again.

This is not just a belief, but a historical fact. Jesus said Himself that He would be in the tomb for three days and rise again… and even though no one believed Him… He did. He was seen in the flesh by many people, and even ate and taught publically only days after his very public crucifixion. Hundreds of witnesses attested to this fact. Look at 1st Corinthians 15:6. Paul seems to be saying, “If you don’t believe me ask one of these other 500 or so people. Don’t take my word for it… go ask one of the witnesses who had seen Him live, die, be buried, and then come back to life!”

Believe it or not, there are those who doubt that Jesus rose from the dead. And there are lots of supposed “arguments” against the resurrection.

Some say that the women went to the wrong tomb… but they were present when Jesus was placed there and new the area well. (Matthew 27:61)

Some say that the followers of Jesus stole the body and then pretended He rose again.… but no one questions that there were soldiers stationed there to guard against that.

Most of the disciples ran away like scared little girls when the guards came to get Jesus in Gethsemane, so it’s hard to believe that they would suddenly became so brave that they would be willing to face a detachment soldiers to steal Jesus’ body and fake a resurrection.

Some say that Jesus’ resurrection was some kind of group hallucination, but it’s hard to believe over 500 people had the same hallucination. Not to mention that if it was all in their minds, there would be an actual body that could be produced to discount their story.

We simply cannot get away from the fact the historical evidence points to the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Sure, the details of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus is a subject of debate among scholars, historians, philosophers and theologians… I admit that. You almost get the sense in reading chapter 15 that Paul himself was trying to describe a process that is somewhat mysterious to even him. But the bottom line is that somehow, at God’s initiative, and through the resurrection of Jesus, death became a lot less about blood and guts, bodies and decay, and a lot more about the power of new life – and the very temporary, unscary nature of death – now that Jesus has defeated it.

After His resurrection, Jesus invited His disciples to check him out — to put their hands in the wounds, feel inside, touch him. To be sure that it was Him, and that He had conquered death. It was a proclamation to everyone that this secret, dark world of the grave had been exposed — the gruesomeness of Friday had turned into the glorious light of Sunday morning.

For a while there’s still a lot of darkness in this world, but believers have the promise that it won’t always be that way. The cure for death has been found — and we learned it from the only One who could teach us… from the one who Himself died… and was buried… and rose again… so that we might live with Him.

The Other Jesus (Mark 3:20-30)

Posted on Updated on

“Furious Power of Nature” by James Collier

“I love you, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.  He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies. The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me.

In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help.  From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.

 The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because he was angry. Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it. He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind.

He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him—the dark rain clouds of the sky. Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced, with hailstones and bolts of lightning. The LORD thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded.

He shot his arrows and scattered the enemies, great bolts of lightning and routed them. The valleys of the sea were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare at your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of breath from your nostrils.

He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the LORD was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.”

(Psalm 18:1-19)

Gospel of Mark Title

Confronting Jesus

Today we are going to talk about the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the power of God.

“Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’ And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.’

So Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables: ‘How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house. I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. 29 But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.’

He said this because they were saying, ‘He has an evil spirit.’” (Mark 3:20-30)

If you remember the context of this passage, you’ll remember that Jesus has been getting busier and busier since He began His ministry. He’s been teaching and performing miracles in public, is surrounded by large crowds, and has already had confrontations with some local religious leaders – called the Pharisees and Saducees.

Jesus, because of the crowds, retreated into a boat that was waiting for Him on shore, and then left to go alone to a mountainside so He could rest and pray. He brought with Him to the mountain 12 men who would become the apostles, and gave them authority to preach and to cast out demons.

What we have just read is what happened when they came down from the mountain after their “Strategic Withdrawal”. Jesus continues his ministry, enters a house, and is immediately surrounded by crowds. So many people, and so many needs, that Jesus and His followers don’t even have time to take any kind of a break – not even to eat.

This is the context for two very important events. In this crowd are a lot of different people with many different needs. Some are there to be part of the event, others to be touched and healed. Some have come to listen to Jesus, others to speak to Him. But of all the people in this huge crowd there are two groups that Mark points out for us that have a special relationship to Jesus, and will tell us a lot about who He is.

First, there was Jesus family. These are the people whom you would think know Jesus best and might have come to support Him, but notice what verse 21 says, “When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” Even those who were closest to Jesus – his mother Mary, his brothers and sisters – didn’t really understand what He was doing and were ready to wrap him in a straight jacket and put him in a rubber room. They figured He’d gone over the edge as some kind of religious fanatic.

I can hear his brothers apologizing to people in the crowd as they slide through… “It’s the heat… He’s been under a lot of stress… He’s not eating well… I’m sorry… we’ll go get him…” They were fine when His teachings were confined to a small crowd, but now it’s getting out of control, people are getting upset, He’s attracting a lot of attention, and some of it isn’t good. It was time for the family to come and stop Him.

 The second group were “teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem”. This is who I want to focus on for a bit. If you recall, the Pharisees (who were the religious elite, keepers of the most strict traditions and laws – who were worried that Jesus’ teaching would make them lose their control over the people) and the Herodians (who were influential supporters of the Roman occupation – who were worried that if Jesus created an uproar that that the people might rebel against Rome and cause a war) had already joined up together to try to kill Jesus. What this probably means is that they sent word to Jerusalem for the scribes, the teachers, the lawyers, and everyone else with public influence, to come down and figure out a way to discredit and eliminate this man who was having such a powerful effect on the people — and who every time they challenged Him made them all look like fools.

Undeniable Power

Their main problem was that none of them could deny the supernatural power that Jesus had. His teaching was captivating and authoritative, but it was more than that. He had also healed the sick, made lepers well and had paralytics pick up their mat and walk in front of large crowds. He had commanded demons to be silent and then driven them out of people with only a word from His mouth. He had a true and real power that could not be denied. A power none of them possessed.

But, because they were so steeped in the muck and mire of their own religious constructs, they refused to see what was right in front of them – that the Son of God, the Messiah had come. They didn’t want to believe that Jesus’ power was from God, because if they admitted that, then they would have to accept Him as the Messiah, give up their power, their plans, their influence. They simply couldn’t do that. They would have to give up their political positions up to Jesus. They would have to accept Jesus’ interpretation of the Law instead of their own. They would have to change the way lived. Maybe worst of all, they would have submit to Him as their Lord.

So, they only had one other recourse. Since they could not deny His power, they had to tell everyone that the power did not come from God – but from Satan. If they could convince people of that, it not only discredited his teachings, but had the added benefit that practicing magic by Satan’s power was a capital offence, and therefore punishable by stoning the person to death.

Come and Get It

So let’s get the picture. A huge crowd all making noise and calling out for Jesus. Suddenly, right through the crowd comes one of the most preeminent scholars in the land, or one of the lead Pharisees from Jerusalem. They come walking up through the crowd with a huge entourage, dressed in their finest, most religious attire…

The crowd falls silent, shocked by the appearance of this teacher. What was about to happen?

 “He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”

That would have certainly gotten the crowd’s attention.

Beelzebub is a word that is hard to understand. It is most likely the same word that was used in the Old Testament referring to Ba’al, the same false-god that Elijah had a contest with on Mount Carmel. That name is combined with the word for “Exalted Dwelling” or “Strong House” (which Jesus will pick up on later). Suffice to say, it was the word for an enemy of God. Everyone would have understood it to be another name for Satan.

Their accusation was ridiculous and nonsensical, and Jesus points that out to them. Look at what happens. You can see a crowd of teachers, lawyers and Pharisees now yelling accusations, trying to draw attention to themselves and away from Jesus. So what does Jesus do?

“So Jesus called them…”

113Morpheus_beckons-medI love that.  I’ve watched a lot of action movies and there’s almost always a scene like this at some point. One of my favourites is The Matrix where the main character Neo is being mentored by a man named Morpheus. They go into the sparring room after learning Kung-Fu, and after a quick demonstration of their abilities Morpheus says, “Ok, hit me… if you can.” After a little bit of sparring young Neo gets up some confidence and his mentor looks him square in the eyes, and without a word gestures: “Come and get it.”

Maybe I’m reading a little into the passage, but that’s exactly what I Jesus doing here. He looks through the crowd, right into the eyes of these “experts” and says, “Ok, hit me… if you can.”

A House Divided Cannot Stand

But He wasn’t going to call down fire on them, or lay down a complex theology for them — instead he disarms their argument by telling them a simple story. That way they, and everyone else around listening, would understand that what they were saying was absurd!

“How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come.  In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house.”

“Listen guys”, Jesus seems to be saying, “What you’re saying doesn’t hold together at all.”

How could Jesus be serving Satan, or possessed by Satan, when everything He is doing is wreaking havoc and doing devastating damage to Satan’s kingdom? Beelzebub isn’t running around, divided from the demons, healing people and proclaiming the love and salvation of God! There is no civil war in the demonic realm. No, Satan and His demons are still active and is doing all He can to oppose what is good and draws people to God. The demons have power, but they have absolutely no authority over Jesus.

Jesus is King over ALL – and that includes everything in the spiritual realm. All demons are fearful of, and must obey Jesus. The only one that can walk into a fortress and take on the strong man, is a stronger man. The only one that can liberate the captives and possessions of a powerful kingdom, is a more powerful kingdom. That was the devastating truth that the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law didn’t want to admit. That Jesus was the stronger One, the mightier King, had the greater Kingdom. They would not admit, despite all of the evidence, that He was stronger, wiser, more powerful, more spiritual, more knowledgeable, and more worthy to be a teacher, guide, and Lord than they. He is the Mighty King of the Universe to whom all will give their deference.

The Other Jesus

I started with Psalm 18 because the picture we have in our mind of Jesus is often far too tame.  We speak far more of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild”, the one who is surrounded by lambs and children and always has a soft glow about Him. He would never hurt a fly, never raise his voice, never challenge anyone, never hurt anyone’s feelings. This is the only view of Jesus that many people know.

And without question, Jesus was gentle and kind, loving and patient – the most gentle and patient person ever. But that is not the only picture of Jesus we have in scripture. Jesus is also the conquering King, the warrior, the Lion of Judah, the Strong Deliverer, the Rock, the Fortress, our Shield, Our Defender, the Stronghold of our Salvation.

Can't find the original artist. Please let me know.
Can’t find the original artist. Please let me know.

I’m reminded of the description of Jesus that we see in Revelation 19:11-21 where Jesus is bringing the final battle against His enemies:

“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True [that’s Jesus!]. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter.’ He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

  KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and mighty men, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, small and great.”

Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army. But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. The rest of them were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.”

This is another picture of Jesus, one we don’t often talk about, but one we need to remember. Believing in Jesus is not a trivial thing. Worshipping Jesus is not a choice! One day every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. This passage does not describe a battle – it describes a slaughter. Jesus, with the power of just His words, destroyed his enemies.

At some point, everyone will believe in Jesus, because they will all stand before Him. They will all see. But by then, for most, it will be too late, because believing in Jesus is not enough! James 2:19 says that even the demons believe in Jesus. What is required is repentance from sin, faith in Him, and the belief that Jesus is your Lord and Saviour whom you love, honour and obey. That all happens in this life now. We are in the between time when we have the opportunity to be saved. One day, it will be too late.

All Sins Can Be Forgiven

You see, this is why Jesus gave the warning to the Teachers of the Law about the unforgivable sin. He said:

“I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.”

This is the truth, and a critical point of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Believing in Jesus in your mind is not enough. The Pharisees could not deny that they were seeing Jesus do amazing things. They believed it because they saw it with their own eyes. They couldn’t deny the facts.

But we are not here today to acknowledge the historical fact that Jesus died for our sins, and then rose again. We are here today to exercise our faith and trust in Jesus, the One who lives today. We are here to give our obedience, worship, tithes, offerings, service, and praise to the Son of God who reigns on high and is King of All… and King of our hearts… and King of our Lives. We confess that in our worship today.

We confess the Omnipotence of Almighty God, the Majesty of King Jesus, the Power of the Holy Spirit. And not just confess them, but welcome them. Not just welcome them, but invite them. And not just invite them, but ask them to inhabit this place, to invade this place, to take over everything we are doing… right into our own hearts.  We give Him ownership of our very selves because He saves and forgives us.

Jesus says that all sins and blasphemes of men will be forgiven. That is a scriptural truth. Because of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, dying for the sins of every individual who believes in Him, there is no sin that we can commit that will not be forgiven – nothing. From the whitest lie to the most perverted, inhuman, detestable action, we can be freed from guilt and declared righteous because of Jesus (Acts 13:39). No matter how stained, or bad, or evil you have been, God has promised that He can make you clean (Isaiah 1:18). 1st John 1:9 says:

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

King Jesus, because of the Amazing Grace of God is our only way of Salvation.

The Unforgiveable Sin

jesus-rebuking-demon

There is but one thing that cannot be forgiven and it’s tied right to our perception of who Jesus is. Let’s turn to another translation to better understand this passage.  It’s written better in the ESV:

“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin…”

And alongside it let’s also bring in another passage from Luke 12:10:

“And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.”

So what is the “unforgivable sin”? What is “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?”

