Christian Church

Christian Integrity: Keep Your Vows

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Here’s the Audio for this sermon:

For the past while we’ve been studying the characteristics of a person and a Christian of integrity. We’re asking the question, “what does it mean to look and act like a Christian, and a Christian church?” It all starts with the first verse, the question that is asked at the of the list, “LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” In other words, what do the people of God look like? What does a believer act like?

Let’s read the rest of the Psalm together. I’m reading from the ESV now.

“He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; in whose yes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.”

Quick Review

What we see in Psalm 15 are some very important words that describe what Christian Integrity looks like. We all want to be – we want our children to be – people of Christian integrity. We want to work with, compete against, and have friends who have integrity. But what does that look like? Psalm 15 tells us 5 critical things that we need to have in order to say that we have integrity. These are perfectly shown in the life of Jesus, who is our model for life.

If we are to be his people, then we must always be Truthful (we tell the truth all the time), Loving (we love all people and never discriminate based on outward differences), Honouring (we reject hypocrisy and hypocrites, but honour people who are working out their faith every day), we are Trustworthy (we never break our promises) and we are Generous (we use our money well). This week we are looking at the second part of verse 4 where it says that a man or woman of God, “…swears to his own hurt and does not change;”. I like the NIV translation of this verse which says, “…who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind;” or the New Living Translation which says, “…and keep[s] their promises even when it hurts.”

A Multivitamin Psalm

I’m amazed that this short psalm is so encompassing. It’s like a multivitamin — small, but full of important things we need to live. And in a way it’s also like a multivitamin because if we let it get inside us, it can do well, but sometimes chewing on it can taste pretty bitter. Psalm 15 covers our everyday actions (what we do), the motivations of our heart (why we do what we do), the importance of how we use our words, how we treat believers and non-believers, how to protect our reputations, and how we use our money. You can’t live on multivitamins though, which is why we are going to the rest of scripture to get a balanced diet – to help us understand more about what’s going on and how we can obey God’s word.

Divided in Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength

Integrity is rooted deep in the heart of all believers. To have integrity means being a whole Christian – worshipping and serving God all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind and all our strength (Mark 12:30). Not just our minds, or just our hands. It means not being divided between two things – ourselves and God, or the world and God. It means not being split in our hearts, which causes us a lot of grief.

If you are a believer, then I’m sure you’ve felt this. You are faced with a choice, and the pulling in your heart begins. You love God, but you also feel emotionally attached to something else… or you know that obeying God means you will feel bad for a little while, or lose a friend, or look bad in front of people. And so your heart is divided.

Or you feel a division in your soul. Part of you wants to pray, but the other part wants to pretend God doesn’t exist – to watch TV, sleep, read a favourite book. Every time you are tempted to sin, you feel that division in your soul – part wanting to obey God, part wanting to reclaim your soul to yourself, to give it back over to the devil so you can experience some worldly pleasure. And it causes you pain because you have a divided soul.

Or you have a divided mind. Your thought-life sometimes feels like a game of racquetball, your thoughts bouncing around from worship songs to sexual sin, from bible verses to jealousy and bitterness, from love to fear and worry. You want to devote yourself fully to God, but moments later you are fanaticizing about what you could do if you won the lottery. Right in the middle of a time of prayer you start to make a grocery list. A divided mind, and it causes you to feel guilty and frustrated.

Or divided strength. The same hands you used to help someone, that you raised in worship, that turn the pages of your bible, that hug your children, within hours are used in private sin. The natural talent you have allows you to worship God in a special way, but it is also a way to elevate yourself above others so you can feel superior to them.

Everyone feels this. Not one person in this world has perfect integrity. Not even the most dedicated monk, living in the most distant monastery thinks about God all the time. Not even the Apostle Paul could! Listen to him wrestling in Romans 7, the same way each of us does:

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. 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?” (Romans 7:15-24, ESV)

Jesus as Our Model and Strength

Paul is caught up in the same spiritual warfare as we are, daily battling our fleshly/worldly desires and our spiritual ones. Who will save us from this body that wants to eat spiritual death, walk the path of death, enjoy spiritually dead things, revel in demonic, hell-spawned sin, hang around spiritually dead people? Who can save us from this divided heart?

We can’t save ourselves. Paul answers the question this way in verse 25, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” What is required to save us from this divided heart, this “body of death”, is that someone live a perfect life, be a perfect model, and then go through death, be killed, and then destroy death by rising from the dead! Who can kill death? Who can save us from this body of death? The one who destroyed death once and for all, Jesus Christ!

