Love

Who Should Christians Love? (Jesus & The Samaritan Woman – Gospel of John Series)

Posted on

**Sorry, no video or audio this week!**

Please open up to John 4, the story of Jesus and the Samaritan Woman. We start where we left off last week:

Jews and Samaritans

“Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)”

Pause there for a second so we can see the stage set for this interaction.

As we learned last week, the Pharisees were out there causing trouble for Jesus and John the Baptist, stirring people up and starting arguments, so Jesus leaves. The plan is to head from His baptism spot on the edge of the Judean border to Cana in Galilee, a walk of about 60 miles or 100km, that took three days. If people walk about 5km/hr, then that means Jesus had walked for about 7 hours by the time he got to Sychar. So, obviously he was going to be tired. He sits down near Jacob’s Well, a pretty famous spot in the region going back 1800 years, all the way to Genesis 49. One cool thing about wells is that, because they’re 100 foot holes in the ground, they don’t move, so it’s pretty easy for archeologists to find them. The location is actually inside a Greek Orthodox church now.

Jesus Had to Pass Through Samaria

There’s actually a bunch of interesting things happening in this introduction to the story. First was the fact that Jesus went through Samaria at all. It was the most direct route, but the most devout Jews, in order to avoid defiling themselves by even touching Samaritan soil, would actually go a longer way around. There was a deep and abiding racism against Samaritans and Jews. They couldn’t agree on anything and didn’t like each other at all.

It went back to about 700 years before, in 2 Kings 17, when the king of Assyria brought a bunch of foreign people to settle among the Jewish people living in Samaria. Over time they intermarried and started to fuse together their Jewish and pagan beliefs. This, of course, offended the faithful Jews and that offence turned into hatred. By the time of Christ, the Samaritans had so strongly assimilated into gentile, non-jewish culture, that there weren’t many similarities left.

Except that a lot of the Samaritan’s religion had kept concepts from their Jewish roots. The Samaritans, in response to being rejected and ostracized, developed their own version of the Pentateuch, their own competing version of the Temple on Mount Gerizim, and their own interpretations of Israelite history.

For a modern understanding, think of Catholics or Jehovah Witnesses or Mormons. They have done something similar. God gave us an inerrant Bible, a clear gospel, and a very clear outline on how to be a church. But Catholics, Mormons, and JW’s, while keeping a lot of the same language, wrote their own version of the Bible, added a bunch to it, changed the gospel to be no gospel at all, and use their church structures to control and abuse people. It’s offensive and wrong – and terribly confusing that people lump Christian Churches in with Catholics, JW’s and Mormons, because we are very, very different.

Add to that an unhealthy amount of anger and racism, and you can start to see how Jews felt about Samaritans. It’s why the story of the Good Samaritan would have had such an impact. It would be like telling the story of the Good Baby Eating Satan Worshipper.

But Jesus chooses to go through Samaria. He doesn’t go around. In fact, verse 4 says that Jesus “had to pass through Samaria”. Some take this as “because it was the most direct route”, but based on the rest of the Gospel of John we can see that it wasn’t a practical decision, it was a gospel decision. Jesus had to pass through there, because it was the next mission field.

Remember the outline. Jesus’s mission goes ever outward. He goes from a little wedding in Cana in Galilee, to preaching in more Jewish towns, to the capital city of Jerusalem, to preaching throughout all of Judea, and then, and then into Samaria. The next story, if you look down, is Jesus healing the gentile’s son. From Jews, to half-Jews half-gentiles, to full gentiles. Jesus’ message is preached to everyone. That’s why he “had to pass through Samaria”.

A Samaritan Woman?!

The next interesting thing we see is who Jesus talks to. It said Jesus got there at the sixth hour, so it was about noon. Jesus had been walking for a long while, and it was the hottest part of the day. He sat down, exhausted, and here comes a Samaritan woman.

Jesus starts the conversation. He says, “Give me a drink.” And that’s a really important point. This would have been a huge crisis moment for a traditional Jew – especially a Jewish Rabbi. Jewish men didn’t treat women very well, and rabbis were even worse. Women were supposed to say ‘in their place’. A traditional Jew wouldn’t talk to a woman in public – they wouldn’t even talk to their own wife in public. A rabbi wouldn’t be caught dead discussing anything theological with a woman, because women and tradesman – like fisherman and carpenters – were considered too stupid to be able to understand anything about religion.[1]

That’s one reason that the Sanhedrin was so amazed by Peter and John’s speech in Acts 4:13. They never would have thought a couple of tradesman could ever speak so well and understand so much. And do you know who was considered even lower than a woman, lower than a tradesman? A tradesman’s wife. They were basically nothing in society. And lower than that? A Samaritan Woman. Lower than that? A divorced Samaritan Woman. Lower than that? A divorced Samaritan woman who was living in sin with someone. That’s her.

And this woman, she was coming to fetch water during the middle of the afternoon. Everyone else, all the other women, would have come in the morning when it was cooler and easier. Why did she come in the afternoon? We learn later that it’s because she’s had a pretty rough life, and she has lived as an outsider in her own town. A ostracized person, among ostracized people.

So, for Jesus, a Jewish rabbi, to strike up a conversation with a half-breed, theologically messed up, socially rejected, Samaritan, woman was an incredibly strange thing to do.

And his request is even stranger. He asks her for a drink. We’ve talked a lot before about how important eating and drinking was to Jewish culture. It was considered a very intimate act. And we talked even last week about how important ritual purity was to Jewish culture. While the disciples were off trying to find some kosher food in Samaria, Jesus was sitting at a well, chatting up a woman, and asking her to draw Him some water, touch the cup, and give Him the water to drink.

 That’s why it blows her mind. I think in our modern context, with this pandemic, we can wrap our heads around this, right? We don’t touch each other, shake hands, or hug people. We cover ourselves with a mask and refuse to breathe the same air as our neighbour. The moment we walk into a store, we sanitize our hands – and then when we walk out we sanitize again. Paranoia about getting COVID has made people obsessed with paying attention to what they touch, who they are near – every cough, every sniffle, every trip – analyzed and careful and ripe with stress and fear.

That’s what it was like to be a Jew in Jesus time living under Pharisaic rules – but times a hundred.

You’ve probably already had the experience where you’ve needed to hand something to someone, or you wanted to give something to someone, and what did you do – give them a bunch of caveats, right? “Ok, here it is. Don’t worry, I washed it, dried it with a clean cloth, sealed it in a new bag, let it sit out for 10 hours, and I’ll leave it on your front step so we don’t have to even go near one another.”

Put it this way: Imagine if tomorrow you were walking down the street in downtown Ottawa. It feels like 45 degrees, and even more with the pavement reflecting all the heat. You’re tired, hot, and super thirsty. You round a corner and see a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk. His eyes are downcast, he’s dirty, and an old surgical mask is pulled down under his chin. You see him reach beside himself and grab a can of coke. He takes a big drink and sputters out a cough.

Imagine saying to this stranger, “Hey man, can I have a sip of your coke?”

That’s what’s going down here. Jesus “had to pass through Samaria” so that He could have this interaction, to share the gospel with someone, and use her to save a lot of people.

What About Us?

What do you suppose we’re supposed to see in this interaction here? What are Christians supposed to be emulating? What lesson is there for us in these first few verses?

I think there are some other scriptures we can look to in order to help us understand:

Let’s start in Philippians 2:1–9,

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross….”

Jesus, of all beings, could have elevated Himself above this woman. There were a dozen reasons for Jesus to have nothing to do with her. But what did Jesus do? He humbled Himself, humiliated Himself, condescended to her, and loved her. Jesus has the right to be prejudiced. He really is higher and better than we are. He is sinless, we are sinners. He is perfect, we are spiritual dead. He is light, we are children of darkness. He is from heaven, we are captives to hell.

But Jesus didn’t see it that way. Instead, he had “affection and sympathy” for us. He humbled Himself, emptied Himself, didn’t hold onto the glory of God, but instead became the servant of all – Jews, gentiles, Samaritans, prostitutes, tax collectors, adulterers, enemy soldiers, wicked Pharissees – He loved and serve them all – even to the point of dying on the cross in their place – in our place.

Or how about James 2:1–9,

“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there,’ or, ‘Sit down at my feet,’ have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”

In Philippians we see that it’s a sin for us to think ourselves better than someone else – and here we see it’s a sin for us to think someone else is better than another. Who is God closest to? What does the Bible say? The poor, the widow, the orphan, the refugee, the outcast, the meek, the lowly, the broken, the lost, the sick. Why? Jesus says in Luke 7:41–42, “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

 God gets more glory and more love from the people that know they need Him most. And therefore, our preference, if any, should be for the lowly, the reject, the outcast, the broken, the lost. Preferring one person over another, thinking them better than another, because of their wealth or position or some other external reason, is a sin.

          How about Romans 12:9–21, entitled “Marks of the True Christian”.

“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

This is the heart of God for people within the church. Philippians 2 said that we shouldn’t think ourselves better than others. James 2 said we should think one person is better than another. And here in Romans 12 we see how we should treat those who treat us badly.

The command in verse 9 is for love to be “genuine” – the love that Jesus has is a “genuine” love. Sincere, real, not hypocritical, not a show – but genuine feelings of love.

For who? Look at the list. In verse 9, we see love for what is good. Verse 10, to have a familial love for our fellow Christians. In verses 11-13, to love Jesus by serving Him patienty, faithfully, hopefully, and serving his people generously.

But the list goes on. Who else are we to show genuine love to? Those who persecute us. Those who weep. Those who are lowly. Other words for “lowly” are stooped, helpless, sullen, downcast, depressed. Who else? Love those who try to make life difficult by trying to make peace with them. Love your enemy.

That’s what Jesus is demonstrating here, and that’s what Christians are supposed to be doing – first to each other and their families, then for their neighbourhoods and community, and then to the world.

Pause for a moment and ask yourself, “Does my life reflect the love that Jesus has for people?”

Do you think of others more than you think of yourself, putting other’s interests before your own? Or do your preferences and desires come first? When given the choice to serve or be served, do you chose to serve? How do you treat those who serve you, like waiters, cashiers, custodians, delivery people? With humility and respect, or as though you are better than them? When given the choice to be first, do you step aside and let someone else be first?

Consider your associations. Who do you prefer to be around? Do you seek out the company of the wealthy, privileged, comfortable, safe, easy, good-for-business, enjoyable, positive, people who you know won’t ask much of you, and you can expect reciprocal treatment from? Do you avoid difficult, needy, lowly, depressed, weeping, troubled people, people who cause you discomfort, or grief, because they’re just too much work, not worth your time, not worth your energy? If so, then you would have been one of the Jews who walked around Samaria and would never have taken the cup from the woman at the well.

 Or what about Colossians 3:5–17:

“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 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.”

This is a mega-theme of the Bible and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus is kind and compassionate – and so we are kind and compassionate. Jesus is accepting and patient. We are accepting and patient. Jesus is humble and forgiving, we are humble and forgiving. Jesus is a peacemaker who brought peace to our hearts, we are peacemakers who bring peace to other’s hearts. Jesus teaches us, shares wisdom with us, sings to us, meets us in our spirit and encourages us – and we respond by teaching, sharing, singing, meeting, and encouraging others.

To be a Christian literally means to be a “little Christ”.

My daughter has a job at Subway now and it’s my job to pick her up after she’s done a shift. The moment she sits down next to me, the whole car smells like fresh baked bread. She’s saturated with it – and it immediately makes me want to have a sandwich. It was the same when my wife worked at Tim Hortons and a Bagel shop. She’d come home and I’d immediately crave bagels.

It was the opposite with my dad – sometimes. He was a pipefitter at a stinky, old pulp-mill and would sometimes have to work with something called “black liquor”. Black liquor is essentially concentrated tree gunk that is left over from the pulp making process. It’s super gross, super smelly, super sticky, and super toxic. If one little drop of that stuff gets on your clothes or boots, then you’ll smell awful – and all your clothes have to come off in the garage before you’re allowed in the house.

How do you know someone is a Christian? How do you know someone has met Jesus, experienced forgiveness, loves Jesus, and is walking with Jesus? Their lives look more and more like Jesus’ life. Their words sound more and more like Jesus’ words. Their hearts care more and more about the things that Jesus cares about. Anger, wrath, malice, slander, lies, obscene talk, prejudice all disappear – and when those sins are pointed out, they are quickly repented of. In other words, they walk with Jesus so much that they start to smell like Him – and they make people hungry for what they know, where they’ve been, what they’ve experienced, the Saviour they’ve been walking with.

And the same is true of the opposite. How do you know someone is a hypocrite, a Christian pretender, a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Because they don’t sound like Jesus, serve like Jesus, love like Jesus… and they carry that smell with them in all of their interactions, decisions, ideas, and motives.

How do we get the kind of love that Jesus has? Where does it come from? Is it white-knuckle, guilt trip, self-generated, love that we have to pretend we have so that Jesus will be happy? No. “Love must be genuine.”

Where does that genuine love come from? The answer is in 1 John 4:7–12:

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”

Love comes into our hearts as a gift of God, and is perpetuated, motivated, filled-up, by the knowledge that God loved us so much He was willing to pour out the full weight of His wrath against sin – onto His Son instead of us. Verse 11, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” Knowing God’s love as demonstrated in Jesus’ sacrifice, is the foundation and model for how we love others. Knowing God’s forgiveness, given because of Jesus’ sacrifice, is the foundation and motivation for our ability to forgive others. Knowing that God wanted to be united with us so much that He sacrificed His own Son, put His Hon through Hell for us, is the foundation, the driving force, for why we work so hard to tell people about reconciliation to God through Jesus Christ, and, as a church, why we work so hard towards unity. Those that do not know God’s love, do not do this.

Let’s read one more scripture, a little back from what we just read, in 1 John 3:7–10. Listen,

“Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 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.”

Pause there – How do we know who has that seed in them? How do we know the devils from the righteous?

Verse 10,

“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.”

Conclusion: From Love to Love

Let me conclude. We’ll get back into the story again next week.

When we say that Christianity is all about love, we sometimes get a little too pie-in-the-sky, ethereal, high-concept. The Bible is much more practical, must clearer about how that works. Those who love Jesus, who are saved by Jesus, demonstrate that love through humility, grace, patience, and a deep love for people who need it most.

Jesus “had to pass through Samaria”, to meet this woman, and had to ask for a drink from her, to show us something very, very important: How to love like He loves… how to love who He loves… how to love the way He loves.

And further, to demonstrate to us that no matter who we are, how messed up we are, how despised and rejected we have made ourselves, how much we have disappointed ourselves and God and others, no matter how bad our theology is, how corrupt our family or our culture, how sinful and lost we are – it doesn’t keep Jesus away. He loves you. He loved you before you were born. He has loved you for your whole life. And He continues to love you no matter what you’ve done. That’s why He went to the cross for you, to save you! Before you ever deserve it, He has already decided you’re worth it.

And if you know that love, have experienced that love, and have participated in that love – then you will, and you must, show that love to others. How do you know a Christian from a non-Christian, a devil from a believer? You will know by how much love, grace, forgiveness, and humility they demonstrate towards those who need it most, and who make it most difficult.

How can you know that you are a believer, that you have been saved? Because your heart starts to fill up with love for people you’ve never loved before, with forgiveness for people you never would have forgiven, with acceptance of those you never would have accepted. Because you start to feel genuine love, real love, unhypocritical love, for Jesus, His word, His church, and for everyone around you, regardless of who they are or what they’ve done.

Just like Jesus feels for you.


[1] Borchert, G. L. (1996). John 1–11 (Vol. 25A, p. 202). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

The Persistent Love of God (A Mother’s Day Sermon)

Posted on

Sermon Series Graphic (32)

 

Podcast Audio:

 

“Before I was a Mom”

By Suzana Haertzen

Before I was a Mom…I made and ate hot meals. I had unstained clothing. I had quiet conversations on the phone.

Before I was a Mom… I slept as late as I wanted and never worried about how late I got into bed. I brushed my hair and my teeth every day.

Before I was a Mom… I cleaned my house each day. I never tripped over toys or forgot words to lullabies.

Before I was a Mom… I didn’t worry whether or not my plants were poisonous. I never thought about Immunizations.

Before I was a Mom… I had never been puked on, pooped on, spit on, chewed on, peed on or pinched by tiny fingers. I had complete control of my mind, my thoughts, and my body. I slept all night.

Before I was a Mom… I never held down a screaming child so that doctors could do tests or give shots. I never looked into teary eyes and cried. I never got gloriously happy over a simple grin. I never sat up late hours at night watching a baby sleep.

Before I was a Mom… I never held a sleeping baby just because I didn’t want to put it down. I never felt my heart break into a million pieces when I couldn’t stop the hurt. I never knew that something so small could affect my life so much. I never knew that I could love someone so much. I never knew I would love being a Mom.

Before I was a Mom… I didn’t know the feeling of having my heart outside my body. I didn’t know how special it could feel to feed a hungry baby. I didn’t know that bond between a mother and her child. I didn’t know that something so small could make me feel so important.

Before I was a Mom… I had never gotten up in the middle of the night every 10 minutes to make sure all was okay. I had never known the warmth, the joy, the love, the heartache, the wonderment, or the satisfaction of being a Mom. I didn’t know I was capable of feeling so much before I was a Mom

I like that poem because it reminds me of the persistence of mothers. There are many words that we can use to describe moms. Words like loving, patient, compassionate… but I think the word “persistent” is one that works the best. Movies and books are replete with stories about good guys who credit their mothers for how they turned out so good – and bad guys who could always count on their mother loving them. Regardless of the outcome of the child’s life, one thing that remains is the persistent love of their Mother.

The Persistent Love of God

The untiring love of a mother actually serves to point us to One that is greater – to God’s love. That’s what I want to talk about today: God’s persistent love.

I believe that the perpetual, stubborn love a mother has for their child is part of how God designed them to be – and is meant to reflect and teach us something about God’s love for us. In scripture, God is presented as the Creator and Sustainer of all things, the one in which “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:24-29; Psalm 104) . He is persistently ensuring the existence of all things.

When Jesus was challenged about healing on the Sabbath, he looked at the Jews and said, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (John 7:15) meaning that even though God invented the Sabbath by resting on the seventh day, God was still upholding the universe – if He were to stop, everything would cease to exist.

God doesn’t quit. Think of the nation of Israel who did everything they possibly could to offend and reject God, trying to thwart everything He was trying to do for them. They worshipped demons, killed the prophets, and turned their backs on His Word. At more than one point they were so far gone that they even forgot about their miraculous deliverance from Egypt (Judges 2) and even lost the Book of the Law (2 Kings 22).

Yet, as much disrespect as God suffered, He continued to treat them with special care and persistent love. When one generation didn’t respond, He’d come back to the next generation and try again. When they went on their trip through the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land, just like little kids in the car (back before iPads), they whined about everything. It was like the world’s worst car trip! God’s taking them to Disneyworld and they spend the entire time complaining about the food, water, directions, view, signs, all the while kicking the driver’s seat.

Yet, God continuously and persistently provided what they needed and even more. A prophet would ask for a sign and God would give them one. A king would go into a foolhardy, selfish battle, and God would allow him to succeed. When the nation of Israel couldn’t get over their worship of idols, God treated them as children and sent them to their room – a whole generation into Babylonian captivity as a discipline – and then rescued them so they could be with Him again. God showed persistent devotion to His people.

Our Lack of Persistence

Most of us are lousy at being persistent. The divorce rate, even among Christians, hovers around 40%, and many today aren’t even getting married in the first place – and more and more couples are refusing to have children.[1] That makes moms very special.

But it’s not just marriages and families, people are also dropping out of high-school and college at alarming rates – especially young men.[2]

Most people don’t even keep the same job for more than a few years. According to one report I read, half of people stay in their job for under 2 years, and only 30% stay at one job for over four. The average Canadian will have roughly 15 careers in their lifetime. The average new, small business will last less than five years. And it’s not because of the financial crisis. 75% of the time it’s because they end up with too many personal problems that get in the way, so they have to shut down their successful small business.[3]

I could go on, but I think that most of know – especially these days when so many of our excuses have been taken away – that all of us have a problem with persistence, and the problem is getting worse. Do you ever sit at home these days and wonder why you can’t just keep a consistent schedule? A consistent attitude? A consistent diet? Why every day – even though for most of us, our schedules have been almost completely cleared – we struggle to remain consistent.

The Persistent Love of Jesus

As in all things, we would do well to look at Jesus, who was doggedly persistent. Consider how He treated His disciples! They argued with Him, ignored Him, denied Him, sold Him out, and fled the Garden of Gethsemane, cowering in the dark as He died on the cross, but He always loved them, forgave them, restored them, and continued to work with them. They kept asking the same dumb questions, doing the same dumb things, and Jesus kept forgiving them, repeating Himself, teaching them, loving them, serving them, and sacrificing for them.

Our salvation was brought by Jesus’ deep desire to win us back to His Father. He marched to the cross of His own will, despite the pain, clueless disciples, and abusive religious authorities. He had the power to quit anytime – but He obeyed His Father in the face of great temptation, so He could finish the work of salvation for our sakes. He stood firm on the promises and the power of God – and marched forward out of love for you and me.

The persistent love of a good mother points us to the greater love we see in Jesus. Those who had a good mom, who had a mom that loved them despite their foolishness, are more able to understand what it means that God won’t quit on them.

God Makes Strange Selections

For a lot of us, we think that God’s love is dependent on how worthy we are. “But”, we say, “I’m not like Peter, or Paul, or John, or Moses, or Elijah, or any of the other heroes of the Bible! Of course, God loved them, of course, Jesus loved them. They had special powers and great faith. I can’t even read the Bible and every day – those guys were amazing! They were easy for God to love! I can’t see how God can love someone as inconsistent and sinful as me!”

Actually, you might be more like those “heroes” guys you know. What is awesome about the love of God is that He shows it most often in the strangest places, and to the weirdest people. Most often He doesn’t go for the best and brightest, the most loveable, but instead chooses the small, weak, dumb, pitiable, faltering, failing, down and out, unlovable people that no one would pick.

Did you ever play dodge-ball as a kid? By the way, did you know that many schools have outlawed dodge-ball? One expert I read said, “We take the position that [dodgeball] is not an appropriate instructional activity because it eliminates children and it does not respect the needs of less-skilled children.” That guy sure wasn’t around when I was growing up! I was definitely one of the “less-skilled” children and had absolutely none of my “needs respected” during dodge-ball!

I absolutely remember what it was like when the teacher would yell out “DODGEBALL!” Fear immediately gripped my tiny heart. Except for a few of the girls, I was easily the smallest kid in my class. And we would always line up against the walls, the teacher would pick two “Captains” and then they would pick teams. Anyone else go through this?

They would go through the whole class and take turns picking the big kids, fast kids, kids that threw hard, the popular kids… and there would be me, the fat kid, the kid that got asthma attacks, and a couple other “losers”, standing against the wall as the kids fight over who had to take us. I hated that feeling – but I knew why: I wasn’t big, or strong, or fast, or popular.

Here’s my point: If God was picking the dodgeball team, He would do it differently. He would have picked me, the littlest girls, the fattest kid, and the kid with asthma first, and then shown how He could win the game with us. To God be the glory!

1 Corinthians 1:26-31 is something I read often and it says,

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Isn’t that awesome?! God shows His persistent love by loving those who need it most. He chooses the weak things of the world on purpose to show His glory. For all our faults and failings, God loves us even more – because it’s when we realize our weakness and our utter dependence on God that He can finally show His strength through us.

Why?

God’s Overwhelming Optimism

I think it’s because God, like a good mother, has an overwhelming amount of optimism about what His children are capable of if they were just listening to Him.

That’s what a good mom does right? No matter how much we screw up, mom says, “You have such potential! You’re so smart! So handsome! So pretty! You have so much potential! You have a light inside you! It’s just that you keep making dumb decisions, hang out with dumb people, and need some serious help.” How many of us got that speech?

I think God feels something similar. Not because of how great we are and what we can do for Him, but because He knows what He can do through us! He knows what we’re like. It’s not like we can fool Him into believing we are better than we are. We can’t pad our resume before God. God knows how utterly messed up we really are – but He still has an overwhelming optimism that when He chooses us to do something, that we can do it.

When He picks us, introduces us to Jesus, saves us from Hell, gives us the gift of His Spirit, and then gives us a mission in this world, He actually believes we can do it! Is it a strange thought to believe that God has faith that you can overcome temptation, overcome your addiction, overcome bitterness, overcome fear, and grow into a better image of Jesus? God knows what He can do, and so He knows that when you are depending on Him, you can do anything!

In Philippians 4:13 Paul says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” And in 2 Corinthians 12 Paul asks God to make him stronger by getting rid of a terrible malady he is facing, and God simply tells him “no”. Why? God says, “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” And Paul’s response was,

“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:9-10)

J Oswald Sanders once said,

“There is an optimism in God which discerns the hidden possibilities in the unpromising character. He has a keen eye for hidden elements of nobility and promise in an unprepossessing life. He is the God of the difficult temperament, the God of the warped personality, the God of the misfit.”

We look at ourselves and that’s what we see: “the difficult temperament… the warped personality… the misfit.” We don’t see a person God could use – let alone doggedly pursue with persistent love. We see our sin and addictions and feel defeated all the time. We see our hang-ups and fears, and all the hidden things in our lives and minds that we think prevent us from being loved and used by God. We see our lack of ability, lack of holiness, lack of understanding, lack of courage – we are too afraid, too young, too old, too uneducated, too different, not different enough.

What I want to tell you this morning is that the persistent love of God covers that. God believes in You because He believes in Himself – and when you feel weak, all He requires is that you lean harder into Him. A life turned over to God will be imbued, infused, permeated, saturated with His amazing power and love.

God’s Relentless Pursuit

God believes in you because it is God Himself that is working through you, even despite your weakness and flaws. Just as a mother can’t forget her love for her child, but continues to love them no matter what they have done, even more-so does God relentlessly, persistently, love His children. He can’t forget His love for us.

We have a book at home called “I Love You Stinky Face” which is about a child trying to see how far his mother’s love will go, coming up with all manner of terrible ways he thinks could make his mother not love him.

“But Mama, but mama! What if I were a big, scary ape? Would you still love me then?:

“But Mama, but Mama, what if I were a swamp creature with slimy, smelly seaweed hanging from my body, and I couldn’t ever leave the swamp or I would die? Will you still love me then?”

“But Mama, But Mama, what if I were a super smelly skink, and I smelled so bad that my name was Stinky Face?”

And the mother always sweetly responds, reassuring her child that she will love him no matter what. She replies, “Then I would give you a bath and sprinkle you with sweet-smelling powder…  And if you still smelled bad, I wouldn’t mind, and I would hug you tight and whisper in your ear, ‘I love you Stinky Face’. ”

I think Psalm 23 is like that. Let’s close by reading it:

Consider as I read: Who is the active person in this relationship?

“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

We are sheep. We get tired and He makes us lie down. We get thirsty and he takes us to a drink. We get sick and He restores. We pursue sin and he puts us on the righteous path. We wander into the valley of the shadow of death, God pursues us, protects us, comforts us. We surround ourselves with enemies and strife, and Jesus does all the work to save us – and proceeds to make us a celebration dinner and crown us as victors! Then, for our whole life, he follows us, follows us, follows us – until we finally take our rest in His House forever.

Do you see how much God loves you? Pursues you? Acts on your behalf?

The reminder of God being the one that pursues us with relentless love is found all over scripture. He stubbornly, tenaciously pursues us, inviting us over and over to turn more and more of our life over to Him because He knows that if we give our life to Him fully that we will finally know peace, joy, and purpose.

While you might quit on yourself. God will never quit on you.

“But God, But God, What if I continuously work myself into a frenzy, anxious about almost everything in my life? Will you still love me then?” (“Yes, and I will lie you down in green pastures, beside still waters.”)

“But God, but God, what if I destroy my soul with sin, harden my heart with bitterness, and corrupt my spirit with lusts of the eye and the flesh? Will you still love me then?” (“Yes, and then I will restore your soul, and I will lead you down the paths of righteousness.”)

“But God, but God, what if I go through a depression so bad that it’s like walking through a valley of the shadow of death? One so dark that I can’t even see you? Will you still love me then?” (“Yes, and I will walk with you, and comfort and protect you every step of the way – even if you don’t know I’m there or thank me.”)

It is the devil preaches the message of despair. He’s the one that whispers in your ear that God doesn’t care about you, God has forgotten you, that you are beyond His grace and forgiveness, that you’ve finally gone too far, that you’ve reached the end of His patience, that you should just quit praying because He’s not listening, that God gave up on you, that God’s punishing you, that everything is too scary and God’s no longer helping you… That’s the voice of Satan lying to you, not God.

God will never quit on you, and will always love you. A long as you are still taking breaths in this world, if you have given your life to Jesus, if you are one of His children, who has accepted Him as your Lord and Savior – no matter how far you’ve backslidden – you will always be loved and always given the chance to come to Him – because He’s not just waiting on you, He is constantly, and relentlessly pursuing you with His love. All you need to do is turn around – and you’ll see Him right there.

 

[1] (http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/domestic-dream-of-2-5-children-per-woman-long-gone-as-fertility-rate-declines-for-third-year-in-row)

[2] (http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/81-004-x/2008001/article/10561-eng.htm)

[3] (http://www.workopolis.com/content/advice/article/how-many-jobs-do-canadians-hold-in-a-lifetime/)

What Do You Seek? (Gospel of John Series)

Posted on

Sermon Series Graphic (13)

“The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, ‘What are you seeking?’ And they said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and you will see.’ So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘’You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas’ (which means Peter).’

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael said to him, ‘How do you know me?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’ Nathanael answered him, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered him, ‘Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’” (John 1:35–51)

We’re back into our study of the Gospel of John and have come to a transitional moment where Jesus begins calling his first disciples. It will help you to recall what we have studied already because we’re going to keep noticing important themes throughout the whole book.

What Are You Seeking?

John is obviously fast-forwarding the story a bit, but there is some really key phrasing to see here. For example, notice the theme of “seeing”. The whole passage starts with Jesus walking by John the Baptist and him saying, “Behold!” to his disciples. “Behold!” is the same word as “See!” The two disciples of John the Baptist, Andrew and John, leave to go walk behind Jesus.

Jesus hears them coming behind Him, turns and says His first words of the whole book, “What are you seeking?” or “What are you looking for?”, another reference to “seeing” used all over the New Testament for people who are looking for something or someone.

Considering how important the themes of light and seeing are in the Gospel of John, we shouldn’t pass by this too quickly – especially since that question and theme dominates the rest of this section.

John and Andrew dodge the question by saying, “Where are you staying?”, meaning “Our rabbi just told us that you’re the Lamb of God, one like the Passover lamb, through whom deliverance from death will come by the shedding of their own blood. And we would like to spend some time with you.”

Jesus’ answer? “Come and you will see.” Now, I promise that when Jesus, the One who created light, the One called the light of the world, says, “Come and you will see.” He doesn’t just mean “Come and see where I’m staying tonight.” He means, “I’m about to open your eyes wider than you could ever imagine.” And then, He does.

And that light shines from John and Andrew to Peter. What was Jesus’ first question? “What are you seeking?” What does Andrew say to Peter? “We have found the Messiah?” Can’t find something without seeing it, right? Seeking and finding. John says, “See!”, then Jesus says, “Come and you’ll see!” and then they say, “Peter, come and see!”