Blasphemy

“Blasphemy” is an act that is performed by speaking… it is expressing the thoughts and the inner workings of a person’s heart.

Here we see a group of bible experts, the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law, who have seen the evidence of Jesus’ power and goodness, saying that the work was not from God, but from the devil. They harden their hearts to what God is doing right in front of them. Because of all the things they would have to lose if they admitted Jesus was the Messiah, they voluntarily, deliberately, knowingly and permanently harden their hearts against the work of the Holy Spirit.

That’s what blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is:

Voluntarily, deliberately, knowingly and permanently hardening one’s heart against the work of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus distinguishes this from other sins. All sins will be forgiven, except this one. Let me read a bit from one of my commentaries.

“What makes the unpardonable sin different from others is it’s relation to the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit’s work to enlighten the mind of sinners, to reveal and teach the gospel, [and persuade] souls to repent and believe the truth. The Spirit not only explains the Word of God, but opens the mind so that it is perceived. When His influence is deliberately and knowingly refused, in opposition to the light, then the irreversible sin can be committed as a voluntary, informed act of malice. In response, there is a hardening of the heart from God that rules out repentance and faith. God permits the decision of the human will to be permanent in this case. God does not do this lightly or without cause, but in response to an offence against his love.

A person who wants to repent, that is, to reverse the sins they may be guilty of, has not suffered this hardening and has not committed the profound act of hatred that God has determined He will not forgive. Anyone who has been born again will not commit this sin, because the Spirit lives in that person, and God is not divided against Himself.” (Reformation Study Bible)

“Christians often worry that they have committed this sin, but such a concern is itself evidence of an openness to the work of the Spirit.” (ESV Study bible Note)

Remember, the only way to commit this sin is to have an enlightenment and understanding from God about sin, salvation, and His love – all of which are acts of the Holy Spirit – and then to wilfully shut that door on that enlightenment, reject God, reject forgiveness, and reject His love. Looking into the heart of God, the love of Jesus… and then walking away because you would rather have something else. This is a matter of the heart, not a matter of accidentally saying something.

The Teachers of the Law were dangerously close to crossing that line and I believe Jesus was giving them a warning. Their hearts were hardening, near stone. Their mouths were blaspheming, and Jesus was telling them that they need to come back from the precipice because they didn’t have any steps left.

Now Is the Favourable Time

Not everyone will be saved. Salvation is offered to everyone, but it will not be accepted by most. Some form of light is shown to everyone, but most will reject it.

Listen to Romans 1:18-23:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”

They harden their hearts. They are without excuse. They will stand before Jesus at the end of time and be without excuse when He condemns them to eternal torment in Hell. All of the people who say they are going to see God and give Him a piece of their minds, or talk themselves into heaven, or explain away why they rejected what God revealed bout himself in scripture are fools. All of their reasons and excuses and arguments will melt away like wax in the presence of Jesus.

I say with Paul in 2 Corinthians 2:1-2:

“Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, ‘In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

Jesus will redeem from sin anyone who would repent from sin and believe in Him. And so I ask you today to open your heart to Him. If you have heard Him speaking to you, or He has been showing you His presence, do not close your heart to Him. Do not deny Him, and don’t wait until later.

And if you are already saved, remember that Jesus isn’t just meek and mild, but is a warrior, a King, and a deliverer. Turn to Him in your time of trouble. When you feel temptation, or spiritual oppression, and when you hear the voice of your accuser in your ear… call on your defender, your shield and strong tower. He will come and save you. He loves you, and as Psalm 18 says, because He delights in you!

Strong Tower

A Prayer for Salvation

If you haven’t accepted Jesus as your Saviour, Lord and King, I invite you to bow your head and pray this prayer after me. What I’m about to lead you in is often called “The Sinners Prayer”, or the “Prayer of Salvation”. It’s not a magic formula, and it isn’t like fire-insurance where if you say it you won’t have to go to hell. This prayer must come from your heart. There is no right way to do this, but if you need help words to express what you are feeling inside, here are some:

“God, I am a sinner.

I’m sorry for my sin.

I’m willing to turn from my sin.

I confess with my mouth and believe with my heart

that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead, so I might be forgiven.

I accept Jesus as my saviour.

I receive Jesus as Lord.

From this moment on I want to follow Him in the fellowship of the church.

From this moment on I will live with you as my King, my Saviour and my Lord.

Because Your Word is Truth,

I believe that I have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus

and will live forever with you.

In Christ’s name, Amen.”

If you prayed that prayer, I encourage you to tell me, or tell someone around you today so you can get encouragement and support!

Church Attendance: Getting the Most out of Sunday Service (Part 2) – The Four Core Christian Disciplines

Posted on Updated on

Sunday morning isn’t the sum of the Christian faith experience, but it can be a conduit, a beginning to it, if we take the time and effort to prepare ourselves and be ready for what God wants for us for each Sunday morning. I spent some time yesterday going through the first five ways we can prepare ourselves and get the most out of the Church service and today we’re going to jump right into the last five.  As I told you before, this sermon is an expansion of a top-ten list that John Piper posted on his blog a while back.

The Four Core - Church

6. Forbear One Another on Sunday Morning

His full title for this section was “Forebear one another Sunday morning without grumbling and criticism.”

We should already know that there are lots and lots of different kinds of Christians. God calls all kinds of people into His Kingdom. And because we are not the same, it stands to reason that we are not going to agree on everything all the time. We are going to have different opinions, styles and ideas – not about core issues, but about non-essential things that have to do with our personal preferences. Some people like having flowers up here, others don’t. Some people want to have more music, others less. Some think that church should have a certain dress code, others believe that church definitely shouldn’t have a dress code. None of this is core to the faith, and it creates many disagreements among brothers and sisters that make Satan laugh.

Do you want to know the best way to ruin your Sunday morning, or someone else’s? Start grumbling. Grumbling is demonic, did you know that? It’s a sin. Muttering under your breath, rolling your eyes, making others feel small, elevating your own opinion above others… all sin. Grumbling will ruin your Sunday morning because you won’t be able to see the good things going on, but only the bad. It’s like putting on the sunglasses and gas-mask I talked about during the anniversary service. Grumbling comes from a bitter, upset heart.

Listen to the words of Philippians 2:14-15:

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…”

Every Sunday there is a demonic little voice inside your head that says:

“You deserve more.

You’re important.

Don’t give them the benefit of the doubt.

Your opinion outweighs others.

Everything is miserable.

Nothing’s going right.

You mentioned this and it didn’t change.

You should go somewhere else.

You should let others know how upset you are about this, but don’t tell them because nothing will happen… just grump around.

Feed the bitter root.

Start an argument with someone about something trivial.

It’s your right to complain and since everyone is here at church, this is the best time.”

Grumbling is a temptation for families on the way to church, when they arrive at church, during service, and then after service as well. There are lots of opportunities to grumble, ever Sunday morning.

So how do we combat this? By making the choice to have a longer fuse on Sunday morning.

Colossians 3:13 says, “Bear with [Forbear] each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

What that means is that we give each other the same grace and forgiveness we have been given by God through Jesus Christ. We embody the gospel in our relationships to one another.

Does this mean that we just ignore everything and never have a conversation about what we like or dislike? Sometimes it does. Sometimes we just suck-it-up and drop it –

James 1:19 says that we are to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger”.

But other times, when we just can’t let it go, on Sunday morning we must “forbear”. To forbear means to refrain, abstain, hold back, and to be patient and self-controlled when you are annoyed or provoked. It means to hang on to it for a little bit and wait for the right time and place, and then privately talk to the right person about the issue to come to a peaceful resolution. Wait until Monday or Wednesday after you’ve had a chance to think and pray about it, and then if you still have a problem, call that person on the phone, or better, invite them over for coffee.

We don’t want to be like the people described in Psalm 106:25 where it says “They grumbled in their tents; they did not listen to the voice of the LORD.” Nobody wins when we grumble against each other and then refuse to gather together because of our own hard hearts.

7. Be Meek and Teachable When You Come

James 1:21 says, “In meekness receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.” This goes for all of us, including me. If we show up thinking we know it all, have a chip on our shoulder, and assume that we are God’s gift to the Church, then we are going to get absolutely nothing out of Sunday service.

Scriptures says “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” so if you are sitting in service thinking “I could run sound or powerpoint better than that. I could sing better, pray better, read better, teach better, play better, or make better coffee…” then scripture says God is opposing you this morning. I know I sometimes struggle with this whenever I go to another church. I have to be extra careful that I don’t harbour critical thoughts.

When it comes to the sermon, to come with meekness and humility doesn’t mean that you are blindly accepting every word I say as though I’m Moses or the Apostle Paul. Dr. Piper says this:

“Meekness and teachability are not gullibility. You have your Bible and you have your brain. Use them. But if we come with a chip on our shoulder and a suspicion of the preaching week after week, we will not hear the Word of God. Meekness is a humble openness to God’s truth with a longing to be changed by it.”

The simple point here is to come asking the question, “What does God want to say to me through the people who are leading the service this morning?” The service leader prepares an opening scripture… what did God say to you during that reading? Did you miss a blessing because you forgot to listen? The music was prayed over and specially chosen. Did you pay attention to the words and what the Spirit of God was doing during the singing? Were you paying attention to the offertory prayer? Maybe God had a message for you there. What does God want to tell you in this sermon, at this time? If you come with a “longing to be changed” and a “meek and humble openness to God’s truth”, He will do something special.

Let me also say this: I love teaching and if you want to challenge something I’ve said, something I’ve done, something you think you’ve heard, or whatever else about me or the service, let’s talk about it during the week. Contact me or let’s set up another time so we can chew the issue out together.

8. Purposefully Focus Your Mind on God

When you come into the sanctuary, sometimes there is a lot of noise, kids, music practicing and activity. I praise God for that activity, because I’ve been in churches where it’s more like a mausoleum and that’s depressing. No matter the conditions of the room, when you come in seek to “focus your mind’s attention and your hearts affection on God.”

What do you do when you first pull up into the church parking lot? That’s a great time to start obeying Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Take the steps from your car to the church to prepare yourself for service. When you enter the sanctuary, focus your mind on why you are here, Who you are here to meet, and then choose to give you attention to God.

Perhaps just a quick prayer to God, thanking Him for this place, these people, this time, and asking Him to begin tilling the soil of your heart so you are prepared to receive Him. Something simple like, “God, I’m glad I’m here, and I’m glad you’re here. I want to meet you today.”

Come expecting to meet God because He is here to meet with you! Socializing is really good, and I encourage everyone here to be super-friendly and loving and supportive… but taking that moment to focus on God will change your whole attitude. Maybe, as the old hymn says, “the things of earth will grow strangely dim” for just a little while.

9. Think About What is Sung, Prayed and Preached.

We’ve covered this a bit already, but the encouragement here is to keep your brain in gear. One of my struggles in life is not activating my mind – it’s focusing it. I have to make a conscious effort each week to read the words on the screen, sing them with meaning, and not go into auto-pilot even during the sermon. Do you ever go on auto-pilot during the service, and then wake up an hour later and can’t remember what happened? I’ve done that, and I can’t tell you how many blessings I’ve missed out on.

1 Corinthians 14:20 says, “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.”

Paul says to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:7, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything”.

Some of us were raised on Michael Bay films and Teletoon, and have been conditioned towards 30 second attention spans. I’m sure some of us could really use a commercial break or two during in the middle of the message. My encouragement is to do your best to stay with me, and stay with the music. I’ll try to prepare something worth hearing, if you’ll make the effort to listen.

It’s a good habit to try to memorize the songs so that you can sing them during the week without using the PowerPoint so you can close your eyes and concentrate on God. It’s a little depressing when the PowerPoint goes down and no one remembers a song they’ve sang 50 times. Open your ears, you minds and your hearts to listen to the words God is bringing to you.

10. Desire the Truth of God’s Word More than You Desire Riches or Food.

1 Peter 2:2 tells us: “Like newborn babies, desire the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.”

This is something that comes as you mature in Christ. I know you can’t simply will yourself to want the word of God more, but you can put yourself in a place where you learn that the Word of God is of more value to you than anything you could possibly buy, and where you realize that it provides greater sustenance than anything you could possibly eat.

Each week,

“as you sit quietly and pray and meditate on the text and the songs, remind yourself of what Psalm 19:9-11 says about the Words of God.” (Piper) They are “true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”

They really are. The words contained within the Bible, the Spirit which empowers them, the God who wrote them, the Lord Jesus whom they are all about, are good, precious, filling, wonderful, and are worthy to build our lives on.

A Christian church service can give you a taste of heaven and a hint of what Christian maturity is all about. Sunday morning service, if you let it, can give you a thirst for God, a closer fellowship with the Holy Spirit and the people of God, and help you want a deeper and more meaningful relationship with Jesus.

Church Attendance: Getting The Most out of Sunday Service (Part 1) – The Four Core Christian Disciplines

Posted on Updated on

Attending Church is one of the Four Core Christian Disciplines, but some believers are not in the habit of attending church on a consistent basis — or, hop from church to church seeking to find the perfect place to “get fed”. Being around other believer is an important and complex endeavour. We come to church from a variety of different situations, perspectives and backgrounds, with different needs and requirements to get the most out of our time at church. Consider how different we are.