In other words, when God saved us, we became His people. As Psalm 15 says, we “dwell in his sanctuary”, we “live on his holy hill.” He saved us. He adopted us into his family and since we are his, we have access to the same privileges as Jesus Christ. We are not alone in the struggle for integrity. We have the Holy Spirit inside of us, convicting us of sin, reminding us of our hope, showing us our Father, giving us new wants and desires. And when we listen to Him, we will have what is needed to combat our divided hearts.

Stay Close to Jesus!

This is why every mature believer since the beginning of time has said the same thing over and over – it has not changed!

Stay Close to the Word of God: Read, study and meditate on the Word of God. If you want to live a wise life, go to the source of all wisdom. If you want to be like Jesus, read about Jesus.

Stay close to Jesus: Talk to Him all the time – be in prayer in the morning, the afternoon, the evening, about all things. If you want to be protected, strengthened and encouraged, stay close to Jesus.

Stay around Jesus’ People: Love and be loved by other believers. Serve and be served by other believers. Don’t try to draw strength from hypocrites, unbelievers, and people who play for Satan’s team. Lean on your Christian friends and Elders in the church.

It hasn’t changed for millennia!

This is what God said to Adam and Eve – Listen to my word, stay close to me, take care of each other.

This is what God said to Israel – Listen to my word, stay close to me, take care of each other.

This is what God said to every prophet – Tell them my word, tell them to draw close to me, tell them to start taking care of each other.

This is what Jesus told Paul and Peter and James and John to write to His churches – Tell them to stay in my word, tell them to stay close to me, tell them to take care of each other.

And that’s what Jesus came to do for us and to model for us – Jesus perfectly obeyed God’s word, Jesus was in perfect union with God, Jesus cared so deeply for people that He gave His life for them.

And He gives us access to His Spirit when we obey Him!

God Makes Promises and Keeps Them

Using this as our stepping off point, let’s talk for a little bit about this idea of being trustworthy and how our ability and desire to be trustworthy comes from God. God has made a lot of promises and it would be counter to His very nature, since He is God and can do anything, to break a promise. He can always keep His promises because of who He is.

Listen to some of these:

  • 1 Corinthians 10:13, “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:3, “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.”
  • John 10:28-29, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”
  • John 14:3, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
  • (And my favourite verses) Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”
  • (And perhaps the most comforting promise) 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

We live and die by the promises of God. We believe that He will follow through on them. He is not a liar. He does not go back on His word.  Whether we realize it or not, when Christians are in trouble, we echo the words of Psalm 119:154, “Plead my cause and redeem me; give me life according to your promise!” When we worship God, foremost on our minds are his promises, like in verse 162, “I rejoice at your word [“promise” NIV] like one who finds great spoil.” When we read and remember all of the promises He has given us, and his ability to follow through, it’s like looking over a vast treasure. They are our sure inheritance.

Keep Your Vows

And so what God is concerned about here in Psalm 15 is our reputation for being like Him, like one of his people – to be trustworthy. What we say is always what we do. A person of integrity doesn’t break their promises. We are not liars. My ESV Study bible says this, “Vows must be kept because God keeps his promises and desires that his people imitate his moral character.” Therefore God takes what we say very seriously.

And if you made a vow to God, it was very serious business. Listen to part of the Law from Deuteronomy 23:21-23,

“If you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the LORD your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin. But if you refrain from vowing, you will not be guilty of sin. You shall be careful to do what has passed your lips, for you have voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God what you have promised with your mouth.”

Remember the vow of Jephthah from the book of Judges. He was facing down an enemy army, and even though God had already promised Him the victory, He panicked and made a rash vow to God that if God let him win, when he returned from battle, anyone or anything that came through the door of his house would be offered as a sacrificed. Of course God kept His word and Jephtheh won the battle, but the one who came through the door was his daughter. And He dedicated her the service of God and that she would never marry, ending his own bloodline. His life is a lesson in rash vows.

A person must be careful with what they say, especially to God. And when they do make a promise, they need to fulfill it quickly, and no delay. Why? Because God will hold everyone accountable to their actions, and to their promises. Even the rash and foolish ones. He wants to teach us that words matter.

Turn to Ecclesiastes 5:2-7 and read another warning,

“Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words. When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.”

Scripture teaches us that we need to be careful with our worship, our prayers our words, and our promises when coming before God. God will hold us accountable to these things. He says that it is the fool who comes before God with many words, and many promises, but doesn’t keep them.

In verse 6 we see the messenger coming to collect on the vow and the person who made the vow saying, “Oh no… I didn’t mean it. It was a mistake. I was just in the moment. I didn’t mean to. That was just part of the song I sang. I was desperate. I was afraid. I was caught up in emotion.” And God still holds them accountable.