Now, look at verse 43 and we see something interesting. Who does the “finding” now? Jesus does. John and Andrew “found” Jesus. Jesus “found” Philip. Jesus looks for Philip, finds Him, and calls Him.

Excurses: Varied Responses

Pause for a moment and marvel at the different responses to Jesus here. First, notice that Jesus is always the first one to say or do something, but the responses are so varied!

John and Andrew leave their rabbi and Jesus turns and asks them a direct question, but they respond by wanting to spend the whole day talking to him. Jesus is presented to them as the “Lamb of God”,  the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, they call him “rabbi” or “teacher” and then spend the day working that out. It seems studious, careful, theological.

Jesus and Peter are different. Peter is introduced to Jesus as “The Messiah”, the “Christ” the “Anointed One”, the Great King and Saviour in the Line of David. Jesus is still the first one to speak, but it’s bold and direct – like a King. Bold and direct like Peter. “This is who you are, Peter. And this is who I will make you.” Peter’s response is to obey and follow, seemingly without a word.

Everyone up to this point is either sent or brought to Jesus, but Philip is different. Jesus seeks Philip out. How does Philip describe Jesus? He uses biblical language, describing Him as the one the scriptures spoke about, but then uses Jesus’ name and address! “Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Philip, at this point, sees Jesus as the man sent by God. That definition will very soon be changed to see Jesus not merely as a man sent by God, but as God become man.

And now, in verse 44 we see another, completely different response to Jesus. What’s really neat here, if you look at verse 45, is that when Philip goes to Nathanael he uses the words “we have found” meaning that John, Andrew, Peter, Philip and Nathanael might have been close friends. Nathanael probably already knew who the “we” was; studious Philip, passionate John and Andrew, headstrong Peter. They had all had some kind of radical experience over the past day or two and wanted to share it with Nathanael. But Nathanael wasn’t an easy sell.

The whole crowd is headed off to follow Jesus, but Nathanael is a sceptic. He knows his Bible. Nathanael being “under the fig tree” may be pointing to the custom where scholars and rabbis would study under vines, fig and olive trees. It meant that Nathanael, a serious student of the Bible, had probably been studying when Philip found him, knew his stuff, and was absolutely committed to God’s word. But here’s the thing. He knows what Moses and the prophets wrote, and there’s nothing in there about Nazareth. Plus, he lived just a few miles away and knew it wasn’t a nice place. The Roman army garrison that lived there gave the town a pretty poor reputation for immorality and lack of commitment to God. Nathanael did the mental math and realized that there is zero chance he will follow any Nazarene as the Messiah.

What does Philip respond with? “Come and see.” There’s our theme again. There was zero point in Philip arguing with Nathanael. He’d probably lose anyway! So Philip says the only thing that would work: “Hey man, you’re smart enough to decide for yourself, but you gotta come and see. I’m convinced. John, Andrew, Peter are convinced. Just come and meet Jesus and you’ll see what we see.”

And to his credit, despite thinking he knows better, despite his prejudice against Nazarites, despite all the scriptures and stereotypes flowing through his mind that said, “This is dumb. Your friends are dumb. I’m not dumb.” he followed his friend anyway. Imagine if he’d been stubborn, stuck to his doubts, thought himself smarter than everyone else, and just stayed by the fig tree. He would have missed Jesus! But, for whatever reason – out of love and trust for his friends, or curiosity, boredom, or to save his friends from throwing their lives away, he went. He would go and “see” for himself.

He went and what does Jesus say? “Behold!” There’s that word again! John the Baptist said it of Jesus, now Jesus says it of Nathanael, “See! Look! Behold! A true Israelite, a man who loves the Word of God, a man in whom there is no deceit, no guile, no trickery, nothing shady. He’s 100% a straight-shooter. This man only cares about one thing: truth. You can’t fool this guy.” It’s an even more complex compliment, because, if you recall where the name “Israelite” comes from, you’ll remember that it was when Jacob, the usurper, the trickster, the one who got his way through deceit and guile and trickery, was wrestling with God. Jacob means “one who wrestles or struggles with God”. That’s how all of Israel related to God. They questioned Him, debated Him, dialogued with Him, tested Him, even aggressively confronted Him. And when they obeyed God, it was with ferocious obedience. [1]

That’s probably the kind of man Nathanael was. He didn’t just accept anyone’s word, even God’s. Instead, he wrestled and studied and made sure that when he believed something it was 100% true – and no one, like no one, was would have an easy time change his mind.

That sort of personality is a double-edged sword. How does one breakthrough to that kind of person? With a hard that stiff, eyes that focused, and a mind that skeptical, what can God do to breakthrough? Argument won’t help. No amount of conversation is going to change Nathanael’s mind at this point. How is Jesus going to shine light into Nathanael’s soul? Nathanael doesn’t need to hear something about the light – he needs to “see” it.

So Jesus performs a miracle of omniscience. He identifies himself as Messiah by displaying supernatural knowledge. Super-natural knowledge. Knowing things beyond the ability of normal, natural people. And more specifically, not just super-natural knowledge – super-Nathanael knowledge. Jesus demonstrates, in no uncertain terms, that He knows more, sees more, and understand more than Nathanael ever has or could. And Nathanael gets it immediately!

Evidence confirmed, mind changed, allegiance given, 100% absolute commitment to Jesus as his new “Rabbi”, the “Son of God” and His “King”. He says, in effect – “You are now my teacher, my mind is yours to shape. You are now my saviour, my destiny is yours to control. You are now my King, my life is yours to command.”

And then, in an act of grace, Jesus says, “If you’re willing to believe because of one piece of evidence – just wait until you see the rest!” And tells Nathanael, the “true Israelite”, to recall another story about Jacob, often called Jacob’s Ladder – the vision of God’s heaven being connected to Jacob’s earth. Jesus was saying, “Nathanael, you call me Rabbi, and Son of God, and King, but there’s so much more. I’m Jacob’s Ladder, the one who connects heaven and earth – I’m the one you’ve been looking for, Nathanael. The one who will connect everything that you’ve been studying, and thinking, and pondering, and wondering, and wrestling with for your whole life with, together.

Conclusion

There are four things in this story that I want to connect together as some practical applications today.

First, I want you to go back to the first thing Jesus says in the Gospel of John, “What are you seeking?” This is the single most important question you can ask yourself in life and when talking about Jesus. What do you want out of life? What is the most important thing for you right now? What do you desire? Do you know what that is? I promise you it’s not money, or fame, or education, or food, or a mate, or a better job, or more stuff. All that is merely a means to an end. You might think you want freedom from pain, money in the bank, a healthy body, lots of friends, a perfect spouse, and lots of fun – but you don’t. Those are all too small. We’ve been talking about this over Christmas, but it applies today too. What you really want is love, hope, peace, and joy. You want to know you are loved no matter where you are or what you’ve done. You want to have the hope that no matter what happens in this world, it will all work out for your good. You want to have your life built on a foundation so strong that no matter what storms occur outside of you, you will not be shaken, but will always be at peace. And you want to know a joy that can never be taken away. Joy that goes beyond feelings, beyond fun, beyond momentary stimuli, beyond distraction, but comes from a spring deep, deep down in your heart that never seems to stop – even when things around you feel sad. Joy that destroys feelings of guilt, shame, and fear. That’s what you really want.

And so, when you come to Jesus, He’s going to ask you, “What are you seeking?” and if the answer is, “More money. No sickness. Something more interesting to do. A place where I can feel important. Some religion that makes me think I’m better than others because I’ve earned God’s love. To keep everyone I love happy and safe.” He’ll simply say, “No.”

But if you want True Love, Abiding Hope, Peace that passes understanding, and Joy that never fails – then come to Jesus and He will say, “That’s what I offer. But you must submit to me giving it to you the way that I deem best. Let me be your Saviour, Rabbi, God, Master, Lord, and King, and I will give you what your heart truly desires.”

The second thing I want you to notice is that everyone who comes to Jesus has the same story but different. Jesus always approaches first, confronts the person with their need, and presents Himself as the solution to that great need – but the responses and story that is written from that point are often very unique and special. Jesus is a real person, someone you can get to know, who listens and speaks and relates to us not only on a corporate level as humanity but on an individual level too. Everyone connects to Jesus in similar and different ways, not because we get to make up our own version of Jesus, but because Jesus meets us where we’re at and treats us like real, unique, special, people.

I personally resonate with Nathanael’s story. In fact, John 1:47 has made itself my “life-verse” because I want to be a man within whom there is no guile, no trickery, no deceit. If you know me, then you’ll know I don’t do secrets and sneakiness well. I have a skeptical mind that tends toward lots of arguments and trying to see lots of sides to things – and I can get trapped in arguments with myself, with God, with others, all in the pursuit of clarity and truth. I love truth, hate lies, and feel like I’m not easily swayed by opinions. Jesus meets me in a very Nathanael way: I study His Word, wrestle with obedience and understanding, and then Jesus shows His power and authority in my life with unquestioning clarity, proving Himself to know more than me.

And I’m sure many here have a similar relationship with Jesus and maybe relate to one of these stories yourself. Everyone does, and that’s ok. I shouldn’t measure your relationship with God by my standards, and vice-versa. Instead, I should share my special relationship with God with you, and you with me, so that we can see an even larger picture of who Jesus is.

Third, I want you to notice that no one really finds Jesus. Sometimes people use the phrase “I found Jesus.”, but it is always Jesus who found them first. Jesus is never lost. He’s the shepherd who finds the sheep. In Luke 19 he says, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Jesus is never lost. He is the way, the truth and the life, and is the only way to be found. He invites you to seek Him and says anyone who does seek will find (Matthew 7:7-8), but it’s not like He’s hiding. He’s there, ready, available, open, willing to listen at all times. If you feel a tug on your heart, He’s found you. The only question is, are you willing to be found or do you want to stay lost?

And fourth, I want you to notice that a living relationship with Jesus Christ is one that naturally leads to being shared. Being excited about Jesus, who Jesus is, what Jesus is doing, what He’s been teaching you, how you’ve been learning, and all the things He is doing through you should naturally lead us to be sharing it with people who either don’t know Him or who have forgotten.

I’ve used this example many times. If you find a great product, like a super good razer that shaves like nothing else, or a restaurant with amazing food, or a book that really impacted your life, or a new habit that has helped you sleep better than ever – it is your natural inclination to share it because you want the people you care about to have a better life too. You want them to celebrate what you’ve found, and you want them to experience the same thing.

Why is our relationship with Jesus any different? It’s because there is no spiritual enemy constantly telling us to be afraid to share how great our razer. I’m not saying that we share Jesus as the answer to everyone’s problems – because we all know that committing to Jesus doesn’t mean everything in this world gets easier, in fact, it often gets harder. I’m saying that once we’ve experienced the Love, Hope, Peace and Joy that Jesus has given us – it should be natural for us to tell people where it came from. But Satan hates that, and so he makes us afraid to speak, afraid to share, afraid we’ll lose a friend, afraid we’ll embarrass ourselves, afraid we won’t use the right words, afraid we won’t be able to answer all the questions…

But that’s the thing. There is no right way to share. We just share our own stories in our own way. And Jesus has promised that when we speak He’ll be there to help us. And if we come up against a Nathanael we don’t need to argue. We just simply say, “Hey, why don’t you ‘come and see’? See my life before and after Jesus. Come see some people I know who have met Jesus. And, why not just talk to Jesus yourself? Ask Him to show Himself to you because you want to meet Him. He’s no performing monkey who is going to do magic tricks for you – but if you want to meet the real Jesus, just ask Him. He’ll respond. Talk to me, come to church, and then talk to Jesus yourself. Just be ready because this is no small thing to do.”

Let Jesus do the hard work of shining the light in their dark souls and converting them. All you need to do is introduce them to Him by sharing what He’s done in your life and then inviting them to “come and see”.

[1] (Borchert, G. L. (1996). John 1–11 (Vol. 25A, pp. 147–148). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.)

Jesus of the Advent Candles

Posted on Updated on

My Post (9)

Over the past while our church has been going through a study of the Heidelberg Catechism, a 400-year-old summary of the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. When we paused for Christmas a couple weeks ago we were only on Day 8, but we’ve already covered a LOT of material. We covered the bad news like sin, Law, guilt, and wrath – and also the good news about who Jesus is and why He is the only One who can bring salvation to the world. We spent a lot of time really digging deep into what it means to be a sinner saved by the grace of God.

Then, after learning how we can get back into a relationship with God we transitioned into getting to know God better by learning more about who He presents Himself to be. Along the way we’ve covered some pretty deep and intense topics, using a lot of important, theological language and doctrinal concepts. We’ve done introductions to why theology matters and where creeds come from. We’ve spoken of God as triune, omnipotent, omniscient, holy and righteous. We’ve spoken of Jesus as saviour, sacrifice, mediator, and advocate.

Studying these subjects and using theological language sometimes gets mixed reviews and actually be a bit of a danger. While my hope is always that these sermons help us grown in our knowledge and love for God, these types of studies can sometimes bring the temptation to detach our hearts from our minds, our relationship with God from our understanding of Him; to cerebralize our faith instead of letting the concepts inform our worship and relationship with Him. There is a danger that instead of expanding our love for God, the study of theology can cause us to sterilize our love for Him. He becomes a subject to study rather than a person to know.

This kind of thing happens to us all the time. Let me give you a couple examples. Humans have this capacity to get used to things pretty quickly. If we are surrounded by a certain smell – whether it’s good or bad – it’s not too long until we experience something called olfactory fatigue where we no longer even smell it anymore. We can be baking cookies and pies or trying to choose a new perfume or lotion, or up to our eyeballs in sewage, and at some point, our nose just gives up and we don’t even notice the scent anymore. It’s not until we leave the environment for a while and then return that we even realize how strong it was.

Bank tellers can handle thousands and thousands of dollars per day, and where at one time holding a huge pile of cash in their hand was something amazing to them, it’s not long until it becomes so commonplace that they don’t even think about it as money anymore – just something to be counted and stuffed in a drawer. Or consider museums. People fly around the world at great expense to visit the world’s greatest museums, to stand before great art for just a short period of time, sometimes even moved to tears by its beauty and the intensity of being near it, but the security guards and cleaning staff are so used to seeing it that they don’t even care anymore. It’s just part of the background of their job. The first time you watch a movie it changes your life, you tell all your friends, you want to experience it again – you even buy it to bring home and watch again – but then, after 3 or 4 more viewings, the surprises wear off, the experience dulls, and now the DVD just sits on your shelf among the others. This happens to everyone. Surgeons get used to seeing blood and holding people’s guts in their hands, factory workers get used to the huge or complex and dangerous machines they see and use every day.

There’s an old phrase that says “familiarity breeds contempt” and while it’s not always true – like in marriages or friendships or study – there is a nugget of truth in there. The more we get to know something the more in danger we are of taking it for granted. The teenager with the new driver’s licence merges onto the highway for the first time and as they get up to speed they feel like they’re about to break the sound barrier and fly off the road – so they grip the steering wheel tightly, open their eyes wide, and stare intensely at the road. But it’s not long until that same teen is in the fast lane and passing vehicles while holding food in one hand, changing the music on their iPod with the other, and driving with their knees.

That’s the danger of familiarity, and it can happen to us when we study theology too. It can be tempting to take the things we know about God for granted, try to put Him in a box, or get so used to using words like “awesome”, “almighty”, “saviour”, “glory” and “grace” that they lose their intensity. And when that happens, blasphemy and pride aren’t too far behind.

Advent

The season of Christmas and Advent offer a cure to that though. Even with all the complexity of the season, the packed schedule, the family issues, the emotional intensity, the commercialism and stress, there is a haven found in Sunday morning worship. Over the past month, many churches around the world have chosen to pause their services and light an advent candle. We do that here too. There is a short reading, some scripture, a moment of pause as the candle is lit, and a moment to reflect. It is a simple and beautiful way to cause us to stop for a moment and elevate our thoughts to the real meaning of what we’re doing here and why this season is so special. Each week a different candle is lit, a different special scripture is read, and a different aspect of the life and promises of Jesus Christ come into view. Each week we remember one more gift that Jesus gave us He came at Christmas. And it’s done in simple ways, with simple language, and with materials that have been in use for thousands of years.

Different traditions have different shapes, different readings, even different amounts of candles, but each one is full of symbolism. In ours, we have five different candles – three purple, one pink, one white. Purple is the historic liturgical colour for the four Sundays of Advent. Pink (or technically “rose) is the colour of the third Sunday. The purple traditionally represents these weeks as concentrated times of prayer, repentance, and reflection in preparation for the big celebration of Christmas, but the third, pink candle interrupts that intensity with a week of rejoicing and celebration. Traditionally even the priests wore pink vestments on that week to set it apart. (Unfortunately, our church doesn’t have such a tradition because I think they’re pretty and now I want one!)

As I said, each of the candles has a different theme, but these themes aren’t communicated with big words, deep doctrinal study, or intense theological exposition. Instead, the words are very simple, and the concepts very meaningful – even intimate. The candles represent Hope, Love, Joy and Peace, and they surround the middle candle which we will light on Christmas Eve, the Christ candle. It reminds all believers everywhere that of our deepest longings – our desire for a hope that does not disappoint us, love that keeps us forever, joy in the midst of suffering, and a peace that passes understanding – are found only when we have Jesus at the centre of our lives. That’s what I want to talk about this morning.

In Jesus There is Hope

The first candle represented Hope. Hope, one could say, is the thing that keeps most of us alive. We can live for a long time in many difficult circumstances, but if we lose hope, it is then that we are in true danger. Hope is something we cannot live without but is tough to come by these days. There’s so much bad news and uncertainty, so many doom and gloom voices out there that sometimes it’s hard to find any hope. Most people are taught, from the moment they enter school, that they are evolved from scum, there is no such thing as eternity, nothing they do ultimately matters, any emotion they feel, even for their parents or loved ones, is just learned behaviour and biochemical trickery. As they move through life the best they are given is to be told to try to squeeze as many years of pleasure and distraction as they can out of this messed up world before death comes and they slip into oblivion.

There is no hope in that, is there? That’s a dim view of life, and we can see it in the rise of depression, addiction, abortion and suicide. The world doesn’t promise much. We put our hope in politicians or scientists or friends, but things never really change much and these supposed saviours fail us over and over. So the best we can come up with is to distract ourselves from thinking about the future, use chemicals to stop the scary thoughts in our head, and keep ourselves trapped in the immediacy of entertainment, because when we stop for a moment all we see when we look forward is a black hole that is getting blacker.

But then comes the first week of Advent that says, “When Jesus came, He brought with Him a great hope.” The scripture we read on that day was from Isaiah 9:2 and it describes the coming of Jesus this way: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” The coming of Jesus at Christmas was the coming of a beam of light into a dark place. Suddenly, because of Him, because of His, His words, His message, His life, and His work on the cross we are no longer faced with meaninglessness and oblivion, but salvation from sin, resurrection from the dead, restoration of our lost souls, a mission in this life, and then eternity with God! 1 Peter 1:3-4 says it this way:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy, he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade…”

Is that not what all humanity longs for? Isn’t that why you are here today? Because you’ve looked at the things of this world and realized that the hope it offers perishes, spoils and fades, but that in Jesus Christ hope never can. That’s a hope we can build our lives on. That’s the hope that Jesus brought at Christmastime to offer to all people.

In Jesus There is Love

What is this love rooted in? What foundation does it have? It is established in love. But not a worldly kind of love. Our hope doesn’t come from one who only loves those who love Him back. It’s not the kind of love that happens as an exchange of goods, or because someone did something for Him. He doesn’t just love people who achieve some kind of level of loveableness. We’ve all experienced that kind of worldly love. And it’s the kind that we worry about, the kind that fades, the kind that we feel like we can mess up and lose. But God’s love isn’t like that. God offers a better kind of love – a deeper love.

When we lit the Love candle we read John 3:16-17 which talks about the depth of God’s love for us. It says,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

Romans 5:6-8 describes the love we find in Jesus this way:

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

That’s remarkable. Jesus didn’t come for those who had earned the right to be saved or were special enough to be saved. It says that Jesus came “when we were still powerless” – other scriptures say that we weren’t just powerless but were “dead in our… sins” (Eph 2:1). It says that Jesus came when we were “ungodly” – when we had no dignity or worthiness or goodness. He doesn’t just love those who are “good people” but for those who were “ungodly”. He came to a people who are His opposite. And then He “died for the ungodly”.

It says that God showed us the kind of love that we have all been so desperate to experience. It says “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” When Jesus came at Christmastime He wasn’t coming to help His friends.

A couple of verses later, in Romans 5:10 it says that Jesus died while “we were God’s enemies”. That’s the story of the deep love at Christmas. Jesus came to the unlovely, the unlovable, His enemies and His opposites, to live among us and save us the trouble we brought on ourselves. He went through Hell so we wouldn’t have to, gained nothing so we could gain everything.

In Jesus there is Peace

Which is why, if there is no Jesus, there is no peace. Many of you know this feeling. Without Jesus, we are still enemies of God and our spirits can never be at peace. We always feel like God is against us, like we are alone in an out of control world. Without the guidance of Jesus, the good shepherd, we never know what it means for God to give us such a love for our enemies that we are able to pity them, feel bad for them, even find peace while sitting at a table with them. It is only knowing that Jesus is in control that we are able to be at peace in a world filled with strife and turmoil. Without Jesus, we are always trying to fill our lives with something that will quell our fears, give us security, and help us understand the world so we can control it better – but they all fail us because it’s impossible to find true peace anywhere else but in the presence of Jesus Christ.

On the Sunday we lit the peace candle we read the prophecy about Jesus that came 600 years before He was born in Isaiah 9:6-7 which said that when Jesus came His people would say,

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”

In Romans 5:1-2 we read it about our peace with God this way:

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand”

When we put our trust in Jesus, He grants us is peace. Peace in our hearts that we know our eternity is secure because we don’t have to earn heaven. Peace with others because we understand forgiveness (knowing we have been forgiven so much). Peace in the knowledge we cannot lose our salvation and that we can trust God because He has everything under control. Peace knowing that we are loved so very much by a God who traded His Son for us.

In Jesus there is Joy

And, therefore, knowing all of this – when we are secure in the hope Jesus offers, understanding the love Jesus has for us and knowing we are at peace with God and others and within ourselves because of what Jesus has done for us – we have joy.

Without Jesus, a person can’t have true joy. Certainly, in God’s common grace, even the most godless pagan can experience happiness. We can be entertained and distracted for a time, even smile and laugh for a moment. We can surround ourselves with lots of good things like family, friends, finances, food, and fun – but all of those things only bring temporary moments of happiness. Our family lets us down or passes away, our children grow up and leave, we fall out of friendships, the food runs out or makes us fat or sick, the money doesn’t keep its promises, and the fun only lasts so long. It’s not too long before we realize that the things we thought were supposed to bring us everlasting joy don’t last.

That’s why Jesus doesn’t promise us happiness but instead promises us more. He offers us Joy, and it is perhaps the greatest gift God gives to His followers. It is more complex than an emotion, but comes from a connection to something that transcends this world, transcends our emotions, is bigger than what this world can offer – transcendent joy comes from our transcendent God. We already read a joy scripture today when we lit the candle, but I want to read another from when Jesus speaks about the mixing of Love and Joy in John 15:8–13,

“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. ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.’”

What brings a person joy? What makes a person full of joy even when their circumstances aren’t very happy? Jesus tells us here. We have joy when we know that we have a life that leads to more life. When we know we are in right standing with God. When we are mindful of God’s presence and the good things He provides every day. When we know we are bearing fruit in our lives because God is working through us. When we live a disciplined life, free from folly and stupid decisions because God’s Spirit is helping us moment by moment. When we feel the ever-abiding love of God, knowing the Creator is on our side and works all things for our good and His glory. When He brings us to a family of believers who surround us with His love, accept us for who we are, and care for us no matter what because they know Jesus too. What brings us joy us knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Jesus loved us so much that He was willing to lay down His life for us, call us His friends, advocates for us, and will be with us every step of every day for the rest of eternity. That kind of joy is the exclusive province of the Christian who believes in Jesus Christ as their Saviour and Lord.

I know that church and Christmas and theology and doctrine can get complicated. I know that when you look inside there are a lot of things you don’t even understand about yourself, let alone the world around you. But I know this for certain: that everyone here wants these four things: Hope, Love, Peace and Joy. And I know this: The message of Christmas, the message of the church, the message of the Bible is that they are found ultimately, fully, perfectly and only, in Jesus.

So take time to consider that this week. To meditate upon Hope. To remember it and pray and journal about Love. To sing about Peace and share that Joy with others. All centred around the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Love

Posted on Updated on

48 - LOVE.JPG

Audio:

Text:

Have you ever had the experience where you look at a word too often and it suddenly loses its meaning? You read it, try to spell it, sound it out, and then suddenly that word looks really weird, you don’t recognize it, the letters all look misspelled, and you’re not even sure what it means anymore? Because I spend so much time writing and reading it happens to me all the time.

It’s actually a very normal thing that happens. It’s called “Semantic Satiation” and it happens when you ask part of your brain to access a piece of information too many times in a row. Essentially that little bit of your brain gets tired and needs to recover.

This can happen with more than just words though. This is why we usually don’t like listening to songs more than once and why songs with repetitive lyrics lose their meaning after a while as the words become just part of the beat. It happens to warning signs where the words “Danger” or “Caution” are seen so many times that they lose their ability to affect us. It’s also why advertising companies keep changing the names, logos, and boxes. You’ve probably noticed this when you’ve written a note and stuck it on a wall, right? It was supposed to remind of something, but after a short period of time, you don’t even see it anymore. The same thing happens with companies as the wow factor of their product goes down and they have to change up how it looks or what it’s called so you’ll notice it again.

This rabbit hole goes deeper though. There were some studies done on Semantic Satiation that showed how using emotional words a bunch of times can change how you see other people. In one study in 2012, they took a bunch of students, stuck them in a room, and gave them a bunch of faces to get familiar with. They were then divided into two separate groups. One group was asked to repeat a feeling word 30 times (like “happiness”, “anger” or “fear”) putting them way into Semantic Satiation of that word. Then they showed a picture of someone they had just memorized with their facial expression showing that emotion (being happy for example). It took the group that repeated “happiness, happiness, happiness” over and over much longer to identify the person than the group that hadn’t – even when they made the face super extremely happy. It had fatigued that part of the brain so sufficiently that when they saw happiness, not only had the word “happiness” lost its meaning, but their ability to detect happiness it in other people’s faces![1]

Defining Love

One could make a pretty good argument that we’ve done this with a lot of really good words like “Epic” and “Awesome”, which are now all used to describe not only the most majestic parts of creation but also the most mundane things. You can stand on the edge of Niagara Falls, witness its power and listen to its roar and say, “wow, that’s awesome” – or when your waitress asks how your food is, you can say, “wow, it’s awesome.”

I think in a very real and even more serious way, this has happened to the word “Love”. It’s supposed to mean “an intense feeling of deep affection”, but it seems to have lost its punch.

Most people know the Bible has a lot to say about Love, but it doesn’t really help much to read that if our brains simply can’t soak in what that word means because either we see it too much or we have no real definition of it, right? It just bounces off us like water off a duck’s back, never penetrating the shell of our hearts.

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

How can we understand what that means if we are using the word “love” to describe our feelings for God – but also our spouse, our kids, our car, for new fallen snow, and our favourite dessert? How can I love God but also love tacos?

The New Testament was written mostly in Greek and Greek had 4 different words for “love”. There’s EROS, where we get our word “erotic”. It was represented in the Greek god EROS, who the Romans called “Cupid”. It is the feeling of arousal where people are sexually attracted to each other.

Then there was STORGE, which was the special love shown for relatives like parents and children, and the word PHILIA which is the love between very close friends or even brothers and sisters. There’s a really combination word in Romans 12:10 that says Christians are to “PHILOSTORGOI one another”. Love as a family and love as friends mushed together.

But there is one word for love that towers above all others in the New Testament and that is the word AGAPE or “unconditional or sacrificial love”. It is not a love that is based on familiarity, charm, or attraction. This is a love that has more to do with principles than feelings. That being said, it’s not just the cold, religious duty that we give to God or we give to others because we have to, but more as an affection driven by something deeper than mere feelings. This is love based in commitment, given by self-sacrifice, made by choice, regardless of how much the other person deserves it or the risk of disappointment or rejection.[2] [3]

The Love of God

AGAPE love is the love that is “of and from God”. It is love that is “of” (as in, aligns to His design for it) and “from” (as in, the kind of love God gives us). It is the kind of love God gives to us and the kind we are to give to others. This is what 1 John 4:19-20 means when it says, “We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar…” That’s the concept of AGAPE laid out. We can only have the deep, AGAPE type of love – sacrificial, committed, fearless, unselfish love – if God not only demonstrates it to us but also helps us to have it.

Once we start to grasp the concept of how much God loves us, it gives us the courage and the impetuous, the motivation to love others. As long as we think God is against us, will leave us, hates us, is angry at us, or is too distant to care about us, we will never be able to truly give AGAPE love others.

But when you realize that God loved you so much that He was willing to trade His one and only Son for you – you start to get it. When it becomes real to you that God knit you together in your mother’s womb and chose you before the beginning of time to be His – you start to get it. When you realize that even your worst sins are not only forgiven but will be used for your good and God’s glory – you start to get it. When you realize that you were dead, condemned, an enemy and yet God saved you anyway – you start to get it. When you realize that even on your worst day, when everything is wrong, that there is nothing in the whole universe that can separate you from the love of God, because His love doesn’t depend on you, it depends on Jesus – you start to get it. When you realize that you were the leper and Jesus touched you, you were the blind and Jesus made you see, you were the outcast, the Pharisee, the prostitute, the hypocrite, the corrupt official, the fool, the afraid, the lost sheep, the prodigal son, the one who owed more than could be repaid in many lifetimes – and Jesus came and got you, healed you, cleaned you, paid your debt with His own blood, and walks with you every moment of every day – you start to get how much you are loved.

And then that type of love can’t help but leak out on to others. Just like “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17), the love God shows us must spill onto others. Love must be “demonstrated”, shown, made real and practical. That’s Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Agape love is always shown by what it does. God’s love for us is most clearly shown at the cross. God’s AGAPE love is love we don’t deserve. Ephesians 2:4-5, right? “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…”

But what does that type of love even look like in our lives? It’s all well and good to talk about big, God-sized love, and it makes us feel warm and fuzzy to read and sing about, but how does it work out practically in our lives? What does it look like? If “love” has truly reached “Semantic Satiation” in our culture, then how can we recover it? Well, we not only need to experience it for ourselves by being saved by Jesus, but we also need some concrete concepts and examples to help us understand. And that’s when we turn to 1 Corinthians 13.

Context

Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 13 and let’s read one of the most famous passages in scripture, often called “The Love Chapter”, and let’s pull out some real, concrete, ways that God’s AGAPE is lived out in our lives.

Remember the context of this church? They were divided into factions (1:12), participating and encouraging all kinds of sin (5:1, 6:12-20), suing each other (6:1), messing up their marriages and families (7:1-16), constantly offending one another and tempting one another to sin (8:12; 10:31; 11), coming to church drunk and eating all the food before everyone got there (11:17-34), even desperately wanting to be able to have the kind of crazy spiritual experiences they used to have when they worshipped demons at the temple (12:2).