The Four Core - Church

A Diverse Group

Most of us are busy people. There’s a lot going on these days. It’s summer, the weather is warming up and it’s time to for yard-work, fishing and vacation. There have been a lot of sports finals to watch, and even more coming this summer, so there’s lots to be interested in. It’s block-buster movie season so there’s lots of good things playing at the theatre. There’s a tonne going on in local, provincial and national news – not to mention all the global crisis’ that we are supposed to keep up with. Some of you have some very serious things on your mind, experiencing troubles with your family or friends while others are struggling to make ends meet. And then there’s all of our other day-to-day tasks and events. We’ve got a lot on our plates.

Physically speaking, some are feeling pretty good, had a great rest, a nice breakfast and can’t wait to get to whatever you’re doing later today. Others had really rough sleep last night and can barely stay awake. Maybe you’re feeling physically ill today or have been in chronic pain.

Practically speaking some of you are visual learners and have a hard time listening to someone speak for a long time – so just the idea of a 35 minute lecture puts you to sleep – so you stare at the PowerPoint hoping that it will keep you interested. Others of you are auditory learners and get distracted by the PowerPoint. Some of you are tactile learners who are having a really tough time right now because you’re having to sit still and try to pay attention, so you have to fiddle with a pen or tap your foot, or do something or you’ll go bananas.

There were some people who like “church music”, others don’t. Some like guitar, others piano. Some like to sing, others don’t. Some love going upstairs to hang out with people, others just want to get in and out without being bothered by a bunch of people who don’t really care about them anyway.

Some looked at the title and thought “that might be interesting”, others groaned knowing this had nothing to do with them. Some people  are mad at other people. Some are mad at people who aren’t even alive anymore. Some have been hurt but won’t show it. Some are barely holding it together, hoping that no one notices. Others are desperately hoping someone will notice. Some are wondering why the intro is so long and wondering when we are going to get into the Bible. Others are glad there’s an intro because there’s been way too many verses for them to follow lately. Some have a deep, growing and flourishing relationship with their friend, Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ. Others don’t even know what that looks like.

So, with all this diversity of background, levels of spiritual maturity, emotional and relational baggage, personal preferences, unique life situations, and learning styles, how can we possibly create a Sunday morning experience that helps everyone in the church grow closer to God, learn more about Jesus, worship Him in an intimate, personal way, grow closer in relationships with the group, and then go home blessed, comforted, uplifted and challenged to apply something new to their lives throughout the week. That’s a tall order!

You Have What You Need

Here’s the thing:

If God is present with us,

Jesus is alive and active,

and the Holy Spirit is still powerful,

then you already have everything you need

to experience Him no matter where you are.

If you’re at church and the worship music is well rehearsed, has God-honouring lyrics, and presented with excellence, regardless of style a path to worship is available for you to take. If the Bible is being read and preached with humility and truth, then there is something to learn. And i you are surrounded by people who love Jesus, then I believe we have some very good conditions to see God do some special and amazing things. Yes, we are going to make mistakes, and sometimes the songs are a little off, and my sermon is boring, and the technology doesn’t work, and the room is too hot or cold… but by and large, I believe deep in my heart that most church services are fertile ground  for God to grow our spirits each week.

What must be done is for you and I to come in a receptive condition for what God wants to do. We must stop using others as the excuse for our own spiritual weakness and realize that getting the most out of the Sunday morning experience falls on us as individuals.

Getting the Most out of Sunday Service

So if that’s right, then the question we must ask ourselves is this: “How can I ensure that when I come to church I can experience the presence of God, worship Jesus from the bottom of my heart, obey Him in whatever He desires, and walk away encouraged and challenged as a disciple of Jesus each Sunday?” In short, “What can I do to get the most out of Sunday Service?”

I read an article by Pastor John Piper a while back called “Take Heed How You Hear” where he presents 10 different ways we can ensure that we are spiritually ready for whatever God wants to do during the Sunday service. I found them very helpful, and I believe you will too.

1. Pray that God Would Prepare Your Heart

So, as we’ve been saying all along, prayer is where all of our spiritual development begins. I went through a book a while back called “Power through Prayer” by E.M. Bounds which was written to preachers to implore them to realize the desperate necessity of constant and passionate prayer. One of his points was that no matter how good the scholarship, the illustrations, the force, the emotion, and excellence of the delivery of the sermon, it will mean nothing – and could even do damage to the people listening if it is not built on the foundation of a prayerful relationship with God.

But it works both ways. Those who come to listen, to sing, to serve, to give, and to learn need to come with their hearts prepared to receive. Piper says, “The heart we need is a work of God. That’s why we [have to] pray for it.” A soft heart for God isn’t something we can generate within ourselves, it must come from God. Remember Ezekiel 36:26 where God says “I will give you a new heart.” We’ve covered this many times before, but remember that if we don’t take time to ask God to prepare our hearts, we have no chance of being changed by the music we sing, the word we hear, or the believers around us.

Think of your heart as a cup. If we come each week full of jealousy, pride, covetousness, fear, sin, unrighteous anger, worldly pleasure, or anything else, what else can fit into it?

Think of your heart as soil. If the soil is hard and dry, and hasn’t been tilled and turned over, softened by the healing rains of the grace of God through Jesus Christ, then whatever seeds of change are cast out by the music, offering, prayers, sermon, service or fellowship will just bounce off the ground and won’t take root.

Our prayer each week should be before we come on Sunday, “[Lord, I don’t know what you have for me at church today, but please] give me a heart for you. Give me a good and honest heart. Give me a soft and receptive heart. Give me a humble and meek heart. Give me a fruitful heart.” (JP)

2. Feed Yourself During the Week

Don’t let the Sunday service be the first and last place you see God’s Word, worship Jesus, and talk to Him each week. The Christian life is so much more than Sunday morning! The meat and potatoes of your faith happen during the week – this is just the appetizer before the meal that will be your week.

Psalm 34:8 says, “O taste and see that the LORD is good.” Imagine that the word of God is your food, and prayer, worship and fellowship is like your drink. It is certainly nourishment for your soul, but what if it also affected your body. What if you only ate and drank once a week? What if you starved yourself the whole week long and then came crawling into the building each week, famished and exhausted for the one meal you know will be set for you. Would you enjoy the food? Would it help you grow and strengthen your muscles? No, you would come in starving, barely surviving, and when it was served you wouldn’t treasure it, smell it, taste it and enjoy it… would you? You’d barely taste it, and it wouldn’t be enough. Your body wouldn’t be prepared for it and might even make you sick because you’re not used to eating.

Sunday morning can’t be your whole spiritual diet. Think of it like a big pot-luck dinner with your family and friends each week. It’s a special time where you get to experience foods that you don’t have to make, and which you don’t usually get. It’s a place you can savour, and pause, and converse over the food, push back from the table and drink from your cup, try things you’ve never experienced, and lean over to people and say “try this, it’s good!”.

If you’ve ever heard someone say that they left a church because “they weren’t being fed”, I would almost guarantee that they didn’t have the practice of feeding themselves during the week. “Not being fed” isn’t a biblical excuse to leave a church. Heresy, which is where the church is serving poison food, is a good reason to leave a church.

I promise that if you come prepared by feeding yourself the word, and drinking in prayer, worship and fellowship regularly during the week, that you will have a much better appetite for Sunday morning and will enjoy it more and grow more quickly in Christ.

3. Purify Your Mind

A corrupt, sinful, indulgent heart and mind will dramatically affect your spiritual life during the week and on Sunday mornings. You know this, but perhaps you don’t realize how dramatically it effects your attitudes towards worship, study, prayer and other Christians.

James 1:21 says that Christians need to be, “Putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.” Philippians 4:8 implores us that, “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” This is a challenge to me because I’ve incorporated worldly entertainment into my rest time. I’m not as bad as I once was, but it’s still something I have to watch and be careful of.

Let me read directly from Piper on this because I’m not sure I would have ever written this sentence myself.

“It astonishes me how many Christians watch the same banal, empty, silly, trivial, titillating, suggestive, immodest TV shows that most unbelievers watch. This makes us small and weak and worldly and inauthentic in worship.”

Chew on that for a moment. Consider the tv shows and movies that you watch and ask if they are banal (meaning unoriginal, obvious and boring), empty, silly and trivial. I only get about 5 channels on my TV, but if I ever turn it on to surf I always regret it because it really is empty, silly, trivial and boring. It’s like eating cotton or listening to white-noise – just empty filler with no redeeming quality.

Worse, perhaps, are the shows and movies that are titillating, suggestive and immodest. The most popular shows today, on the specialty channels like HBO, Showcase and Spike have these sensuality designed into them! You say you want to watch it for the plot, the action, etc., but right along with is sexual immorality, suggestive themes, and outright pornography.

Watching these shows makes us small in our minds – because we import no new, good, helpful information. It makes us weak in our spirits – because we are consistently giving Satan more and more images and memories to distract, tempt and entice us to sin. It messes up our vision of reality and creates unholy and unrealistic desires that make us unhappy and discontent.

It would be amazing if Christians could stop putting this stuff in their brains altogether, but at the very least, let’s try to make Saturday night a “garbage free zone” where we only watch or read “something true and great and beautiful and pure and honourable and excellent and worthy of praise.” I love how Piper says the result will be,

“Your heart will shrivel and be able to feel greatness again.”

I have felt that shrivelling of my heart before, and I have also experienced God unshrivelling it and filling my heart back up to make it full and ready for Him. I know that there are some people who have slain this demon already and can attest to this truth too. This isn’t about burying our heads in the sand and begin afraid of culture, or about throwing our TV’s out and never going to the theatre. It’s about being able to focus our hearts on God. Can you imagine how different your Sunday morning would be if it began on Saturday night?

4. Settle Your Mind

This is all about trusting in the truth that you already have so you can grow and develop more truths. Some people have struggles with their faith that they just can’t get past, and it is a roadblock to their spiritual development. They come week after week, but they are not growing because they are stuck on one or two big questions that make them doubt God, their Salvation, their Faith and the grace of God.

There are other people who have many answers, but have not put them into practice. They are theoretical, but they have not become real. This means that they never really learn the lesson that God is trying to teach them because it never goes from their mind to their heart and hands – so God keeps repeating the same lesson over and over and over because they’ve never taken the step of obedience so they can move to the next lesson.

The encouragement here is to settle certain things in your minds – and move on. If you have a struggle with some aspect of Christianity then investigate those areas and settle them in your minds so you might be able to extend your roots deep into the soil. Jeremiah 17:7-8 says, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream.” Do the work of learning what God says, do what needs to be done practically to make that real, and then settle your heart and mind on that subject.

For example: If you come every week doubting that the Holy Spirit is real and wonder if the book He wrote may not be truth, then you will not be able to grow deeper. If so, then you need to read, study, and talk to me and other believers about the authority of the scriptures and the work of the Holy Spirit. Do the work, have it settled, then move on.

If you spend your week in difficulty and wonder if God is good or bad, present or absent, it will stunt your spiritual growth. Settle in your hearts that your immortal soul was purchased once and for all on the cross by Jesus Christ, that if God is for you who can be against you, and that there is nothing you can do to earn or lose your salvation because it is the free gift of grace. If you have to wonder each moment if you are good enough to be accepted by God, or if the sin you committed means God doesn’t love you today, then there is no way you will be able to worship effectively, pray personally, sing joyfully or listen to the Bible attentively. When trials come, if your roots are not deep, and your faith is unsettled, your faith will fail you.

If God has been working on you in an area of obedience like how much time you spend doing something so you can avoid your family, indulging in pornography or courting an affair, something that you need to change in your attitude or outlook, or something you need to give away… whatever it is… it’s my experience that your spiritual growth will be stunted and stalled until you deal with that area. You can tinker with the car engine, adjust the mirrors, clean the carpets and get all the pretty decorations you want, but if your tires are flat, you’re not going anywhere.

5. Get Some Sleep on Saturday Night

This one seems like a no-brainer, but needs to be said. 1 Corinthians 6:12 says this, “All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything.” That’s Bible talk for “Yes, you’re an adult and you can go to bed whenever you want… but being an adult also means doing the right and responsible thing.”

There is no law for what you are supposed to do or not do on a Saturday night. There is no bedtime or specific bible verses that say what you are supposed to be doing the night before. Sure, you’ve got some guidelines about drunkenness and orgies, but there are lots of things you can do on Saturday nights that aren’t sin, but that will absolutely ruin your Sunday morning worship experience. When you are tired you are more susceptible to temptation and Satan can use your weakened physical state to distract you, play with your emotions, and enslave you. And you get into a cycle of lack of sleep and then spend the day jacked up on stimulants like coffee or energy drinks, then you are absolutely destined to fall for temptation – you’re easy prey.

And when you add the spiritual side of coming to church – the battle that rages to keep Christians away from worship, the preaching of the word, and the fellowship of believers, then you are in real trouble. Lack of sleep is something people use to torture the enemy and weaken their resolve so they will crack under pressure. Sunday morning is a spiritual battleground, and sleepy soldiers are no help to anyone.