Proverbs is right when it says in 20:25 says, “It is a trap for a man to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider his vows.”

Vows Today?

Now, just so we don’t think this is an academic exercise that only applies to ancient Israel, let’s ask the question: Can this happen today? We don’t make blood sacrifices any more, and I can’t remember the last time I took an ephah of grain to a temple because I needed a new set of oxen, so can we make a vow before God today?

I believe we can, but it’s different for us, because I believe that God takes what Christians say today even more seriously.

You’ve probably heard people say, “I swear to God!” “I swear on my mother!” “I swear on the Bible!” People did that back then too. They used to swear by all sorts of things: By earth, heaven, the temple, the alter sacrifices, the gold in the temple… but like good Pharisees, they had all these little rules about it.

In Matthew 23:16-21 Jesus looks at the Pharisees and teachers and talks about this very thing. He says,

“Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.”

His point is that everything is God’s so no matter what you are swearing by, it is all holy! You are accountable for all your words and vows, no matter what you swear on, because everything God has done is sacred. Even the hairs on your head belong to God. You can’t even swear by your own head, because you are not your own! Therefore, all vows are holy and need to be kept.

A Higher Standard

But Jesus went even farther. In the Sermon on the Mount we read Jesus talking to His followers about being trustworthy and careful with our words. And, as Jesus always does, He pushes beyond the Old Testament Law. Turn to Matthew 5:33-37.

“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

He said to His followers that they need to be so well known for their trustworthiness that they don’t even need to make an oath or a vow. It should simply be… “Oh, that person’s a Christian? They follow Jesus? Well, then I can trust them because everything they say is true.”

People used to use these oaths, and vows, and pledges, to get around things. They tried to find loopholes and ways to get off the hook. “Oh, I vowed by the temple, and not the gold… so it doesn’t count.” “I vowed by the alter and not the sacrifice, so it doesn’t count and I don’t have to do it.”

Jesus always took the Old Testament Law and then raised it up to a higher standard. As one of my commentaries said, “Instead of letting people off the hook, he set the hook deeper. Jesus spoke about oaths in order to point out that they were not the main problem – integrity was. A liar’s vow expresses a worthless promise. But when a person of integrity says yes or no, that person’s simple word can be trusted.”

Anything Beyond…

I think what affects me the most is this verse in Matthew 5:37,

“Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

The first thing that grabs me is that this is supposed to be simple. And it really is. Just do what you say. When you say something, mean it. When you say you’ll do something, do it. When you say you won’t do something, don’t do it. Keep your promises.

But the other part is, “Anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” I think what this means is that we shouldn’t be adding a bunch more words to our words. People should just be able to trust what we say, without a bunch of extra explanation, excuses, justifications, pretexts and rationalizations.

For example, if someone comes up and says, “Will you do this?” We should be able to say, “Yes, I will.” And leave it at that. It’s when someone is a known liar and can’t be trusted, that more and more words start coming. People only need oaths when there is a possibility that the other party is lying! That’s why we have such a proliferation of contracts in our world. We can’t trust anyone! Believers know that every word they speak will be held accountable by God, and so they simply do what they said they would do, or don’t do what they said they wouldn’t do.

Two Applications

So, in keeping with what Jesus has said, and what the Psalm has said, let me pull two simple applications out of this.

First, and this is obvious, Christians need to be careful with what we say. And this means both “yes”, and “no”. If you don’t plan on doing it, then don’t say YES. If you don’t want to do it, then say NO. If you don’t have the time to do it, then say NO. If you are already way over committed, then just say NO. If a telemarketer calls you on the phone and asks for a pledge, and you aren’t going to, don’t lead them along, or pretend… just say NO.

If someone asks you to do something that you cannot accept, you shouldn’t need to launch into the 20 minute explanation of your schedule, your health, your family problems… and all the reasons why you can’t say yes. Simply say “I’m sorry, NO, I can’t.” If you have a good reputation then they know you’re not being rude, or blowing you off, they know you can’t because you said so.

And when you learn to say NO, when you say YES to something, it will mean so much more to you and the people around you! You’ll be known as a person who is able to follow through. You will have integrity.

So the first thing is that we need to be careful what we say, and what agreements we make. Just let our YES be YES, and our NO be NO, and let that be that… anything else is evil.

Modern Vows You May be Breaking

The second application I’d like to make, is that we need to keep the vows we make — the YES’s and NO’s we’ve already got. I’ve been thinking about this, and this may hit home for some of you. We, as Christians who will stand before God, and who know that all of His things are holy, even us… must fulfil our vows, pledges and promises. He takes them very seriously because our integrity reflects His character, His Kingdom and His Son.