Remember the context from last week about Spiritual Gifts? Last week we learned that they had gotten the idea of spiritual gifts completely confused and were not only wishing they could all have sign gifts, but were belittling themselves and anyone who had gifts they deemed less important. And so the Apostle Paul, writing under the authority of Jesus, says, “You guys have this all wrong! We’re a body that needs all these different parts!”

At then, at the end of his illustration of the Body of Christ, where he tries to teach them to accept the gifts as God gives them and work together, he says, “And I will show you a still more excellent way.” What’s more excellent than getting the gift of tongues, or healing, or miracles, or teaching? What’s more excellent than having some intense, ecstatic worship experience? Paul starts with a preface.

Meaningless Actions

Look at verse 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.”

What’s he saying here? He’s saying that you can have all the gifts, talents, powers, and faith in the world – but if it’s not motivated by AGAPE love – sacrificial, committed, unselfish love – it is meaningless. Why? Remember what I said last week about the difference between demonic spiritual gifts and the spiritual gifts from the Holy Spirit? What was the difference?

The ones from the Holy Spirit point to Jesus and the demonic ones point everywhere else. What’s the difference between real, meaningful, good works and ones that are meaningless? Love.

Listen to the words of Jesus from Matthew 7:21-23,

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

These passages sound very familiar, don’t they? “Jesus! We spoke in the tongues of men and angels, we gave great, prophetic messages and sermons, we studied so we could understand mysteries, and memorized bible passages and theologies and doctrines and psychologies and medicines and technologies so we would have all kinds of knowledge, and we did mighty works in your name, fed nations, started ministries, cured disease, travelled the globe singing your songs and speaking your name.

And what does Jesus say? “You had not love, neither for me nor my people. You were only thinking of yourself. So when you taught and spoke and sang all I heard was an irritating, clanging symbol. I don’t even know who you are. My ears were closed to you. And your faith and mighty works, were not motivated by AGAPE because you don’t even know me. There was no sacrifice, no commitment, it was selfish love meant to point back to you – and so it all meant nothing. We weren’t working together, Me as your Lord and Saviour, you full of my Spirit. You were doing it all on your own. All your supposed good works, because they were not motivated by my love, were all works of lawlessness, doing more harm than good.”

No good deed, no great religious work, no level of knowledge can save us, nor can it please God alone. Why? Because even though it looks like love for others, it is actually just love for ourselves. What does this look like?

Verse 1 speaks of words. Consider your words. Where do your compliments come from? From a desire to make others feel loved or because you want compliments back? Why do you try to solve relationship issues like arguments? Because you love the person or because you hate conflict? Why do you insert yourself into people’s lives and try to befriend them? Because you love them and want to bear life’s burdens with them – or because you are afraid to be alone or need someone to stir drama up with? Consider why you do what you do. Is it out of love for others or love for yourself?

Verse 2 speaks of knowledge. Why do you study? So you can serve others or so you can sound smart? Why do you seek excellence? Because you want to maximize the joy of others or because you are a controlling perfectionist? Why do you like hearing people’s problems and giving advice? Because you have a soft heart and want to walk with them or because you have a saviour complex and want to be Jesus to them?

Verse 3 speaks of actions. Why do you do what you do? Love is not merely measured by your actions, but by your motives. Why did you buy that gift for that person? Because you love them and thought it would make them feel love – or our of obligation, to shut them up, to distract them, or to make yourself look good. Motives matter. This says you can give away everything you have, be the most generous person alive, live in a cardboard box, and then die as a result – and it could mean nothing to God, gain you no heavenly reward, because it was not motivated by love.

What a different view of spirituality, religion, wisdom, and sacrifice God has compared to us, right? We could judge someone the most amazing believer ever – the voice of an angel, the preaching power of Spurgeon, the wisdom of Solomon, the spirituality of Augustine, the knowledge of Da Vinci, and the sacrificial life of Mother Theresa – and yet, before the face of God in heaven it would all count for exactly zero because it was not motivated by love.

Love Is

So what does true, AGAPE love look like? We see it in verse 4. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Hopefully the picture begins to form. Have you ever known someone who was amazingly skilled, knowledgeable, or giving – but their heart was a mess? What a smart guy, but what an unkind man, he has no patience for anyone. That woman volunteers all over town and serves in every ministry – but what a bragger. That guy sure knows a lot about the Bible, and is such a man of prayer – but he is so rude, always insisting on his own way – you should see how he treats the waiters and waitresses at restaurants.

“Of course I love my husband and my family and my church”… then why are you always so irritated and resentful of them? Why do you have a ready list of everything they have ever done wrong since you met them? “I love my wife and family and church”… then why do you constantly like about where you’ve been, what you’ve been doing, and why you were late?

Do you see how our motives can completely negate our loving actions? How our actions can completely negate our words? The love of God, AGAPE love, looks like this. Remember I said that love is “of” God and “from” God. The way we understand how to love others is to understand how God loves us. So what does true love look like?

Love is patient, longsuffering. The Bible says repeatedly that God is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” (Exo 34:6; Num 14:18; Ps 86:5). He’s not sitting around waiting to zap you, constantly stomping around, disappointed with you because you’ve “done it again” – He’s patient. Are you? Some of you ask, “How long do I have to put up with this?” The Biblical answer is, “A good, long while.” “But they keep doing it! How many times do I have to forgive them and be patient? They’ve done this like seven times!” And Jesus says, “I do not say to you seven times, but 490 times.” (Matthew 18:22) So many times that you end up losing count. Are you patient? Keep in mind that one of the fruits of the Spirit that you can ask for is “Patience” (Gal 5:22-23).

Love is kind. Kindness is the initiative to respond to people’s needs. You see someone in need and you are compelled by a drive inside, because of the kindness God has shown you when you were in need, to go and fill it generously. “Need a quarter? Here’s a dollar”. “You look sad, here’s something to cheer you up.” “Can’t afford a babysitter? I’ll come for free – and tidy the kitchen when you’re gone.” “You need a ride? Here, borrow my car.”

Love does not envy, or is not jealous. Envy is when you get angry that someone has something you want. When seeing someone that has something causes you to feel sorry for yourself. “That person is richer than me, smarter than me, prettier than me, better at a skill than me, and that makes me angry at them and assume the worst about them. I can’t be their friend because they have something I don’t. They have a spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend, parent, child, home, car, whatever, and when I see them or think about them I immediately feel bad about myself. That’s envy and jealousy. It was, perhaps, Satan’s greatest sin. Love says, “I am happy that person has something awesome like that. Sure, I’d like that too, but I’m really glad they are blessed in that way. I wouldn’t trade with them because then they would be without. I’d rather go without if it meant their happiness.”

Love does not boast; it is not arrogant. This is the mirror of envy. This is making others feel badly because of the things we have. We are given a gift by God and are meant to use it to bless people – but instead we use it to make ourselves feel superior to others. That’s sin. Love says, “I have this awesome thing and I’m going to share it with you. I have this talent and I’m going to bless you with it. I have this ability and I’m going to use it for you, without cost, because I love you.”

Love is not rude, or unseemly. In other words, love doesn’t make people cringe by being crude, impolite, or offensive. Usually this means sexual talk and profanity, but it can also mean simply not waiting your turn, serving yourself first, or telling jokes that try to humiliate or embarrass others. Love lifts people up, encourages, and is sensitive to others. It wants God to be honoured and everyone to enjoy what’s going on.

Love does not insist on its own way. Being self-seeking, or insisting on your own way, is literally the opposite of love. Love looks out for others, gives way to them, insists others go first, listens to what others have to say and lets them try it their way.

Love is not irritable or resentful. Another translation says, “Love is not easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs.” Love isn’t touchy, irritable, hot headed, always on the edge of exploding. It doesn’t have a list ready every time someone talks. Love doesn’t jump down people’s throats over a misspoken word or cause others to hide in fear of them. It doesn’t sit there with their thumb on the nuclear button that they know will blow the other person up and make them stop talking. Love is patient, right? It gives people latitude, lets them speak, lets them make mistakes, lets them try again, lets people explain themselves, and contributes calm to the room – not fear. Which do you contribute?

Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love loves morality. When sin and evil happens it’s not happy about it, but sad. God doesn’t delight in wickedness (Ps 5:4). In fact, He hates sin. Injustice and evil causes Him to feel sadness and wrath. God didn’t sweep the sin under the rug, but dealt with it justly and righteously. That’s why Jesus had to die on the cross, to take the wrath of God for us.[4]

After explaining what love does not do, he turns to the positive and gives us what it does – and they all point to Jesus. To “bear all things” means to “cover” or “hide”. Think of someone being a human shield or throwing themselves on a grenade. Love protects. You see someone being embarrassed or gossiped about or about to face harm and the love inside you makes you jump out and help them. That’s what Jesus did for as He took the punishment for our sins and continues to intercede for us as our advocate.

To “believes all things” doesn’t mean to be gullible or naive, but to be willing to think the best of people, giving them the benefit of the doubt. Jesus does this to us as He walks with us, continues to listen to our prayers, keeps helping us, keeps encouraging us, and treats us as friends. One of His titles, after all, is Jesus, Friend of Sinners. A friend knows our weaknesses and cuts us lots of slack.

To “hope all things” means we look forward, not backward. You can’t keep a record of wrongs if you are looking forward, right? It means knowing that God is working on people, that tomorrow is another day, and trusts that God is working things out for our good and His glory. Jesus is our ultimate hope, allowing us to know that as bad as it can get, God has it under control and it will all eventually make sense in Him.

To “endure all things” means to persevere. It was not the Jews or the Romans who put Jesus on the cross. He could have stopped anytime. It was Jesus that put Himself there. He, because of His AGAPE love for us, endured the cross (Heb 12:2) so that we could be saved. Love doesn’t take off when things get tough, it sticks through. Love doesn’t give up. Hardship and pain doesn’t stop love, it purifies it. They strive to save their marriages, families, friendships, as much as they can – for the sake of love.

Conclusion

And that kind of love goes beyond feelings doesn’t it? It’s not temporary, it’s permanent because it is rooted something that doesn’t change: in God Himself. That’s the kind of love Christians have been given and that we have access to when we submit ourselves to the leading of the Holy Spirit. It really is the “more excellent way”.

[1] http://mentalfloss.com/article/71855/why-does-word-sometimes-lose-all-meaning

[2] https://www.gotquestions.org/eros-love.html

[3] White, R. E. O. (1988). Love. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, p. 1357). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

[4] https://www.gotquestions.org/love-not-delight-evil-rejoices-truth.html

Spiritual Gifts, The Body of Christ, and The Weakest Members

Posted on Updated on

47 - Spiritual Gifts

Audio:

Text:

Christmas is coming and I’m very excited already. I went to the Christmas store at the Carleton Place nursery and officially got myself in the mood. There was free mulled cider, cookies, Christmas music playing in the background… I love the colours and lights and trees and everything. I’m a huge fan of Christmas and though I’m practicing some self-control by not putting up my tree yet, I’ve already busted out a shuffle of my Christmas Music Playlist and have sung along to such wonderful hymns as “Grandma Got Ran Over by a Reindeer” and “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”.

And while I love all the colours of Christmas I’m just like anyone else and know that a big part of the season is the exchanging of gifts. I’ve already sent out my list to some key family members, ordered some for people online, and have been talking with grandma about what the kids want.

I was thinking back as to the best Christmas gift I ever received. And while I’ve gotten a lot of cool gifts there was one that stuck out in my mind as the best one. It was 1989, I was 11 years old, and desperately wanted the hottest new item of the season – the one that none of my friends had and which would complete my life so I would never need anything again. I didn’t grow up in a family with a lot of money and this thing would cost a lot. I was cool about it though. I didn’t beg or remind my parents over and over. I just sort of left out a picture of it on the counter, circled it in the Sears catalog and kept turning to that page and leaving it open, and just, like, casually bringing it up naturally in conversation.  Nothing annoying.

I absolutely didn’t think I was going to get it – at all. But on Christmas morning, on grandma’s couch, I couldn’t believe when I opened up the box that it was there… a Nintendo GameBoy complete with Super Mario Land and Tetris! The greatest thing I’d ever seen in my life. It was a huge moment and I barely contained myself.

I loved that thing for a long time, got every accessory, and played it constantly – until the Sega Game Gear came out two years later. The Sega Game Gear had something that the GameBoy didn’t – a colour screen. And I was hooked, but I knew that my parents would never get me another game system, especially since the one I had was still great. So what to do?

[This is a painful, regretful memory actually. I get a little misty just talking about it.]

The Game Gear came out in October of 1991 and was $150. The GameBoy, brand new was $100, but I had all the accessories.

So 13 year old me, by myself, without my parent’s knowledge, went down to the only pawn shop in town and sold it to the guy. It was insane. Somehow, between his talking and my idiotic mind, I ended up giving him my GameBoy, all the games, and all the accessories and walking out with something like $40 or $50. I still remember standing outside the store, with the money in my hand, wondering what happened, and wondering where I was going to get the extra $100. I never did. [Ugh, that hurts to share.]

Spiritual Gifts

I’m sure you’ve gotten some pretty memorable Christmas gifts, right? Maybe even ones that you, hopefully, still have and cherish to this day? Well, today we are going to open up to 1 Corinthians 12 and read about something that God gives all believers, which the Bible calls “Spiritual Gifts”. So please open up to 1 Corinthians 12 and we’re going to read it together.

As you open I want you to marvel at our giving, generous God. God gives us life and this amazing world to live in – and then we sin and mess it up. And then God gives us His Law to guide us and teach us how to live the best way together – and then we sin and mess ourselves up. And then God sends prophets and teachers and leaders to guide us back to Him – and we don’t listen to them, even going so far as to reject and murder them. And then, even while we were yet dead in our sins, having made ourselves His enemies, God sends His Son to show us how to live, teach us the truth, inaugurate His kingdom, and then take the death and punishment we deserve, having God the Father’s wrath poured out on Himself, exchanging Himself sinners. And then He rose again to conquer death and offers us the free gift of salvation, justification, sanctification, for all who would believe – not for all who would do amazing works, or follow the rules, or perform religious acts – but simply by faith in Jesus as the Risen Saviour.

But the gifts don’t end there. Once we accept Jesus as Lord the gifts keep on coming, and the greatest gift that Christians receive is the presence of the Holy Spirit living in us. Just as God’s presence dwelt in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle with Moses, or the Temple in Jerusalem, so now the Spirit of God dwells in everyone who believes(1 Cor 9:19). When His disciples wondered why Jesus would be dying and then leaving them to take His place in Heaven, He said, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7) Jesus said that it is better to have the Holy Spirit inside us than Jesus walking beside us! And He does some amazing things for us.

In John 16 Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will be our Helper, helping us with evangelism, convicting the world of sin, showing us how to be righteous, warning us of spiritual dangers. He helps our minds to see the difference between good and evil, lies and truth, light and darkness. It says that He helps us understand the Bible. It’s not just priests and preachers and scholars that can interpret the Bible, because every believer who is dependent on the Spirit will be taught by Him. In John 14 the Holy Spirit is called the Counsellor who comes alongside us to encourage us, guide us, inspire our good works, and never leave us (Jn 14:16). He binds Christians together with God and each other, causing us to love Him and one another (1 Cor 12:13). He teaches us who Jesus is and helps us to worship and glorify Him (John 15:26, 16:14; 1 Corinthians 12:3).

It is the Holy Spirit that causes us to produce Godly fruit. When we are convicted that we do not love enough, that we are at war within ourselves, that we are too angry, or out of control, Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” [1]

That is a LOT of gifts from God to Christians. And yet, how often are we like me at age 13, taking these awesome gifts and disregarding them, ignoring them, or just callously throwing them away in favour of something else the world has to offer – that just ends up not working out anyway.

1 Corinthians 12

Let’s read though 1 Corinthians 12 together and see what we can learn. We’re going to do a quick study of it because there’s a lot there, and then at the end of this message I’m going to point you at a good resource where you can really dig deeper into it.

“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.”

First, I want you to notice that Paul wants to make sure that believers are not “uninformed” about Spiritual Gifts – which means it behooves us to put some time into public and private study regarding the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives and the discovery and use of our spiritual gifts.

There’s a few ways to do this. One is private study of course. Taking it upon yourself to read and study scripture and some good books on this topic. Second is to go to RightNow Media and watch something called “Your Divine Design” by Chip Ingram. I watched a couple of them and they are a great overview. And third, I’m actually going to be working with the leadership team to put together a 36-week leadership training course for the church where one of the things we cover is how to discover and use our Spiritual Gifts.

The second thing I want you to notice here is the contrast of influences we see here. Before you were saved you were “led astray” or “influenced” toward useless, pagan, idolatrous things. He talks about “mute idols”, pointing back to what we talked about during our discussion of eating meat offered to idols, right? That the actual statues of the gods were just mute, stone carvings. But even though the statues were mute, the followers were not. These cultic religions were full of wild displays and all kinds of ecstatic speech where they would claim to have special words from the gods or the afterlife.

Paul acknowledges that this happens and gives the warning again that there are only two teams: Team Jesus and Team Satan, and sometimes they look similar. Both have great influence over their followers. Satan often makes false copies, or imitations, of what God does in order to confuse and tempt people away from the true faith.

But Paul gets down to brass tacks and says, “These pagan idol worshippers are absolutely being influenced by the spiritual realm and have some kind of ‘gift’ from the demons, but they are forgeries of what God gives. How can you know the difference? Because when the Holy Spirit gives a gift to someone it always points them and everyone else to Jesus. All the other influences, the false gifts, the demonic powers, all point people away from Jesus. That’s the litmus test.”

We’ll see that later in the chapter, but that’s an important place to start. We see a lot of gifted people, some with some incredible sorts of power, even spiritual power. How do we tell if it’s from God or from Satan?

The same way we tell whether we have a good compass or not. A good compass always points North. A bad compass wobbles around and points all sorts of other directs. The Holy Spirit always points to directly to Jesus as Saviour, Lord and the focus of our worship. The other powers won’t. They will wobble around and point everywhere else except Jesus. This tells us something important about why we are given these gifts, right? We are given them to point people to Jesus! Not to lift ourselves up, not to build our popularity, not to keep to ourselves, not even to draw people to our church, but to bring glory and praise to Jesus and accomplish the works He has given us to do!

What are the Gifts?

So, the natural next question is “Ok, so what are the gifts?” That’s what Paul covers next. Start in verse 4:

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”

That is a lot of different gifts, and it’s not even all of them because he lists more in verse 28, “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.” And there’s even more listed in Romans 12 and Ephesians 4.

Now, this study can go deep because each one of these gifts requires some study, right? What does it mean to have the gift of prophecy or miracles or discernment or tongues? What does it mean to have the gift of helping or administrating? And is this even the full list? For example, in the Old Testament Joseph and Daniel are given a gift from the Spirit of God to interpret dreams (Gen 41; Dan 1) and Bezalel is given a spiritual gift to help him make works of art (Exo 31). What about those?

Well, I’m not going to explain every gift because we can study privately, but let’s pull out a few things and see some important points are here.

A Variety of Gifts

First, from 4, notice that there is a “variety” of gifts. One of the problems in the Corinthian church that seems to carry forward today is that people were belittling some of the gifts and only desiring the ones that put on a good show – like tongues. They wanted their church to look like the pagan temples where people were flipping out and speaking in crazy languages, and Paul knew that this sort of thing was not of God.

They didn’t want what the gifts God had given them, but wanted what they had before. They didn’t accept the gift that the Holy Spirit gave them, but complained and wanted something more flashy, more exciting, more interesting.

The Babylon Bee is one of my favourite websites because it gives satirical articles about different things going on in the church and culture. One recent one was entitled, “Unlucky Charismatic Gets Boring Gift Of Hospitality” and part of it said,

“’A man with the ‘really cool’ gift of prophecy reportedly moved throughout the room at Wade’s church and read each member’s aura to determine which spiritual gift the Holy Spirit had granted. Wade grew more and more excited as he approached, but was devastated as he learned he just had the “super lame” gift of hospitality.

‘Ugh, hospitality, are you serious?’ Wade said as the church prophet announced he had detected the Christian virtue as Wade’s supernaturally bestowed talent. ‘I was really pulling for something cool like tongues or healing.’

‘Heck, I’d even take teaching at this point. This sucks,’ a downcast Wade added. At publishing time, Wade had consoled himself by focusing on the fact that he hadn’t gotten something even worse, like giving.”

That’s a perfect example of what was happening then and what happens now. Christians who haven’t learned about the Spiritual Gifts get a little understanding of what they are and then immediately want whatever one gives them the most strokes. They want evangelism so they can be the next Billy Graham, or Teacher or Pastor because they think then they can be a super Christian that everyone looks up to, or healings or miracles or tongues so that everyone can see the power coming out of them.

Do you see the problem there? They are really only concerned about their own glory. And what was the difference between spiritual gifts from Satan and ones from the Holy Spirit? That they point to Jesus. This was the danger that the church was falling into, and that some churches fall into today. The Satanic work of stealing God’s glory.

Look at verses 12-26. This is what they were doing to each other in the church as they disparaged their own gifts and belittled others:

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”

This is where we get where we call Christians the “Body of Christ”. The Apostle Paul equates the parts of a church to be like the parts of a human body. Sure, there are some upfront parts that everyone sees – eyes, muscles, skin – but there are a lot more parts that people don’t see that are just as important – like our heart, liver, and pancreas.

No part of the body should tell another part of the body they are more or less important. That would be crazy! In the same way, no part of the church should call their own, or any other Christians gift unimportant! This brings division to the body.

We do this all the time in the church. Say someone is an “encourager” or a “helper”. That’s their gift. They love sending notes and cheering people up. Or they love to show up and help do the chores in the church. What do we do with them? “Oh, you’re friendly! You should be in charge of all the greeters! Oh, you’re a good helper, you should be a Deacon!” Hold on! Do they have the gift of leadership? Do they have the gift of administration?  Nope. Which is why when they end up being “promoted” they are miserable at it, which makes them miserable, and everyone else miserable. But what happened? We took them out of their gifting and put them somewhere they weren’t meant to be! We took a hand and tried to make it into a mouth. We took a heart and tried to turn it into a pancreas.  And it didn’t work.

Weaker Members

I want you to notice something really neat in verses 22-25,

“…the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.”

This is a huge part of being in God’s Upside Down Kingdom. Who gets all the glory in worldly kingdoms? The warriors and intellects, right? People that are strong, fast, smart, clever… and everyone else is less important, right? What does the world do with “weak”, and “less honourable” parts like the mentally challenged, sick, hurting, immature, elderly. We hide them. We avoid them. We lock them away. Worse, these days we kill them.

What does this verse say? It says that the weaker parts of the body are “indispensable”. The parts with “less honour” or need to be taken care of, are bestowed greater honour. The parts that require protection we protect.

Think of your own body. There are certain parts we take really good care of, right? We wear eye protection and athletic cups because eyes are really sensitive.

What happens when you poke someone in the belly or get something in your eye? The whole body constricts. The head drops, the elbows and arms come in, the knees come up, the muscles contract, to protect damaged area. When one part of our body gets hurt, the other parts naturally protect it. That’s a picture of what’s supposed to happen in the church.

Some people in the church are designed by God to be the arms, legs, knees, elbows, and muscles. Able to take a beating and keep moving. Other members are designed to be weaker. Not less important, but weaker so they can do a special job. A knee can’t do what an eye can do, right? But when the eye gets hurt? Everything stops, right? The rest of the body surrounds it.

What is a church supposed to do with weak and hurting people? We surround them, help them, protect them, care for them, using our own gifts to serve them. Maybe the knee and the elbow can’t come up with a good plan, but the brain can, and the knee and elbow use their strength to protect. The brain can’t cry out for help, but the mouth can. We all work together.

The whole point is that there are a variety of gifts given by God on purpose. So Paul says, “There aren’t just three gifts meant to bring attention to yourself, there are a whole variety of gifts, and none of them are accidents or unimportant.”

Whatever gift you have, it wasn’t your idea. These gifts are not earned. You didn’t ask for the gift you got. They are not chosen or appointed or voted on by people. It is God alone, the Holy Spirit, who administers the gifts among His people.[2] To reject or call one better or more important than another is a great sin. God controls the gifts, not us. It is the believer’s responsibility to seek God’s guidance, read His word, pray and listen to see which gift God has given you and how God wants you to use it for His purposes!

For the Common Good

And that’s the second point, found in verse 7.

“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

Paul answers the questions, “Where do the gifts come from?” From the Spiritual Realm. “How can we tell which ones are from the Holy Spirit or a demon?” Because the good ones point to Jesus. “What are the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives?” He says there are a variety and gives examples. Then he answers the question, “What are they for?” They are given by God for the common good of the church.

Incidentally, that’s what Paul means in verse 31 when he says, “But earnestly desire the higher gifts.” We know after some study that he doesn’t mean that some gifts are better than others, right? He just told the church to stop competing with each other and belittling some people because of their gifts. So what does this mean?

The encouragement is to desire gifts that will spread more and love for the common good, not to bring attention to ourselves. It means that instead of desiring gifts that put on a good show and make us look good, to instead earnestly pursue that which would build up the church and glorify God the most. It leads directly into what Paul is going to talk about in chapter 13, that no matter what gifts we have they need to be motivated by and done with love.

Conclusion

Let me conclude with this: Ephesians 2:10 says, Christians are God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Part of those good works are simply the helpful life that all Christians are meant to lead, but it also has to do with the spiritual gifts you have been given. You and I were shaped to serve God and the church. And we won’t feel like we fit until we are working in the place we were designed to be. You will never feel more joy or satisfaction than when you work within your spiritual gifts. And conversely, as long as you are trying to do things you weren’t designed for, jealous of someone else’s gift, or belittling others, you will never feel the satisfaction that comes with serving God with His special gift to you.

So my encouragement to the Christians here is to take some time to further study this passage and discover your spiritual gift, then tell others what it is, and then allow us to help you live it out! Check out that Chip Ingram study called “Your Divine Design”, check out GotQuestions.org and read some more about it, and prepare yourself to do the leadership course we’re starting soon.

Finding and using your gift means you’ll have to say yes to some things and stop doing other things, but that means you’ll be coming more in line with how God created you to live, which is always better. It is God who builds our church, not us. His way is best, not ours. His glory is our highest purpose, not ours. Our task is to simply follow His plan to work together as an effective body.

[1] https://www.gotquestions.org/Spirit-today.html

[2] Life Application Bible Commentary, 1&2 Corinthians, Pg 169-170

 

Amazing Grace: The Motivation for Sharing Our Faith

Posted on Updated on

Getting Over the Fear of Sharing Your Faith 2

Audio:

Text:

Last week we talked about how scary it can be to talk about our faith and some ways we can get over the fear of sharing what Jesus is doing in our life with the people around us. It essentially came down to four things: show people love before you stress about sharing the gospel with them, remember to pray and give yourself and the whole situation over to God, tell them your story and not someone else’s or a list of memorized steps and prayers, and finally, to be consistent but also patient with them and God, knowing He has it under control.

Knowing those four things takes some of the stress off the situation because it makes sharing our faith much more natural rather than forced. It’s stressful to talk to a stranger, it’s easier to talk to someone you have gotten to know. It’s stressful to have to regurgitate steps and techniques that you’ve memorized, but it’s easier when you simply tell your own story of what God has been doing in your life. It’s stressful when you think you are alone, or that all of eternity hinges on you getting this moment right, but it’s a lot easier when you know that God is with you and everything will happen in His timing.

I really appreciated Justin’s story from the video. And parts of his story line up with what I talked about and then parts of it don’t. Which isn’t surprising since everyone’s story is different, right? He had a teacher who he knew cared for him, but instead of talking to him about Jesus directly, the teacher invited this messed up drug-dealer to church – and He went! So who did the work there? God did all of it, right? The teacher was kind and gave the kid an invite, but it was God that got this rebellious teen to walk through the door of a church alone. Justin got saved his first time at church. That’s totally God, right? The teacher wasn’t even going to pray with him! He didn’t believe that God was going to save this kid on his first night at church – but He did!

And you can hear the resolve in Justin’s voice during the second part of the video, right? He feels an urgency to share his faith with the people around him. He hates the idea of people going to Hell because he hasn’t shared with them. He even feels a sense of guilt – misplaced guilt, I would say – for not sharing Jesus enough with his friend who committed suicide. It’s God who saves, not Justin, but I appreciate his passion.

But his story and his mission, though very personal for him, is also a universal one. It’s told all through scripture, and has been repeated for thousands of years. Justin was a sinner who couldn’t care less about his soul, God, Jesus or God’s people. But God was working in his heart, even when He didn’t know it. He met someone who showed him love and had the courage to invite him to a better way. God worked a miracle and gave him the choice between two roads that led either to Jesus or away from Him. He walked towards Jesus and the stirrings of his heart were explained to him by one of Jesus’ preachers. He felt compelled to renounce his sin and gave his life to Jesus by confessing not only to God, but to the one who had given him the first invitation. And now he lives his life as one with a fire in his bones that compels him to share this message with all the other people who are lost like he was.

That’s evangelism in a nutshell, and it’s the natural thing for Christians to do. The more we understand what we were saved from and who our saviour is, the stronger the compulsion to share that message.

More Forgiveness More Love

Turn with me to Luke 7:36 and let’s read it together:

“One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” [Simon was the name of the Pharisee whose house Jesus was eating at.]

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.””

Look at what she does. She had no doubt been listening to Jesus public teaching and had been deeply moved by it, and was desperate to meet Jesus. She hears where Jesus is and drops everything to come. She runs to a place where she knows she is despised and unwelcome – to a Pharisees house. She brings something valuable to her, a very expensive alabaster jar of perfume, as an act of atonement or repentance, showing her sorrow for her sin and desire to make it right. She stands behind him, not feeling worthy to even speak a word to Jesus. She weeps. Not because she is afraid or sad, but from the grief of her sinful life, the desperation to be forgiven, and to have the destruction of her soul repaired by Jesus. One commentary I read gave a beautiful thought:

“The tears, which were quite involuntary, poured down in a flood upon [Jesus’] naked feet, as she bent down to kiss them, and deeming them rather fouled than washed by this, she hastened to wipe them off with the only towels he had, the long tresses of her own hair…”[1]

She kisses His feet. The word here means she kissed his feet repeatedly, over and over an act of reverence, thankfulness, and humility. Jesus was her Lord, Master, Teacher, and Saviour, and she showed it publically and with great humiliation.

Contrast that with the Pharisee. Now, was Simon less of a sinner than the woman? No, of course not. His sins were just less publically known. Simon considered himself worthy of the presence of Jesus at his table – in fact, he may have even felt that he was equal to Jesus. So he didn’t even bother to show Jesus the most basic hospitality. No kindness, no greeting, no service. This woman knew she was a sinner in need of a Saviour – Simon did not.

The Pharisee was aghast that Jesus would let such a sinful person touch Him. Jesus had the reputation of being a Prophet, someone who was close to God and had a special connection to Him, someone who was holy, with special knowledge that no one else had. So Simon thought, “This guy must be a really bad prophet if he can’t even tell who this woman is. He can’t be who he says he is. He can’t be as holy or important as I thought he was. I’m a much better teacher and much more holy person than Jesus. I’d never let this woman anywhere near me!”