I like what Piper says here too:

“Without sufficient sleep, our minds are dull, our emotions are flat, our proneness to depression is higher, and our fuses are short. My counsel [is to] decide when you must get up on Sunday in order to have time to eat, get dressed, pray and meditate on the Word, prepare the family, and travel to church; and then compute backward eight hours and be sure that you are in bed 15 minutes before that. Read your Bible in bed and fall asleep with the Word of God in your mind. I especially exhort parents to teach teenagers that Saturday is NOT the night to stay out late with friends. If there is a special late night, make it Friday. It is a terrible thing to teach children that worship is so optional that it doesn’t matter if you are exhausted when you come.”

I read that knowing that I need to learn it too. I’ve built some boundaries that have really changed my life and my Sunday morning experience, but I need to do better for my own spirit and my family’s’ as well. I hope that you will pray though this list and that you will grow on Sunday mornings even more.

From Shrove Tuesday to Mardi Gras

Posted on Updated on

My nephew was asked to put together a report on Mardi Gras which reminded me of a reflection piece I had written that might be of help to him, and hopefully you too.

Throwing the Baby Out With the Bath Water

The traditional Christian season of Lent starts on February 13 this year. Christians have been practicing the 40 days of Lent for literally hundreds of years, since the third century. It’s only recently, in the grand scheme of things, that many believers have decided that they are not going to participate anymore. Some avoid it because it’s associated with the Catholicism or old-school Christianity, and I can understand that, but as with many other modernizations of the practices of our faith, I believe we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater and have lost a lot of traditions that were very powerful tools in Christian discipleship.

The Reformation was all about combatting the false teachers in the church who were telling people that they had to do certain things (like pay money, go on pilgrimages, say so many prayers, do penance before God would forgive them) and had moved away from the true message of salvation which says that we are saved only and fully by the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ – the exchange of His life for ours on the cross. In correcting this error and walking away from this corrupt teaching they also walked away from many of the practices and disciplines that were part of the church.

Ancient practices like Advent, Lent, and Good Friday, were given up because they had been corrupted by false teachers who were using them to manipulate the faithful. They were started with the best intentions to be regular times on the calendar where Christians would remember and celebrate the life of Jesus and practice various spiritual disciplines, but then the false teachers started saying that Christians had to do them in order to be saved. Protestants rightly said, “No we don’t.”, but then many stopped participating in the holidays and disciplines surrounding them.

It is my belief that we should recapture some of the old ways because many of them are still good ideas, and powerful ways to experience God.

Lent

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, and goes until Easter. It is a period of 40 days, which is a number we find all over the bible. The rains that brought the flood lasted 40 days and 40 nights, the Hebrews spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness. Moses fasted 40 days before receiving the 10 commandments, Goliath came out and insulted the Israelites for 40 days before David came, God told Jonah to give Nineveh 40 days to repent, and Jesus spent 40 days in the desert fasting and confronting Satan. It’s a spiritually significant number.

Lent is to be a time of reflection and preparation before we get into the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus at Easter. Instead of being like the world and avoiding sadness, lamenting and sacrifice, we choose to embrace it and seek to be more like Jesus as we meditate, mourn, repent and fast. We stop eating certain foods and avoid parties and celebrations for a time, so we can contemplate the meaning and significance of crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Instead of skipping straight to the resurrection, we take a long time to think about why Jesus was crucified, what He went through, what our personal salvation cost, and what consequences that has for us, our family and our church.

It is a time of prayer and repentance, of fasting and meditation, of consideration and mortification of sin, a time to think less of ourselves and more about Jesus, a time to give a sacrifice of our time, energy, and efforts to God in a special way. To practice self-discipline and open ourselves for God to show His amazing provision for our souls.

The Corruption of Shrove Tuesday

The day before Lent is called Shrove Tuesday and the story of the corruption of this day emphasizes a serious problem in the Church.

Shrove Tuesday gets its name from the word “shrive”, which means to confess sin. It was a day set aside to clean out our hearts before the special season of Lent began. To prepare ourselves for this very serious and spiritually significant time of the year. It was a day of becoming real with ourselves and our sin. A day to pray to God with David in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

national+pancake+day1

Pancake Day = Fat Tuesday = Mardi Gras?

But here’s what happened. There were certain foods that people would traditionally give up for Lent, foods like meat, fish, fats, eggs and milk. Like the Israelites with their unleavened bread, they would let their diet show what was going on in their hearts. And since they were going to give them up, and they would certainly spoil before the 40 days was over, Shrove Tuesday became the day that people would use up these foods.

And what’s the best way to get rid of fats, eggs, milk and meat? A pancake meal. So it became tradition that on this day of confession and repentance, of getting right with God, there would also be a large feast where families would get together on Shrove Tuesday and eat up all the foods they wouldn’t be eating during Lent.

And so Shrove Tuesday became Pancake Tuesday… or Fat Tuesday, because it was the day you would eat pancakes and use up your fatty foods. The French name for Fat Tuesday is Mardi Gras — maybe you’ve heard of it.

And when you and I think of Mardi Gras, the first thing that comes to mind is Repentance, Confession, and getting right with God, right? No, it went from a day of getting right with God to a day to tell God to get lost so we could indulge in as much sinful behaviour as we can!

It’s incredibly ironic what some of the customs for Mardi Gras have become. In place of opening our hearts to God, coming clean, and letting God shine His light on our lives, we have the “Mardi Gras mask” where people cover up their identities and be someone else for a day so they can get away with whatever they want without people knowing who they are.

Instead of preparing ourselves for a time to remember the sacrifice of Christ and to fast in His name, Mardi Gras has become a time to indulge ones self, to go overboard, to do everything to excess!

Where Shrove Tuesday was a time to confront temptation and sin, Mardi Gras has become an overly sexual, hedonistic day where men and women give up their dignity and “flash” the crowd to win some beads.

A Mardi Gras Heart

Now, believe me, I would love to spend the rest of our time pointing out other people’s sins, pointing out what’s wrong with the world and everyone one else… and say “Wow! Those guys are really bad!” But I can’t because you know what? I do the same things they do. Except I’m worse because I’m supposed to know better.

This is classic human, sinful behaviour, and something we all need to watch ourselves for! How many of us really act the way we are supposed to act as a Christian? How many of us are truly walking the walk of faith? The truth is that not many of us are. Not really.

Please understand that I’m talking to the more mature believers, not the new believers and the non-believers. Right now I’m talking to the people who have claimed to be believers for a while. Those who should be remarkably different after a long walk with Jesus. Those who claim that Jesus resides in their hearts, and who have listened to the Holy Spirit for a while. And that’s me included.

The “Christian Atheist”

Christian AtheistPastor Craig Groeschel wrote a book a while back called “Christian Atheist” which is all about people who claim to be Christians, but live as though God doesn’t exist. In other words, Christians who talk about Shrove Tuesday, but live with a Mardi Gras heart.

He begins with a very common story about two different kinds of atheists. The first are common atheist who doesn’t believe in God and doesn’t claim to. He then introduces another kind of atheist – the Christian Atheist. Check out this story from the book:

“Before our plane took off, Michelle struck up a conversation. Somewhat nervous about flying, she seemed eager to talk, as if our chat might make the flight pass more quickly. After describing her difficulties with balancing her checkbook and handling her divorced parents and her live-in boyfriend— who’s scared to death of marriage— she asked me about my life.

Creating a diversion from my “I’m a pastor” answer, I explained that I am married and have six children. “Six kids?! Don’t you know what causes kids?” she joked. After some more small talk, Michelle asked me what I do for a living. No longer able to dodge the inevitable, I answered, “Well, as a matter of fact, I’m the pastor of a church.”

This revelation gave Michelle permission to unleash a stream of Christian words and stories. Dropping the occasional “God told me” and “God is good,” she smiled softly as she described how she “gave her life to Jesus” at the age of fifteen at a Christian youth camp. After praying sincerely, she was eager to get back to school to share her faith and live a life of purity and spiritual integrity.

Michelle held on to her new belief in God but soon slipped back into her old way of life. As if in a confessional, Michelle continued pouring out her life’s darker details. She looked down as she admitted that she was doing things with her live-in boyfriend that she knew she shouldn’t. She told me she wanted to go to church but was simply too busy working and studying. She did pray many nights— mostly that her boyfriend would become a Christian like she was. “If only he believed in Jesus, then he might want to marry me,” she said, wiping her tears.

At last, Michelle expressed one final confession: “I know my life doesn’t look like a Christian’s life should look, but I do believe in God.”

Welcome to Christian Atheism, where people believe in God but live as if he doesn’t exist.”

I really understand where that girl is coming from, because I often act the same way. I see this kind of Christian Atheism — this Mardi Gras Heart — in myself quite often. I can’t speak for you because I don’t know your heart – but I know mine. Saying one thing, and doing another. Struggling with the same sins and temptations, time after time. Going days without praying or reading my bible. Going through the motions in worship and my devotional times. I may not have a huge, public sin to confess that would cost me my position as pastor… but I can certainly understand what it means to be a hypocrite in my own eyes – and in the eyes of God.

A Holy, Different People

God has been teaching me something over the past while, and I encourage you to ask yourself these questions: How are Christians different than other people? Why are we different? What makes you different than you were before you met Jesus? What does being a Christian look like on the inside and the outside? How do we keep from turning the parts of our life that are supposed to look like Shrove Tuesdays into the self-indulgent hedonism of Mardi Gras?

God describes His chosen people in Exodus 19:4-6 saying, “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

Some of us think, “Well sure, Israel was special! They were the people of God! They had Mt. Sinai, the 10 Commandments, and were the people God chose to bring the Messiah Jesus Christ through. That’s true, but read 1 Peter 2:9 which was written to Christians, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”

That’s what a Christian is:

Chosen.

Royal.

Holy.

Different.

God’s people.

 

A Prayer of Confession

Lord, you have made me special. You said you knitted me together in my mother’s womb, set me apart from before creation, and have appointed good deeds for me to do in advance. You are the giver of good gifts, the author of salvation, and my personal redeemer. You bought me back from death, from captivity, from the rightful consequences of my sin. I rightly deserved Hell and you came for me. Lord, you demonstrated your love for me in this: while I was yet a sinner, you died for me.

And yet, in so many ways I live as though you don’t exist. In my daily life, I forget about you. I reject you. I disappoint you. I refuse to listen, and sometimes even ignore you. I take control of my life when I should be giving it to you.

I know that it is not my deeds, my good works, or anything that I do, that saves me. Yet, I also know that faith without works is dead. I know there is nothing I can do to make you love me more or love me less. But I also know that your love should spur me on to good deeds, and that your Son’s life is the perfect example of how I should live.

Lord, there are some areas of my life that I need you to deal with. Areas that I’m not proud of… and, in fact, I’m ashamed of. Areas of sin, rebellion and pride, idolatry and disobedience. Lord, you say in your word that if we confess our sins, that you are faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I want to confess to you because I need cleansing.

I pray with David the words of Psalm 51, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 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….”

Lord, there are areas of my life that are not pure, and times when I have chosen filth over purity… I’ve chosen to look upon sin… to listen to sin… to touch sin… to taste sin… to revel in and think about sinful things… and I’ve gone back for more… forgive me. Cleanse me.

Lord, I have made places of my heart and life off limits to you. I’ve heard you knocking on the door, and I’ve refused to answer. I’ve loved my secret places more than I’ve loved you. Please open up those doors and let your light in… no matter how painful it might be. I need you to clean those areas out.

Lord, I have lived dishonourably, and dishonoured others. I have taken the reputation of Christ and dragged it through the mud. I have been dishonest and disloyal. I have not let my yes be yes, and my no be no… and I have broken promises. Forgive me. And help me make it right with those I’ve hurt.

Lord, I have rejected your word. I have read parts of your bible and argued with you. I’ve even chosen to avoid parts of your word because they make me feel uncomfortable. When someone has asked me about what I believe, I have told them my opinion, which was not in line with your word, because I was ashamed of what you said. Forgive me for my arrogance and my fear of man.

Lord, You have given me opportunities to share my faith, and I have not taken them. You have given me chances to inject your truth, and I have kept my mouth closed. You have stirred my spirit to speak, and I disobeyed and walked away. There were chances to give you glory, to give you credit, to say that you are the one who did it… and I stole your fame… or I gave it to someone else… or simply didn’t say anything. Forgive me.

Lord, there are times when I have sought out the darkness. You call me to live as a child of light, but there are times when I have closed the blinds, locked the doors, turned off the lights, and preferred the darkness because it covered my sin. I have hidden my sins from my brothers and sisters in the faith. They have asked me, and I have lied to their face. You have given me chances to flee temptation, and I have dismissed them, and continued to walk towards sin, invited you to leave… and then I committed sin, on purpose… in the darkness of my private life. Forgive me.

Lord, I have rejected your church. I don’t really love your people, the body of Christ, as I should. In fact, I avoid them. I prefer the company of non-believers. I give my service to other places. I give my time to other people. I have come to church time and again, and then left quickly to avoid your people. I don’t ask how other people are doing because I don’t want to get involved. I make myself busy so I have an excuse to stay away. I do not treat other believers as my family. I have even mocked them, ridiculed them, and gossiped behind their back. Lord, forgive me for how I treat your beloved bride… your church.