So let me ask you this. Are you fulfilling the agreements you’ve made? Are you looking for a way out? Or, are you breaking any? Remember the Psalm. “LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” One “who keeps his oath even when it hurts”.  Here’s some examples of some promises that we make today. How are you doing on these?

Rental / Lease agreements. You promised to pay your rent on time, take care of the place, not sub-let, to report things that go wrong, and to clean up after yourself. How are you doing?

Copyright Agreements. Every movie and CD you’ve ever bought has had a copyright in it. In Canada you are not allowed to copy music or movies you didn’t pay for. Not even for “private use”. You can’t borrow from the library and put the music onto your computer. It’s illegal. Have you broken that agreement? Are you clean in this area?

If you have Netflix then you are only allowed to watch programming available in your region. Changing your computer to get the “American Netflix” breaks your terms of service agreement. It’s the same with American Satellite systems. They are illegal in Canada.

Business agreements. Are you fulfilling all of your business agreements? Are you doing good work, done on time, without gouging the customer for extra profit, cutting corners, using inferior products, and all the rest? Are you a trustworthy business person?

Employment contracts. When you started your job, you probably agreed to certain things when you signed an employment contract. You promised not to steal anything from work… not even a pen or a paperclip. You agreed to use your sick days when you are sick… not other times. You may have signed a confidentiality agreement. Employees, are you keeping it? And if you are an employer, then are you following your agreements? Paying on time and in proportion to their work, granting them their time off without guilt or frustration, making sure they get their break times, that they are trained and understand their job.

Visitor Agreements. When you bought that that day-pass to the zoo, the park, the campus, the hotel, or whatever, you probably accepted a visitor agreement. You agreed not to take pictures of certain things, not to take anything home, not to pick any flowers, to clean up after yourself, to stay away if you feel sick, and many have the agreement to “not make unreasonable demands”. Are you abiding by your agreements?

Loan or Credit Card contract. When you agreed to take their money, you promised you would pay it back. Are you? Or are you trying to find all sorts of ways around having to pay back what you owe them? People think that they are just big, evil corporations… but you made a contract with them. God takes that very seriously! Are you keeping your end of it?

Store agreements. When you bought that thing from the store, you agreed to pay for it. Did you pay the right price for it? If they made a mistake and gave you too much, did you go back and tell them and pay more? When that poor, underpaid, overworked cashier told you “I’m sorry, that’s not our policy”, did you freak out on them? You agreed to purchase it there. You paid for it. The return policy is written on your receipt, on the wall, on the website. Do you expect special treatment? Are you asking them to break their own rules, to make their YES into a NO, for your sake?

Church Membership. When you became a church member you agreed to certain things. You agreed to support the church financially, and with your time and abilities. You agreed to be actively involved in votes and meetings, even when they are boring.

When you voted for last year’s budget, they whole church raised their hands to say they would allow the deacons to spend the money, and that they would give in proportion. Have you been living up to that agreement? We have a large financial deficit this year, so either we agreed to spend too much, or people aren’t supporting in the way they agreed to.

There are people who used to attend this church, who agreed to support it during good and bad times, but left others here to pay the bills and fulfill their ministry responsibilities in their place. They broke their promise to the church.

When you voted for the elders and deacons you agreed to submit to the eldership, support new ministries with your work, attendance and finances. As a Church Member you agreed to be active in your spiritual development, and practice church discipline. If you are a member, are you doing these things, even when it’s inconvenient, or difficult… “even when it hurts”?

Marriage agreements. A vow taken before God for life. Even when it’s hard… when it’s next to impossible to see how it’s going to work out… are you willing to stay together and seek reconciliation? Are you putting effort in? Serving for, suffering for, loving, caring, and pursuing your mate like you are supposed to? Husbands, are you being Jesus to your wife? Wives are you respecting and caring for your husbands? Or is there a point at which you believe it is ok to break your covenant because it is too hard. Maybe not divorce, but merely avoid each other – live separate lives. Do you have that thing in the back of your mind that says, “If they do that again… I’m out of here… I’ll never forgive them!” Or, have you said to yourself, “I’m going to love them and serve them and keep my vows, no matter what!”

I could go on, but you get my point. Is your YES YES and your NO NO? Are you sticking to your contracts, agreements, and covenants… even when it hurts? Or are you like the world that seeks to blame others, wants special treatment, makes excuses, breaks promises, and walks away when it’s too hard?