Jesus knew what Simon was thinking and even while the woman was still washing and anointing His feet, Jesus gets Simon’s attention and tells the parable of two people who were forgiven their debts.

He inherently knows the answer to Jesus question, right? It’s common sense. A denarii is the equivalent to the average worker’s daily wage. One person owed a year and a half’s worth of debt. So take your annual household income and add 50%. The average household income in Canada is about $76,000[2], so that means that the first person owed about $115,000 dollars. By contrast the other person owed about $11,000.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been forgiven a debt of any substantial size, or given a gift of something fairly expensive, but it’s a pretty amazing feeling. And, in human terms, the amount of amazing feeling you get is generally commensurate with the amount you’ve been given or forgiven. Not that I recommend playing the lottery, but think about it. Who celebrates more, the one who wins $20 off a scratch card or the one who wins the million dollar jackpot? Who feels more accomplished, the team that leads the entire season and then wins the cup, or the underdog team with the new coach, that struggled with injuries, and eeks out a second period overtime win in game 7?

In the same way, the one who knows the depth of their sins and knows they’ve been forgiven much will love much, but “he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

Are You A Sinner?

If you know you are a sinner doomed to hell by your own hand, unable to save yourself, but plucked from death and reborn anew by the amazing grace of Jesus, your love for Jesus and for God will be far more than the one who thinks they are mostly good, who believes they have earned their own place in heaven, who commands their own life, or just needs God to occasionally step in when things get a little too difficult.

In recent years, for those who still sing hymns, some churches have taken to changing the words to the great John Newton hymn, Amazing Grace, because the original version is too unpalatable. The original lyrics say, “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” But, understandably, most people don’t like saying they are wretches, but they like the song, have some nostalgia for it, or like the idea of getting grace from God, so they change the words to “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved and strengthened me” or “that saved and set me free”. That’s much better, they think.[3]

The problem with that is that we are wretches. For many years John Newton was a vile human being: A runaway, a rebel, a military deserter, and a convict. To get out of prison he begged to work on a slave ship, the vilest of positions, where his racism ran rampant and he helped to kidnap and kill people, living with complete moral abandon, working hard to tempt and seduce others to sin with him. One night there was a great storm where he thought he would die, and suddenly verses he had learned as a child sprang to mind and he begged God for forgiveness and help. God intervened and not only saved his life, but his soul. He changed his life and started to work to clean up the slave trade industry until he became so disgusted that he quit and joined the ministry. Newton took to writing hymns and poems for his church’s Thursday evening prayer service, and one of these was Amazing Grace. The guilt and shame of his former life never left him, and near the end of his life when he was getting more feeble and sick, as people kept wondering if he would retire, he would reply,

“I cannot stop. What? Shall the old African blasphemer stop while he can speak?”[4]

John Newton knew well the wretchedness of his soul and how amazing the grace of Jesus must be that He would be willing to save him. But we have lost that these days. People today don’t like to talk about “sin that leads to death”, but instead about “brokenness that needs healing”. If they believe in an afterlife, or a sort of heaven, when you ask them if they are going when they die they will say, “I hope so. I think I’ve been a good person.”

Too many Christians don’t know if they are saved or not, because they believe that their salvation is based on how obedient or loving or good they have been, rather than on their faith in Jesus. I’m not against new music or new worship songs, but it is not good that so many have turned from singing the old hymns that said things like, “Alas! and did my Savior bleed and did my Sovereign die? Would He devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?” “What, I’m not a worm!” we argue. “I’m a good person!”

Many will no longer sing, “I need Thee, precious Jesus, for I am full of sin; My soul is dark and guilty, My heart is dead within. I need the cleansing fountain Where I can always flee, The blood of Christ most precious, The sinner’s perfect plea.” [5]   “I’m not full of sin, I’m a good person.” “I’m not dark and guilty, I just need a little help.” “My heart isn’t dead within me, I have lots of feelings and love.” “I’m not dirty, I don’t need a cleansing fountain.”

But that’s not how scripture teaches it. That’s not what Christians believe. God says in the Bible:

Romans 1:18, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”

Romans 3:10-18, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

And some say, “That’s only talking about really bad people. That’s not me. I’m a good person.” To which God replies in Romans 3:23, “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” .1 John 1:10, “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” James 2:10, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death…”

To which God replies in Romans 3:23, “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” .1 John 1:10, “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” James 2:10, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death…”

1 John 1:10, “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” James 2:10, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death…”

James 2:10, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death…”

Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death…”

Turn with me again to Ephesians 2 and let’s read it together. This is a passage we have read many times, but we must never allow to stray far from our memory.

“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.”

That is the condition of our soul were it not for the Amazing Grace of Jesus Christ. You and I are not good people in need of a little help. Our souls are not sick and in need of a doctor. We are not drowning and just need to grab onto a life preserver. Without Jesus we are walking corpses, dead in our sins, citizens of an enemy kingdom, children of disobedience, living out the passions of our flesh, selfishly doing whatever we think is best for us, under the rightful wrath of God.

Isaiah 64:6 uses four similes to describe what Gods sees when He looks at us: “We have all become like one who is unclean”, like a leper, rotting, infected, and infectious to others. “All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” The words “polluted garment” can be translated “filthy rags” referring to the cloth used to soak up the blood from a woman’s menstrual cycle. People cannot do “good deeds” to gain

“We have all become like one who is unclean”, like a leper, rotting, infected, and infectious to others. “All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” The words “polluted garment” can be translated “filthy rags” referring to the cloth used to soak up the blood from a woman’s menstrual cycle. People cannot do “good deeds” to gain

“All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” The words “polluted garment” can be translated “filthy rags” referring to the cloth used to soak up the blood from a woman’s menstrual cycle. People cannot do “good deeds” to gain favour with God any more than someone can bribe us by giving us a used menstrual pad. It says “We all fade like a leaf”, decayed, brittle and lifeless. And “our iniquities [meaning our sins], like the wind, take us away.” We have as much ability to save ourselves as a dead leave has against fighting a strong wind. The leaf doesn’t choose where to go, the wind does. In the same way, we don’t choose what we do, our flesh, our sin, our iniquity does.

It says “We all fade like a leaf”, decayed, brittle and lifeless. And “our iniquities [meaning our sins], like the wind, take us away.” We have as much ability to save ourselves as a dead leave has against fighting a strong wind. The leaf doesn’t choose where to go, the wind does. In the same way, we don’t choose what we do, our flesh, our sin, our iniquity does.

It is imperative we understand this. It affects your prayer life, your worship, your humility, your desperation for God’s word, and your passion for sharing your faith. The woman atJesus’s feet knew she was a sinner and wept at His feet seeking forgiveness and reconciliation with God, which she received. Justin from the video knows he is an undeserving sinner saved from Hell, and he is compelled to tell others. John Newton knew he was a pitiful wretch who was only saved by the Amazing Grace of God and he was compelled to tell others. I too, though I have known God all my life, was saved as a child, know that I am a depraved sinner who, left to himself, would sin myself into oblivion. I cannot judge anyone else as worse than me! But by the Grace of God go I. There is no bottom to my selfishness, greed, and sin – and praise God there is no bottom to His Amazing Grace found in Jesus Christ… and knowing that I am compelled to tell others.

Now keep reading in Ephesians 2:4:

“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.”

The question is, do you know this? How much of a sinner do you think you are? Do you know the name by which you are saved? Were it not for God, how much of a sinner you would be? Do you know the One who has redeemed you and what you have been redeemed from? Do you thank God every day for His Amazing Grace to a wretch like you?

The one who knows the depth of their sin and realizes how much they have been forgiven will love Jesus more, pray more, worship more, and talk about Jesus more – they are motivated to share the love and forgiveness of God with others because they know how much they are loved and forgive. But “he who is forgiven little, loves little”, prays little, worship little, loves little, forgives little, and talks about Jesus little.

[1] Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

[2] http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/wealthiest-1-earn-10-times-more-than-average-canadian-1.1703017

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazing_Grace#Urban_revival

[4] http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/pastorsandpreachers/john-newton.html

[5] http://founders.org/2016/05/17/hymns-and-the-depravity-of-man/

Getting Over The Fear of Sharing Your Faith

Posted on

Getting Over the Fear of Sharing Your Faith

Audio:

Text:

I walked into Walmart the other day and saw a bunch of Halloween candy, so I guess Halloween is coming up again. That seems a little early to me, but maybe it’s a piggy-back on things to stuff in kid’s school lunches – which also starts up soon. These two things, Halloween and starting school have something in common, of course, and that is that they can both be sort of scary. One is scary because of all the strange costumes, dark themes, vampires, zombies, and the pressure to do things that terrify you, while the other is, of course, Halloween.

I went digging around on the internet to learn about some different things that people are afraid of. So what I’m going to do is put some things up on the screen and you tell me if they are scary or not scary, ok? Now, we’re not going to make fun of anyone though because we can’t really pick what we’re scared of, can we?

For example, I’m scared of heights. I don’t like being high up in places, but I don’t know why (Acrophobia). Anyone with me?

Here are some others, so you say scary or not scary.

  • Fear of Spiders (Arachnophobia)
  • Fear of taking a bath (Ablutophobia).
  • Fear of Loud Noises (Acousticophobia).
  • Fear of Needles (Trypanophobia).
  • Fear of snakes (Ophidiophobia).
  • Fear of Chickens (Alektorophobia).
  • What about fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth (Arachibutyrophobia).
  • Fear of slime (Blennophobia).
  • Fear of clocks (Chronomentrophobia)

Today I want to talk about something else that is kind of scary for a lot of people, and that is sharing our faith with others. Even with people we are close to, like our family, friends, and coworkers, it seems like we can talk about any other topic under the sun – even controversial things like politics, climate change, alternative medicine, or genetic engineering, we can talk all day long – even arguing about the existence of God seems to be easier – but when it comes to sharing our own personal faith story, what we believe and why and how it changes our life, many of us lock-up.

A lot of questions go through our minds:

  • How do we start talking about Jesus with someone that knows nothing about Him, or is full of misconceptions about Christianity?
  • What if they’re an atheist?
  • What if they’re part of a different religion?
  • How do I bring it up in conversation without sounding like a salesman?
  • And how can we tell the whole story without leaving out important parts?

Christians have an understanding that we are supposed to hold each other accountable, but for a lot of friendships, there’s an unwritten rule, especially with non-believers, that we’re always supposed to be nice, funny, only say kind things – and just ignore the bad stuff, right? How do we break that barrier? Maybe in a very, very close friendship, we can say, “Hey, what’s going on?” but it seems awkward to press more than that. And if that’s the case, how can we tell them that Romans 3:23 says “For all have sinned” and that includes them, and that Romans 6:23 says “the wages of sin is death…” and Hebrews 9:27 says, “it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment ”, and Matthew 25:41 says that to some Jesus will say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels…” where Revelation 20:10 says “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever”. That doesn’t sound very nice. How do you bring that up in conversation? What if we mess it up, or they misunderstand, or they get upset with us, and we lose them as a friend? So we think it’s better to just keep quiet and hope God will do something.

And even if we do get up the courage, when should we do it? When is the right moment? Is there a right moment? Should we just blurt it out whenever we want to? You know… get invited over to their house for dinner and say, “This meal is very nice, please pass the ketchup – oh and by the way you’re all sinners who are doomed and need Jesus.” That’s a little weird, right?

Should we invite them to church first, or tell them about Jesus first? Maybe we should wait for them to ask us. But what if they never ask? Then what?

And say all the stars do align, and it’s the perfect moment, at the perfect time, and they are sitting in rapt attention waiting for us… then what should we say?

Sharing our faith can be a little difficult sometimes, and scary, and sort of complicated when we think about it, so today, in light of the topics we’ve been covering in 1 Corinthians lately, I want to tell you four things to remember when you want to share your faith in Jesus Christ with someone, and then next week, I’ll give you a simple tool to use.

Show Them Love Before You Share the Gospel

The first thing I want you to know about sharing your faith is that you need to show them love before you share the Gospel. This is something that a lot of people get wrong. We all know the Great Commission Jesus gave in Matthew 28:19-20 that says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”. Sometimes we think that means that it’s our job to simply go out and tell the gospel to people wherever they are, even if we don’t know them.

If you walk in downtown Ottawa on any given night you’ll see people handing out tracts, yelling on street corners, or even simply standing there holding a sign with a bible verse on it. I remember one time I was downtown and saw a very surly, unhappy looking man standing on the street holding a sign with John 3:16-18 on it, which says,

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

The happiest message in the world held by the grumpiest person imaginable. Mary Poppins taught us that “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine goes down”, but I don’t think this guy saw that movie. So I started to wave at him. I waved and waved until we locked eyes. And I continued to wave until he waved back at me. I wanted this guy to give some sort of human contact to the message he was trying to spread. Eventually, he begrudgingly raised his hand, to about waist level, and gave me a bit of a wrist twist indicating that he acknowledged my existence. But his face didn’t change.

Certainly, sometimes God calls people to be public preachers and missionaries that speak to strangers. Some people are called to stand before crowds and preach to the masses, but that’s the rare exception and not usually how He works. God is a very personal God, Jesus is a personal saviour, and the Gospel, though universal, is a very personal one. Every individual needs to make a decision for or against Christ. Which means most of the time, like 99.9% of the time, God works through close relationships to spread His message. In fact, those crowd preachers aren’t that effective unless they have spent time preparing some way to personally connect those they speak to to some kind of church group.

God did not write a message in the sky, but sent Jesus to be one of us, to live among us, to tell us the message personally. The disciples were all handpicked to be with Jesus. He physically touched the sick and leprous. Even when Paul went from city to city preaching the gospel, he would sit with people in marketplaces, take time for questions and home meetings, spending hours with people, and then when he left he appointed elders who everyone knew personally.

Jesus says in John 13:35 something that we all need to remember,

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Loving the person comes before we bring them to church or share our story with them. The way that they know that we have Jesus in our hearts, and the way that they will know that Jesus is real to us, is by the love we have for them and others. So that’s where we have to start – loving.

So before you share your faith, ask yourself:

  • Do I love this person?
  • Do they think I love them?
  • Do I want to tell them about Jesus because I love them or for some other reason?
  • Have I shown them love by helping them, caring for them, eating with them, telling them the truth, and being their friend?

Remember to Pray

The second thing I want you to remember when you share the gospel with someone, is to pray. I read a great inspirational Instagram quote this week which said, “When prayer becomes your habit, miracles become your lifestyle.” And whole I don’t want to dig into the finer points of that too much, it does make a point. We must pray first and often because we don’t know when these divine appointments will come. God promises in the Bible that He will give us the words we need, the wisdom we need, the timing we need, and the help we need when we come to talk to our friends about Him. But even more important is that the Bible says that the Holy Spirit must do the work in our friend’s heart before they can hear anything we say! Remember 1 Corinthians 3:7, “So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”

You probably remember the Parable of the Four Soils that Jesus told. It’s the story of a farmer who goes out and spreads seeds on all kinds of different ground – hard ground, rocky ground, thorny ground, and good ground. The seeds represent the Gospel of Jesus and the different grounds represent different types of hearts.

Many people have hard hearts, like the hard ground. The seeds of our message just bounce off and never grow. God says in the Bible that it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict people of sin (John 16:8) and change their hard heart into a soft one (Eze 36:26-27). We can’t do that. We can’t argue, bribe, or convince anything to give up their sin and believe in Jesus – only the Holy Spirit can do that – which is why we must pray.

So first we show them love, and then pray. Pray God will soften your heart to hear him. Pray that you will feel compassion for the lost, not just judgment. Pray that you will want to witness to them. Pray for the boldness to speak truth. Pray God opens doors of opportunity. Pray God sends more workers to help you. Pray against Satan and the demons who are working against you and the person you are sharing with. And pray that when you present the message that God will make the person’s heart soft so they can hear the words that God gives you.

 

Tell Them YOUR Story

The third thing to remember about sharing your faith is that you need to start with your story. We sometimes think we need to start with apologetics, which is the defence of the faith. And while apologetics are great, and RightNow media has some excellent training videos that I think everyone should watch, you don’t need to have a perfect defence of the Bible in order to share your story – because it’s your story. They can argue up and down about the existence of God and science vs faith, but they can’t argue about your story – and it is your story that is going to touch them the most.

When you speak, you don’t have to speak in generalities about “God” and “The Bible”, but you can speak very specifically about what you know about God and His Son Jesus and what you know from the Bible. Tell them what it means to know that you that you are a sinner who needs a Saviour. How you went from an unbeliever to a believer. Tell them what it’s like for you to be a Christian. Tell them what God has been doing in your life, what you are learning at church and from the Bible, what miracles you have seen lately.

Which leads to the important point that you need to have an active relationship with God, right? If you don’t know the joy of worshipping the One who saved you from sin, if knowing God doesn’t affect your daily life, if you aren’t learning anything, and you haven’t seen any miracles, then you don’t have much of a story to share, right? That could be a reason you’re not – simply because Jesus doesn’t really matter to you one way or the other. But when you have a growing, dynamic relationship with Him, where your daily devotions have meaning, your prayers are being answered, He is close to you in struggles, you are growing in maturity as God kills more and more sin in your life, and your worship is meaningful and expressive – then you’ve got something to share.

You don’t have to make anything up, or memorize the Billy Graham Four Steps to Peace with God, or tell far flung missionary stories, or try to copy what your pastor or parents said – just tell them what it’s like for you.

  • What does it feel like to know you’re forgiven from you’re your sins?
  • What’s it like to talk to God in prayer and know He speaks to you personally in the Bible?
  • What’s it like to know that you are loved no matter what you do?
  • What’s it like to have the Holy Spirit inside of you telling you right from wrong every day?
  • What’s it like to be afraid of something, or sad beyond measure, or furious with anger, but then pray and know that God is literally working in your heart at that moment to take care of you?
  • What’s it like to know that Jesus has a plan for your life and that even when bad things happen you know they’ll work out for the good?
  • What’s it like to be part of His church? What’s it like to sing worship songs?
  • What’s it like to memorize Bible verses and have them spring to mind at just the right moment?

This is how evangelism works, and has always worked: individuals sharing what God has done and is doing in their lives. God is writing a story in your life and that’s the one that He wants you to tell.

Be Patient

And the fourth thing I want you to remember is that you need to be patient. The Bible is replete with verses about waiting for God, waiting on God, and being patient as God does His work. So be patient and keep talking to them. Keep serving them. Keep being their friend. Keep praying, but don’t stop sharing your story with them.

Here’s a tip I heard somewhere: When you have coffee or see them at work and they say, “How are things?” You can say, “Well, I’ve had some interesting things going on at work, in my family, and with my faith, which would you like to hear about?”

Think about it this way, if you saw a cool movie or bought an amazing product, you’d tell them, right? Then why not tell them about something cool or amazing that happened in your spiritual life? It’s mostly fear that keeps us from doing that, which is helped by prayer, and when I or others have done it, I can’t remember a single person saying it blew up in their face. Why? Because we’re not forcing it. We’re not making it up. It’s not coming out of nowhere. It’s part of us, and that person cares for us, so it’s natural for them to listen to something like that.

They may not get saved the first time you tell them. They may not be ready to turn from their sin. They might be afraid, or confused, or have more questions, or something else. So be patient with them, keep loving them, keep praying for God to open their hearts, and keep talking to them about what God is doing in your life.

There may come a time when you think that you’ve said it too many times – don’t believe it. I’ve heard of people who were exposed to the gospel the first time and gave their life to Jesus right there – and I know people whose friend or spouse told them about Jesus for 20 years, 30 years, 40 years before their heart was soft enough for the seed of Jesus’ story to take root. So keep on praying for them. God isn’t finished with them yet.

Yes, sharing our faith can be a little scary sometimes, but my message to you today is to keep loving them, keep praying for them, and keep talking to them about Jesus. That’s what God wants us to keep doing, and that’s how people get saved, so that’s what we should do.

Good Christian Sex

Posted on

33 - Good Christian Sex.JPG

Audio:

Text:

A couple weeks ago I gave a sermon on the topic of sexual immorality which led to some pretty strong and varied reactions. Some people appreciated confronting the topic of pornography from the pulpit while others claimed it was.

I want you to know that whenever I preach my intention is never to be intentionally shocking or vulgar, but simply to present what scripture teaches. None of the criticism I received was that I used harsh language or was in theological error and I ran the sermon past a few people and they agreed. However, while I did present the Gospel as the answer to the problem, one criticism that did touch home was that I may have presented the problem without giving many practical solutions.

One person said, “Ok, so everything is dark, but what’s the solution? Where’s the hope?” Of course, as I said, our ultimate hope is in Christ. The only way to be free from the burden of sin and to escape the trap of sexual immorality is to admit we are sinners, fall down at the cross, and ask for forgiveness and help from God. But there is a very practical, applicable, useful tool to help with the problem of an out of control, sinful, sexually immoral appetite: marriage.

Open up to 1 Corinthians 7:1-5.

[I want to say up front that though I used a bunch of sources, I help for this sermon from one of John MacArthur’s messages called “Marriage, Divorce, and Singleness”]

 “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: ‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’ But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”

Marriage in Corinth

We’ve already covered a few times the state of the culture in the city of Corinth. And the Corinthian church needed some instruction as to how they should handle living there. We can sympathize, right? Sin, it seems, has corrupted everything! And so, a believer, wanting to honour Jesus, flee sin, and be obedient to God, is often tempted to just throw everything out. They feel tempted so they figure that they will just get rid of everything. Move to the country, turn off the internet, break the TV, avoid the theatre, don’t date, don’t go to the mall, never talk to anyone except Christians… just avoid everything.

Some Christians in Corinth thought the same thing and some of them decided that the solution to avoiding the sin of sexual immorality at least would be that Christians should simply avoid marriage altogether. Corinth was a mess of immorality of all kinds, but what the city was most famous for, even in the pagan world, was how messed up they were sexually, and this affected the state of marriage too.

Weddings in ancient Greece actually looked a lot like they do today. A lot of our traditions come from them. Rich people had ceremonies, wore rings, had veils, carried flowers, even had cake.

Slaves, of which there were many in the Corinthian church, weren’t even allowed to get married, but if they did find someone they wanted to be with they could ask their owner if they could have a “tent partner” to be with sometimes. But they couldn’t commit to one another because there was no guarantee one of them wouldn’t be sold and have to leave.

In the general culture, the divorce rate was high and morality was very low. Like today, sleeping around, adultery, cheating, and serial monogamy was common. A normal citizen could even buy a wife if they wanted to. There was even, around biblical times, a sort of women’s liberation things that started, which tried to switch it around so that the women would do all the same things to the men. It was a real mess.

And so there were some big questions about what Christians should do. Keep in mind that those being saved and joining the church were coming from this culture completely. They didn’t grow up with the judeo-Christian ethic like we did – but came from a totally corrupted culture. And it was natural for them, seeking to want to be good Christians, to think that simply avoiding sex and marriage altogether would be best.

So here we see them sending a question to the Apostle Paul to ask what Jesus has to say on the subject. See verse 1: “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: ‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’” That was their solution. They had a lot of situations. They had single Christians who wanted to get married but weren’t sure if that was a good idea, Christians married to unsaved spouses and weren’t sure what to do, married people who had a bunch of sinful habits they didn’t know what to do with, divorced people who didn’t know if they were allowed to get remarried, and a whole bunch of dads with angry daughters who were being told they weren’t allowed to get married at all. There was a lot of mixed teachings about this. Everything from “There should be no marriage but just free love and sex for everyone” to “no one should ever get married or have sex ever” – and that continues today among cults and different religions, even in those claiming Christianity. So, Paul, what does Jesus say we’re supposed to do?!

Paul’s answers take each of the groups in turn. He takes on the married people first, so let’s do that. I want to talk to the single people too, but since Paul talks to the married people first, that’s how we’re going to take it.

 To the Married

Celibacy and singleness is ok with the Bible and ok with God. It frees you for greater missions in God’s kingdom and allows you to remain focused on serving Him and others. The Bible presents singleness as something to be honoured and godly. But, for most people, since sexual temptation is a real problem, the solution is to get married. Singleness is good unless it leads you into sexual sin. For most people, trying to avoid sexual sin is going to be really hard, because marriage is intended to be the norm. Marriage is a gift given to us by God to be a tool to help us grow closer to Him, learn about ourselves, become a better disciple, practice all the things the Bible says about serving, forgiving, self-control, etc… but it’s also the primary way that we are to deal with sexual temptation.

John MacArthur gives 6 reasons the Bible says God gave us marriage. Procreation, Pleasure, Purity, Provision, Partnership and Picture.

God gave us marriage so that we could Procreate, literally to make babies and carry on the species. He also gave us marriage for Pleasure, because it’s an amazing experience to be with another person for life. He gave us marriage so we could Provide for someone else, living as a servant to them, and so we could have a Partner that helps take care of us. And, God gave us marriage because, as we see all through the Bible, it is a Picture of Christ and the church.

The one we are talking about today is that God gave us marriage so we could pursue Purity and be more godly as we channel our sexual appetite into the right place. Fighting our natural appetites, continually sinning, and feeling guilty and shameful all the time is not a great life, so God allows us to fulfil that appetite in a pure and godly way in marriage.

However, just like those in ancient Corinth, we all today carry sexual baggage into our marriages. Histories with sexual partners, pornography habits, romantic fantasy’s we’ve concocted, and whatever else we have going on in our brains. And both are sinners. Even if we come into the marriage completely virginal, having never seen or read anything bad, we are still sinners and that’s going to cause problems – and it does, right?

The partners have different appetites and both get frustrated. One has expectations of the other that make them feel uncomfortable or simply can’t be done. One accuses the other of being too aggressive while the other is accused of being cold and unloving. What is supposed to be a gift from God, and the means by which we escape the trap of sexual immorality, ends up being a wedge that comes between the Christian husband and wife. Which leads to anger, hurt feelings, loneliness, temptation, thoughts of divorce… and more.

What is the solution for a Christian who has committed their life to Jesus? I believe that a big part of the solution is to have a proper, Biblical understanding of sex within marriage – and how to have good sex. Our pornographic culture has corrupted sex in every possible way, and much of that thinking has seeped into our own, and so 1 Corinthians 7 gives a mini-marriage seminar.

The Power of Sex

What does the Bible say here? Well, first it frames the sexual union as a tool to escape temptation. “…because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.” Marriage is good for many things. We learn a lot being married, but another way it is good is that it gives us an outlet for our sexual energies. Most people, except those gifted with the ability to be single and celibate, will find it almost impossible to avoid sexual temptation. Not only because of our inward drives but because sexual enticement is everywhere in the culture.

So it is natural for your spouse to have a sexual appetite and for them to want to have sex with you. That’s normal and good. To be sexually desirous of your spouse, and for your spouse to desire you, is a good thing. And so God says, “Since there is so much sexual immorality within you and around you, have my blessing to have sex with each other!”

Now, some people read these verses and think God says “my spouse has to do whatever I want, whenever I want it!” Nope, that’s selfish and sinful. Remember, your marriage is a picture of Jesus and the church. When has Jesus ever forced Himself on you or made you do anything? When has He made you feel He was abusive or made you feel bad about yourself? Or, for that matter, ever withheld his love because you haven’t earned it? Never. He is always inviting, loving, and seeking the best for His bride.

I know far too many married couples for which sex isn’t a joy but something that divides them. They love their spouse, serve them, enjoy them, but when it comes to the bedroom there’s a disconnect there and it drives a wedge between them and creates a lot of resentment and temptation.

One problem is that people aren’t introspective enough to be able to express how they are really feeling inside. Vulgar, simple, unhelpful, ungodly language has replaced mutual honesty and self-reflection to the point where not only is our spouse confused and upset by what we say, but even we don’t even know how we feel!

Forgive the phrase, but in my experience the most, the average person is able to come up with, especially guys, to describe their feelings is the phrase, “I’m horny. I want sex.” That’s the best they can do. Why? Because it’s what culture has taught them. Sex is an impulse to be acted upon, a means and end unto itself. We want sex so we should have sex. That’s far, far, far too simplistic and even wrong.

When the Bible says, “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.” it’s saying that a husband or wife has the right to expect to fulfil their sexual appetite with their spouse. Now, I’m not saying that it’s a no-holds-barred, do anything they want, free-for-all in the bedroom. We’ll talk about that in a minute. The idea here is that it is normal, right and godly for a husband or wife to want to have sex with their spouse, and it is abnormal, wrong, and ungodly for a husband or wife to “deprive” one another. It’s sin.

But we need to do better at expressing ourselves in this. I want you to do better in this so that you can be closer to your spouse and so that they will understand more of what is happening inside of you. The accusation is often, “My spouse always wants sex! It’s too much! There must be something wrong with them.” But more often than not, it’s not the act of sex that they want – and even they don’t really realize it.

What they really are is lonely, angry, tempted, stressed out, sad, confused or afraid. They feel unattractive, unimportant, unaccepted – and being intimate with their spouse is a very good way to repair that. Sex is reparative in that way.

You might think, “Well, shouldn’t they be praying about that? Why do I have to have sex with them to make them feel less lonely or sad or unimportant? Can’t I just read them a Bible verse and tell them to do their devos?”

Look at verse 5 and see how the Bible connects sexuality to spirituality, especially prayer. “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”

The implication here is that if the marriage is being deprived of sexual intimacy then not only will the couple’s relationship with each other suffer, but so will their relationship with God! Effectively it says, “Don’t stop having sex. Don’t deprive one another. Not because the act of sex is so important, but because sexual temptation is real and that depravation will put a wedge between your spouse and God! Sure, maybe you stop for a short time of mourning or fasting or some other special spiritual occasion, but then get back together quick because Satan is right there waiting to tempt you both. And you know that you lack self-control in this area – that’s why you are married! To deprive yourself or your spouse of sex is spiritually dangerous.”

So, my hope here is that each of you do better in expressing yourselves in this, and learn more about yourself. Say you have a hard day at work or at home, things just went wrong, and nothing’s working out. You feel a tug towards sexual temptation? Why? Because it will make you feel better. So when you finally see your spouse again, do you say, “Hey, honey, let’s go have sex?” No. What you should do in that moment is share your heart “I had an awful day today. Let me tell you about it. I’m frustrated, angry, tired and grumpy. I’m all twisted up inside.” What would be a natural response from a loving spouse? Comfort, right? A hug, an affirmation that they are good at their job… but another natural response is physical intimacy.

In 2 Samuel 12:24 David and Bathsheba’s son had just died and they were both in mourning and it says, “Then David comforted his wife, Bathsheba, and went in to her and lay with her…” David sought comfort in God and then, part of the way he comforted his wife was to hold her close and be intimate with her. Sex brings comfort to people.

If our spouse feels lonely, stressed out, unimportant, or unattractive… then not only do you talk to them, affirm them, pray with them, and be with them – but also to make the choice to be physically intimate, to have sex with them, as a way to comfort and help them. Sex relieves tension, release pleasure chemicals, builds intimacy, and is an escape from the stresses of life. It’s a powerful tool to help your spouse deal with what they are going through and wipe away a lot of the cobwebs that have gathered in their soul. Offering sex to your spouse is an amazing spiritual gift to them.

And then, after being together, they will often have more confidence, energy, and joy. By removing the burden of sexual temptation, and connecting with them physically, you will have taken a huge weight off of their soul. And, in equal measure, denying them, depriving them, places a huge weight on their soul. You are sinning against them and setting them, and yourself, your marriage and your family, up for failure. It is literally your duty to take care of one another in this way so you can be free from the distractions of temptation that lead to sin.