Lord, I life too much as a citizen of this world, and not of your kingdom. I embrace many worldly things unquestionably. I have put idols in my home, idols in my work, idols in my car. I live by the world’s standards, not yours. I have spent money I don’t have, on things I don’t need, to impress people I don’t even really know. I am in debt because I want to be more like the world. I’m not different than the non-believers around me… in fact there is almost no discernible difference between me and them. Lord, forgive me for not living as the salt and light I should be.

Lord, I don’t acknowledge the spiritual realm. I live as though what I see is all that there is. I do not store my treasures in heaven, but instead spend time building bigger and bigger barns here on earth. I do not put on my spiritual armour… the armour of God which you have given me… but leave it off to the side every day as I go into the world. And then I blame you when I fall. When a battle is waged in my soul, I give up far too easily because I do not want to fight… I am too lazy… too selfish… too worldly. I love my flesh and the god of my stomach too much. Forgive me for not thirsting for You alone.

Lord, I ask you to “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit…. to sustain me”

Why I am Reformed

Posted on


The above video spurred me to write this entry. It touched me deeply and reminded me of who God is creating me to be, where I have come from, and why I do what I do the way I do it. It is beautifully shot, and powerfully narrated by John Calvin. I encourage you to dim the lights, turn on the HD feed, and let it touch your heart.

Why Reformed Theology?

Over the last months I have used some intimation the words “I teach Reformed theology” or “I’m a Calvanist” about seventy-billion times. I don’t know why it keeps coming up (maybe it’s because it’s on my mind and I subconsciously steer the conversation — who knows?) but it seems to be ever-present. Perhaps the fact that yesterday was Reformation Day had something to do with it. How committed am I? Check out what I was handing out to the kids who came to the door for Halloween Reformation Day candy.

Invariably, the next thing people ask me “why?”. Not in a “Please tell me more” kind of way, but with the same reaction one would give to someone who just said, “I blow my nose with saran-wrap”. What? Why? That’s weird. People don’t do that, do they?

Fundamentalists / Calvinists / Reformers don’t have the greatest reputation where I live. They are seen as closed minded, harsh, critical, judgmental, fear-mongering, and unloving (they’re not — at least the ones I know, read, and have met aren’t). So, why on earth would I ever associate myself with that group?

My answer is simply this: “Reformed theology answers my deepest questions in the most satisfying way that emphasizes Jesus and brings the most glory to God.” I take comfort in it and I believe it gives the most credit and praise to the person of Jesus Christ and the works He is doing and has done. It is around Him that my life and theology revolves. It is in Him I find the answers.

Yes, some of the concepts are so huge my mind can’t stretch enough to envelop them, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong. I’ve learned to distrust folks who can’t live with paradox or seem to have all the answers.

I love the way that John Piper answered this question. He said,

“I am a lover of the Reformed faith….I speak of love for this legacy the way I speak of loving a cherished photo of my wife. I say, “I love that picture.” You won’t surprise me if you point out, “But that’s not your wife, that’s a picture.” Yes. Yes. I know it’s only a picture. I don’t love the picture instead of her, I love the picture because of her. She is precious in herself. The picture is precious not in itself, but because it reveals her. That’s the way theology is precious. God is valuable in himself. The theology is not valuable in itself. It is valuable as a picture. That’s what I mean when I say, “I love reformed theology.” It’s the best composite, Bible-distilled picture of God that I have.” (Link)

That’s where I’m at too. Reformed theology gives me the best picture of God I have seen.

We All Need A Good Church

Posted on

I just paused my sermon prep for a moment so I could post this to the blog. I’m currently writing a sermon on The Powerful Witness of Unity in the Church and remembered that I had written in a Facebook Post earlier in the week. The two didn’t really connect in my mind until now, so I want to share it with you. I’ll post the sermon later.

We all Need a Good Church

The last five chapters of judges shows what life is like when a group of religious people try to govern themselves. Selfishness, pride, foolishness, hardheadedness and hardheartedness is played out in spades as God is given lip service but not truly consulted, obeyed or worshipped. It breaks my heart to read of the abuses these people heaped on each other and how the weaker among them (women and children) suffered so greatly at the hands of these religious men who were “doing as they saw fit”.

This reminds me of how important it is that we are part of a good church and how dependent we must be on the daily provision the Holy Spirit gives us. When I think myself wise enough, strong enough, spiritual enough, smart enough to move forward without God and His people, I am setting up disaster for myself and pain for those around me.

There are so many in this world who have been inoculated against the church and who do not want to set their foot inside the door because of hurts or pride. They believe they can set up their own religion, meet God on their own terms, and live as they see fit outside the Church God has given us. That is folly.

Be careful when you begin to think that you can live outside the influence, support, and discipline found within the Christian church. You are setting yourself up for temptation, foolish mistakes, and courting an avalanche of disaster. We are built to be in community, led by His Word, taught and held accountable by wise elder believers, and ultimately under God. It is in that place where we will be happiest and most fruitful.

Own Your "Why?" – How to Make Wise Decisions

Posted on

Halloween Costumes
Halloween Costumes (Photo credit: Transguyjay)

I preached this sermon on Sunday, October 31 2010 as a way to help the congregation process Halloween, but it grew into something much bigger. It became a sermon about how to make all kinds of decisions. I repeat it here in hopes it will encourage you to make wiser choices, release you from fear of judgement, open you up to deeper relationships, and help you live in greater freedom as a child of God.

How To Make Wise Decisions

This morning we are going to talk about Halloween.   What are we supposed to do with it?  What’s it all about?  And hopefully we will be able to open up the question into understanding how we can know what parts of our culture we are supposed to do and not do, join and not join, participate in and not participate in.

This question doesn’t come around only because of Halloween, but is something we are presented with all the time.  Do we have birthday parties or not?  Do we have Santa Clause or not?  Do we participate in Remembrance Day, or Earth Day, or National Prayer Day?  And it gets bigger.  What school should I send my children to?  Should I home school or not?  Are there certain jobs that Christians can do, and others they shouldn’t?  Can a Christian be a collections officer or a bartender?  Can a Christian be a stock market broker, or a Hollywood actor or a swimsuit model?  What movies can they watch?  Should you own a TV?… it goes on, and on and on into every area of your life. So much so that these sorts of questions can take over our life.

Instead of having a passionate, growing, dynamic relationship with Jesus, the expression of your faith can become all about what you do and don’t do.  Instead of focusing our lives on worship, fellowship, discipleship and outreach, we can live either paranoid that we are somehow messing up our relationship with God every moment of every day… or we can live like prideful religious Pharisees who think we are better than others because of all the things we don’t do.

“I don’t have a TV and I only listen to the Christian radio station, so that makes me a better Christian than you.”

“I’ve never had a beer, and I don’t go out dancing, so that makes me a better Christian than you.”

Other say, “I watch tv and drink beer and listen to rock music and still love Jesus, so that makes me better than you.”

Somewhere in there the gospel of Jesus Christ rescuing our poor souls by His amazing grace is totally lost.  If having being saved by Jesus is really as simple as admitting we are sinners and believing Jesus died for our sins, then do we really need to worry so much about all of these other things… like to trick-or-treat, or not to trick-or-treat?  It seems so.

As with most important questions, this one is addressed in scripture in a bunch of places.  The most comprehensive places that I know of is 1 Corinthians 10:23-33.  Turn there with me and lets read the whole thing together because it shows the problem face, gives an illustration and then wraps it up with the general principle.

“[23] “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. [24] Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. [25] Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. [26] For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” [27] If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. [28] But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— [29] I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? [30] If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? [31] So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. [32] Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, [33] just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.”

Let’s look at the first part together.  This whole section here is talking about the problem that the early church faced with eating meat sacrificed to idols, and whether or not it was ok for Christians to eat with other people in a pagan temple.  The principle found within can stand for a lot of things though.  For the past couple chapters Paul has been talking about how important it is that we be different from the world, and how we shouldn’t be putting ourselves into places where we can be tempted, or fall into old habits of worshipping idols or debauchery.  Right before the passage we’ve just read he says in verse 21, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.”

In other words, you can’t play both sides.  You can’t call yourself a Christian but also live as though you don’t know Him.  You can’t worship Him on one day, and then worship someone or something else on a different day.  It’s not about the food that’s on the table, it’s about the intentions of the heart.  That’s why he clarifies that it’s not about the food right in the next sentence.  Eat whatever you want because it’s not about the food… it’s about what’s going on in your heart and in the heart of those around you.

Question 1: What is the intention of my heart?

So that would be the first question we must ask ourselves when we are deciding these kinds of questions:  What is the intention of my heart?  Is this an act of worshipping God, or someone or something else?

I like to use my favorite phrase here: “Own your ‘why?’”.  I came up it some time ago to remind myself to make sure my motives are pure. “Own your ‘why?'”  What I mean is that when I do something I need to make sure that I own up to my reasons for doing it.  I will have to answer for why I did it someday, so I had better have a good reason.  I need a defense for why it’s ok with God – to think through the consequences.  “Own your ‘why?”

So, if we use the example of Halloween, how do you answer the first question?  What’s your, “Why?”.  Is there another God you are going to worship?   Perhaps the god of your stomach who desires the sacrifice of candy?  Maybe it is the god of personal attention, which is why you put so much emphasis on being seen that day?  Perhaps you struggle with sexual sin and the reason you go out or participate is to see the slutty costumes the women and girls are wearing.

Or, are your motives pure?  You don’t have a problem with it — it’s no big deal.  It doesn’t strike your conscience one-way or the other.  In fact, for you, it’s a good way to get to know and have fun with your neighbors and friends, and perhaps even build new relationships. “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof”, so candy and dressing up is no big deal. Why you are doing what you are doing is the first question to ask.

Next, Paul paints a picture of a common situation that would happen then, which has some parallels for us today.  “[27] If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience.”  Lots of ifs there.  If someone invites you, and if you decide to go, and if they serve you food that might have been sacrificed to idols… just keep your mouth shut, eat it and enjoy it.  This what we like to call Christian Liberty.  We are not like the Pharisees who are bound to hundreds of laws about what to eat, how to wash, when to pray, what to say, how far to walk, etc, etc.  We are Christians, saved by grace, living in a world that is a gift from God and is full of wonderful things.  The person who you are eating with is far more important than the food on the table and so we can do a lot of things and have no problem at all.

If someone invites you to a party, then go.  You don’t have to sin if you are there, and you can enjoy your time.  If you know the whole focus of the party is to indulge in sin… just as it was in the ancient pagan temples, then you know that you shouldn’t be there and nothing good can happen.  But it’s ok to go to all kinds of things as a Christian.  Jesus was widely known for going to parties with all kinds of people, and yet never sinned.  Halloween party?  Go ahead.

Again… if someone invites you, and if you want to go (you don’t have to), then go ahead and enjoy yourself and thank God for the time.  But… let’s read verse 28.

“[28] But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it…”

What’s going on here.  Three things could be occurring:

1.  An unbeliever thinks that the Christian isn’t allowed to do something, and has put it in front of the Christian as a test of their faith to see if they will fall for it and sin along with them.

2. An unbeliever isn’t being devious, but their conscience is telling you that whatever it is might be morally questionable, but they’re not sure what your rules are.

Or 3.  There person speaking is another Christian who isn’t as mature in the faith as you are, and still has a problem with such things.  You know that it’s fine for you to do it, but this brother or sister is having an issue.

Paul says, then don’t do it.  And he qualifies why… “if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience—”   In other words, don’t go against someone’s conscience.  The conscience is a gift from God that gives us an internal meter to understand right and wrong.  If someone’s conscience is twitching because of something, then don’t do it.  We need to be careful to listen to our consciences, and we don’t want to teach anyone to stop listening to theirs.

If the unbeliever is feeling a conviction from God that whatever they are doing is a sin, then why on earth would we reinforce that it’s ok for them to do it?  And if an immature brother or sister is just learning how to listen to God, then why would we ever teach them to ignore what their conscience is telling them?

By the way, today isn’t just Halloween, but it’s also Reformation Day where we celebrate when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the Wittenberg Door in 1517.  And when standing before the Imperial Diet at Worms in 1521 and being asked by the Roman Catholic Church to recant his beliefs he said this, “my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”

 

Question 2: How does it affect the consciences of those around me?

So there is our second question:  How does it affect the consciences of those around me?  As Christians we are allowed to do a lot of things because we are not bound by a bunch of religious rules and regulations… nor are we trying to impress God by showing him how pious we are.  But we must ask ourselves how our actions are affecting the spiritual journeys of those around us.

1 Peter 2:9-12 addresses this exact issue by likening the Christian walk of faith to a stranger, an exile or a sojourner, who is living in a foreign land.  Turn there.  He says that we are to be different and careful how we live in regard to those around us.  “[9] But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. [10] Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

[11] Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. [12] Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”

Our lives are to be different, and they are to point people to a different way of living.  They must see in us that we have been liberated from sin, death, addiction, fear, religion, pride, and selfishness, and that we are different.  The path we walk is as strangers in the world, and it should be one that they can safely follow.  And so it is up to us to be careful where our steps fall in relation to the consciences of those around us.