You are a child of God who has the Holy Spirit within them, a new creation that does not love the things of the world anymore. Are you leaning on God and drawing from His strength so you can obey Him in this way?

5 Reminders For Christians that Need to Make Big Ministry Decisions

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I took a little break from the Gospel of Mark series and preached a very difficult (yet hopefully timely) sermon this past Sunday. The background of the sermon was that our church needs to make some big decisions about its future together. I didn’t give my own opinions of the situation, but shared 5 reminders that I believe God gave me from my reading of scripture.

It is my prayer that these reminders will help you make big decisions in your life and ministry. These certainly aren’t the only factors in your decision making, but I think they are very important. I hope these give you something to talk about, pray about and study your scriptures about.

ministry-is-hard

Reminder 1: Christian Ministry is Hard but Rewarding

The first reminder comes from 2 Corinthians 6:3-10:

“We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” (2 Cor 6:3-10)

The first reminder is this: Ministry is HARD but REWARDING. In my NIV Bible this section is entitled “Paul’s Hardships”. Paul faced a lot during his life – “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings…”, all because of his love for Jesus and his passion to obey the mission Jesus had given to him to preach the good news to the gentiles.

What I was impressed by in this section was Paul’s response to those hardships – how balanced his thinking was about them. Certainly he suffered, but through his suffering God built in him supernatural endurance. He was stronger because of the suffering he went through. He was on trial, distrusted and attacked – and though all of those trials he was able to see the Holy Spirit build his character, knowledge, patience, kindness and love. He didn’t get jaded, he became more like Jesus. He worked hard to be truthful and simple in his message, not trying to be clever or outthink God, and because of that he saw the power of God at work. There were times he was publically slandered and dishonoured, but it was during those times that he learned to praise and honour God – he learned the source of true joy and peace.

Being a Christian and doing Christian ministry is hard – the hardest thing in the world. Committing your life to Jesus, selling out with your faith, being active in the church, being a Christian who lives out their purpose, puts you into at risk! Demons will swirl around you and try to wreck your marriage, your family, your finances, your attitude, your health… because they want to shut you down. Jesus is always there, always available, and will always defend you… but that means dropping your own agenda and making Him and His your greatest priority.

Being part of a church is HARD, often painful, but is also wildly REWARDING. Paul endured much for the sake of Jesus, the church and the Gospel, and so have many ministers who have gone before us. He also knew Jesus more than any of us. My question is this: If we want the rewards of following Jesus, are we prepared for the hardship?

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Reminder 2: Listen to God’s Voice First and Most

The second passage I read came from Mark 7:1-12 which is a story of Jesus confronting the Pharisees about how they care too much about their human traditions, even to the point of disregarding the commands of God. Check out verses 6-8:

“And he said to them, ‘Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.’’”

Our second reminder is that we must be careful to listen to God’s voice FIRST and MOST… not our own voice or worldly wisdom. We must be very careful not to do things simply because they are traditional or comfortable. The ministry decisions we make, the church decisions we make must come from Scripture first, be supported by the Holy Spirit, and then obeyed wholeheartedly. When we make decisions in human wisdom, because of traditions, or because it is most comfortable, we are being hypocrites and Pharisees. When we default to making our decisions “That’s how we’ve always done it.” Or “We’ve never done it that way before.” we are not obeying God – we are worshipping traditions and comfort!

Obeying Jesus will not always be comfortable. He will be constantly pushing us to grow, change, adapt and renew our hearts, minds and strengths.

The last thing we want to be is people who worship God as our Lord, our Saviour, our Boss, the Motivator of our Hearts, on Sunday morning… and then go back to our homes or come to meetings and turn ourselves, human wisdom and our traditions into our lord and ministry motivators. That’s called idolatry.

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Reminder 3: It is God Who Raises Up and Lowers Down

Psalm 75 was another passage God lead me to. Inside this chapter I found an important reminder for us in verse 7. It says:

“…it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.”

All over scripture we are reminded that God, for His own reasons, in His own time, for His own glory, raises some people up and brings other people down. It is God who RAISES UP and LOWERS DOWN.

“He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings.” (Daniel 2:21)

“The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts.” (1 Samuel 2:7)

Listen carefully: It is not for us to hold up by our own power things that God has brought down… and it is not for us to give up on things that God is raising up. Both are acts of disobedience. We do not have the power to stop God from doing what He wants to do, but He seems willing to let us miss out on blessing because of our own stubborn hearts and lack of faith.

Wouldn’t it have been nice to buy stock in Microsoft or Google when they first hit the market? Wouldn’t it have been nice to have gotten out of Nortel before it crashed and burned?