Good Marital Sex

Now, I don’t want to leave off there, but want you to turn with me to 1 Corinthians 13, which many people call “The Love Chapter”. Contextually this comes while Paul is talking about how Christians can serve one another in church, but it readily applies to how we can serve each other in marriage as well. And, I would argue, it makes an excellent outline for how Christians should approach marital sex. What does good sex look like?

A lot of questions come to pastors about this: Can I do this or that? Is this or that allowed? He or she likes this but I don’t, do I have to? Those are good questions, but let’s look briefly at 1 Corinthians 13 as an outline for what good, godly, joyful, pleasurable, Christian sex looks like. Go to verse 4. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” Let’s go through those together looking at it through the lens of marital sex.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

Let’s go through those together looking at it through the lens of marital sex.

“Love is patient.” Good marital sex is patient. That means that you take your time, wait for your spouse to be ready, and not try to whatever you want out of it as fast as you can. Usually, one of the spouses takes longer to get “in the mood” than the other – often the woman, but not always. This means that you don’t jump right to intercourse, but spend the day sending love notes, take time to talk, do some wooing, hugging, kissing, and whatever else they like that shows love and gets their motor going. Sometimes this means being very patient while your spouse works through some physical or emotional issues too.

By the way, the other side is choosing to be receptive to this. If you are the spouse that takes a while to get warmed up, then you’ll need to choose to be receptive to their advances. Allow yourself to start you thinking of your spouse, let yourself be wooed, get rid of some distractions, and open yourself up to the other person. You’ll enjoy it a lot more if you do.

“Love is… kind”. Good marital sex shows kindness. There is no desire to hurt or subject or degrade. Kindness takes the initiative to respond to the other person’s needs. What makes them happy, comfortable, feel pleasure. We do this when we have people over to our homes, right? “What do you take in your coffee? Is the room at the right temperature for you? Can I get you a pillow? Would you like the comfortable chair?” We should have the same type of thoughts of kindness when being intimate with our spouse.

“Love… does not envy”. In other words, we are not jealous that someone else, or even our spouse, is seeming to have a better time than us. We aren’t trying to get out of our husband or wife that which we had in a previous relationship or we’ve seen in fantasies.

All of these, by the way, are the opposite of what culture and pornography teach. Remember how I said that people are using pornography as their sex education? They are learning the literal opposite of how God designed sex to work best. Pornographic sex isn’t patient – it’s immediate. There is no relationship, no wooing, no love. Everyone is ready to go 100% of the time. Pornographic sex is not kind. It’s violent and selfish. Pornographic sex is built on envy – it’s adultery with the eyes, wanting that which others have, comparing ourselves to an unrealistic ideal.

“Love does not… boast; it is not arrogant or rude”. Pornographic sex is full of arrogant, selfish boasting, turning sex into competition and conquest. Good, godly, joyful, sex isn’t trying to compete, but to mutually lift each other up! Trying to outdo each other in how you can serve and please one another. Just think of the euphemisms that culture has used to describe the act of sex. We go from “making love” to “hump” to “bump” to “knock” to “hit” to “smash”; each more selfish and more rude. Love isn’t rude, seeking to humiliate or offend, it is mean to uplift.

“Love… does not insist on its own way.” Good marital sex isn’t about getting whatever pleasure we can get out of our spouse, using them as a sexual object to fulfil our fantasies. It is exactly the opposite. Good sex is focused on the other person’s desires, comfort, and enjoyment. That’s one thing that the Bible means when it says, “For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” Sure, we share our likes and dislikes, but if both parties are more concerned for the other than they are for themselves – then they will not only enjoy themselves more, but will be practicing humility and service which honours God.

“Love… is not irritable or resentful.” A lot of husbands and wives carry a lot of anger in their hearts toward their mate because of what happens in the bedroom. They are mad because they aren’t “getting enough” or because it’s “too much”. They get irritated and resent their spouse for the occasional, playful sexual touch outside the bedroom – a quick kiss, a pat on the butt – and instead of enjoying it, they get upset. If that’s happening to you, you really need to talk to your spouse about it because the issue isn’t the kiss, the hug, or the pat – it’s something deeper. There’s some anger, bitterness, hurt feelings, fear, resentment that goes way deeper.

Along with this comes the sin of using sex as a reward or a weapon. Sex between spouses is NEVER to be a reward for good behaviour and denial is ESPECIALLY never used as a weapon! Both of those are sin and will lead to spiritual danger. If you have ever tried to manipulate your spouse with sex, you are in sin. If you have ever said the words, “Fine, just do it, I’ll just lie here.” or “Fine, if you won’t do it for me, I’ll do it myself!”, I can’t tell you how terribly hurtful that was to hear. That was you sinning against your spouse. Good sex cannot have irritation or resentment in it. You need to be honest with each other, how you feel, what’s going on inside, work out that underlying problem, and then come together having forgiven one another!

“Love… does not rejoice at wrongdoing.” Most other translations say, “Keeps no record of wrongs.” If you are keeping track of how long it’s been, how many times, and how long it lasted, so you can throw that back in their face – then you are in sin. If you are holding bitterness in your heart and then giving your spouse the cold shoulder, you are in sin. If you are using your spouse’s rejection as an excuse to get your sexual fulfilment from other people – by looking where you shouldn’t or building a close relationship with someone you’re not married to – then you are in sin. You can’t use your spouses’ “record of wrongs” as your excuse to sin. It will destroy your love for them, and your ability to be intimate with them.

“Love… rejoices with the truth.” Good marital sex has its foundation in the truth! We tell the truth about how we are feeling, what we like and dislike, our fears and desires, and what’s on our hearts – and it builds intimacy and improves the sexual relationship. Before marriage we are honest about our sexual history and the baggage we are bringing in there, and then during the marriage we are honest about when we make mistakes and fall to sexual sin.

Another side of truthfulness is the sin of pretending when you are with your spouse. Either pretending they are someone else – which is adultery – or simply pretending you are feeling something you are not. Making sounds and looking a certain way because you think that’s what you are supposed to do for your “performance”. Teaching yourself to be someone you are not, or asking your spouse to be something they are not, will damage your soul and break your intimacy! Some people tell you to pretend and fantasize to make your sex better, but you can’t pretend and be truthful at the same time – and that pretending will cause bitterness and confusion and lead to a fractured relationship and bad sex.

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” Good sex comes from love. Love comes from feeling safe, protected, trusted, hopeful, anticipating, and full of the knowledge that the person you are with is committed to you, never going to leave, will endure anything with you, and will persevere with you to the end – no matter what happens in life or in the bedroom. You can’t have real love if you think the other person will let you down, distrusts you, or will leave you. That’s why marital love, built on the covenant of marriage, is so much better than casual hookups. It’s infinitely deeper.

Conclusion

I know this is a lot to chew on today, but I really want you to think about this. We’ll talk about single and unmarried folks next week, but married people, have you been honest with yourself and your spouse about sex in marriage? Are you doing your duty to help each other flee sexual sin? Are you truly “making love” or is there a wall between you, even while you are in bed together? Talk to each other. Go read 1 Corinthians 7 and 13 and talk about it together – humbly, openly, prayerfully. I want each of you to be free from this temptation, and for you to have all the enjoyment that God wants to give you in sex – without sin getting in the way. It’s His gift to us, but it sometimes takes a lot of work. I encourage you to do that work this week.

The Good News (Why The Resurrection Means Everything)

Posted on Updated on

The Good News

Audio:

Text:

The Gospel Truth

Today I want to talk about the “Gospel”. That word has been hijacked a bit by our culture so I want, at the outset, to clarify what that word even means. The term “The Gospel Truth” has actually become an idiom in our culture – meaning a group of words that have a meaning you can’t get from the words themselves. Like “it’s raining cats and dogs” (which means there’s a lot of rain coming down), or “beating round the bush” (which means to avoid talking about something), the words “the gospel truth” have now become idiomatic for something that is supposed to be unquestionably true.

A quick Google search for showed people using the phrase in concert reviews (“she loves singing, that’s the gospel truth”. scientific studies (“don’t take this study as the gospel truth”), marriage advice (“here’s some advice, but don’t take it as the gospel truth), and of course, attacks against mainstream media (“CNN, NBC, ABC all present their claims as the gospel truth”). It seems to either a way to double down on how truthful you are, or to squirm out of having people totally buy what you are saying.

The word “gospel” comes from the Greek word EVANGELION, which is where we get our word “evangelism” or “evangelist”. An “evangelist” is someone that tells the “good news”. The world simply means “good news”.  When Mark begins telling the story of Jesus, he starts with the word EVANGELION: This is the good news. At the time the word meant any kind of good news. 2000 years ago if someone knocked and said “Have you heard the good news?”, you wouldn’t immediately think they were religious, but simply thought it could be a good sale down at the camel emporium or they just found some money in their sock drawer. [Did ancient Greeks have sock drawers?] Today, however, the word “Gospel” or “good news” is synonymous with the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now, when knocks on your door or stops you in the street and says “have you heard the good news?” almost everyone immediately knows this person is going to say something about Jesus!

My least favourite example of culture appropriating the word “gospel” is from the old Disney movie “Hercules” which opens by presenting the Greek myths with gospel-style, church music, using the hook on the chorus “and that’s the gospel truth”. It’s annoying to me that they would use what sounds like upbeat church music to present myths. It puts the Bible at the same historical accuracy level as Homer’s Odyssey. Which simply isn’t true.

Not a Myth

Christians don’t follow myths. What we believe is not based on philosophy or stories that make us feel good. Instead, we believe the true gospel, the real gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ, really happened. Jesus life, death, and resurrection were the plan of salvation, the gospel, that God had written since the beginning of time. We stake our lives and our eternities on it.

Open up to 1 Corinthians 15. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 the Apostle Paul writes to the church about the importance of remembering that the resurrection of Jesus really happened. He says:

“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.”

He’s telling the Christians that no matter what happens in this world, the reason we can have hope is because of the historical reality that Jesus really was raised from the dead. He reminds them that this is what was taught to them, this is what they believed, and when the world around them starts to shake, this is what they need to “hold fast to” – not because it is a nice story, but because it’s true. God’s plan, “according to the scriptures”, was that Jesus would die on a Roman cross. He really was buried and He really did rise three days later. And how could they be sure? Ask Cephas and the apostles, who were still around. If you don’t believe them ask one of the other five hundred witnesses who are still around.

Some people had come to the church and said, “That’s impossible! People don’t come back from the dead!” To which Christians reply, “No duh. That’s why it’s so special! That’s why we have a great big celebration about it every year! Because it’s a miracle.”

But some of the people in the Corinthian church had forgotten the good news were starting to lose faith – and this was only 30 years after the resurrection! As they lost their faith in the resurrection they started to lose hope, which meant the foundation of their lives started to wobble, which caused them to flail about looking for something to make the world make sense, and they were starting to wander into sin, hopelessness, fear, worldliness, sadness, greed, and anything else that would distract them or some level of control – and their pastor, Paul, blows the whistle and calls everyone back to the centre so they can do a big reset.

I’m an Edmonton Oiler fan and I’m very glad to see my team back in the playoffs this year. It’s been a long time. But I still remember 2006 when they made the trade for a big defenseman named Chris Pronger who took the team to the playoffs. He was a huge guy with lots of experience on a team that no one thought would be able to win. I remember watching as the Oilers would get behind, start chasing the puck, start freaking out, and then 6 foot 6 inch, 220 pound Chris Pronger would get the puck, look around at the rest of the guys and reset the whole team. It happened time and again. The young, inexperienced guys, would be buzzing around, and Pronger would basically stop the game and give everyone a chance to get back to where they needed to be.

That’s what Paul did to the church. He stopped their buzzing and reset the whole church. “Guys, remember the truth! Remember what you heard! Remember what you believe and why you believe it! Put down the idols, sin, greed, fear, and foolishness and remember that God is real, Jesus has risen, the Holy Spirit is active, and you are His!”

He goes on to say in verse 12 that if Jesus has not be raised from the dead, if the resurrection isn’t true, then there is no point in being a Christian – life has no hope. He says: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting

“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 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. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”

That’s what we are proclaiming today. My message and the message of this church is the same. “In fact, Christ has been raised from the dead” and therefore we have hope. Adam sinned and brought death to the world – but Jesus’s death made it so that we could be alive again.

I opened the Good Friday service with a prayer that I want to read part of again because I found it so powerful. It said, “It was on the cross that grace removed our burdens and heaped them onto Jesus, where he was made a transgressor, a curse, and sin for our sake…. Christ was all anguish that we might be all joy, rejected so we could be accepted, cast off so we could be brought in, trodden down as an enemy so we could be welcomed as friends, surrendered to hell’s worst so we could attain heaven’s best, wounded that we could be healed, thirsty so we would be able to drink, tormented so we could find comfort, made shame so we might inherit glory, entered darkness that we might have eternal light. Jesus Christ, our Saviour, wept so that our tears might be wiped away, groaned in agony so we could have an endless song to sing, endured all pain so that we could have unfading health, bore a crown of thorns so we could have imperishable crowns of glory, life, and righteousness. He bowed his head so that ours could be lifted to heaven, he experienced reproach so we could be accepted, closed his eyes in death so we could gaze on the unclouded brightness of God. He died so we could live forever.”

The world seems upside down right now, but, Christians around the world proclaim today: remember the gospel! In a world awash with bad news, and a life full of frustration, remember the good news.

Good News

We all need some good news these days, don’t we? But for some reason, the media doesn’t really like reporting “good news”. Can you imagine turning on the TV to your favourite news program and hearing only good news for 30 minutes straight? I can’t even fathom what that would be like.

How about instead of saying “1 in 6 people lie on their tax form”, they could say, “Did you know that 83% of people are very honest and do a great job on their taxes every year!” Instead of hearing about how the legal system is failing, the police have problems, and the bad guys are getting out of jail on a technicality, we heard stories like “The police saved countless lives this month by giving out tickets to people who drive too fast, took care of special needs people by giving out tickets, arrested lots and lots of bad guys, saved many families from harm, and visited a whole bunch of schools to help children have a better life.” Instead of hearing about the crooked bankers, wouldn’t it be nice to hear that like 99.9% of the people at the bank aren’t crooked and are just trying to do a good job. That’d be a nice change, wouldn’t it?

I would love to turn on the TV and see some positive stories: “This just in… 20 kittens were born today – here’s some pictures. Baskin Robins has a deal on waffle cones – here’s a coupon. And now for the weather: Hey, the sun us up, it’s nice outside, there are flowers blooming in the park, and everyone should go outside and play. Now for the sports: Almost every athlete in every sport practiced really hard, played exactly by the rules, worked well with their team mates, made lots and lots of money, donated some of it to charity, and the vast majority are still very happily married. Oh, and half the teams won their games! And now for entertainment news from Hollywood: there are actually a bunch of fun movies to take your kids too … and some of them are in 3D.”

Yes, I know that life sucks sometimes and everyone wants us to freak out all the time. ISIS is killing people, Christians are being blown up while they sit in their churches, Syria is gassing civilian woman and children, the US just dropped the biggest non-nuclear bomb in their arsenal on Afghanistan. Add to that the incredibly difficult things that we are all facing in our day-to-day lives – addiction, abuse, illness, pain, loss, depression, anxiety, sadness… and it’s easy to start to feel hopeless.

As the world presses in and our foundations start to shake, we also start to flail about looking for something to grab onto to steady ourselves. Even committed Christians find themselves wondering what God is doing, where Jesus is, why we are going through this, and we start to grasp for immediate answers and instant comfort. Our fight or flight instincts kick in and we want to rail against those around us, or do anything for a moment’s peace – even if we know it will harm us.

But we need more, don’t we? We need more than just a quick fix or a boost of good news from the world around us – we need something ultimate, some piece of good news that we can build our whole lives on. Something that, when all is lost, the world is dark, the demons are swirling, we feel desperately hungry, angry, lonely, tired and sad, that holds us fast. Some people call this a metanarrative – an overarching story that gives meaning to everything. And that metanarrative, that overarching meaning, that good news is found in the resurrection of Jesus.

What the Good News Means

Some of you know that my family has been through a rough time lately. And I know from talking to you that many of you are also facing some very difficult situations personally, emotionally, financially, relationally. And so I want to share with you, from a bit of a personal side, what the Good News means to us – what it means to me – especially during dark times.

On Easter Sunday we wake up early, put on our itchy pants and fancy dresses, come to church and celebrate, sing about, and talk about the resurrection of Jesus. And we sometimes phrase it as “God did this for the world. God loves everybody.” But today I want to close with what the good news means to me… and hopefully you can resonate with it.

I could do this in 10 words: “The gospel of Jesus Christ means everything to me.” Or I could preach endlessly, for hours and hours, about the ways Jesus has changed my life, what the scripture says, what I have studied in my theology books, and what He has done for me in my darkest times.

No doubt you are wondering which one I picked. You’re hoping for the 10 word conclusion, and hoping against the endless one, right? Well, I’m hoping to lean more towards the former than the latter, if that means anything.

So, when the world is at it’s darkest and I need good news, I am reminded of the resurrection of Jesus and all that it means for me and those who believe. Let me share a little of what gives me hope during those hard times.

Absolute Truth

First, the resurrection of Jesus means that absolute truth and absolute morality exist. What a horrible insecurity it is to believe that there is no such thing as truth that nothing can be certain, everything is pliable, and that everyone’s opinion, conjecture and feelings are equally valid. That somehow even if something is a lie, it can be the “truth to someone”. That’s an unsettled, foundationless existence.

I have comfort in the knowledge that there are some non-negotiables in this world – that not everything is up for grabs. Some things are categorically bad, and others are absolutely good. Yes, there arere some grey areas I don’t understand, but its good news that God has given us black and white. Jesus died to save me from the wrath of God against sin which leads to eternal death, and because of Him I can be free and clean. It’s as black and white as that. There is right and wrong, good and evil, saved and unsaved, and those things are set by God – not man, not me, not anyone but God alone.

I Am Loved

Second, the death and resurrection of Jesus tells me that I am overwhelmingly, undeservingly, and unconditionally loved by the One who created me. When life is at its worst. When I feel like I’m on the edge of madness, people let me down, and I am utterly confused, I look to the cross and know that God loves me, to the tomb and know that Jesus is alive and with me. It is He who gives me comfort, teaches me, holds me together, and willingly grants a peace that passes understanding. When I can’t count on anyone, I can count on Him. When no one will listen, I can talk to Him and He understands. And when I am alone, I can listen to Him because He really does speak. When I am alone He’s always there. He will never leave me, nor forsake me.

If I had to continuously wonder if I had done enough to earn God’s love, I would be forever paranoid and afraid of Him. If God only loves me because of the good things I do, say, think then I am in real trouble, because, in truth, I know that am a wretched, selfish, sinful man.

But He doesn’t. God so loved the world, and so loved me, that He sent His one and only Son to earth, to live as a human being, and to take the punishment that you and I deserve. He did this because He loves us with an everlasting love.

I Have a Purpose

Another piece of good news that Jesus reminds me of is that we are specially created to have a purpose and a destination. I am not a being who is simply tossed upon the winds of time and space, only to exist for a moment and then disappear into nonexistence. The bible teaches me that God knew us before we were born, put us together in a very specific way, with special gifts and talents and a unique temperament. He chose our parents, where we would grow up, and designed us in such a way that we have a reason to live.

In a world where we are taught we are the summation of a random occurrence of molecules and that we are governed more by chemistry and electrical impulse than an eternal soul… were we are only as valuable as long as we are producing and being good consumers, but where life has no ultimate meaning, there is no assurance of a bright future, and only oblivion to look forward to in eternity… it is good news to know that the opposite is true.

God Has Power

The resurrection also reminds me that no matter how bad life gets messed things up, God is big enough to fix it. Jesus showed that, if He desires, He has the power to solve every problem and turn every bad thing into something good. From making the blind see and the lame walk to turning water into wine just so someone wouldn’t be embarrassed, He showed He isn’t just about big problems but He is also concerned with everyday problems too. He fed 5000 people with one kid’s lunch to show that we never have to worry about provision when He’s in charge. When all of the disciples were terrified that their boat would capsize in the storm, Jesus stood up and literally rebuked the wind and waves and the storm just stopped. And He can, and has, done the same thing for the storms in my heart, my mind, and in my life as well. And the resurrection proves that even death has no power over Him! When things look bleak, it is good news to remember that God not only loves us, but has great power.

I Am Free

And of course, the best news, to me and anyone else who believes, is that we are free from the consequences of our sins. This is the core of evangelism – that because of Jesus we are free. Jesus knows what I’ve done. And Satan, who’s other name is the Accuser, has every right to stand on the other side of God’s courtroom and proclaim to the Judge of all mankind, that I am guilty and deserve death, hell and eternal punishment for breaking God’s divine law over and over. And I do – I deserve the punishment. And yet, there stands Jesus, who’s other name is the Advocate, telling God that every punishment I deserve, every sin I’ve committed, every wrong that I have done, has been atoned for… has been paid for, by Him on the cross.

You see, God couldn’t just let all my sin go. He can’t just forget about it. He is perfectly good and righteous, and upholds perfect justice. Every wrong must be given exactly the right punishment. No one will get away with anything. But for those who believe, that punishment was poured out on Jesus. I was a slave to sin, he bought me back. I was chained to the devil, on my way to the blackness of hell, and Jesus Christ proclaimed light, broke the chain, and brought me back. He exchanged His body for mine, His blood for mine. He went through Hell so I wouldn’t have to.

Christians don’t follow Jesus because we have to. We don’t do good because we are afraid of God. We do it because we want to show our love and thanks to Jesus and because I trust that God knows what He’s doing with my life WAY better than I do. When God tells me I’m doing wrong I try not to see it as Him taking something away but as a Father who is protecting me.

The life, death and resurrection of Jesus reminds us of all of this! The story of humanity, from Adam to today, is only good news because Jesus is in the story! No matter where we are, what we have done, or who we think we are… God still loves us, Jesus died for us, forgiveness is available to us, and we can live forever in the knowledge that we are God’s people.

If you believe that this morning, I would ask you, and encourage you to remember that today is a day of celebration! And that no matter how bad the news is in your life… and no matter what your dark days, your bad thoughts, or the TV says… there is still good news.

No matter how tough you have it this morning… and I know that some of you are in a very dark place, and it is very hard to see any light… there is good news that if you are willing to turn your life over to Jesus, ask forgiveness for your sin, and open your heart to what He would like to do in you, He will give you hope. He’s never let me down and has taken such good care of me, that even when everything looked really messed up and beyond hope, He has done great things far beyond what I could have asked or even imagined.

What Are Christians Allowed To Do? (or “Don’t Let Imaginary People Tell You What to Do”)

Posted on Updated on

25-own-your-why

Sermon Audio:

Handout / Small Group Questions:

Own Your Why – What Are Christians Allowed To Do – Handout.PDF

Sermon:

Sin Ruins Everything

Culture presents to us a whole lot of options for things to do, but as Christians who want to do all things to the glory of God we often struggle to know what to do or not do, join or not join, buy or not buy, go or not go, befriend or avoid. In fact, it can become an all-encompassing problem for some believers as they try to enjoy the world that God has given them while avoiding the parts that are corrupted with sin.

And that’s the problem, right? This world is full of all sorts of awesome things, but it has also been corrupted by sin.

  • God gave us healthy foods full of fat, sugar, and salt, and we stripped it of anything healthy and invented high fructose corn syrup, big macs, and potato chips.
  • God gave us the gift of marriage and sexual intimacy, and we created rape culture, Tinder hook ups, divorce, high definition pornography and human trafficking.
  • God gave us meaningful work and we invented slavery, workaholics, and corporate greed. God gave us a beautiful world to enjoy, and we invented industrial pollution, deforestation, fracking, landfills – and we’ve even sent so much stuff to space that space that it’s actually becoming a problem now.

Sin ruins everything.

  • We want our kids to join a sports team, but then there’s price gouging, corruption, insanely competitive parents, and a life encompassing schedule.
  • We want our kids to be educated, but public school boards have lost their minds, private schools are insanely expensive, and homeschooling is under attack.
  • We want to get the internet for connecting with family, research, cat videos, and sports scores, but it’s an insane mess of gossip, misinformation, targeted advertising, and sexual sin.

And that’s not even addressing our inward struggle with sin and the demonic temptation that seems to be with us everywhere we go. Even if we were to sit by ourselves in a dark, empty room, we are capable of adulterous lust, unrighteous anger, pride, laziness, and more.

So, in this world full of sin, with flesh that wants to go wrong, how can we decide what a follower of Christ is supposed to do and not do?

A Million Options

This question is something we are presented with all the time.

  • Do we celebrate birthdays or not?
  • Do we have Santa Clause or not?
  • Do we participate in Remembrance Day, or Earth Day, or Halloween?
  • What school should I send my children to?
  • Are there certain jobs that Christians can do, and others they shouldn’t?
  • Can a Christian be a bartender, stock market broker, Hollywood actor or swimsuit model?
  • What movies can we watch?
  • Should we own a TV?

… it goes on, and on and on into every area of your life.

These questions can take over our lives and push us to despair. If we decide to err on the side of caution, we risk turning a passionate, growing, dynamic relationship with Jesus that flows into loving relationships with others, into a religious list of dos and don’ts.

You’ve probably met those Christians, right? They talk more about what they are against than about Jesus. Instead of focusing our lives on the wonderful gifts of worship, fellowship, discipleship and sharing the gospel with others, they end up paranoid that they are somehow messing up their lives, their faith, and everyone else’s lives every moment of every day. Or, if they think they’re doing a great job, they become prideful, self-righteous, religious Pharisees who think we are better than others.

“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.”

But there’s also the Christians who say, “I watch TV, drink beer, listen to rock music and still love Jesus, so that makes me better than you.”

It’s a big problem in the church because with all this mess the gospel of Jesus Christ rescuing poor souls from sin and hell by His amazing grace is almost totally lost.

And because of that, there are some who want to throw out the conversation altogether. You live how you want to live, I’ll live my own way, and we’ll just never speak to each other, ok? Let’s just split the church into people who do stuff and don’t do stuff, and then we can get on with the work of the church. After all, 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? Actually, the answer is “yes, yes we do”. A lot of scripture is dedicated to teaching us to examine our lives, attitudes, and actions.

For example, Ephesians 5:15-17 says,

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

So how do we do that?

Problem, Illustration & Principle

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 in our book of 1 Corinthians 10:23-33. Let’s fast forward there and read how it shows the problem, gives an illustration, and then wraps it up with a general principle. This example is going to be about food, but don’t get hung up on that because the principle applies to all kinds of things we are faced with.

“’All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience.  For ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.’ 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. 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— I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 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.”

Context

Let’s look at the first part together, and we’ll use the food example because it’s the one that scripture uses. This whole section here is talking about the problem that the early church faced with eating meat that was part of a pagan, religious service before it was sold. Was it ok to eat? And with who can we eat it? If a Christian is invited to community supper at a pagan temple, can they go? What if you go to a Christian’s house and they serve meat bought at a market where it was sacrificed to idols?

But this isn’t just about eating, the principle found within can be used for a lot of decisions. For the past couple chapters, Paul has been talking about how important it is that Christians live differently from the world and how we shouldn’t be putting ourselves into places where we can be tempted or fall into old habits. 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 live as though you don’t know Him. You can’t worship Him on one day and then worship something else the next. You can’t drink the communion that represents your acceptance of Jesus death for your sins and then go out and get drunk and stupid with non-believers.

God is absolutely clear that the issue isn’t just about the wine or food –but the intentions of the heart of the one sitting at the table. He says, eat whatever you want because it’s not about the food, it’s about what’s going on in your heart and in the hearts of those around you.

What Are My Intentions?

Therein lies the first question we must ask ourselves when deciding whether to do something or not: What is the intention of my heart? Our motives and intentions are incredibly important to God, whether we’re doing something good or bad.

  • Proverbs 21:2 says, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.”
  • Jesus says this in Matthew 6:1 about people who do good things just so they can be seen by others: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”
  • When Paul’s motives are questioned by the Galatians he says, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Gal 1:10)
  • To those who do things out of spite Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit…”
  • “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. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” (James 4:1-4)

You see, the issue isn’t really the food or drink, or holiday, or school, or sport, or TV… The whole issue is intentions and motives: why we do what we do, say what we say, go where we go…

I like to use a phrase I came up with a few years ago here: “Own your why’”. I came up to remind myself to make sure my motives are pure. What I mean is that when I do something I need to make sure that I own up to my reasons for doing it. Eventually, I will have to answer to God for why I did it, so I had better have a good reason now. I need to be able to defend for why it was ok with God. I need to think through the consequences. I need to “own” why I did what I did, because it’s mine forever.

So, let’s use the example of Halloween, which is the most current example of a decision we all had to make. How do you answer this first question? What was the “Why?” behind what you did or didn’t do? Did you do it as an act of worship towards another god? 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 went out was to see the indecent costumes.

Or, if you stayed home, why did you do it? Did you avoid everyone simply so that you could get a rush of pride and self-glorification when you looked down on others and said, “We don’t do anything for Halloween because we don’t believe in that sort of thing!” Did you know you can be more sinful sitting at home as a religious Pharisee than as one who goes out?

Or, maybe you don’t have a problem either way. For you it’s no big deal. It doesn’t strike your conscience one-way or the other. In fact, for you, going out is a good way to get to know and have fun with your neighbors and friends, and perhaps even build new relationships. Paul says, “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof” and that includes candy and fun costumes, so there’s no big deal!

The real, big deal is to ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing.

How Does it Affect the Conscience?

Turning back to our passage in 1 Corinthians, we next see Paul painting a picture of a common situation that would happen which has some parallels for us today. “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.” (vs 27) 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… then just keep your mouth shut, eat it and enjoy it. This is what we like to call Christian Liberty. We are not like the Jews who were 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 with is far more important than what is served. Knowing that says that there are lots of things we can do with no problem at all.

If someone invites you to a party, you don’t have to go, but you are certainly allowed. If you’ve checked your intentions and know you’re plan isn’t to go sin while you’re there, then go and enjoy your time. Now, if you know the whole focus of the party is to sin, then you likely shouldn’t be there because nothing good can happen. You can’t be a good witness to people there, and you’ll spend the whole time being tempted and frustrated. Can a Christian party? Sure! Jesus was widely known for going to parties with all kinds of people, and yet never sinned, so go ahead.

Now some of you older believers might think, “But what if someone sees me there! Won’t I be ruining my witness?! Won’t people think I’m a bad Christian if I’m at a party?” To that I remind you of what Jesus said in Luke 7:33-35,

“For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”

In other words, with some people you can’t win. If you abstain people will think you’re nuts, and if you go, others will think you’re a sinner. Jesus says, “wisdom is justified by all her children.” In other words, wise actions are only really seen after the results.

So, if someone invites you, and if you want to go (you don’t have to), and your intentions are clean, then go ahead and thank God for the time. But… let’s read verse 28.

For the Sake of Another

“But if someone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it…” Ok, 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. This is the non-believer trying to publically embarrass or even corrupt the Christian by getting them to try something that could hurt their conscience.
  2. An unbeliever isn’t being devious, but their conscience is telling them that whatever it is might be morally questionable, but they’re not sure what your rules are. You go over there and they say, “I’m not sure if you’re allowed or not, but would you like… to play this game, watch this movie, drink this thing, go to this place, check out this website…” They are giving you a content warning, and it’s best avoid it rather than risk sinning or being a bad example.
  3. The 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 your fellow Christian is freaking out a bit about it and doesn’t want to do it. Out of love for them, you need to back off and avoid it.