But… let me give you a word of encouragement.  There are some who live a life of paranoia because of this question.  They are always wondering about everything they do because someone might just see them – even when they’re not doing anything wrong.  They can’t go bowling at 3pm on a Thursday when they have the day off because they’re worried that if someone sees them they’ll think they have skipped work… and then that person will think it’s ok to skip work… so they better stay home.  They go out and have dinner and think about ordering wine or a dessert… but somewhere in the room there might someone who struggles with alcohol or overeating and their glass of wine or cheesecake might push them over the edge… so they only have a salad and drink water.  An invitation comes to somewhere they want to go, but they are absolutely burdened by the dichotomy of wanting to go, knowing it’s no big deal for them, but wondering if there is some person they’ve never met who might possibly stumble because of them.  They don’t actually know… but they always wonder if someone is watching them.  That, by definition, is paranoia.

Where does this come from?  It comes from a misunderstanding of Romans 14 which is all about being sensitive to other believers.  The main gist of the text can be found in verses 14-17, “…decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.  [14] I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. [15] For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.  By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. [16] So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. [17] For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”.

In other words, there’s nothing wrong with any food or any drink.  None of them are sinful in and of themselves.  But some people have a problem with different foods and drinks and therefore because we consider them more important than the food, we will love them by abstaining while around them.  The key word is “put”.

We should never make it our decision fully knowing we will cause another Christian to stumble – or worse, intentionally causing a brother or sister to stumble .  It is sin for us to go out of our way to flaunt our Christian liberties before our brothers and sisters who are struggling with that issue.  So we, out of love, don’t do whatever it is if because we have a knowledge that there is a brother or sister in Christ around whose walk with Jesus will be harmed by our actions.

But we shouldn’t invent imaginary people who might have a problem and therefore be bound by guilt, shame, and fear in everything we do, right?  And by the way — don’t let gossips and religious nit-picks ruin your Christian Liberty either.  Just because brother or sister so-in-so is going to tattle on you, or is going to have a fit… that doesn’t mean you can’t do it.  Chances are that they aren’t going to cause you grief because you are causing them to stumble, but because they are petty people who want to hurt you, embarrass you, control you, and make you as miserable as they are.  The thing is to be sensitive and loving in what you do, but also be free to enjoy the good things that which God has given you.

So, Halloween?  We must ask ourselves, “how does the way I’m going to do Halloween affect the consciences of those around me?”  What do I know will happen — because I’ve already talked to them and have a relationship with them — not inventing a bunch of scenarios in my head involving people that may or may not exist – with the more spiritually immature brothers and sisters and unbelievers who are around me when I do this?  Do I know that any of them stumble in their walk with Jesus because of how I’m conducting myself this Halloween?  Remember, that could mean going, or not going.  Maybe the issue is that you’re not going.  I’m not saying it is because I don’t know the people you know… but just consider it.

 

Question 3: Is what I’m doing showing people Jesus and giving glory to God?

And our final question comes from the last part of our passage in 1 Corinthians 10, “[31] So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. [32] Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, [33] just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.”

That’s the bottom line here.

Jesus said it like this in Matthew 5:13-16, “[13] “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.  [14] “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. [15] Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. [16] In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Last question: Is what I’m doing showing people Jesus and giving glory to God?  Can you say that of your actions – or your inactions?  I can’t answer that for you.  I want you to be as salty and bright as you possibly can for the sake of your soul and the kingdom of God.

I don’t want you to lose your saltiness because of a bunch of ungodly religious rules.  I also don’t want your lamp to be hidden under a basket of sin.  I want you to be able to add flavour to the place where you work, live, worship and play.  I want the people who see you to not see you… but instead see the light of Jesus reflecting through you.  I want your decisions to be based not on your own preferences and what would bring you the most pleasure, but on God’s will and what would bring Jesus the most glory.

We have an amazing God who has thrown open the gates of this world and will allow us to do so many wonderful things.  This world and the people in it are a gift.  We need to treat them that way – while at the same time recognizing that there will be temptations, and we must be sensitive and wise in our actions, because that pleases God.

So, what is your decision?  What will you do?  What does God desire of you in your context, at this time, among the people that you are with?  Seek God, ask Him, listen to Him and have peace in the knowledge that if you believe in Jesus today, then you are loved as a son or daughter, forgiven by the blood of our Saviour, and blessed to be a blessing to others.

Amen.

Own Your "Why?" – A Christian Response to Halloween

Posted on

Own Your “Why?”

Some time ago I came up with a phrase that I try to live by and give away as much as possible — “Own your ‘Why?'”  What it means is that when you do something (anything), make sure that you own up to your motives and reasons for doing it. Don’t try to fool yourself or anyone around you, but move forward with a defense for why it’s okay with God.  Think through the consequences.  “Own your ‘why?”

There are a lot of questions that we don’t ask ourselves. Too often we do things without thinking through why we are even doing them. And when challenged on these actions most can come up with any reason deeper than “It’s fun”, “I’ve always done this”, or “Everybody does it”. It’s not here yet, but it’s time to start thinking about a Christian response to Halloween.  So, to process Halloween, let me give you some questions to ask so you can “Own your ‘Why?”‘:

Why do I do what I do for Halloween?

— In what ways can we redeem something a day used to celebrate gluttony and our society’s disturbing fascination with gore, death and evil?

— Are you going to “trick or treat”?  Is it a fun way to get to know your neighbors, or just going door-to-door begging strangers for candy?

— Will you dress up? What is an appropriate, God-honouring costume? What are the limits you must set?

— Can you carve a pumpkin to show that “just like Jesus put a smile on our face and His light inside us, so we have done this to the pumpkin…”, or do we use it as a time to talk about the pagan foolhardiness of trying to ward off evil spirits with a carved up gourd?

— Is celebrating Halloween okay if everyone does the same thing but in a church? What if we dress up, eats lots of candy, carve pumpkins, and watch a G-rated Halloween movie… but we call it a “Harvest Party”?

— What place does the gospel have in Halloween?  How can you use this day to teach people more about salvation through Jesus Christ?

— Is it right to pass out food that’s both unhealthy and addictive in a country that is facing a childhood obesity problem?

— Is it right to avoid participating altogether, turn off your lights and hide in the basement until it’s over?  Is that a good “witness to your community”?

— If you give out healthy food or gospel tracts and your house gets egged, is that considered “suffering for the Lord”?

If one takes the side of being able to “Redeem Halloween”, then one might appreciate these links and ideas:

 

Here’s a couple resources to help you make your decisions:

 

Grafting Dead Branches on a Fruit Salad Tree

Posted on Updated on

image

I started today confused. How can God love mankind while at the same time have complete hatred for sinners? Aren’t they the same people? And how does ordain the use of sinful people and sinful situations to accomplish His perfect, holy will without He Himself being the cause of the sin.

The first place my devotional reading too me was the story of Jesus turning away people who wanted to follow Him (Luke 9:58-61). They seemed genuine to me, and yet Jesus, who tells everyone to follow Him turns them away. Why? And can you imagine a church doing what Jesus did that today?

I then read the story of Samson. He’s a prideful, violent, jerk who disobeys God his whole life, and yet continues to have the Spirit come upon him in great power. Why would God choose this guy? Can you imagine a church today putting Samson in charge of anything? I wouldn’t trust him to sweep the floors without killing everyone in the room with the broom.

Then I read Matthew 12 which had a prophecy from Isaiah speaking about how Jesus heals broken people. I thought, “Aha, there we go!” Except when I turned to read it in Isaiah I went to chapter 24 instead of 42. So instead of reading about our Lord who “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out”, I read “See, the Lord is going to lay waste the earth and devastate it; he will ruin its face and scatter its inhabitants…“. Wow! Can this be the same person? Can you imagine a church today with this text carved into the communion table, or hanging on a tapestry on the wall?

With my thumbs in my eyes I prayed, “Lord, what do you want me to learn about you from all this?” And I turned to read the next place my bookmark was – Romans 11:11-24, and the answer seemed to be this:

“Al, I’m able to graft together things that don’t belong together. I’m able to make life from branches that are dead. I can take a branch from the pile that everyone else would burn and graft it onto a tree that isn’t even of its own kind, and make it produce fruit. I will bring glory to Myself in ways that you do not understand, and build disciples by doing things that you would never do. Trust me, I know what I’m doing, even when you don’t.”

Then I reread Psalm 25 which begins: “In you, Lord my God, I put my trust.”

What a lesson for me today.

I can trust God to do good in ways that I could never imagine, to accomplish His will in ways I wouldn’t even agree with, to build His church by means I would never pray for, and to sanctify me in a thousand ways I don’t even recognize. 

I learned today to trust God even more.

[Sidenote: Lesson 1 in Pastor Al’s guide to the Christian Faith (which isn’t a real book, but should be!) is — Do Your Devos!  It’s a powerful thing when the Spirit of God speaks through His Word.]

 

The Doctrine of the Trinity

Posted on

 

I love Wednesday nights at the church because we have been doing an “Ask The Pastor” time where people come and ask questions about life, church, theology, and everything else. Sometimes it feels more like ‘Stump the Pastor”, but I do my best to give a biblical, helpful and practical answer. It has certainly spurred me on to make sure that I am truly dependent on the Spirit of God and immersing myself in the Bible and good teaching.

 

This week, many questions came up that I didn’t have the time or equipment to be able to give a full answer to, and I thought I would use this forum to share a few resources so everyone can share in the fun and dig deeper into these important topics. Praise God for technology! What a wonderful time we live in. We don’t have to live racked with questions and doubt because there is good teaching and helpful resources literally at our fingertips!

 

First, here are some resources on:

 

The Doctrine Of The Trinity

 

The Shield of the Trinity is a diagram of the ...

— Desiring God has a great article by Matt Perman that explains the difficult parts of this doctrine.

 

— Right now RC Sproul at Ligonier Ministries is offering a free e-book pamphlet from his “Crucial Questions” series called “What is The Trinity”. I don’t know how long it will be available, so go get it quick!

 

— Here is a great post from Monergism that has tonnes of free resources including books, posts, and audio so you can better understand this important doctrine.

 

 

 

 

 

Inner Strength

Posted on


I know that video has been around for a while, but it still amazes me how amazing God made people. And this video is only scratching the surface — consider the intellectual, artistic and psychological feats we can attain! When He was designing us, it wasn’t so that we wouldn’t be able to understand or participate in His works, but so that we would be able to partner with Him in creative, ingenious, imaginative, powerful and unique ways. People really are awesome — by God’s design!

I’m also amazed by how tough God made us. Think about it — humans have the ability to live through some pretty crazy stuff.  Arctic cold, desert heat, lack of food, water, and shelter.  We have lived through physical and emotional trauma, war, pestilence, grief and torture.  We can live under an oppressive regime, or in anarchistic freedom.  Yes, if there is one thing that we can do… it’s endure.  Movies are made about this stuff. Check out this series of articles by New Scientist called “Maxed Out: Testing Humans to Destruction”.

I believe that people can endure a lot of suffering from external sources if they have internal strength.  That’s the key.  It takes inner strength to perform extreme stunts, face intense trauma, and live to tell about it.  Once our inner strength is lost, we fall.  Once fear is given into, hope is abandoned or loneliness takes hold, a person can’t take very much at all — they crumble.

God has been working in my heart over the past while regarding the importance of my dependence on Him and His strength.  It’s a simple lesson, but profound.  If I don’t have the hand of God on my life, and don’t keep coming to Him for wisdom, energy, direction, guidance and spiritual sensitivity, then I will be powerless.  He has let me know, in a very personal way, what life with Him and without Him looks like — what a life with inner strength and without looks like.  And let me tell you that life without Him is horrible.

Brother Lawrence

That’s the lesson God is teaching me, and which I am passing on to you.  What is happening on my outsides, be it success or failure, pleasure or pain, gain or loss, isn’t nearly as important as what is happening on my insides.  I believe He gave me a taste of what life is like without His strength so that I would be desperate and needful of Him, and then be able to pass this along to you.  I pray you never have to go through that experience.

We MUST come to Him daily, hourly, minute by minute.  We must practice His presence, and our dependence on Him. (Here’s a link to a free classic Christian book called “Practicing the Presence of God” which I highly recommend.)

Remember the words of Ephesians 6:10-13:

“…be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

RC Sproul on Predestination

Posted on

I’ll admit it — I have a man-crush on RC Sproul. What an awesome teacher! Last week RC took on a favourite hot-topic among Christians – predestination. Every time I have an Ask The Pastor night this question comes up over and over. It is clearly close to people’s hearts and people want a good answer. Maybe you avoid the issue because you think there isn’t a good answer. I believe everyone needs to understand the doctrine of predestination and I  want to point you at the best teacher I know who can explain it.

In RC’s words:

“The doctrine of Predestination is so profoundly important to the complete perspectives that we have, in terms of our relationship to God and to our salvation, that it would be a matter of wicked neglect to ignore or to denigrate in any way the importance of this doctrine.”