I believe with all my heart that God, through His Word and His Spirit, gives us insight beyond our abilities, to allow us to know what to do and when to do it. He gives us warning when to walk away, and gives us strength to hang in there. He gives us wisdom to know when to let go, and tenacity to know when to stick to it because breakthrough is just around the bend.

We need to be spiritually sensitive to what God is doing, come alongside Him, and then, with joy, fulfill His will with all our hearts, souls, minds and strengths – united under one banner of faith.

It is wrong, and idolatrous to set up anything in place of God. We cannot make our jobs, church building, our leadership style, our constitution, our ministries, the Sunday School, the musical style, or anything else more important than listening to God. We must not create idol in place of God by keeping something going (giving it our energy, money, and attention) when God is opposing us and wants it shut down. And we cannot stop doing something (take away our money, energy, and attention) when God wants us to keep going. We do not want to oppose God’s will. We don’t want to be like Paul, “kicking against the goads” or like Balaam beating his donkey to go straight when he should have turned. We must, in faith and trust, follow God’s will wherever He points us.

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Reminder 4: Wrong Fear Makes Us Lose God’s Blessing

My fourth scripture 2 Samuel 6, which is the story of David celebrating while bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. You’ve probably heard this story and you’ll remember that Uzzah put his hand on the Ark to catch it when it was going to fall. It was commanded that no was to touch the Ark and it says the “anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down…”

What struck me was David’s response to what happened. In the beginning, David was so happy to have the Ark coming to Jerusalem that he had organized a huge party. But when Uzzah was killed by divine judgement, he went from happy to terrified in a split second. Verse 10 says that

“David was not willing to take the ark of the Lord into the city of David. But David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. And the ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months, and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and all his household.”

Consider that because of David’s fear, he lost out on God’s blessing. WRONG FEAR makes us LOSE God’s blessing. The blessings was giving to someone else, the house of Obed-Edom, instead… because of fear. My Life Application commentary says that David’s fear wasn’t a “wholesome fear and respect for the Lord but an anxiety arising” inside himself. His anxiety over what happened to Uzzah led him to a wrong fear, which led him to make a foolish decision (something he did a lot during his life), which made him lose out on blessing.

When we are deciding things for our church, our lives or our families, we must not be motivated by fear, unless it is fear of God alone. We cannot do the wrong things (or avoid doing the right things) because we are afraid (that we might fail, that someone might misunderstand our motives, etc.). We also shouldn’t make decisions (or avoid decisions) and perform actions (or neglect to act) because we are afraid (that the church might close, that we might lose friends, that things might change too much, or whatever it is that is preventing us from obeying the voice of God). Wrong fear must not be the motivating factor in our decision making.

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Reminder 5: The Greatest Answer is “That Which Shows The Most Love”

The Christian Church is an organization whose fuel is love, just as an individual Christian’s fuel is love. When we are loving God and one another, we have lots of gas in the tank, we will see the blessing of God, we will know His will, we will flee temptation, we will know peace, we will hear His voice, we will worship more and better, we will have more friends, we will grow spiritually and numerically, we will be more like Jesus.

When we are not loving one another well, we will have no gas in the tank. Ministry will be hard and lonely. We will not see God’s blessing. Decisions and meetings will be drudgery and decisions will be difficult. We will avoid each other and fall into greater temptation and sin. We will argue more, concentrate on trite things, and put ourselves first. We will not hear God’s voice. Our worship will be stale, repetitive and uninspiring. Our spirits will shrink and so will our numbers. Worst of all, we will be more like Satan than Christ because Jesus is the King of Love and Satan hates it (and Him).

The final scripture is from 1 Corinthians 13:1-3:

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

It is so easy to start asking ourselves, “What do we need to do?” and get caught up in all sorts of fruitless busyness. Everyone in every church has a dozen brilliant ideas for what needs to happen for their church to grow.

  • We need to get more people into the church.
  • We need to advertise better.
  • We need a new pastor.
  • We need a new board.
  • We need a new constitution.
  • We need a better band.
  • We need to get rid of the pews and get chairs.
  • We need to have more dinners.
  • We need to have less meetings.
  • We need to get into the community.
  • We need to have more prayer meetings.
  • We need to join another church.
  • We need to go knocking on doors.

Every individual is chock full of ideas for how to make their life better too:

  • I need a new job.
  • I need better friends.
  • I need a new resume.
  • I need a new church.
  • I need to spend more time with my family.
  • I need to spend more time building my brand.
  • I need to learn an instrument.
  • I need to give to charity.
  • I need to save more money.
  • I need to start a hobby.
  • I need to read more books.