Paul 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, as Christians, we try not to go against someone else’s conscience. Conscience is a gift from God that gives us an internal gauge for what’s 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?

Last week was the 499th anniversary of the kickoff of the Protestant Reformation by Martin Luther posting his 95 Thesis on the Wittenberg door. He caused so much trouble that in 1521 he was brought before the Emperor and 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.”

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. We don’t have 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.

Paranoid Believers

But… let me give you a word of encouragement. I know there are some believers who live a life of paranoia because of this question. They are always worried about everything they do – even when they’re not doing anything wrong. They invent all kinds of crazy scenarios about imaginary people they are harming.

  • 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 go somewhere, but they feel a burden for some person they’ve never even met who might possibly stumble if they go. 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 the Bible. To get clarity, let’s read Romans 14:14-17,

“…decide never to put a stumbling-block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 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. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat [or drink, or watch, or buy, or drive, or own, or attend…], do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”. *[Added by me]

This isn’t telling you not to do anything, it’s saying that there’s nothing wrong with a whole lot of things. There are a lot of options in this world that are neither sinful nor wrong in and of themselves. But we need to know that some people do have a problem with some things. Therefore, because we consider the person more important than the thing we want to do, we love them by abstaining while around them. The key word in this passage is the word “put”.

We should never do something knowing it will cause another Christian to stumble. It is sin for us to flaunt our Christian liberties before those who are struggling. In doing so we become a tempter, like Satan. So out of love, we don’t do it because we know that someone’s walk with Jesus will be harmed.

Imaginary People

But we shouldn’t invent imaginary people who might have a problem. We shouldn’t be bound by guilt, shame, and fear, 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 by using a bunch of unnecessary guilt.

We can use the examples of Halloween, drinking a beer, taking a vacation, going to a movie, or posting on the internet. We must ask ourselves, “How does the way I’m going to do this affect the consciences of others? 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 if any of them will stumble in their walk with Jesus because of how I’m conducting myself? Remember, that could mean participating, or not participating. Maybe the issue is that you’re not going and it will cause people around you to stumble.

This is why we need to get to know people and do a lot of praying for wisdom about these kinds of things. We will be held accountable.

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,

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 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.”

There’s the bottom line.

Jesus said it like this in Matthew 5:13-16,

“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. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 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. 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 action or inaction? I can’t answer that for you. What makes you as salty and as bright as possible?

God doesn’t want you to lose your saltiness because of a bunch of ungodly religious rules. And he also don’t want your lamp to be hidden under a basket of sin. Your faith should add flavour to the places you work, live, worship and play. People who see you should see the light of Jesus reflecting through you, wherever you are. Your decisions should be not be based on your own preferences, not what brings you the most pleasure, but what brings God glory.

God has given us this world and allows us to do many wonderful things. It 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. We must be sensitive and wise in our actions because that pleases God.

So, when you are faced with your next 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.

God’s Temple: The Church Needs To Stay United – OR ELSE!

Posted on

21-gods-temple

Let’s start with a quick review and then close of the section of 1 Corinthians 3 that we’ve been studying for the past few weeks.

If you recall, we’ve been looking at Paul’s threefold illustration to describe why the Christian church needs to ensure that they remain united. Remember that in this section Paul is addressing the major problem that the Corinthian church is facing, that being divisions among them. They were a divided church.

They had divided over many issues, but to make matters worse, without telling them, the church had decided to claim different teachers and apostles as the leaders of their various factions. And so Paul begins by calling them children, chastising them for their immaturity and telling them that he’s disappointed that he can’t talk to them like mature believers, but instead has to deal with a bunch of fighting.

It’s almost like the school teacher walking into the classroom, or a parent coming into the children’s room, and seeing them brawling in the middle of the floor. That’s not why they came in, and they really don’t want to deal with it. They had a whole lesson planned out, something amazing to tell them, a story to share, a wonderful new experience to give them – but now they have to give the same old lecture about why they need to get along, why fighting is bad, how they should be treating each other better, why fighting hurts their heart, etc.

They had so much more planned for them, but now they have to backtrack and talk to them like their toddlers. That’s how Paul starts chapter 3.

And so, to teach these immature believers why what they are doing is so serious, Paul uses three illustrations. His first is to liken the church to being a farmer’s field where God is the owner and everyone else is a worker. There’s no reason to elevate one over the other because it’s God who gets the glory anyway! We covered that a couple weeks ago.

Next, he likens the church to being a building that is being built by the actions of the individual believers in the church. He warns them that a day of fire (or day of trouble) is coming and that it will test what their church is made of – so they’d better make sure that their church is made of solid stuff. We talked about that last week.

Today, we read the final of this trifecta of illustrations where Paul says the church is God’s temple. This is the most poignant of the three and it comes with a threat.

You Are God’s Temple

Open up to 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 and let’s read it together:

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”

It’s really interesting the way that Paul starts this. He takes the previous illustration about the building and reveals that they’re not constructing just any building, but are, piece by piece, deed by deed, prayer by prayer, song by song, visit by visit, charity by charity, are building God’s temple!

He seems almost flabbergasted that they wouldn’t know this. “Guys! Don’t you know who you are and why it is such a huge deal that you are united under Jesus? It’s because your church, your family of believers, is the very place where God resides. Yes, as we read elsewhere, every believer is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, but at the same time, when Christians are together, they remain one, single temple. It’s an amazing concept.

He doesn’t say, “Don’t you know that you are all temples”, so you should all act like it. No, Paul changes from talking about individuals to talking to them as a collective. The “You” there is plural. He’s saying, “You are all God’s temple, collectively.”

Now, the temple, in the Old Testament, was the very location of the presence of God in the world. At the time this was written, around 54AD, the Temple in Jerusalem was still around. It would be destroyed in only 16 years. Consider what Paul was saying here – and what it meant to the people listening.

They looked around the city of Corinth and saw many, many temples. Huge, beautiful places of worship that were said to be the temporary homes of the gods. And many of the Jewish people in the church had been to see the Temple in Jerusalem, experienced the solemnness, the gravity, the power, and the presence of God in the temple. They had seen the priests walking around, had witnessed the sacrifices, and perhaps even watched as the High Priest made his procession towards the Holy of Holies, the most sacred place on earth.

And now Paul was saying that God had moved. Just as He has moved from the Garden of Eden into the Tabernacle, and from the Tabernacle into the Temple, so now God had moved again – not into another building, but into the hearts of believers. Just as the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem once housed the presence of God, so now, the temple curtain had been split, and now every believer carried the very presence of God with them everywhere they go. The Christian heart, in a very real sense, is the Holy of Holies.

Anyone Who Destroys

Which is where that really scary passage in the middle there comes from. “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him.” This goes back to the temple priests who, if they did something against the temple, violating God’s rules about treating it with the utmost respect and keeping it special and holy, would be put to death. 1 Peter 2:9 says Christians are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” . In other words, every believer is given similar joys and responsibilities to what the temple priests had!

  • When you visit your Christian friend, you are coming as a priest of God.
  • When you share the gospel with your neighbour, you do it as an ambassador for Christ.
  • When you bring a casserole over to a sick family, you are acting out your duty as a temple priest.
  • When you worship in song, run the a/v, hand out bulletins, give encouragement, pray over someone, help in their garden, attend their wedding or funeral, or just shake their hand in the street, you do it as someone with the Holy Spirit inside you, a representative of God, a part of the chosen race, the royal priesthood, the holy nation.

It’s a huge deal.

Therefore, in the same way as God took seriously an Old Testament priest marring or disrespecting the physical temple, so God takes just as seriously Christians who violate the sanctity of His spiritual temple, that is, the body of believers around you.

So, to divide yourself from the church by choosing not to gather with fellow believers, or through fighting, jealousy or neglect, you risk incurring God’s wrath. To hurt a fellow believer is like profaning or blaspheming the temple of God.

How serious is this? Let’s go to another passage that works in a similar way. Matthew 6:14-15 “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15) Does not forgiving someone mean you will lose your salvation? Or, does not attending church mean you’re not going to heaven? No, because your salvation is not bound to your actions, but to your faith.

What this is talking about is your daily relationship with God, the cleaning away of the cobwebs of your soul, the retuning of your spiritual radio so that you can remove the static of sin and hear God more clearly. This is the action of daily repentance for your sins against others, and granting forgiveness for the sins they have committed against you. If you don’t do that, then you do not understand forgiveness, and God will hold back his hand of forgiveness toward you.

In the same way, someone who is not in right relationship with their brothers and sisters in Christ, won’t be able to see or hear God well, will still have a stain of guilt in their soul, will grow more bitter towards God as they grow more bitter towards others, will be a worse image of Christ for the world to see, will be walking in darker places, will be abiding in death instead of life, and will be under the judgement and discipline of God. Does that sound like a temple priest? No, because it’s a high standard.

Unity is Critical

Believers shouldn’t divide from one another. Why? Because they are God’s Field, God’s Building, and God’s Temple. Each of those illustrations is a collective one. We are meant to be together. The only bad thing on earth before the fall of man was that it was “not good for man to be alone.” (Gen 2:18) Even in the perfection of Eden, before the Fall, standing full in the presence of God, it was not good for man to be alone. Why? Because we are designed to be together.

Therefore, as individuals in the church, each of us have the responsibility to ensure that we remain united! Unity should be the number one, overriding characteristic that shows people how Jesus has changed us. Jesus says in John 13:35,

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

In fact, multiple times in scripture, it is how we treat our fellow believers that shows the condition of our heart. One of our assurances of salvation is that we have a drive to love our fellow believers, the brothers and sisters that make up our forever family.

“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (1 John 3:14-15)

“Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.” (1 John 2:9)

“We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:19-21)

After praying for the disciples during the Last Supper, He prayed for us. And what was the central theme of that prayer: unity.

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:20-23)

How will the world know that Jesus is the Saviour, sent by God? One huge way is by how the people of the church treat one another. And Paul reveals why? Because the presence of God is no longer in a building – He’s in us. We are God’s temple, the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. When people want to visit God, know forgiveness, be ushered into His presence, and be told about the message of salvation – they can come to us: the people of God’s church.

What this Means, Practically

So, what does this mean, practically? It means we live out our faith and obedience to God by loving the people of our church first. Over and over in the Bible we are told to do good, but not just to everyone, we are to begin first with the body of believers around us (Gal 6:10).

It means, of course, forgiving one another as you have been forgiven (Eph 4:32), and keeping a short account of wrongs. But it also means, as 1 Peter 4:9 says, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling”, having one another into each other’s homes – even the people you don’t know or who are difficult guests.

How about this one from Colossians 3:12-13:

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”

See that? He reminds us that we are God’s chosen ones and then says that because of that, we need to be patient with one another, bearing with one another. That means when someone in the church is rude, difficult, judgemental, or anything else that annoys us, we… bear with them in love! Why? Because God bears with us all the time.

And there are so many more, but let me give one more from Hebrews 10:24-25,

“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.”

We talked about what “the Day” means last week, right? The day Jesus comes back, and the days of trouble that will inevitably come to our life. So, how do we get ready? Stir one another up towards love and good works, encourage one another, and not neglecting to meet together.

Why? Because, to quote an old maxim, “United we stand, divided we fall.” That’s how God has set it up from the very beginning.

We are God’s Field workers, each one as valuable as the next.

We are God’s House, built by the individual actions of each person here.

And we are God’s Temple, the holiest place on earth, full of priests who proclaim salvation through Jesus alone.

How do we show it? By our unity and mutual love.

Crabapple Christians

Posted on Updated on

17 - Crabapple Christians.JPG

When I was growing up, my grandparents had a crab apple tree in their front yard, and every time we went to visit them, my brother and I would see the tree and hope the apples were ready to eat. It was actually quite frustrating for us because we found the readiness of crab apple trees is notoriously difficult to predict. I’m not sure if you’ve ever had an unripe crab apple, but if you have, it’s a memorable experience.

They are uncomfortably hard to chew, and as for taste, they have an extremely intense and unappetizing mix of bitterness and sourness that makes you not only never want to take another bite, but uproot and burn the tree, scattering its ashes so as to never be spoken of again.

But! For that extremely brief period of time when they are ripe – in Alberta anyway – just before they freeze and/or turn to mush, they are actually really, really good. A unique taste right off the tree and extremely good for homemade jelly.

We visited our grandparents quite often, and, as I said, each time we were there we would ask if the crab apples were ready. It was most often “no”, but occasionally – whether because they didn’t know or because they enjoyed our suffering – they would say, “I’m not sure, why not go try one?”

Then the games would begin. I, being the older brother, would do my best to get my younger brother, James to take a bite – while he used all his wits and whining to make me do it.

Sour Corinth

The scripture we’ve been going through for the past while reminds me a lot of that crab apple tree. Before I went on holidays we were stuck at the end of chapter two, talking about the difference between mature and immature Christians. The Corinthian church, though they were Christians –saved people with the Holy Spirit dwelling within them – had not progressed in their faith, but had actually regressed and were living like spiritual infants.

Hearing about this frustrated the Apostle Paul, because he had been their pastor for a year-and-a-half and hadn’t been gone for very long. He had moved on to plant other churches, but even from far away, was hearing reports about how messed up the church in Corinth was. And so, God inspired Paul to write a letter to them, chastising them for their immaturity and instructing them on what needs to change.

Anyone who has experimented with crab apples knows how Paul must have felt. He planted that tree in Corinth expecting it to grow, mature, bear fruit, and for that fruit to be sweet – but instead, the fruit is bitter, sour, wooden, wormy and disappointing. He longs to be able to praise them for their faithfulness and maturity, for turning away from the sinful world they live in so they can bear the fruit of being disciples of Jesus – but he can’t. Instead of being believers who are light and salt in a city lost in the darkness of paganism and moral corruption, loving God, His Word, and each other – they have instead become more like the city, more immoral, have dimmed their light, lost their flavour, and were acting like immature, children.

In chapter 2 it says that that they had stopped living as spiritual people, and had started to live as “natural” people. Essentially, they had given up their connection to God’s life and truth, in favour of seeking out other sources. They had turned away from Jesus as the “wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor 1:30), which we read about in chapter one, and had tried to find wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption elsewhere – and in that search, had corrupted themselves to the point that they were no longer even able to tell good from bad, evil from holy, saint from sinner, godly from demonic. We see at the end of chapter 2 that they had had lost their “spiritual discernment” (2:14), their ability to “judge” things properly (2:15), and had given up the “mind of Christ” (2:16), in favour of other voices they thought would be just as good.

All of that cut Paul deeply, but I also believe it grieved God’s heart too. God loves His people and hates to see them wander away from Him, because He knows it will only hurt them. And so this letter is written to explain where they have gone wrong, and to try to call them back.

Being Saved

Let’s open up to 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 and read it together

“But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?”

Let’s take this apart a little.

In verse 1 we see Paul summarizing the argument he’s been making for almost the whole of the letter so far: the Corinthians aren’t acting like Christians, but like unbelievers. He contrasts two different types of people: the “spiritual people” and the “people of the flesh” – in fact he uses that phrase twice – but follows it up with “as infants in Christ.”

This tells us something important – that the people he was addressing were Christians. This letter was inspired by God and written to a church full of saved people. They were corrupted, sinful, wandering, foolish, carnal, jealous, angry, people – but they were Christians. How could this be?

Because our salvation is not based on our obedience to God, nor our personal holiness, nor our ability to be good, but upon believing in the finished work of Jesus Christ as the crucified and resurrected Saviour of our souls.

Jesus was the one who obeyed all the laws, fulfilling every one. Jesus is the one who perfectly loved the Lord God with all His heart, soul, mind and strength, and perfectly loved His neighbour. Jesus did everything that God commanded of Him, and then offered Himself up in exchange for any sinner who would believe. He would be the once and for all sacrifice, the final payment for sin so that no other payment would ever need to be made. All that is necessary for salvation is to believe in Him.

When the Philippian Jailer asked Paul “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”, the answer was, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:30-31)

Right after the most famous passage in the Bible, John 3:16, where we read about Jesus as a gift: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”, we read John 3:18, where Jesus says, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” And then a little later in John 5:24, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.”

Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God is not stingy with the requirements for salvation. He doesn’t demand that we jump through hoops, make grand displays, shave our heads, or sit in sackcloth and ashes, before He saves us. He doesn’t require us to get baptized, join a church, talk to a pastor, walk down an aisle, raise our hand, or anything else. What God requires of us is simply to believe Him that His Son, Jesus Christ, lived perfectly, died on a Roman cross, truly rose from the dead, and took the punishment we deserved.

That’s the Christian invitation. Will you accept that Jesus is the Son of God who came to give His life for yours, to conquer death, to settle your accounts before God, so you could be with your Father in Heaven? If you do, you’re in.

Belief is Harder

In a sense, even though this puts all the work on Jesus’s shoulders, and makes it a free gift that only needs to be accepted, having faith is in some ways harder than doing what other religions teach. Your admittance into the Kingdom of Heaven will not be judged on your actions, but on what you believe – which is actually a much deeper requirement.

Other religions, cults, and even aberrant (or heretical) forms of Christianity, simply give you a laundry list of requirements and behaviours that you must accomplish or align to, and if you achieve a certain percentage of them, then God (or Karma, or the Universe, or whatever) is happy. Follow our religious rituals and rules properly and then you’re life will be weighed out by a cosmic force, and then you’ll see where you end up.

That’s actually a lot easier than God’s requirement for “belief” or “faith”. It’s easier to follow a list of rules than it is to allow your understanding of the universe to be so radically altered that you actually change the way you think about God, yourself and everything else. Following a religion is shallow, believing in Jesus is deep. Checking boxes so you can call yourself a good person is simple, turning your heart, soul, mind and strength over to Jesus because you believe He is the Lord of your life is hard. Saving yourself by following your own personal idea of how to be a good person and get to heaven is easy because you can make excuses and change your requirements anytime you need to, but humbling yourself before God and following Jesus because you believe His way is the only way, is harder. Judging yourself and others by your personal religious beliefs makes you feel proud and superior to others, judging yourself and others by what you believe Jesus says, brings both deep humiliation and deep appreciation for God’s grace.

The Corinthians were saved people. They believed in Jesus as their Saviour. They were a mess, but they were, as Paul says in verse 1, “in Christ” – and that’s all that is necessary for salvation: belief.

Faith Changes Everything

However, we’re not just trying to get people saved, are we? No, we are saved unto something. The Apostle Paul doesn’t want mere belief, or dead faith. God didn’t plant the crab apple tree to have its growth stunted so it could bear only bitter fruit. He planted it so that it would grow bigger, stronger, and bear fruit that He and everyone else could take and eat and call good.

When Paul planted the seed of that church, he wanted to see it sprout. When Apollos preached there afterward, he wanted to help it grow. But it didn’t.

The Bible never stops at belief, or faith, in God. The demons believe God exists, but that isn’t enough for salvation, is it? The demons believe that Jesus is Lord of all and even Saviour of the World, but they are not saved. Why? Because the Christian faith isn’t just about believing the fact that God exists, or believing the fact that Jesus died and rose again, but having that belief, those facts, take over every part of our lives. That’s why the Bible, Old Testament and New, is so full of teachings that tie our faith in God to a changed life.

This is Paul’s message to the Corinthians is, “I want you to become spiritual people, but you are living as ‘people of the flesh’, carnal people who, instead of being obedient to God and controlled by the Holy Spirit, are controlled by your own natural desires. You may believe in Jesus, but your behaviour looks no different than the world. Your thought patterns are not mature, biblical and godly, but look just like the world’s. You claim to be followers of Jesus, but you think and act like pagans. When I came to you, I fed you with milk because you were spiritual babies, and that was appropriate, but you were supposed to grow up!”

In his letter to Titus (2:11-15), who was a Christian leader who he had sent out to check up on the churches he had planted, combat false teaching, and appoint elders before he moved on, he says this,

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority.”

Do you see the ebb and flow of salvation with a changed life? The grace of God appears and brings salvation – which trains us to put down the things that are ungodly. We are waiting for the blessed hope, the coming of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ – who redeemed us from lawless and works to purify us. He bought with His blood so we could be His own, and we show we are His by being zealous for good works.

Even Now You’re Not Ready

In Titus, Paul is talking to a mature church leader who is given some deep teaching and then commanded to go and declare and exhort and rebuke others, but in Corinth, Paul is talking to spiritual babies. In verse 2 he says, “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh.” How does he know that they’re still “of the flesh”, acting like spiritual babies? Verse 3 says, “For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?”

There’s a bunch of reasons he’s going to get into in the rest of the letter – from their sexual sin to their acceptance of pagan worship practices – but he starts with how they are treating each other. Their church is full of “jealousy and strife”.

How does he know that they are not maturing in their faith? The first reason he gives is because of their attitude towards one another. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

Paul’s argument is that since there is “jealousy and strife” among them, then they are acting like “people of the flesh” and are “behaving only in a human way”. This is a deep, cutting accusation.

In Galatians 5:19-21 we read the opposite of the “fruit of the Spirit”, which are called “the works of the flesh” which include: “sexual immorality… idolatry, sorcery… drunkenness, [and] orgies”, which we would all agree are worldly and sinful, but also included in the list “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, [and] envy” – all relational words. Then scripture says, “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

This is how sour the fruit of this church was – they were acting like those who are still on the side of the kingdom of Satan and bound for hell. Paul says, “I can’t address you as mature Christians, and your fruit is terrible, because you are still living by the desires of your flesh, living carnal lives, driven by worldly wisdom, and treating each other the way unbelievers do.”

Conclusion

The point of today’s message, and what I believe God is saying here, is twofold.

First, that we understand that we are saved by our faith in the grace of God alone, not by anything we can do – but that that belief must change our lives. If you’re a new believer or a young person, then it is to be expected that you will struggle with the things all new believers struggle with.

  • How can I put down the sinful habits I’ve built up?
  • How can I learn how to turn to God instead of my vices?
  • How can I build healthy boundaries in my life in order to combat bad influences, but still let my light shine?
  • How can I discipline myself to read the bible and pray regularly?
  • What does my relationship with God mean in relation to my wife, kids, friends, family, school, past, present, future?
  • How can I live a life that honours Jesus, and still enjoy the good things in this world?
  • How can I get over bitterness, laziness, or prejudice?
  • What does God want me to do with my life?
  • What are my gifts? What am I supposed to do at church?
  • What messed up things have I believed about God, His people, and the world, that I need to change in favour of discovering the truth?

All of these are really important questions, and ones that every new believer has to go through. But that’s the point – we go through them and then continue our journey into deeper things. We allow our belief in Jesus as our Lord and Saviour to open us to the influence of the Holy Spirit within us, so that we become more like Jesus every day.

That’s called maturing, and it’s something that most Christians don’t do. One of my favourite bible teachers talks about the “unnatural man” called the carnal Christian. He sees it as a bad hybrid, an unnatural joining of light and darkness, hot and cold, good and evil. He says,

“The carnal Christian is the one who hasn’t grown up spiritually, and it is evident that he lacks spiritual discernment – not because he doesn’t have the Holy Spirit within him, but because he is not growing in grace and in the knowledge of Christ…. This is a consequence of his relationship to the Word of God…. This unnatural man, this carnal Christian, is a babe in Christ. He has an ability but no desire…. Unfortunately it is on this level that most church members are living today. How can we identify the carnal Christian? It is the Christian who is using the weak arm of the flesh. He uses carnal methods to obtain spiritual goals…. Their motto is: Do what comes naturally. Let the flesh have its way.” (Thru The Bible with J Vernon McGee, Vol 5, 1 Corinthains, Pg 16-17)

He’s right. Many of the Christians I have known and have served, have the ability to grow, but no desire. They live as children of the world, but claim to be followers of Jesus. They come up with all kinds of human, worldly, carnal methods to try to obtain things that can only be given by God. They try to combat spiritual problems with worldly wisdom. They seek human answers to spiritual questions.

This is the first issue, the lack of maturity in the Christian church – and the lack of desire for maturity – which creates carnal Christians, lukewarm church, and people who live as spiritual babies for their whole life, doing more damage than good for God’s Kingdom.

The second point is connected to the first: that we must engage in actively choosing to live as spiritual people and not as natural ones. Another translation of our passage today said it this way, “You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your own desires?”

That’s exactly right.

“By remaining immature and allowing that immaturity to divide them, they were wreaking havoc on the church…. James wrote, ‘What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?’” (Life Application Bible Commentary, 1 &2 Corinthians, Pg 48)

Christians aren’t to be controlled by their fleshly desires or their carnal thoughts, or it will lead to trouble in all of their relationships! We are to turn those thoughts over to God and allow the Holy Spirit to control and change our desires. Whenever we choose to be guided by our own wisdom or natural desires, we run the risk of doing things simply to gratify our sinful nature. And that is dangerous.

So, my closing question to you today is this, are you maturing as a Christian – whatever phase you’re in – or are you stuck in spiritual infancy, repeating the same old sins over and over again? When God comes to evaluate your fruit, does it taste like it has maturing in godliness where your life lines up with your beliefs? Or does it taste of hypocrisy, where you’ve claimed to be a believer, but you are still behaving in a fleshly way?

I encourage you to do something difficult: ask those closest to you about this. Ask your parents, children, spouse, and Christian friends if you are walking in step with what you say you believe. Ask them if they have seen you mature and grow over the past year, or if you seem exactly the same (or worse) as you were last year and the year before.

What Can We Do and What Must God Do Alone?

Posted on Updated on

12 - Just Be Held.JPG

We like doing things ourselves, right? I think almost everyone here today takes pride in the skill and abilities they have, what they can accomplish, and how, for the most part, they don’t really need anyone’s help to get by. Sure – as I said last week – some of us are willing to admit our weaknesses and need for God for spiritual things, but when it comes to practical things – like home repair, cooking a meal, fixing a car, building a shed, manipulating a computer, or making clothes – we’re still pretty fond of the fact that we don’t need anyone’s help to do it.

I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Being a do-it-yourselfer is good. Actually, in scripture, God praises the one who learns skills and then applies them with diligence. It’s not only those who know the Bible and practice spiritual disciplines that get kudos, but God also shows His pleasure with those who work hard at growing their business, playing music, build, manufacture, teach, explore, or make art. During the building of the Tabernacle in Exodus 35, God called on all people who knew to spin yarn and linen, work metal, grow plans and herbs, carve wood, and more.

There were a couple of men in particular that God blessed to be able to do all kinds of practical things. It says,

“Then Moses said to the people of Israel, ‘See, the LORD has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft. And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan. He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver—by any sort of workman or skilled designer.” (Exo 35:24-29)

Sometimes Christians look at men and women who know lots about the Bible, or write, or are able to preach, or teach Sunday school and assume that’s what God wants all believers to try to live up to – but it’s not true. God needed a lot of skilled workers to build His temple and serve His people, and Bezalel and Oholiab were specially gifted by God to be craftsmen. And it’s the same in today’s church. We need all kinds of people in this world, this community, and this church.

If they would have said, “Since I’m just good at doing artistic stuff and am not a priest or a lawyer or a holy man, then I can’t work for God.”, they would have been disobeying God. All the time that these men spent alone in their sheds, planning, carving, pounding, moulding, and polishing – and apprenticing others how to do the same – brought glory to God and helped the worship of the entire nation of Israel.

And the priests would be sinning if they were to look at them and say, “I can’t believe you’re wasting your time banging metal together and weaving strings! You shouldn’t be an artist or hunter or shepherd or politician or soldier – you should quit all that and start doing important things!”. That would go against what God built and asked them to do.

God has given skills to some people that others will never have – because He decided they should have them to use them for His glory and the good of humanity. Many of Jesus parables aren’t based in the spiritual realm but in the practical side of life. He tells stories about farming, banking, housekeeping, construction, wine-making, baking, fishing, management, and law – and we never get a hint of Jesus disparaging or minimizing any of these occupations. It is the priest and the religious expert who get blasted by Jesus, not the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker.

Working in The Spirit’s Power

Why am I telling you this? Well, first, it’s important, but I also think it relates to our passage in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. Let’s read it and then I’ll riddle it out for you:

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

The simple message today is that there are some things in this life that God offers to partner with us on and some things that He is required to do all by Himself.

If you remember Paul’s story you will recall that Paul was a skilled guy with some of the best training the ancient world had to offer. Before he ever knew Jesus, his name was Saul, and he was already a formidable intellect, an unmatched student, and a force to reckoned with. He spoke multiple languages, had memorized huge quantities of not only scripture but also secular teachings, and was one of the most skilled lawyers in the world. He was a powerful speaker and no one could match his devotion or his resolve. He had the ferocity of a shark, the skill of a fox, the wisdom of an owl, the memory of an elephant, and the determination of a pit-bull. People feared getting on the wrong side of Saul.

When Jesus turned Saul’s world upside down, he became Paul the missionary. And did Paul still use his great powers for the sake of spreading the gospel? Sometimes, yes. He gave unparalleled speeches before great worldly counsels, brought wisdom and insight to the apostles, and figured out more theology than almost anyone ever. Even the Apostle Peter said that some things in Paul’s writings are so complicated that they require a great deal of study and effort to understand (2 Peter 3:16). He was a true genius.

And yet, if you remember the story of Corinth, when Paul came into town the first time, he wasn’t he mighty man of God we might think he was. No, he was a man at the end of his rope. Saul the powerful persecutor had become Paul the broken and persecuted. He was alone, exhausted, rejected, afraid, and perhaps even ready to quit being a missionary altogether. But God had met him in a special way, had strengthened Him, encouraged him, and told him to keep preaching.

Paul’s message to the Corinthians wouldn’t be like his message to the Athenians or the Jews, or anyone else. Instead of turning all his mental and intellectual powers towards convincing people about the truths of Jesus’ claims to be Lord, God and Saviour, he decided to keep things very simple and leave the convincing up to God.

When Paul came into Corinth, he had only been an active, traveling missionary for about 4 years, but he had learned some valuable lessons during that time. One main thing he learned was that he needed to speak to people in a way they understood. He tells the Corinthians later that

“I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law… that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law… that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” (1 Cor 9:19-23)

Paul learned the importance of contextualizing his message to his audience. Which was one reason he made the decision not to “proclaim to [the Corinthians] the testimony of God with lofty speech and wisdom”. As we’ve said before, that would have been a distraction to them.

But he had learned another lesson too: that the success of his work wasn’t dependent on his intelligence or abilities but on God’s blessing. His missionary journey had broken him down, and as he taught the Corinthians, he didn’t sound like one of the greatest teachers in the world – instead, he was weak, fearful, and even trembling. He didn’t use a lot of arguments and illustrations and human wisdom (what he calls “plausible words of wisdom”), which would have impressed them, but instead, he abandoned all of that and “decided to know nothing among [them] except Jesus Christ and him crucified”.

He didn’t talk about the idols in town and draw illustrations from them. He didn’t give them history lessons or impress them with poetry and quotes from great philosophers – which he certainly could have, and that’s how the most popular teachers spoke. Instead, he kept it simple: Jesus of Nazareth is God incarnate, and the only way of salvation. He lived a perfect life, died at the hands of sinners, and rose again to conquer death, hell and sin, and offers forgiveness to anyone who would turn from their sins, and believe that He is their Lord, God and only Savior.