1. The Inevitable Question – “Would it be an exaggeration to say that the doctrine of predestination is at the core of the Christian faith?”

2. What is Predestination? – “With all of the disagreement and controversy surrounding predestination in the church, is there common ground on which we can all stand together?”

3. The Golden Chain – “How many weak links do you need before the chain breaks? Dr. Sproul exposes the weak link in the “Golden Chain” of the prescient view of predestination.”

4. The Divine Choice – “Why are you a Christian? Is it because you chose to be one? Where was God in that decision? Dr. Sproul discusses the basis upon which God chooses.”

Mega-Churches & Jealous Prayers

Posted on


I watched this video again (more here) and it reminded me of my struggle with jealousy. I am a writer and a pastor, so this video hits me on both sides.  Jon Acuff, who is a successful Christian author, is talking to Ed Stetzer talks about his struggles with envying other authors, and Stetzer talks about “Ministry Pornography”, which is a way of describing a pastor/minister’s struggle with being content in their own church in a world of mega-churches and rock-star preachers. I know I have struggled with both of those. And without even noticing, it effected my prayer life.

My prayers used to sound like this:

“Lord, I’m okay where I am, and thank you for the church I serve… but if you want to grow the church to 6000 that’d be okay too. I love writing, and I’m happy if you help just one person with what I’ve written… but if you want to give me a million readers, a national best seller, and have me speak at conferences, that’ll be okay too.  Actually Lord, what’s wrong with the way I’m doing things? It’s all for your name! Father, send revival! Reveal to me the secret of having this kind of influence and success so more people can be saved. In your name, Amen.”

Have you ever prayed that way? I really believed I was being sincere, but in truth I was saying “Lord, I want influence, and I’m not satisfied with where you put me. I want a big church because I want to feel successful. I doubt myself, my call to ministry, and even your love for me sometimes, but I wouldn’t have those doubts if the church was bigger. I don’t like the way you define success, I want you to define it my way. Actually, I don’t really want revival for your name, I just want people to know my name.”

God doesn’t answer prayers like that.

Praise God that he has been working on my heart, and recently my prayers sound more like this:

“Lord, thank you for these amazing authors, pastors and churches who do so much for your kingdom! They are impacting their community, country, and even the world for your sake. They make great resources that I could never come up with myself. They answer questions on video and in books far better than I ever could, and I learn from them all the time. They make so many tools that make my life and ministry easier. Thank you for them!  In truth, I have no idea what they are going through in their private life, but I’m sure that with that kind of influence comes some incredible spiritual attacks — Lord, protect them. They tell stories of the kind of heartache they get to see on a regular basis — things I have never seen, and don’t even know if I could deal with — Lord, grant them grace and wisdom. Every word they speak seems to come under criticism from somewhere — Lord, encourage them. I’ve watched some of them burn-out because of their passion and crazy schedule–Lord, touch them. In Jesus name, Amen.”

Maybe you’re not a pastor, but I would imagine that you know how it feels to envy someone for their possessions or influence. Ask God to change your prayers from selfish to thankful? I have found that the more I thank God, the less envy I feel.

Male Eldership

Posted on

 

There’s some confusion among Christians regarding male Eldership and the role of women in the church.  This is a concern to me because it can easily become a divisive topic if it’s not clearly communicated and carefully (and humbly) studied.  I want everyone to understand what God says about the different roles of men and women in the family, the church, and society in general, so I’ve done some research to point you to the clearest, most concise, biblical teaching I can.

Here’s my own sermon on the topic: “Women In the Church (From “They Like Jesus but Not The Church” Series)

– Why Can’t Women be Elders? (by Bill Kynes)

Complimentari-What? (by Justin Holcomb)

– Should Women Become Pastors? (by John Piper)

  The Qualifications of Elders and Deacons (by Matt Perman)

I’m a Complementarian But… (by Thabiti Anyawbwile)

Why Do the New Calvinists Insist On Complimentarianism? (by Kevin DeYoung)

 

Picking It Up & Putting It Down

Posted on

 

I feel some of you may need to hear the advice I recently gave a friend who is going through a tough time:

 

“Sometimes we feel bad after praying that God would take our burdens and then picking them back up again after we say “amen”.  We think that there might be a limit on the times we can release our pain to Him and retract it, absorbing back into ourselves. There isn’t.  He will let us put it down and pick it up as many times as it takes until we are ready to walk away without it.  Just remember to keep putting it down.”

Here’s a powerful song by Kathryn Scott that brings me encouragement during these times:

 

Christian Meditation: Stopping & Listening

Posted on Updated on

Meditation is a multifaceted and religiously loaded term.  There are many Christians today who shy away from practicing  meditation because they aren’t sure that it’s “allowed”.  Let me assure you it is, and it is the key to developing a deep life and focus on God’s priorities for you.

Christian meditation only has two components:  Stopping and Listening.  Other religions have meditation as a religious practice, particularly eastern religions, but for them, meditation is designed to purge all thought, desire and will – it is to empty themselves.  Christian meditation is not an emptying … but a filling of ourselves with God.  In Christian meditation we focus on our obedience and faithfulness to God and the person of Jesus Christ.

First, let’s talk about Stopping.

For some of you that period of silence we just had before I came up was refreshing, for others it was annoying, and maybe even agonizing.  Take a second and think: What was going through your mind?  Godly thoughts?  What was your body doing?  Were you at peace, or were you keyed up?  Some of you are so tired that if there is no sound or activity, you will just fall asleep.  For those of you who are staying awake with me, let me ask you about your feelings about “stopping”.  How do you see stopping?  Is it a sin?  Are stopped people, lazy people?  What emotion does the word “stop” conjure up?

Christian Psychologist Carl Jung said,

“Hurry is not of the devil; it is the devil.”

Why?  Because when we don’t stop, we cannot listen to God, love our neighbour, serve the church, or worship properly.  We must make the time to stop.  It is the first step in meditation.

Hurry Sickness

John Ortburg, in his book “The Life You’ve Always Wanted” talks about  “Hurry Sickness”, and he gives a few symptoms of people who are “hurry sick.”  Let me ask you to identify any of these in your own life, because if you have “hurry sickness”, then you will not stop.  And if you will not stop, you cannot meditate.  And if you cannot meditate, you will not deepen yourself, or hear the voice of God.

The First symptom is “Constantly Speeding up Daily Activities”.  Do you find that everything in your life is a race because you are plagued by the fear that there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done?  Do you read fast, talk fast, and keep nodding so the other person will speed up their talking?  Do you find yourself being anxious about which line to stand in at the store, or what lane to be in when driving?  Do you ever find yourself rushing around, even when there’s no need to?  You’re just so used to going at 110% that you can’t stop.  Do you find yourself making up pretend races with your kids or loved ones so that you can get them out of the way at the end of the day?  People do this.  They tell their kids to race through brushing their teeth, and taking a bath, and then race through reading them a book… because they need to get them to bed.  Married couples race through dates and even sex so they can get through it so they can do something else.  Are you always speeding things up?

The Second symptom Hurry Sickness is “Relentless Multi-Tasking”.  Do you find yourself unsatisfied, or even feel guilty, if you are only doing one thing at a time?  Some people do.  They can’t just read.  They have to read with music, and the news on, with the computer on in the background, while sitting next to someone having a conversation.  Some people can’t just sit outside and have a coffee… they have to bring a crossword puzzle, or a grocery list, or something else… because somehow just sitting there with a coffee is somehow a sin.  Some people can’t let the phone ring… they have to answer it.  Do you always have to multi-task?

 Third, “Clutter”.  A hurry sick person cannot fathom simplicity.  They have every time-saving gadget in the world, and ten things strapped to their belt, and in their backpack.  Their closets and bedrooms are stuffed to the brim with things they never use or wear, but will “get to later when they have time.”  Do you lead a cluttered existence?

 Fourth, “Superficiality”.  Richard Foster calls it “the curse of our age.”  Relationships are superficial because time is not given to deepen them.  Marriages break down because the depths of love are not plunged.  Spiritual life is superficial and unsatisfying, so people go to all kinds of sins and idols to fill their spiritual hunger.  So many people live their life on the surface, and have no idea that there is a depth to existence they will never see unless they stop, wait and listen.

The end result of hurry sickness becomes an inability to love.  This is the most serious danger of hurry sickness.  We race and run and live a superficial lives and we become jaded to love, and unable to love.  Why?  Because love and time are indelibly tied.  We cannot hurry and love.  Love takes time.

When we hurry, we lose our sense of gratitude, and our sense of wonder.  Carleton Place, and the Ottawa Valley are truly beautiful, but you won’t really experience its beauty if you whiz by in a plane or a car.  To really appreciate it you have to get out of the car and take a walk, go on one of the bike-paths, or sit in a park.  You’re spouse is wonderful, but you won’t fully experience that sense of wonder or gratitude to God for them unless you stop and truly experience them for a concentrated period of time.

Jesus knew how to stop.

And He did it often.  He had the most important mission in the history of the universe, and yet He took time to stop.

When Jesus heard about the beheading of His cousin John the Baptist he was in the middle of an itinerant preaching journey.  But he stopped.   Matthew 14:13, “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.”  But the crowds were relentlessly following him.  So Jesus teaches them for a time, miraculously feeds them and then dismisses them.  Now many of us would have went for a nap, or went with our friends somewhere, but Jesus sends His disciples away in a boat, and then stops again.   Verse 23 says, “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.”  Why didn’t Jesus get swept up in all the things we get swept into?  Because He stopped regularly to listen to God.

Before Jesus chose the disciples He stopped to listen to what God had to say.  Luke 6:12-13, “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.  When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.”   We get the impression from the Gospels that despite Jesus’ popularity, people coming to Him day and night, dealing with family matters, having to train the disciples, teaching, preaching, miracles, traveling, the Pharisees chasing him down, and all the rest, Jesus took time away to be with God.  If Jesus needed to do this… how much more do we?

Second, let’s talk about Listening

Not many people are good at this.  And it is certainly not something that is encouraged in our culture.   Richard Foster says,

“What happens in meditation is that we create the emotional and spiritual space which allows Christ to construct an inner sanctuary of the heart.”

Think of your inner life like a building that you have been working on for some time.  God started you with some materials to work with, your parents gave you pieces and tools to build more, hardships and life events added to the design, and so did your schooling and friends.  You have this inner house built up that represents every part of you.  But when you ask Jesus to take over your life, what you are doing is asking Him to rebuild your house.

When we stop and listen, what we are doing is giving God the time and focus to rebuild our house.  During our meditation time, God opens doors that we had locked and stuffed full of anger, bitterness, and pain.  He takes our favourite trophies down off of our shelves.  He points out the structural problems and weak designs we have incorporated into our house.  And He starts the process of rebuilding us.  And in our listening we have time to ask Him, “God, does that have to go?”  And we listen to when He says, “Yes.”  And we ask Him, “What parts of me need to be added?  What needs to be torn out?   What should be kept?”  And in our listening time God begins that work.

So often we love to go to others for this advice.  And there is certainly a place for that.  But if we really believe that we live in a universe created by a personal God who loves us and still speaks to this day, then we must listen to Him.

How to Listen to God

There are many ways that we can listen to God, but let me tell you the two most helpful that I’ve found.

First is listening to scripture.  Open the bible and read it as though it was written to you.  Now, I don’t mean bible study.  I mean just take a bible, without study notes, and meditate on one part.  Maybe one section, or one verse, or even one word, and let God speak to you about it.  Use your imagination to put yourself in the place of Elijah by the stream, or Paul on the road, or become one of the throngs of people listening to Jesus on the mountainside.  What do you hear, see, sense, feel?  Meditate on scripture and let God speak to you through it.

Next, just get quiet.  Take a period of time and just turn everything off and listen.  Indoors, outdoors, wherever.  Don’t pray, or talk, or read, or listen to music, or bring a friend… just listen.  If you’ve never done this, it’s going to be really hard.   Try it for 1 minute.  Then 5 minutes.  Then 15 minutes.  Then half an hour.  Don’t feel guilty if your mind is racing and you can’t focus.

Once you get to the 10 or 15 minute mark, grab a piece of paper and a pen, and then go find someplace to just listen.  If something comes to mind that you need to do… write it down.  I have to do laundry… write it down.  I have to talk to someone… write it down.  I should pick up frozen corn next time I go to the grocery store… write it down.  Get it all out on paper and just listen.  If you don’t write it down then you’re going to keep hearing the same thing over and over.  Eventually your brain will stop coming up with distractions and you will be able to listen for God’s voice.  If and when He speaks… write it down.

And then go check out what you’ve been listening to with the Bible and another Christian friend/Pastor.  Simply say, “This is what I’ve been hearing from God and what I believe He’s saying… what do you think?”  That will help you from being deceived, and will keep you accountable.

What do you need to do this week to get started?

 1. Ask for the desire to listen.  The ability and desire to meditate is a gift from God.  Begin by asking Him for the want to and gumption to actually do it.  This is certainly a prayer He will answer.  God loves to give us gifts that bring us closer to Him.