Dozens and dozens of ideas, but which is the right one?

The Greatest Answer is “That Which Shows The Most LOVE”.

Not that which brings the most people, opens the most doors, costs the least amount of money, takes the least effort, requires everyone to do it, has food, or is my favourite.

We have no business calling ourselves a Christian or a Church of Jesus Christ, if we are not all about love! God first, our family second, the Christians who are part of our church third, and the community fourth.

Nothing we do in church matters if it is not primarily motivated by love. The music, the sermon, the coffee, the outreach, the meetings — none of it matters if we are not experiencing the love of God and sharing that love with others. It literally means… nothing. If we do not have a Christlike love within us – a love that dies to self – then we are a dead church! We are dead Christians. We are hypocrites who are merely play acting the faith.

A church is only alive when it is full of love for God and love for one another. Let us never get caught up in believing that there is any magic ministry, perfect decision, or miraculous plan that will pay our bills, make everyone happy and keep us going. It doesn’t exist. The only answer is the daily work of love.

What every one of us desperately wants and needs is for the people around us to show us real and practical acts of love. If we have a love for others that only exists for 3 hours on Sunday, then we are not a church of Jesus Christ. If we are not investing in each other’s lives, sacrificing our time, energy, talents, finances and all the rest for one another, then we are not being Christians.

In Acts 2:42-47 we read that after hearing the word of God preached by the Apostle Paul, thousands of people came to Jesus and the Holy Spirit was poured out in power. This new church’s response to the movement of God was:

“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.”

That is a church full of the love of God, a love for Jesus, the love of the Holy Spirit, and a sacrificial love for one another. That’s the church in its purest and best form. And I believe each one of us wants to be part of a group of believers like that.

It starts with us. We must make the choice to make the church a priority – to make a sacrificial act of loving devotion to the Christians around us. To talk to them during the week, even when we don’t have the time. To get to know the people we don’t know. To ask what their needs are and to seek to fill them. To chase them down when they are sinning, and encourage them when they are doing well. To spur them on to love and good deeds. To honour one another and greet one another often. To forgive and make peace with one another. To never let a bitter root grow between us. To not pass judgment on one another or be a stumbling block to one another. To be gentle with one another, bearing with one another in love. (Here’s some more.)

That is practical love, and it is the Greatest Answer to our deepest questions.

What’s In A Name?

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I’m a HUGE fan of the AWANA program and have been blessed with the opportunity to speak a couple of times. Last night I gave a talk called “What’s In a Name?” to a group of kids aged 5-12 and their leaders. It’s an adaptation of the sermon I gave on Sunday, but I was amazed how God changed the message when writing for a younger group.

Here’s the audio (12 minutes) from the older kids (9-12):

Here’s the audio from the younger kids (5-8):

Let’s play a name game. Here are some things I bet you didn’t even know had names:

  • What’s the name of the metal part on the pencil that holds the eraser? FERULE
  • What’s it called when your second toe is longer than your big toe? MORTON’S TOE
  • What’s it called when your tummy rumbles? A WAMBLE
  • What’s the name of that little groove between your nose and lips? A PHILTRUM
  • What’s the name of the little plastic bit at the end of your shoelace? AN AGLET

Names of Things

Do you know the name of the church you are in right now? Rideauview Bible Chapel. Chapel is another name for Church. Do you know where the word “church” comes from? It’s a strange word, isn’t it? What is a “church”? Some of you here say that you “go to church”, but does “church” just mean “the building where Christians go to worship Jesus”?

The word “Church” actually means “belonging to the Lord”. It’s used to describe a building that belongs to the Lord and also the people inside of it that “belong to the Lord”. But there are lots of other names in the Bible that are used to describe what being part of the Church is all about – and I want to share three of them with you.

“CONGREGATION”

This is the word that Jesus uses to describe His people. Do you know what a “congregation” is? It just means any group of people that aren’t in their own house. Any group of people, anywhere, is a “congregation”. If you go to a restaurant and there are other people there, you are part of a congregation. If you go to a baseball game, or a hockey game, you’re part of a congregation. It just means “a group of people who aren’t in their home.”

But when Jesus use it, He used it in a special way. In Matthew 16 (vs 16 & 18) Peter says to Jesus “‘You are the messiah, the Son of the Living God’…Jesus replied ‘…on this rock I will build my church…” “Congregation” and “church” are the same word, but did you hear that? What did Jesus call us? “MY Church”. That what He calls us, you and me, “My Church”.