I’m sure there were many discussions and many challenges, but instead of trying to impress them with his great knowledge, win them with powerful arguments, twist them in circles with his intellect, he simply talked about Jesus Christ who died on the cross to save sinners.

He left the persuasion up to the Spirit of God. If God wanted the Corinthians to become Christians… if God wanted to plant a church in this pagan town… if God wanted to turn people in this crazily sinful city into disciples of Jesus… then God would have to do it.

Paul would be obedient and preach – but He wouldn’t try to do anything else. Not only was he was too tired and broken, but he had learned that if he tried to do it in his own strength, it would blow up in his face – especially in Corinth, the seedbed of Satanic influence. If he used his own strength, then maybe they would become disciples of Paul – but not Jesus. He wanted their “faith” to “rest not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” And so he left the persuasion of souls up to God, by leaving any demonstration of power up to the Holy Spirit.

Working With God

And so, I say again: The message today is that there are some things in this life that God offers to partner with us on and some things that He needs to do all by Himself.

God doesn’t need us to do anything. He is perfectly capable of doing whatever He wants, but sometimes He prefers to accomplish His will through His people, so He invites us to work with Him. He gives us skills, abilities, gifts, time, energy and opportunity – and then says, “Ok, go do the thing I just set up. I’ll go with you to make sure it works.”

It’s like when your three year old wants to help you build something. You buy the pieces, do the planning, make the measurements, organize the equipment, and figure out the best time to do it – and they hold the flashlight, pound in the final nail, or get to paint a little part of it. And then later, they can tell all their friends, “See that thing over there? I built that!” Are they right? Of course not. But what does mom or dad say? “Great job! What a big help you were! Do you want to do something else together?”

I think God is like that sometimes. He does 99.99% of the work, and then says, “Ok, now, I’ll do this last part with you. Go build this thing. Finish this up. Talk to that person. Draw that picture. Make that meal. Give them that book. Fix that thing.” And it takes a bunch of our energy and effort and time, but we finally finish, and then, when something incredible happens as a result, we sit back and think, “Wow, see that over there? I did that!” Are we right? No, of course not. But what does God say? “Great job! What a big help you were! Do you want to do something else together?”

I think it’s like that when we partner with God. Christians who walk with God a long time start to realize this and more and more turn the glory back to God. They realize that it wasn’t them that did anything, but God working through them. They may have partnered with God in obedience, but it was really God who gets the glory.

That’s similar to what Paul was doing. He knew that he was supposed to preach and teach. It was his job and he was using the skillset God gave him. Just like Bezalel and Oholiab were good at arts and crafts, so Paul was good at talking. He was called and built for that purpose, and would be disobeying God if He didn’t do his job.

But He knew that whatever happened, it was God’s show. He knew that the more he depended on his own abilities and strengths, the less God would shine through Him. The more they saw of Paul, the less they would see of Jesus. And so he resolved, especially in his weakened state, to show as little of Paul, and as much of Jesus, as possible.

Things Only God Can Do

We have to realize, as Paul did, that there is nothing of eternal we can do without God, and there are a lot of things that are completely outside of our control. And, if we want God to act (to demonstrate His Spirit and His power), then we need to stop trying to do it for Him.

It would be like the three year old taking the pencil out of the adult’s hands and saying, “I’ll plan out this project.” Or taking the skill-saw away and saying, “Stand back, dad, I’ll cut this wood.” Or saying, “Get out of the kitchen. I’ll figure out how to make Thanksgiving dinner myself! Last year you made something I didn’t like, so this year I’m going to do the whole thing on my own.”

That’d be crazy, right? A toddler can’t do that. They’d get hurt, hurt someone else, ruin the project, and likely burn down the whole house. “Here, let me wash that phone for you.
“Here, use this wrench to cut that wood.” “Here, let me decorate that car for you.” A child absolutely needs to depend on the adult to get the job done right and safely.

It’s the same with us. There are things that we simply cannot do, that require a demonstration of the Spirit, and a movement of the power of God. And if we try to do them, we just mess it up! There are a lot of things that I could list, but consider these for a moment:

As much as we want to argue and convince people that we are right, we cannot change people’s hearts – only God can do that. Faith is a gift from God, not a skill we can teach. The Gospel and all its implications can be defended and explained, but it takes God changing a heart before it will be embraced.

Or pride. We cannot kill the pride within us – only God can. We can pretend to be humble, but even then we start to get prideful about how humble we are! Only God can truly humble us.

We cannot remove fear from ourselves. We can do all manner of worldly things to try to control fear or even ignore it – but we cannot remove it. Only God’s perfect love can drive out fear.

We cannot stop worrying, and we cannot take away anyone else’s worry. We can give someone money, but we can’t remove worry from their hearts. We put someone in a safe place, assure them of their security, but nothing but a miracle from God can remove their worry.

We cannot generate love for someone, or make ourselves be able to truly forgive someone. We can chose to perform loving actions, and choose to forgive, but only God can ignite a love within us so strong that it overcomes our own hatred, bitterness or selfishness.

We cannot learn to hate our sin – that requires a miracle from God. We will make excuses for our sin, say how much we need it, explain it away, or bury it in a dark place so only we can see it. Even if it makes us sick, destroys our family, hurts our body, and destroys our minds, we can’t make ourselves hate it so much that we want to be free of it. Only God can do that. Only the power of the Holy Spirit can show us how hateful sin is. Unless God does that, we – and anyone we are praying for – will stay in their sin.

Application

Let me give you two quick applications:

First, in all you do, partner with God. Sure, we can work with our hands, serve our family, fix something, and do a million other things without even thinking about God – and the unbelieving world does that all the time – but we can also do those things in partnership with God, which makes them an act worship and gives them everlasting value. That’s why scripture says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…” (Col 3:23), “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor 10:31) “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.” (Col 3:17) When you acknowledge the presence and the partnership of God in whatever task, it will bring a new meaning to all you do.

Second, and more importantly, realize that you are also utterly dependent on God for everything in your life. Don’t live as a “religious Christian” for spiritual things, but a “practical atheist” the rest of the time. You will not be able to see a demonstration of the Spirit’s power if you are trying to do everything yourself and fix all your own problems. You are designed to need God, therefore stop being too foolish or prideful to ask.

It’s not your job to hold it all together, to be strong for everyone, to fight the good fight alone, or pull up your own socks. The more you exercise your control, the less you are giving to God. The more you work in your own strength, the less you will get from God. The more you try to figure it out in your own wisdom, the less wisdom you will get from God. If you’re trying to calm the storm, then you’ll never turn to Jesus who can do it for you. If you’re trying to make everyone safe and secure, you’re refusing the help of the one who can actually protect you. If you’re trying to plan your future without talking to God, you are performing a hopeless task.

There’s a great line in a song from Casting Crowns that says, “I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held.” That’s a great line and an important truth. It’s not your job to hold on by your own power – what you need to do is acknowledge that in order to see God’s power at work in your life, you need remember that you just need to be held by Him.

How to Confront a Sinning Friend (Carnivore Theology: Ep. 59)

Posted on Updated on

Confronting Sin

Our “live and let live”/”everyone has their own truth” culture isn’t very good at calling out or confronting sin, but scripture is clear that Christians are supposed to be holding one another accountable to God’s Word. So, what should a believer do when we see a friend caught in sin?

Podcast Audio:

Behind the Scenes Video:

How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?

1. Pray for us!

2. Record a question in your voice on our SpeakPipe page! (Or Facebook or E-mail!)

3. Comment on our Facebook page, Twitter, and iTunes!

4. Share www.CarnivoreTheology.com with your friends. Sharing is caring!

5. Give financially: If you’d like to help us with our productiong costs, send us a financial gift through PayPal by clicking here. (We are not a registered charity, so you won’t get a tax receipt — but you will have the good feelings that come with helping out a friend!)

Sharing Our Faith Can be Scary (Kid’s Sermon)

Posted on Updated on

Sharing Our Faith Scary.jpg

We just had Halloween a couple weeks ago, and of course that strange season is one where people talk about scary things like ghosts and vampires and zombies. Who here went trick-or-treating? Did you see anything scary?

Well, I went digging around on the internet to learn about some different things that people are afraid of. So what I’m going to do is put up a list of things and we can say scary or not scary to all of them, ok? Now, I’m not going to make fun of anyone here because we can’t really pick what we’re scared of, can we?

For example, I’m scared of heights. I don’t like being high up in places, but I don’t know why (Acrophobia). Anyone with me? Here are some others::

  • Fear of Spiders (Arachnophobia)
  • Fear of taking a bath (Ablutophobia).
  • Fear of Loud Noises (Acousticophobia).
  • Fear of Needles (Trypanophobia).
  • Fear of snakes (Ophidiophobia).
  • Fear of Chickens (Alektorophobia).
  • Fear of Peanut Butter sticking to the roof of your mouth (Aracibutyrophobia).
  •  Fear of slime (Blennophobia).
  • Fear of clocks (Chronomentrophobia)

Tonight I want to talk about something that might also be a bit scary. Sharing our faith with others can be a little scary too. A lot of questions go through our minds: How do we start talking about Jesus with someone that knows nothing about Him? We’re supposed to be kind and say kind things to our friends, so how can we tell them Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” or Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death…” when that means that they are a sinner who will die and can’t go to heaven because of their sin? That doesn’t sound very nice. What if they misunderstand and get upset with us?

And when should we do it? Should we wait for the right moment? Should we just blurt it out whenever we want to? You know… get invited over to their house for dinner and say, “This meal is very nice, please pass the ketchup – oh and by the way you’re all sinners who are doomed and need Jesus.” That’s a little weird, right?

Should we invite them to church first, or tell them about Jesus first? Maybe we should wait for them to ask. But what if they never ask? Then what?

Sharing our faith can be a little difficult sometimes – and sort of complicated when we think about it – so I want to tell you four things to remember when you want to share your faith in Jesus Christ with someone.

First Show Them Love

The first thing I want you to know about sharing your faith is that you need to show them love before you tell them the Gospel. This is something that a lot of people – including adults – get wrong. We all know the Great Commission Jesus gave in Matthew 28:19-20 that says,

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”.

Sometimes we think that means that it’s our job to simply go out and tell the gospel to people wherever they are, even if we don’t know them. Sometimes God calls people to do that, but that’s not usually how He works.

Jesus says something very important in John 13:35 that we need to remember, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Loving the person comes before we teach them the Bible or bring them to church. The way that they know that we have Jesus in our hearts, and the way that they will know that Jesus is real to us, is by the love we have for them and others. So that’s where we have to start – loving.

So ask yourself some questions: Do I love this person? How am I showing it? Do I want to tell them about Jesus so they will be nice to me, or because I love them and want the best for them? Have I shown them love by helping them, caring for them, sharing with them, eating with them, telling them the truth, and being their friend? We have to love them first, because it is by our love for them that they will know that the love of Jesus is in our hearts.

Remember to Pray

The second thing I want you to remember to do when you share the gospel with someone, is to pray. You must pray first. God promises in the Bible that He will give you the words you need, the wisdom you need, the timing you need, and the help you need when you come to talk to your friend about Him. But even more important is that God says that the Holy Spirit must do the work in your friend’s heart before they can hear anything you say!

You probably remember the Parable of the Four Soils that Jesus told. It’s the story of a farmer who goes out and spreads seeds on all kinds of different ground – hard ground, rocky ground, thorny ground, and good ground. The seeds represent the story of Jesus and the different grounds represent different types of hearts.

Many people have hard hearts, like the hard ground. The seeds of our message just bounce off and never grow. God says in the Bible that it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict people of sin (John 16:8) and change their hard heart into a soft one (Eze 36:26). We can’t do that. We can’t yell at someone, or argue with someone, or bribe someone, or do anything to someone to make them believe in Jesus – only the Holy Spirit can do that – which is why we must pray.

So first we show them love, and then we pray that God will make the person’s heart soft so they can hear the words that God gives you to say to them.

Tell Them YOUR Story

The third thing to remember about sharing your faith is that you need to start with your own story. Tell them that you know God and His Son Jesus and what you know from the Bible. Tell them what it means to you that you are a sinner who needs a Saviour. Tell them what it’s like to be a Christian.

You don’t have to make anything up, or tell missionary stories, or try to copy what your pastor or parents say – just tell them what it’s like for you.

  • What does it feel like to know you’re forgiven from sin?
  • What’s it like to talk to God in prayer?
  • What’s it like to know that you are loved no matter what you do?
  • What’s it like to have the Holy Spirit inside of you telling you right from wrong?
  • What’s it like to be afraid of something, but then pray and know that God is taking care of you?
  • What’s it like to know that Jesus has a plan for your life, and that even if bad things happen, He will still take care of you and help you be more like Him?
  • What’s it like to be part of His church?
  • What’s it like to sing worship songs?
  • What’s it like to memorize Bible verses and know that His Word is in your heart?

Tell them your story. God is writing a story in your life and that’s the one that He wants you to tell.

Be Patient

And the fourth thing I want you to remember is that you need to be patient and keep talking about it. They may not get saved the first time you tell them. They may not be ready to turn from their sin. They might be afraid, or confused, or have more questions, or something else. So be patient with them, keep loving them, keep praying for God to open their hearts, and keep talking to them about what God is doing in your life.

There may come a time when you think that you’ve said it too many times – don’t believe it. I know people who heard the gospel for the first time and then gave their life to Jesus right there – and I know people whose friend told them about Jesus for 20 years, 30 years, 40 years before their heart was soft enough for the seed of Jesus’ story to take root. So keep on praying for them. God isn’t finished with them yet.

Yes, sharing our faith can be a little scary sometimes, but some of you have non-Christian friends, or family, or even parents. So my message to you today is to keep loving them, keep praying for them, and keep talking to them about Jesus. That’s what God wants us to keep doing, and that’s how people get saved, so that’s what we should do.

Love Does (AWANA Kid’s Talk)

Posted on Updated on

Love Does

When I was asked to speak here this evening, I grabbed onto a theme that I’d already spoke to another group about. They’re going through a book called “Love Does” and discussing what it means to love people in a real, hands-on, practical, concrete, expressive, applied way. I really appreciate that theme and was excited to do a little studying about it – and want to share what I found with you guys.

I’m sure you’ve already talked about the importance of living out what we say we believe. That’s the opposite of being a hypocrite, right? A hypocrite is someone who says one thing and does another – or for that matter who says that they believe something, but it doesn’t change anything about their life that shows they really believe it. Let me give you a few examples of what I mean.

Someone says, “Wow, I really need to study more. I just failed a test, I’m failing my classes, the teacher has called my parents, and I’m in serious trouble if I don’t get myself together and start to study.” What do you expect them to be doing with themselves after school for the next while? Studying, right? But if they leave school and have no books, no backpack, and have made plans to play every day after school – and then when you talk to them they tell you about all the movies and games they’ve been playing  – do you think they really believed that they needed to study?  Of course not. Their behaviour – what they are doing – isn’t lining up to what they’re saying.

Or here’s another one. You’re picking teams for basketball, and a guy stands up and yells, “Hey! I want to be on your team! Pick me, pick me! I’m really good! I’m great at basketball!”. So you pick him – and when the game comes, he’s wearing the wrong shoes and is eating a box of doughnuts and a big pop right before the game. When he gets onto the court he keeps getting fouls for not dribbling, doesn’t know how to shoot, and keeps tripping over people because he’s out of position. So you go to him and say, “You said you were really good at basketball, but you’re terrible!” and they say, “Oh! Well, I watch it on TV all the time, know all the teams and rules, and even play it on the Playstation all the time.”

What do you think of that guy? He’s a hypocrite, right? For all he knows about basketball, it doesn’t mean he actually plays, does he?

Would you trust a doctor that has only ever studied the books but has never actually seen a sick person in real life? Would you trust someone to paint a picture for you who says they are an “expert in art”, but has never picked up a paintbrush? Would you call someone an expert chef if they’d only memorize a whole bunch of recipes, but had never actually been in a kitchen?

Of course not! That’s why your theme of “Love Does” is so important. It’s a reminder that a Christian isn’t someone who merely talks about loving people – but is someone that actually, practically, expressively, really takes time, effort and energy to love people. Let me show you a few verse about where we find this in the Bible – because we find the importance of love doing things all the way though.

Love Obeys God

When God was giving the Law to Israel he said this: “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?” (Deut 10:12-13)

In other words, God says, “The way that you are going to show that you are my people and that you love me isn’t only with your words – it’s with your obedience to what I’m telling you. It’s all for ‘your good’, but it’s also how you and I will know what our relationship is like. If you’re not obeying my commands, then I know you don’t believe me, trust me, obey me, or love me.” In fact, Jesus says the exact same thing to His disciples in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

One way that we show love to God in a practical way is to keep his commandments. That’s something love does.

Love Loves Others

We read it in another place a little differently in the prophet Micah. Micah speaks for the people of Israel who seem to be very confused about how God wants to be worshipped and loved. He says this, “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

What do you want God? How can we love you? How can we show that we want forgiveness? How can we get you into our lives?

And the very simple answer comes in Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  It’s almost like he says, “It’s not that complicated, guys! I don’t want your religion and your oils and festivals and feasts – I want your hearts.”

And how do you how God that He has your heart? By loving others in practical, real, ways. What does the Lord require? “DO Justice” –Love fights for people’s rights. “Love kindness” – Love shows people compassion and treats them gently. And then, simply “WALK humbly with your God.” Love walks with God. Those are all action words!

1st John, in the New Testament says this again. The actions of Love are all through scripture! 1 John 3:17: “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” James 2:14, says it simply this way, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?… Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead”

What good is it to say you know you love God, but don’t show it when people need loving? What good is it to say you’re a Christian if you don’t love people like Christ? What good is it to say you love God’s word, if you don’t read it and obey it?

It’s like we said before? What good is it to say that you are great at basketball, if you have no idea how to play and never try? What good is it to say that you want to be a good student, but then never study? What good is it to say that you’re a great chef, if you never cook anything?

The answer is, “it’s no good.” There’s no point! That kind of faith – the kind that has no connection to what we do is dead! And that’s the point.

Known by Our Love

On the night before He is arrested and sent to the cross, Jesus looks at His disciples and tells them some extremely important things. One of the most important was this:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Jesus told his disciples a lot of things that night – and continued to for a long time. He told them about how to get help from God, about the gift of the Holy Spirit, about the need to stay connected to Him, and about the dangers of following Him.

But He made a special point to tell them that if they want to be known as His people – Christians – then the number one way that the world would know, would be that they would love one another.

Our relationship with Jesus starts as we ask Him to be our saviour from sin, because we realize we can’t save ourselves. But our relationship with Him is seen by others –NOT by our fancy churches, or our cool Christian t-shirts, not even mostly by our words – but in how we love each other.

That’s what will make us different. That’s what attracts people. That’s what everyone wants. They want to be part of a group that truly loves one another – no matter what. A group that treats each other with justice, kindness, mercy, and patience. That forgives wrongs and puts others first. That serves people that can’t help themselves or ever pay them back. That goes out of their way to demonstrate love. That group is call the church of Jesus Christ.

That kind of love is what makes the world thirsty for Jesus. When they see His love, worked out practically in our lives, in big and small ways, every day.

The Soul Killer (Youth Camp Talk)

Posted on Updated on

2 How To Kill Your Soul

Last night we talked about living like an animal and living like a human being – and how the difference comes when we see ourselves as a special creation of God, worthy of dignity and respect, and someone loved so much that Jesus was willing to die for you. Accepting that gift of salvation is an invitation to God to work in your heart and make you into a new creation, to be born again.

Last night I divided the thinking using the idea of Animal and Human, but another way of dividing it is between things that fill our spirits and things that kill our spirits. When we think and live like animals we are denying the fact that we have something special that animals don’t have – a soul, a spirit, the special breath of God that no other creature of God has. So tonight what I want to do is spend a little time talking about some things that fill our soul, and things that kill our soul.

I want this to be immensely practical for you, so let me explain what I mean. There are things that we do, ways we think, activities common to all of us, that either fill us up, bring us closer to God, improve our relationships, increase our joy, and make us more like Jesus – and there are things that we do and think that empty our souls, draw us away from God, ruin our joy, harm our relationships, distract us from our God-given mission, and kill our souls. And I want to talk about one of them tonight:

Empty People

Why is this important? Because a lot of people feel very empty. There is a vacuum inside of them, a gaping hole, that they keep trying to fill up, but no matter what they throw into it, it never feels full. Do you know this feeling?

You’ve got a family, friends, school, work, a hobby, teammates, books, skills… and no matter what you do with them, you still feel empty. Certainly, all these things are good, and for a time, as long as you’re with them, they are distracting… but then, at night when you go to bed, when you’re alone, when the noise stops that empty void inside of you feels just as big as it ever did.

That’s why you spend so much time on the internet, playing games, watching movies, listening to music, texting on the cell phone, sending pictures and videos, exercising your body, sleeping, or doing whatever you can do to fill your eyes and ears – because you don’t like the silence. And the worst part is that no matter what you do, no matter how many friends you have, no matter what chemical you put into your body, no matter how good you do on that test, no matter how hard you hit it, no matter how many people see your video, no matter how much you try, the emptiness never gets better.

God Shaped Hole

What I want to tell you tonight is that the reason that you feel that way is because you’re trying to fill the hole inside of you with something that can never fill it. The hole is too big for anything this world has to offer. No friend, work or distraction will ever fill it.

The Bible says in Ecclesiastes 3:11 that God has “placed eternity in a man’s heart” which means that there is a God-shaped hole inside of us, an innate longing for something outside of ourselves, something transcendent, something other than what can be found in this world.

But the Bible also says in Jeremiah 17:9 that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick…”. Ecclesiastes 9:3 says, “the hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live…”. We talked about that last night when we talked about our animalistic natures.

Our heart tells us to keep doing the same old things over and over, hoping that they will fill the God-shaped hole. It’s madness to continue, but we keep doing it hoping it will work. We hope that we will finally find meaning, peace, happiness, joy, and freedom in our work, education, friends, sports, money, things, experiences – but the things we are pursuing with such energy are utterly unsatisfactory – not enough to fill the void.

That’s why so many people can’t stand silence, but keep filling their head with noise. Do you know anyone like that? Someone who always has headphones in their ears or their phone in their face? Someone who can’t even lie down at night without filling their minds with noise? They fear silence because it’s in the silence that they start to realize how empty things are – and it terrifies them to think that no matter what they do, they will never shake the empty feeling.

So what can we do? Well, the first thing is what we talked about last night. Turn our lives over to Jesus, accept His death on the cross on your behalf, and begin a relationship with Him. Become a Christian by connecting back to your creator through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

But after that there are some other things that we can do to start filling our souls instead of killing them. And I want to talk about a big one tonight:

Killed by Comparison

The number one killer of our souls that I want to tell you about tonight is Comparison. Comparison kills joy. Theodore Rosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Mark Twain said, “Comparison is the death of joy.” Rick Warren, one of my favourite authors and pastors once said, “You cannot be happy and envious at the same time.” The Bible says, “They use themselves to measure themselves, and they judge themselves by what they themselves are. This shows that they know nothing.” (1 Cor 10:12)

What I’m talking about is the trap that people fall into when they see their life as a competition with others. They’re not happy unless they can say they are better, stronger, faster, richer, prettier, smarter, than others. If they get something, I need to have a bigger one. If you eat one, then I’ll eat two. If you start talking about their vacation, then I need to tell them how much better mine was. Both men and women have this problem – it’s not just a girl or boy thing, though it does come out different ways.

Do you ever get this? It happens all the time, without even thinking.

One person says, “Oh man, I had to go to the hospital for two days because I had an infection.” and what does the other person say, “You think you were sick?! Well, one time I was in the hospital for a whole week!”

One person says, “I just got a new iPhone.” and instead of saying, “That’s great for you!” what do we say? “Well, iPhone sucks. I have an Android! Which one ? Oh, a 5? Well, I’m saving up for a 6.” Or you whip out your phones and start comparing features.

Someone says, “I have a boyfriend/girlfriend.” And you think, “Why do they have someone? What’s wrong with me? Maybe I should lower my standards? Everyone else has a boyfriend/girlfriend? There must be something wrong with me.”

It doesn’t matter if there isn’t anything wrong with you, that you have high standards, and that no one meets them yet! That’s actually a good thing! It doesn’t matter that other people are hooking up and breaking up every week and that you’re not. But comparing yourself to them makes you feel terrible. Comparison kills your soul, doesn’t it?

And then it inevitably happens that you can’t compete with someone. You come across someone that really is smarter, faster, prettier, wealthier, more talented and more popular than you. And no matter what you do, they keep winning. So how do we react? A person who lives by comparison doesn’t react well.

They get depressed because they don’t have what the other person has – and may never have it. They get angry because that person doesn’t deserve it as much as they do. They get bitter and lash out at the person, treating them badly, even if they’ve done nothing, simply because they perceive them as a threat. And even if that person is somehow eliminated – they move, you finally beat them, or something else – then you live in constant fear that someone else will come along that will challenge your superiority.

That’s the danger of living a life where you are constantly comparing yourself to others. No matter what you achieve, you will live depressed, angry, bitter and afraid. You may look amazing on the outside, part of the crowd, or rising above them. You may project confidence and strength. You may have everyone else fooled, but inside you are always afraid someone is more loved than you. You are always angry, and you don’t really know why. You don’t see people as people, but as competitors, rivals, stepping stones.

And that colours all your relationships. If you think like that, then everyone else must as well. They’re just waiting for you to screw up so they can take what you have. They’re laughing at you behind your back. And now you’re even suspicious of your friends. Does anyone know this feeling?

Chasing Love

Maybe this has seeped in because of the tonne of books and movies that keep feeding you this. Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner, X-Men, I Am Number Four, Twilight, Harry Potter, are all fun movies to watch, but they all have the same underlying message: You are very, very special. You are on top. You are the chosen one. Only the chosen one is really important. Everyone else is second class. Every wants to take what you have. Trust no one. If you’re not special, you’re nothing.

Maybe you have had this pressed on you by your parents. You have to be stronger, fasters, smarter than others. They’re telling you about their failings and how you need to rise above. Telling you that you need to do well in school or sports, to have a great job, and get lots of money – you don’t want to be like your loser uncle whatever do you?

That sets you up for a life of comparison where you see everyone as a threat, and it’s a terrible way to live, and will kill your soul. But it’s so tempting, so persuasive.

Why? Because all the comparison boils down to chasing love. They believe that popularity equals love, wealth equals the ability to find love, being beautiful means being loved, being smartest, most talented, or strongest means people will need you and therefore love you. Having great toys and tech means that there’s someone out there that will give you good things because they love you. Having a boyfriend/girlfriend means that you’re loved.

But is that true? Not necessarily, right?

Can you be popular, but unloved? Sure. There are lots of people that are widely known, but hated.

Can you be rich, but unloved? Absolutely. Some wealthy people are very lonely.

Can you be beautiful and unloved? Certainly. Sometimes how we look on the surface, even being beautiful, becomes a barrier to a real, deep relationship.

Can you get presents every day, but still feel unloved? Certainly. Receiving gifts doesn’t always mean closeness. I get a birthday card from my insurance company – but they don’t love me!

Can you be in a relationship where you see each other often, have committed to be boyfriend/girlfriend, but have no love? Sadly, yes. Some of you know how that feels.

So what do we do? We go chasing after that love. We want so desperately to fill that God-shaped hole inside of us that we are willing to do almost anything to fill it – even if that means compromising who we are.

We want that popularity, we want people to like us, love us – but they won’t accept us the way we are. So what does our wicked, deceitful heart tell us to do? Change ourselves, lower our standards, pretend we’re stupid, pretend we’re someone else. People laugh when I do this stupid thing, and then they think I’m cool, so I’ll keep doing that. We hang around people we don’t really like, because they’re the crowd we’re expected to hang around.

We want that wealth, because we want people to love us, so what do we do? Stop doing something we love so we can take a job to make money. Pretend to be richer than we are. Steal things so we have more. Borrow money we can’t pay back. Buy things for people hoping that we will impress them enough that they will be our friends.

We want to be considered beautiful, because we think beautiful people are more loved, so what do we do? Look at blogs and glossy, airbrushed pictures of beautiful people and try to dress and act like them. Go on crazy diets, work out too much, take pills that destroy our bodies. Spend money on hair, nails, skin, eyes, clothes, shoes, sunglasses to look like someone else. Worry so much about what we look like on the surface that we forget to feed the soul inside. Which is why you panic every time you look at the closet. It’s because you’re afraid that if you don’t look perfect, people won’t love you. And then, after a time, you get used to it. You realize that people react positively whenever you show up looking this certain way, so you move heaven and earth to keep looking like that, even when you don’t really want to, even when it makes you uncomfortable, even if it compromises your values. Because you’re desperate for love.

Do you know this struggle? I know you do. So do I.

My Story

I understand that struggle because I lived it. When I was growing up I was pretty unpopular. Actually, that’s an understatement. My family moved around a bunch and I ended up attending four different schools from grade 1-7 – in the same town. But there was only one high school, so when I went there, everyone knew me as the weird, new kid that never quite fit in. The kids were pretty mean to me.

I remember some of them would wait for me to leave after school so they could throw rocks at me. Add to that the fact that I had really bad acne, was a computer nerd (way before Big Bang Theory decided nerds were cool), and was, as far as I could tell, the only Christian in the whole school. I was pretty smart and had skipped a grade, and was also one of the smallest and certainly the youngest person in my grade. I have no fashion sense so I wore weird clothes, and spent a lot of time by myself.

I hated being on the bus. I hated being at school. I was an outsider’s outsider.

I did have a few friends. My “best friend” would invite me over to his house sometimes a couple hours before he hosted his house parties. We would play some Nintendo, get the place ready for the party, and then I’d go home. I didn’t belong at parties. This was the same friend who actually pushed me away when “the popular” kids came around because he didn’t want to be publically associated with me.

By grade 12 I really started hating my life. I remember begging God to change me. I asked Him over and over why He gave me this family, this body, this face, this brain. I considered suicide to end it all, but God prevented that from happening. I wanted to change everything about me, but I didn’t know how. And I was absolutely miserable.

I went to college to study computer engineering at at 17 years old. That year was spent alone, in a basement, doing nothing but watching TV and drinking milk. I flunked out badly.

So I went home that summer a total failure. I had no friends, no future, no peace, and the only thing I was good at – computers – was a total bomb. Now what?

My dad suggested I go to Bible College, so I got a job so I could pay for it, and went for the first year. I stayed in the dorm and paid extra so I wouldn’t have a roommate. It was a split gender dorm with guys on one side and girls on the other, so I was surrounded by Christian guys all day, every day. And I treated them like garbage.

Everyone I’d known, all the way though school treated me badly and I learned to trust no one. And I came to that dorm full of hate, anger, resentment, fear and a commitment to not let anyone get through my shell.

But these guys wouldn’t leave me alone. The more I lashed out, the more they came into my room. They kept inviting me to things, asking to talk, asking to pray for me, including me in movie nights, game nights, band nights… and they never treated me badly. So one night I had it.

We were all sitting in one guys room and I told them how angry I was. How I hated myself and hated everyone else. I told them how I kept waiting for them to hurt me, and how afraid I was that I would never be loved. And they did something that I never expected. They told me to sit on the bed and prayed for me. They put their hands on me and started to pray. I don’t remember what they said, but I do remember that at first I wanted to break their arms. I was shaking with anger, turning red and sweating as rage coursed through me. I hated them.