2. Slow Down and Stop.  Deliberately do things that make you practice waiting.  Drive in the slow lane for a month.  Get in the long line at the grocery store.  And then find ways to stop.  Declare an electronics free day, or week.  No ipod, no tv, no cell phone after work, no computer after work.

3. Make Space.  Set a time in your calendar that will be a meditation day for you.  A couple of hours, or a whole day where you will just go and be alone and listen.  Tell people that you’re going, and set the date.  Then find a spot to be alone.  Not the mall, or the coffee shop, or the gym.  How about the park, or a place by the Ottawa river, or alone in your room?  And don’t take anything!  Nothing.  Nothing.  Nope, not that either!  Ortburg says,

“Solitude is the one place where we can gain freedom from the forces of society that will otherwise relentlessly mould us.”

Who do you want to mould you, society, or God?

Don’t get worked up if this is hard for a while.  No one can do this perfectly.  But God honours those who seek Him… He promises we will find Him.

The Story of Robin

Posted on

I spoke on Meditation this week, beginning with a story of a man named Robin.  Do you see yourself in his story?

 

Robin wakes up once again to the beeping of the alarm clock, and hits snooze one more to see if he can squeeze out nine more minutes of sleep from his morning.  He didn’t go to bed until well after midnight last night, and hasn’t gotten more than 6 hours of sleep any night in the past week…

As the alarm goes off again he looks at the time.  Great, now he’s going to be late.  He jumps in the shower, thankful that he has the special 2-in-1 shampoo, so he doesn’t have to take all that important time up having to use two bottles.  He runs into his bedroom and tries to find something to wear in the disaster he calls a closet.  He finally just grabs the clothes he wore yesterday, gives them a quick sniff, throws them on and bolts out the door, skids into the kitchen, grabs a banana and a granola bar, and prays that God will miraculously open up the traffic the way He did the water for Moses at the Red Sea.

He gets in the car, and hears that familiar “ding!” that reminds him that something is wrong with the car… but he doesn’t have time to worry about that right now.  As he’s pulling out of the driveway, there’s another “ding!”, and he sees that he’s out of gas.  He doesn’t have time for that either, so he prays that God will miraculously keep his tank full enough so he can get to work.

On the way to work Robin dodges in and out of traffic, weaving from lane to lane, cursing the transport trucks and anyone who gets in his way.  His mind flies through every map he’s ever seen of Ottawa, wondering if there is a route to take that would shave valuable minutes off of his commute.  He mentally reminds himself to check the map later… he’d write himself a note, but he’d probably crash if he looked down to find a pen.

He pulls into work, and gets through the door with seconds to spare.  He throws his banana into his locker and walks straight into doing his job.

When lunch time comes, Robin goes through is daily routine of grabbing a coffee, checking his e-mail, updating his Facebook status, looking at sports scores, and looks over the paper in the break room.  Then in walks Phil… or is it Paul… whatever, it doesn’t matter.  He starts with “Hey Robin, how’s it goin’?”  “Oh, great”, Robin thinks, “he wants to chat.”  Robin pretends to be busy doing something, and asks “What do you need… uh, man… I’m right in the middle of something.”   “Oh, sorry!” is the reply, “I’ll leave you alone.”  And he walks back out the door.

After dodging that bullet, Robin decides he really does need to get back to work.  The end of the day comes and Robin wonders if he’s done enough… if not he’ll just put in some overtime later to catch up.

On the way to the car a catastrophic thought strikes Robin’s already very tired mind.  “Oh no… it’s Jane’s birthday tonight!”  Now he’s torn.  He’s tired and doesn’t want to go.  He probably should, seeing as it’s his sister, but he didn’t have time to get a gift, and he’s already looking at a list of things to do at home.  All he’s had to eat today is a banana, 5 coffees, and some Timbits someone brought into work, so he’s hungry… and no one likes someone comes to a party hungry and eats all the food.  His clothes don’t smell right, and if he went home to shower and change, he’d probably be late.  Jane probably won’t mind if he misses the party… although he did miss last year’s too.  But he sent her a really nice e-card a couple days later.

And Robin is getting upset again… “Jane is always asking for things like this.  It’s always about her.  Doesn’t she know I have things to do?”  And Robin decides there and then not to go.  So he quickly texts Jane with an apology and says they’ll catch up later.

When he gets in the car Robin hears “Ding!”  and then “Ding!”.  And his head hits the steering wheel, when he realizes that he’s going to have to stop for gas.  The first “ding!” will have to wait another day.

As Robin pulls into the gas station his phone vibrates with another e-mail.  He pulls off the gas cap, shoves the pump into the car, and gets to work replying to the message.  But the longer he stands there, the more impatient he gets.  “Don’t they have the technology to make gas pumps any faster?  They can put a man on the moon, but they need to me to stand here for this long to put gas in my tank?”  “Click!” goes the pump, Robin hangs it up, and rushes into the store, still trying to finish the e-mail on his phone.

But there are two lines in the store.  Robin quickly sizes up the lines.  Who has their wallet out?  That guy’s got chips and a pop which will take longer.  So he picks his line… but keeps looking up from his phone to see if the other line is moving faster so he could jump into it if need be.

After waiting an agonizing 5 minutes he finally pays for his gas, runs to the car, fires it up, hears the familiar “Ding!” and speeds away… leaving the gas cap on top of the car, and the little gas-door open.

As he’s shoulder checking to see how narrowly he can cut someone off, he notices the open gas door and lets out a couple of swear words.  Now he’s going to have to go all the way back to the gas station!  Robin is angry again.

On the way back his phone rings.  “Hi Robin, it’s Paul.”  “Yeah, what?”, Robin barks.  “Robin, I think we need to have a chat.  Can I come over tonight?”

“Oh, I don’t know Paul… I’ve got a lot do to.”  Robin replies.

“Ok, well, give me a call sometime when you’re free.” Paul replies.

Robin goes home, and now it’s getting late.  He heats up some leftovers for dinner, leaves the dishes sitting on the counter, checks his e-mail again, updates his Facebook, sits down in his chair and flicks on the TV.  A passing thought rolls through his mind… “Maybe I should go to the party.”  But he puts it away.  Another thought… “Well, maybe I could call Paul.”  But he puts that one away too.  “I still have to do some grocery shopping.”  But he’s too tired.  “Maybe I could read some bible before bed.”  But he puts that thoughts aside too with the conclusion that he’s too tired to concentrate on it anyway.  Now he feels tired and guilty.

After too much time in front of the TV watching nothing-in-particular, it’s late again.  Too late.  He’s going to pay for this tomorrow.  Robin groans and slumps off to bed.  Before his eyes close, Robin prays to God in his mind, “God, I sure wish I knew you better.  I wish I had some more friends.  I’m sorry for getting upset so much today… and yesterday.  God, please take care of my mom…” and before he has time to finish that sentence he’s asleep.

 

Do you see yourself in that story?  What would you say to Robin?  Would you call him a deep person?  A friendly person?  A focused person?  What will his life look like in 5 years?

I'm Angry with my Toothpaste

Posted on

Oh toothpaste, how you have let me down! You promise so many things! In your TV commercials you tell me that no person can respect, love or enjoy the company of someone without shiny, white teeth. You tell me that the reason that I’m not successful in life is because my choppers are too dull. You say that if my bicuspids were whiter, I’d smile more often, be more popular and have a more positive attitude towards life.

And it’s not just the positive hopes that have imprisoned me in your diabolical trap, but also the fearsome negatives… those scary promises that you and your cohorts with the drills have pounded into my brain since the days of my youth. My enamel will never, EVER grow back!  Drinking pop or coffee may as well be drinking battery acid!  If I forget to brush before I sleep, when I wake, after I eat, or snack, or chew too much… I could contract all sorts of terrible, fatal diseases like tartar buildup, halitosis, bleeding gums, heart disease, arthritis, or even cancer!!!

“BUT NEVER FEAR!”, you say, “I, TOOTHPASTE, will make it all better!”

And I try to follow your ways!  I try to keep up with this maniacally strict regimen of brush-rinse-floss-rinse-pick-swirl-massage-rinse-repeat, but FORGIVE ME TOOTHPASTE for I have sinned — it has been 12 hours since my last brushing!  Cleanse me of my filmy iniquity, wash me from the foul odor of last night’s garlic pizza.

I live in a world which is more concerned with my dental color and oral freshness than my talents, skills or personality qualities — so I need you.  I need you to make me right with the world.  I need you because there’s an outside chance that my wife and children may knock me out and leave me for dead on the side of the road if I wake up with dragon-breath one more time…

But alas, and to the shame of my family and kin, I have been using an older brand of toothpaste; one not fit for today’s diabolical dental attacks.  And so I have given my offering unto another, better, NEWER toothpaste!  It’s got baking soda. It’s got peroxide. It’s got ultra-foaming-action. It whitens, brightens, lightens, heightens and frightens plaque away.

And I brush.  Two times a day I brush. Yea, verily, three times daily do I brush.  Surely the wondrous technology captured within the chemicals of this intoxicatingly minty-mixture will overcome my shortfalls.  Surely this seven dollar tube of menthol flavored miracle juice will make my life better. Surely the science behind this cool-blue gel will finally bring me everything I’ve ever wanted: success, fame, fortune, the adulation of an adoring public, respect, a secure home, a blissful, pain-free existence!  Surely this is the missing link, the key to everything that I’ve ever hoped for!

But alas no. It has been two months now and I have no more fortune, success or adulation than I did before.  And so I have turned my wrath unto the giver of the great promises… my toothpaste.  I am angry with my toothpaste.  It has let me down.

But I saw a commercial last night for something called “botox” and those people were pretty happy… hmm…

The Complexity of Christianity

Posted on

candle serenity
(Photo credit: Phil Dowsing Creative)

I was invited for an “Ask The Pastor” night last week and brought along this handout I’d been working on.  I sat in front of the white board and asked myself “If I am going to help the people in this church grow as Christians, then what does a fully functional disciple of Jesus look like?”  And I started to write.  And write.  And write.  And came up with something so complicated it almost made me cry.  No wonder many ministers are tearing their hair out trying to simplify their church’s discipleship process.

I’d love some feedback on this:

Simple Discipleship?

A Fully Functional Disciple of Jesus…

 …Needs…

Emotional Support

Financial Support

Help with Family Issues

A Place to “Be Real”

Excellent, Uplifting, Moving Spiritual Experiences

Friends, Confidants, Brothers and Sisters

A Place to Serve with their gifts Meaningfully

A Places to Escape Pain

To be Challenged

Accountability to an “Equal”

Accountability to Someone in Authority

Clear Boundaries

Freedom to Make Mistakes

To Know their Purpose and Worth

To Experience God’s Touch

…Knows…

Soteriology: Study of Salvation

Apologetics: Defending the Faith

Hermeneutics: How to Study the Bible

Systematic Theology: Truths about God

Homiletics: How to Apply the Bible to Life

Sacraments: Communion and Baptism

Eschatology: End Times, Heaven, Hell

Pneumatology: The Holy Spirit, Spiritual Gifts

Christology: The Life of Christ

World Religions: Cults and Other Faiths

Evangelism: How to Share Your Faith

Creationism: How Everything Came to Be

Ecclesiology: How the Church Functions

Church Discipline: Confrontational and Corrective Measures in the Church

Spiritual Disciplines: Methods to Grow Deeper

Missiology: God’s Work in the World

…Does…

Mercy: Acts of Kindness

Forgiveness: Asking and Giving

Peacemaking: In Life, For Others

Giving: Tithing and Generosity

Service: God, Church, World

Encourages: Mentoring, Discipline

Submits: God, Authority, Others

Studies: See “Knows”

Prays: Private and Corporate

Suffers Well: Rejoicing Always

Worships: Lifestyle of Worship

Attends: Shows up to Learn, Work

Grows: Pursues Christlikeness

Sacraments: Baptism/Communion

What do you think?  Did I miss any?  Why is this so complicated?  Or is it?

De-Trivializing Our World

Posted on

A Trivial Pursuit playing piece, with all six ...Did you know…

… a cluster of bananas is called a hand and consists of 10 to 20 bananas, which are known as fingers.
… C3P0 is the first character to speak in Star Wars.
… the most abundant metal in the Earth’s crust is aluminum.
… there are 1189 chapters in the Bible: 929 chapters in the Old Testament and 260 chapters in the New Testament.

I’m good at trivia. Actually, I’m really good at trivia. There’s a standing rule in my house that we don’t buy or play board games that trivia questions because it’s just not fair. [Of course there’s also a standing rule that we’re not allowed to play ‘Go Fish’ any more either, but that’s a different story… “WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON’T HAVE ANY THREES??? LET’S TAKE THIS OUTSIDE, SUCKA!!!”]

As much as I love trivia, I’m worried that the important things in the world are losing their meaning and becoming an amalgamation of mere trivia and statistics. Conversations about the most critical issues on the planet seem to carry a parallel importance with the most inane.  I know men who are as passionate about sports as they are about their faith, women who are as committed to their “stories” as they are to their daily Bible reading, students who are more interested in the score on their last test than they are about how minority groups are treated in their school, others who know more about pop-culture icons than they do about their next door neighbor, world history or current events.