Isn’t that cool? When we are together with other Christians, we are part of a group of people who aren’t just together… we are together because Jesus called us together to be HIS!

Do you ever use that word – MINE! Sometimes you hear little kids use it. “That toy is MINE!” MINE! What do you mean when you use it? When someone comes and takes something that is yours and you think, “Hey, that’s MINE!”

You mean “I love that! I want it! I want to protect it! I’ll take care of it! I want it around me! It’s MINE!” And when you lose something that is MINE, I’ll be sad, right?

That’s how Jesus thinks of His church. We are HIS! He loves us, wants us, protects us, takes care of us, wants us around Him. We are HIS!

So if sometimes you feel like you aren’t very special, or that you aren’t worth much, or are feeling sad, forgotten, alone, or afraid, just remember that Jesus is looking at you and saying “Hey! He’s MINE! She’s MINE! I love them! I want them! I’ll protect them! I want to be around them forever!”

“THE WAY”

Another way the Bible describes the church is by calling us “The Way”. Have you ever heard that? Remember what Jesus called Himself? “The Way, the Truth and the Life”, right? Well, in the very beginning of the Christian church, in the book of Acts, Christians would call themselves “The Way”.

“The Way” is just another word for “the Road” or “the Path”. What street do you live on? I live on Chatelain AVENUE. Right now we are on Prince of Wales DRIVE. Maybe you’ve driven down Merivale ROAD, or Scott STREET. Avenue, Drive, Road, and Street are all just words for the path that you go down to get where you’re going.

When Jesus said that He is “The Way”, He meant that He is the road that we need to go down to get where we are going. Remember the whole verse? “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn 14:6) So, if you want to get to the Father, who is God, how do you get there? Through Jesus. He calls Himself the only road to God, the only road to heaven, the only road to eternal life and the forgiveness of sins. And so the church started calling themselves “The Way”, which meant that they were following the only “Way” there was to be saved from our sins. They were following Jesus.

I think this is a very cool word for the church because it reminds me that whenever I feel worried, lost, or afraid, or confused, or don’t know what to do, or how the future is going to go… I remember that Jesus is “the Way” and that as long as I’m following Him, I don’t need to worry about all those things because He knows what He’s doing.

Do people ask you what you’re going to be when you grow up? I wanted to be a computer guy, but God made me into a Pastor instead. I would never have guessed that was going to happen. But as long as I was following Jesus, He was leading my down His “Way”.

So don’t worry if you don’t know what you’re going to be when you grow up. Don’t worry if you don’t know how your day, your week, or your month is going to go. Just keep reading your bible, talking to Jesus, and listening to Him, and He’ll guide you on His “Way” and will get you to where you need to go.

“CHRISTIANS”

There’s another word that the bible uses to describe the people in the church, it’s the word “Christians”. It means “follower of Christ” or “belonging to Christ”. You’ve heard that word before, and many of you here would say that you are Christians. You’ve asked Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, and now you are a Christian.

But did you know that when people were first called Christians, it wasn’t a nice thing to be called! No, it was meant to be an insult. People didn’t really understand who Jesus was, what He had done, or what people did when they became a Christian, so they thought all Christians were really weird.

Think about it. We call each other family, and we say that we are “brothers and sisters in Christ.” Well, someone who didn’t know anything about Christians would look at two people who were total strangers calling each other brothers and sisters and think they were crazy! Or two people who called themselves brother and sister and then got married!  That would be weird!

And when we have communion we say that we are remembering Jesus dying on the cross by drinking wine that represents His blood, and eating bread that represents His body. Well some people thought that Christians actually got together and drank real blood and ate real people! They didn’t know it was just wine and bread, they thought Christians were cannibals!

I think this is a cool name too because I’m reminded that when we become Christians, we are going to be misunderstood and people are going to think we are weird. When we close our eyes and pray before we eat, we are going to look different than the people who don’t thank God for their food. When we tell people that we don’t want to join in when they are doing something bad, we are going to look different and maybe even lose some friends. When we say that we believe the Bible is the word of God, some people who don’t believe that are going to make fun of us. When we go to church on Sunday and miss out on an important practice, or an important game, our team is going to think we are weird. When we don’t watch the same tv shows and movies as everyone else, they are going to think we are crazy.

But this word Christian, reminds me that it’s ok to be different. In fact, being a Christian means I’m going to be different. Christians don’t belong to the world, they belong to Jesus. We don’t do what everyone else does, we do what Jesus does. We don’t act like, look like, sound like, behave like, or think like the rest of the world – and that’s ok, because don’t want to be like the rest of the world. We want to be like Jesus.