And then I suddenly stopped and something changed. It’s like a switch flipped in my brain. I realized that I was loved. I was loved by these guys. They weren’t going to hurt me. And then, more importantly, I realized I was loved by God.

Over the next coming days God told me a lot of things about Him and myself. He said He’d been there all along, and that He never left. He said He let me go through those hard things because He wanted me to be able to see and know things that few people get to. He said that every single one of those experiences, as terrible as they were, were going to be things that He will use to help others. He told me that I wasn’t a mistake, and that all of my weirdness was exactly who He created me to be – on purpose.

And suddenly, I felt more free than I had in my whole life. I recommitted my life to serving God no matter where He wanted me to go. I signed up to stay at the college so I could train as a minister. Because I knew God’s love, and could love others, I met a girl and married her that same year.

The moment I stopped thinking that I was a mistake… the moment I stopped comparing my life to others, my happiness to others, my body and mind to others… I was free. The moment that I understood that I was loved by God for who I am, and that I don’t need to do anything in order to be loved more… I was free.

Romans 8

And God gave me a chapter of scripture that would be something I would read and share and teach over and over and over: Romans 8. And I want to read it to you because it means so much to me:

“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!… There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 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!’… For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

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.” (Romans 7:25; 8:1, 14-15, 22-39)

The Solution

So what’s the solution to the problem of comparison? Contentment in God by following Jesus. Contentment means being mentally and emotionally satisfied with the way things as they are now. That can’t happen if you believe that satisfaction comes from things outside of you, or things that can be taken away – like popularity, wealth, beauty, friends… Contentment is extremely rare and is only found in people that know they are loved no matter what. Show me someone that knows they are loved, and I will show you someone who isn’t caught up in the comparison game.

Tonight I want you to know that you are loved.

You are loved no matter how popular or weird you are.

No matter how wealthy or poor you are.

No matter how intelligent you are.

No matter how you look.

No matter how strong or weak you are.

No matter what your family is like, what you have done, or what you haven’t.

You are abundantly loved by a God who sees every moment of your life and no matter how hard it is, He promises that He will walk with you through it, and use every part of it for your good, His glory, and to help others. He won’t waste a drop of it because He loves you.

Stop comparing yourself to others. It will kill your soul. Instead, learn who God created you to be and live as that person — because that person is richly loved.

Response to Buzzfeed’s “I’m Christian, But I’m Not…” (Carnivore Theology: Ep. 44)

Posted on Updated on

Buzzfeed I'm Christian

What is a Christian Anyway?

Our Response to Buzzfeed’s viral video: “I’m Christian, But I’m Not” answers some important questions: “What is a Christian?” “How do we respond to popular culture’s idea of what a Christian is and isn’t?” “Can a person be a Christian but not follow the Bible?” and “How can we minister to people who call themselves Christians but have a radically different set of beliefs?”

Podcast Audio:



Behind the Scenes Video:

How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?

1. Ask us a question in your voice on our SpeakPipe page!

2. Comment on our Facebook page, Twitter, and iTunes!

3. Share www.CarnivoreTheology.com with your friends. Sharing is caring!

4. Give financially: If you’d like to help us with our productiong costs, send us a financial gift through PayPal by clicking here. (We are not a registered charity, so you won’t get a tax receipt — but you will have the good feelings that come with helping out a friend!)

Answering Life’s Biggest Questions: Love, Purpose, & Priorities (Mark 12:28-34)

Posted on

GOM 41 - The Most Important Things Answering Life's Biggest Questions

Our current mini-series has been covering the questions that Jesus was asked as He entered the Temple the day after He cleared the Temple courts by driving people out, overturning tables and releasing the animals. As He came up the stairs he was confronted by the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, who had some questions about his motives, and had hopes of publically embarrassing Him and trapping Him in His own worlds. They wanted Him gone, and if they could get him to publically admit that He believed Himself to be the Messiah – or better yet, God, and then accuse Him of blasphemy and arrest Him. Or, if they could get Him to say that He was doing these things by His own authority they could accuse Him of being the crazy leader of an insurgence, a megalomaniacal fanatic, who the Romans needed to arrest and kill as a rabble rouser and a traitor.

None of their plans worked, of course, and they end up walking away dejected and angry, bewildered as to what they will do about Jesus – until Judas comes to them offering to sell out Jesus so they can arrest Him in the middle of the night only a few days later.

The Final and Biggest Question

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

The last question Jesus is asked is an ironic one. It’s ironic because it comes from, what appears to be a good guy! After rafts of men came trying to embarrass and trap Jesus, one man comes up in the midst of the fray and asks Jesus a question that wasn’t manipulative or loaded – but genuine. It says that this scribe – who was basically a lawyer – was sitting on the periphery listening to the conversations and was very impressed with Jesus answers. He came to Jesus after “seeing that he answered them well”. By Jesus’ own admission this man was “not far from the kingdom of God” so perhaps that means His journey to find God’s will had finally led him to Jesus.

This last question is a great last question because it is the most important one of all. And, funnily enough, it comes on the heels of a really dumb question about a woman who was widowed seven times and who would be her husband in the afterlife. Even Jesus says that they ask a dumb question.

But after telling them how dopey their question was, Jesus turns around and sees a man standing there with a very important question: “Which commandment is the most important of all?”

This sounds like a no-brainer to us, but that’s only because we’ve heard the answer so many times. When this scribe asked Jesus, they had identified 613 separate commandments they believed God wanted them to obey, 365 of which were negative (do nots) and 248 of which were positive (do this). They had even divided them into “heavy” and “light,” commands, ranked by which ones were more important and less important. So, seeing that Jesus knew what He was talking about, the scribe brought this important, and relevant, question.

Two Answers

Jesus is more than happy to give the answer, but He does so in a special way. He takes two of the items on their list of 613 and joins them. They were normally separate, from different scriptures in different locations, but Jesus joined them together. Jesus’ view of the Law of God wasn’t about lists, but about lifestyle of love.

The first part of His answer is of no surprise to anyone. It is the first part of the “Shema”, a quotation from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, the centrepiece prayer of Jewish life, said in the morning and evening every day:

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

This was a reminder to all that the love of God is based on His oneness, His singularity, His exclusivity – He is the Only One. Since God is one, our love for Him must be undivided. This is repeated in the first commandment: “You shall have no other God’s before me.” (Exodus 20:3)

It piles up the terms “heart,” “soul,” and “mind” and “strength” reminding us that God doesn’t just want part of us, but our whole being. God wants to the be the greatest, all-consuming love of our life. Why? Because He is our Lord and our God – He alone.

The second of Jesus’ answers comes immediately after, without a pause: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Later 1 John 4:20-21 explains how these commandments are tied together:

“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

These are not two commands, but one. God loves us, and in response we love God… and that love flows from Him to Us to Others. We don’t have one or the other. We cannot love God and hate people – that’s incompatible, even if we sometimes wish it wasn’t.

True Love Hurts Sometimes

We do, don’t we? Sometimes we really wish that we could just say, “I love God, love Jesus, love my family, and love my church… but the rest of everyone can go to heck.” We’ve all thought it. Why? Because loving people is hard. People make it hard to love them sometimes.

The kind of love that Jesus is talking about, the one that loves our neighbour, is a sacrificial love. It requires sacrifice and commitment, a denial of self, a picking up of our cross and following Him, living as a disciple of Christ.

We sometimes think that “taking up our cross” (Matthew 16:24-26) means facing persecution and martyrdom, being killed for our faith and our love for Jesus. And sometimes it does, but we have to remember how Jesus said it. He said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” That means we stop living for ourselves and live the way that Jesus lived.

It means that we define love the way that Jesus does. It means we expand our love beyond ourselves, beyond those we love, beyond just us and God –deny ourselves and choose to love the people that God puts in our lives, even the ones that make it hard to do. That is a Christ like, sacrificial thing to do.

In books, movies and tv shows we are presented with only one kind of love – love that feels good and comes easily. And, thank God, that’s true sometimes. It’s usually pretty easy to love babies, our own children, our friends, our parents… people that are kind, generous, helpful, and nice. Those people are easy to love. But that’s only one side of love. Sometimes love hurts.

Many in our western world today have bought into this one side of love. If you feel love towards someone, and it’s easy, and you’re swept off your feet, and it gets all misty and gushy when the person is around – that’s love. But when that person becomes hard to love, when the feelings leave, when they hurt you, when they disappoint you, when they stop loving you – or when you start having gushy feelings for someone else – then you are no longer in love and it’s time to go somewhere else. That’s not love, that’s using people. Real love is different.

Loving Like Jesus

Real love sometimes involves suffering. Real love sometimes hurts really bad. Real love requires a decision, commitment, and fortitude. The Bible defines love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 saying:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

That is not emotional language – those are words of decision.

I choose to be patient when the one I love keeps messing up. I choose to be kind when the person is unkind. I choose to be love others that are better off than I am. I choose to not say rude things and place myself before the one I love. I choose to forgive and not hold resentment. I will bear with them. I will believe in them. I will hope for them. I will endure suffering with them. I will finish my life loving them. True love requires hard choices and sometimes feels like suffering.

Just as Jesus’ love for His Father and for us meant that He had to take up His cross so He could suffer and die – so sometimes it is required of us to pick up our cross, obey God, and suffer and die as we love our neighbours as ourselves.

Jesus blows the doors off of “one sided love” when He teaches that God’s version of love goes beyond our family and those who are easy to love, but extends to difficult people – even those who treat us badly! He says:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:38-48)

Jesus injunction to “perfect as your heavenly father is perfect” brings us full circle to the question that the scribe asked Jesus. The scribe asked, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” That’s another way of saying, “If God had only one thing to say, what would He say? What does God want from us most? What is the most fundamental, most central, most critical thing in the universe?” It could almost be restated, “How can we be perfect like God is perfect?”  The answer Jesus gave was to love God with our whole being and to have that love spill over onto the people around us – even when it hurts.

“Eye for an eye” makes sense to us. “Turn the other cheek” doesn’t. Jesus says, if someone hurts you, do not answer hatred for hatred, but love instead. If someone has it out for you and wants to take revenge even after you’ve tried to work it out, answer their vengeance with generosity. Value your hard earned things less then people who you don’t even know! Pray for people that hurt you. The great reward of love, true love, comes as you love those who don’t love you back.

Finding Our Purpose

People are always worried about their purpose. Anyone who has been on the planet for more than 3 years is often asked “What are you going to be when you grow up?” and the question never seems to end. Just this week I heard of an older man, almost a hundred years old, who was asking about his purpose in life.

Everyone wants to know their purpose and they ask, “God what do you want me to do? Where do you want me to go? What is the plan for my life?”. The answer if far more clear than they want to believe – but they resist because it’s not specific enough.

Look at what happens in the passage we’re looking at today. Someone walks up to Jesus and basically asks, “What’s the most important thing God wants me to know?” That’s a big question! And then notice that Jesus’ answer is phrased as a command: “And You Shall…” Older translations will say “Thou Shalt!… love the Lord your God… ” “Thou shalt! Love your neighbour.”

God’s answer to “what should I do with myself” and “what is my purpose” is that we start there. If you want to know your purpose, ask yourself this question: Am I constantly showing love for God and others? Start with that, and I promise that the rest will flow naturally.

God says, “Love me with all your heart, soul mind and strength AND love your neighbours as much as you love yourself… and then the rest will come together.”

Consider what Jesus said in Matthew 6 when he shoots down all the people who want specific answers:

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ [or Where shall I go? What should my job be? What school should I attend? What about the future? What about this issue, or that problem, or that opportunity…] 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.” (Matthew 6:31-33)

We hear Jesus saying, “Hold on, hold on! Before you worry about all the detailed wither-tos and why-fors of your life, let’s get the first things first. Do you love God and the people around you?” Are you “seeking first the kingdom and His righteousness?”. That’s like asking, “As a citizen of the Kingdom of God, are you doing what is most important to the King?” Which, again, brings us back around to the same answer as before: Are you loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul mind and strength and loving your neighbour as yourself?

Loving Our Neighbour

The priority of getting this right first is the consistent testimony of scripture. So let’s do a little application and see what this looks like practically, and we’ll work back to front: First, what does loving our neighbour look like? It’s actually pretty simple, when you think about it for a minute.

Jesus gave us the answer in Matthew 7:12 with what we call the Golden Rule:

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

“I don’t know how to love others! I’m not a very loving person! I don’t know where to start!” we say. Jesus’ answer to that is, “Start here: Can you look inside and ask yourself, ‘How would I want people to treat me?’” Of course, we all can! For example:

When you are depressed, what do you want people to do for you? Think about it. Do you want them to leave you alone in your dark room with your dark thoughts, sinking deeper and deeper?  Or do you want them to keep calling you, keep caring about you, keep inviting you, keep showing up and reminding you that they love you and that God loves you? Do that to others.

When you are new to a place, what do you want people to do for you? Judge you by how you’re dressed, how you talk, your family situation, and ask you about all of your obvious problems? Probably not. You want them to love you for who you are, be kind, introduce you to the group, and cut you some slack. Do that to others.

When you are struggling with sin or addiction, what do you want people to do for you? Pretend it doesn’t exist, never ask you about it, leave you alone to wallow in your muck, falling into it over and over again? Or, come along side you, get involved in your mess, ask how they can help, love you in your failings and hold you accountable, forgiving you when you blow it again… but never giving up on you. Do that to others.

When you are blind to your own pride, greed, rudeness, argumentativeness, and are offending people and losing friends – but have no idea why, what do you want people to do for you? Make excuses for you, avoid confronting you, or just avoid you alotgether, and let you self-destruct all your relationships? No, you want them to take you aside, buy you a coffee, ask what’s wrong, why you’re lashing out, and then tell you gently, but truthfully, that you are hurting people – and say that no matter how bad it gets, they’ll still with you. Do that for others.

When your marriage is on the rocks, or your kids are a mess, what do you want people to do? Mock you behind your back, criticize you to others, spread gossip about you, and stand around hoping it’ll finally blow up in your face so they can watch the fireworks? No… you want them to come along side you, weep with you, put their arm around you, understand that you are struggling – that you’re not blind but you are at the end of your rope and have no idea what to do – to be a friend, trustworthy confidant, and prayer partner. Do that for others.

If you are struggling with your weight, what do you want people to do? Make jokes about you, leave clothing store coupons and Weight Watchers pamphlets around, suggest diet plans, and heap shame on you because you obviously don’t know that you have a problem? No. You want them to love you for who you are and care more about your insides than your outsides – and then, maybe, after becoming really, really good friends, and you’ve talked about lots and lots of topics… offer to walk with you in your struggle.

If you have a handicap, what do you want people to do? Exclude you because you’re too much trouble? No. You want them to help you become part of what’s going on.

It goes on and on and on. And it’s really not that hard to figure out if we just take a minute to think about it. And having God on our side, and the ability to pray and ask for direction, means that the Holy Spirit will speak to us and help us to do this even better!

It’s All About Jesus

So how do we grow in love for others – even our enemies? It comes back to Jesus’ first answer: We love God. Remember, it’s all about Jesus. You will love God when you understand the love that He has for you, even when you were His enemy. His love was shown in what He did in Jesus Christ.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

“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?…. 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.”(Romans 8:31-39 [see also Romans 5:6-11])

Once you begin to understand the love of God for you found in Jesus Christ – how enormous, how sacrificial, how beautiful and perfect it is – then you will be able to love your neighbour sacrificially, beautifully, and with a greater depth than you ever thought you had in you.

Growing Our Love Muscles

That’s why the fathers of our faith have always emphasized consistent scripture reading, prayer, and worship as indispensable to the Christian life.

Reading scripture reminds our feeble and forgetful minds about the depth of God’s love and about how He wants us to live in this world. It tells us about how far He came to save us, what He saved us from, and the loving boundaries He set around us so we can flourish under His rule.

Prayer connects us to the very heart of God. That consistent, daily, hourly, relationship, allows us to go beyond a mere intellectual understanding of our faith and to realize we have a living, breathing, existential, relationship with a real person. As we pray, meditate and listen, we experience the presence of God, the love of Christ, the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Daily worship, and faithful attendance to Sunday Worship, reminds us of our place in the universe – that He’s God and we’re not. And reminds us that  though He is Holy God, He’s not a distant God. Our singing, giving, obedience, fellowship, evangelism, service, thanksgiving, and religious activity all remind us that God interacts with us as our Creator, Sustainer, Saviour, and Friend. Worship deepens our love for God.

If we are going to be people love others, then we must start by loving God.

A Reminder to Our Souls

Let me close by reading Psalm 103. In Psalm 103 David does something that we all need to do sometimes; He reminds himself why God is worthy of our love, and why he needs to keep worshipping God – and how that is the foundation for everything else. Let this be a reminder to our spirits as well:

“Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.

Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! Bless the LORD, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul!” (Psalm 103:1-5 ESV)

Mother’s Day & The Persistent Love of God

Posted on Updated on

Mother's Day Persistent Love

“Before I was a Mom”

By Suzana Haertzen (Hart-zen)

Before I was a Mom…I made and ate hot meals. I had unstained clothing. I had quiet conversations on the phone.

Before I was a Mom… I slept as late as I wanted and never worried about how late I got into bed. I brushed my hair and my teeth every day.

Before I was a Mom… I cleaned my house each day. I never tripped over toys or forgot words to lullabies.

Before I was a Mom… I didn’t worry whether or not my plants were poisonous. I never thought about Immunizations.

Before I was a Mom… I had never been puked on, pooped on, spit on, chewed on, peed on or pinched by tiny fingers. I had complete control of my mind, my thoughts, and my body. I slept all night.

Before I was a Mom… I never held down a screaming child so that doctors could do tests or give shots. I never looked into teary eyes and cried. I never got gloriously happy over a simple grin. I never sat up late hours at night watching a baby sleep.

Before I was a Mom… I never held a sleeping baby just because I didn’t want to put it down. I never felt my heart break into a million pieces when I couldn’t stop the hurt. I never knew that something so small could affect my life so much. I never knew that I could love someone so much. I never knew I would love being a Mom.

Before I was a Mom… I didn’t know the feeling of having my heart outside my body. I didn’t know how special it could feel to feed a hungry baby. I didn’t know that bond between a mother and her child. I didn’t know that something so small could make me feel so important.

Before I was a Mom… I had never gotten up in the middle of the night every 10 minutes to make sure all was okay. I had never known the warmth, the joy, the love, the heartache, the wonderment, or the satisfaction of being a Mom. I didn’t know I was capable of feeling so much before I was a Mom

The Persistent Love of God

I think I like that poem because it reminds me of the persistence of mothers. There are many words that we can use to describe moms. Words like loving, patient, compassionate… but of all of the words I think the word persistent is one that works the best. Movies and books are replete with stories about good guys who credit their mothers for how they turned out and bad guys who could always count on their mother loving them. That’s why I think we can safely say that a good word to describe a good Mother is persistent.

But if a mother’s love is persistent, then how much more is God’s for us? That’s what I want to talk about today: God’s persistent love. I believe that the perpetual, persistent, stubborn love a mother has for their child is part of how God designed them – and is mean to reflect and teach us something about God’s love for us. In scripture, God is presented as the Creator and Sustainer of all things, the one in which “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:24-29; Psalm 104). He is persistently ensuring the existence of all things.

When Jesus was challenged about healing on the Sabbath, he looked at the Jews and said, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (John 5:17) meaning that even though God invented the Sabbath by resting on the seventh day, God was still upholding the universe – if He were to stop, everything would cease to exist.

God is the God who just won’t quit. Think of the nation of Israel who did everything they possibly could to offend and reject God, trying to thwart everything He was trying to do for them. They worshipped demons, killed the prophets, and turned their backs on His Word. At more than one point they were so far gone that they forgot about their miraculous deliverance from Egypt (Judges 2) and even lost the Book of the Law (2 Kings 22).

Yet, as much disrespect as God suffered, He continued to treat them with special care and persistent love. When one generation didn’t respond, He’d come back to the next generation and try again. When they went on their trip through the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land, they whined about everything . It was like the world’s worst car trip! God’s taking them to Disneyworld and they spend the entire time complaining about the food, water, directions, view, signs, and kicking the seat of the one driving the car.

Yet, God continuously and persistently provided what they asked for and needed. A prophet would ask for a sign and God would give them one. A king would go into a foolhardy, selfish battle, and God would allow him to succeed. When the nation of Israel couldn’t get over their worship of idols, God treated them as children and sent them to their room – a whole generation into Babylonian captivity as a discipline – and then rescued them so they could be with Him again. God showed persistent devotion to His people.

Our Lack of Persistence

Most of us are lousy at being persistent. The divorce rate, even among Christians, hovers around 40%, and many aren’t even getting married in the first place – and more and more couples are refusing to have children. That makes you mothers very special.

But people don’t just drop their marriages, they also drop out of high-school and college at alarming rates – especially young men.

Most people can’t even keep the same job for more than a few years. According to a Workopolis report, 51% of people stay in their role for under 2 years, and only 30% stay at one job for over four. The average Canadian will have roughly 15 careers in their lifetime. And another statistic is that the average new, small business will last less than five years. And it’s not because of the financial crisis. 75% of the time it’s because they end up with too many personal problems that get in the way, so they have to shut down their successful small business.

I could go on, but I think that most of know that we have a problem with persistence, and the problem is getting worse. Our lack of tenacity is causing us all sorts of problems.

The Persistence of Jesus

As in all things, we would do well to model Jesus, who was doggedly persistent. Consider His disciples! His own disciples denied Him, sold Him out, and fled the Garden of Gethsemane, cowering in the dark as He died on the cross, but He loved them, forgave all who asked, restored them to Him, and gave them a new mission in His name. They kept asking the same dumb questions, doing the same dumb things, and Jesus kept forgiving them, repeating Himself, teaching them and loving them.

Our salvation was brought by a man persistent in his desire to win us back to His Father. He marched to the cross of His own will, despite the clueless disciples and abusive religious authorities. He obeyed His Father in the face of great temptation, so He could finish the work of salvation. He stood firm on the promises and the power of God. When everything looked the bleakest, He was able to say, “I trust you God. I won’t quit, and I know you won’t quit on me.”

My hope today, as we consider the persistent love of God, in Jesus, and seen in our good mothers, is that we will be able to say the same thing – “I won’t quit on God and God won’t quit on me.”

God Makes Strange Selections

“But”, we say, “I’m not like Peter, or Paul, or John, or Moses, or Elijah, or any of the other heroes of the Bible! They had special powers and special faith. I could never be like them!” Actually, yes, yes you are – maybe more than you know. What is awesome about the love of God is that He shows it most often in the strangest places, and to the weirdest people. Most often He doesn’t go for the best and brightest, but for the small, weak, dumb, pitiable, faltering, failing, down and out people that no one would pick.

Did you ever play dodge-ball as a kid? By the way, did you know that many schools have outlawed dodge-ball? One expert said, “We take the position that [dodgeball] is not an appropriate instructional activity because it eliminates children and it does not respect the needs of less-skilled children.” That guy sure wasn’t around when I was growing up! I was definitely one of the “less-skilled” children and had absolutely none of my “needs respected” during dodge-ball!

I absolutely remember what it was like when the teacher would yell out “DODGEBALL!” Fear immediately gripped my tiny heart. Except for a few of the girls, I was easily the smallest kid in my class. And we would always line up against the walls, the teacher would pick two “Captains” and then they would pick teams. Anyone else go through this?

They would go through the whole class and take turns picking the big kids, fast kids, kids that threw hard, the popular kids… and there would be me, the fat kid, and the kid the kid that got asthma attacks, standing against the wall as the kids fight over who had to take us. I hated that feeling – but I knew why: I wasn’t big, or strong, or fast, or popular.

Here’s my point: If God was picking the dodgeball team, He would do it differently. He would have picked me, the little girls, the fat kid, and the kid with the asthma attacks first, and then shown how He could win the game with us. To God be the glory!

1 Corinthians 1:26-31 is something I read often and it says:

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Isn’t that awesome?! God shows His persistent love by loving those who need it most. He chooses the weak things of the world to show His glory and work His purposes. Why?

God’s Overwhelming Optimism

I think it’s because God has an overwhelming amount of optimism in His people – not because of what we can do for Him, but because He knows what He can do through us! He knows what we’re like. It’s not like we can fool Him into believing we are better than we are. We can’t pad our resume before God. God knows – but He still has an overwhelming optimism that when He chooses us to do something, that we can get it done.

When He picks us, introduces us to Jesus, saves us from Hell, gives us the gift of His Spirit, and then gives us a mission in this world, He actually believes we can do it! Is it a strange thought to believe that God has faith that you can overcome temptation, overcome your addiction, overcome bitterness, overcome fear, and grow into a better image of Jesus? God knows what He can do, and so He knows that when you are depending on Him, you can do anything!

In Philippians 4:13 Paul says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” And in 2 Corinthians 12 Paul asks God to make him stronger by getting rid of a terrible malady he is facing, and God simply tells him “no”. Why? God says, “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” And Paul’s response was, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:9-10)

J Oswald Sanders once said:

“There is an optimism in God which discerns the hidden possibilities in the unpromising character. He has a keen eye for hidden elements of nobility and promise in an unprepossessing life. He is the God of the difficult temperament, the God if the warped personality, the God of the misfit.”

We look at ourselves and that’s what we see: “the difficult temperament… the warped personality… the misfit.” We don’t see a person God could use – let doggedly persue with His persistent love. We see our sin and addictions and feel defeated all the time. We see our hang-ups and fears, and all the hidden things in our lives and minds that we think prevent us from being loved and used by God. We see our lack of ability, lack of holiness, lack of understanding, lack of courage – we are too afraid, too young, too old, to uneducated, too different, not different enough.

What I want to tell you this morning is that the persistent love of God covers that. God believes in You because He believes in Himself – and when you feel weak, all He requires is that you lean harder into Him. A life turned over to God will be imbued, infused, permeated, saturated with His amazing power and love.

God’s Relentless Pursuit

God believes in you because it is God Himself that is working through us, even despite our weakness and flaws. Just as a mother can’t forget her love for her child, but continues to love them no matter what they have done, even more-so does God relentlessly, persistently pursue us and love us. He can’t forget His love for us.

We have a book at home called “I Love You Stinky Face” which is about a child trying to see how far his mother’s love will go, coming up with all manner of terrible ways he thinks that he could make his mother not love him.

“But Mama, but mama! What if I were a big, scary ape? Would you still love me then? But Mama, but Mama, what if I were a swamp creature with slimy, smelly seaweed hanging from my body, and I couldn’t ever leave the swamp or I would die? Will you still love me then? But Mama, But Mama, what if I were a super smelly skink, and I smelled so bad that my name was Stinky Face?”

And the mother always sweetly responds, assuring her child that she will love him no matter what:

“The I would give you a bath and sprinkle you with sweet-smelling powder. And if you still smelled bad, I wouldn’t mind, and I would hug you tight and whisper in your ear, ‘I love you Stinky Face’.”

Psalm 23 is like that. Who is the active person in this relationship?

“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

That idea of God being the one that pursues us with relentless love is found all over scripture. He stubbornly, tenaciously pursues us, inviting us over and over to turn more and more of our life over to Him because He knows that if we give our life to Him fully that we will finally know true joy and purpose. God won’t quit on you.

“But God, But God, What if I continuously work myself into a frenzy, anxious about almost everything in my life? Will you still love me then?” (“Yes, and I will lie you down in green pastures, beside still waters.”)

“But God, but God, what if I destroy my soul with sin, harden my heart with bitterness, and corrupt my spirit with lusts of the eye and the flesh? (“Yes, and then I will restore your soul, and I will lead you down the paths of righteousness.”)

“But God, but God, what if I go through a depression so bad that it’s like walking through a valley of the shadow of death? One so dark that I can’t even see you? Will you still love me then? (“Yes, and I will walk with you, and comfort and protect you every step of the way.”)

It is the devil preaches the message of despair. He’s the one that whispers in your ear that God doesn’t care about you, that you are beyond His grace and forgiveness, that you’ve finally gone too far, that you’ve reached the end of His patience, that you should just quit praying because He’s not listening, that God gave up on you, that God’s punishing you. That’s the voice of Satan lying to you, not God.

God will never quit on you, and will always love you. So long as you are still taking breaths in this world, you will always be loved and given the chance to come to Him – because he’s not just waiting on you, He is constantly, and relentlessly pursuing you with His love.

Push-ups and Doughnuts

I’d like to close with a (likely fictional) story that illustrates the passion of God’s relentlessly persistent love for us.

There was once a Professor of Religion who taught at a small college. The course he taught was a required that every student needed to take during his or her freshman year, regardless of their major.

The Professor tried hard to communicate the essence of the gospel in his class, but he found that most of his students looked upon the course as nothing but required drudgery. Despite his best efforts, most students refused to take it seriously.

One year the Professor came across a special student named Steve. Steve was a freshman studying with the intent of going into ministry. Steve was popular, well liked, and was an imposing physical specimen who quickly became the starting center on the school football team. He also happened to be the best student in the professor’s class. One day, the Professor asked Steve to stay after class to talk about an idea he had. After the brief chat, Steve said he’d be happy to help.

Friday came and Steve got to class early and sat in the front row, and watched the professor pull out a huge box big, extra fancy doughnuts with cream centers and frosting swirls. Everyone who came in was pretty excited. The Professor announced that he had decided that today was going to be a class party! Everyone whooped and whistled, and when they calmed down, the Professor walked up to the girl in the first chair of the first row and asked, “Cynthia, do you want to have one of these donuts?”

Cynthia said, “Yes, of course!”

The Professor turned to Steve and asked, “Steve, would you do ten push-ups so that Cynthia can have a donut?”

“Sure.” Steve jumped down from his desk, did a quick ten, and sat back in his desk. The Professor put a donut on Cynthia’s desk.

The Professor then went to Joe, the next person, and asked, “Joe, do you want a donut?” Joe said, “Yes.”  The Professor asked, “Steve would you do ten push-ups so Joe can have a donut?”

Steve did ten push-ups, Joe got a donut. And so it went, down the first aisle, Steve did ten pushups for every person before they got their donut.

Walking down the second aisle,  The Professor came to Scott. Scott was on the basketball team, and in nearly as good of condition as Steve. When the professor asked, “Scott do you want a donut?” Scott’s reply was, “Sure, but can I do my own pushups?”

The Professor said, “No, Steve has to do them.”

Then Scott said, “Well, I don’t want one then.”

The Professor shrugged and then turned to Steve and asked, “Steve, would you do ten pushups so Scott can have a donut he doesn’t want?” With perfect obedience Steve hit the floor and started to do ten pushups.

Scott looked at the Professor and said, “HEY! I said I didn’t want one!”

The Professor said, “Look, this is my classroom, my class, my desks, and these are my donuts. Just leave it on the desk if you don’t want it.” And he put a donut on Scott’s desk.

By this time, Steve had begun to slow down a little. Instead of getting back in his desk, he just stayed on the floor between sets, and a little perspiration was starting to form on his brow.

As the Professor started down the third row the students were beginning to get a little upset. The Professor asked Jenny, “Jenny, do you want a donut?”

Crossing her arms, Jenny sternly said, “No.”

The Professor looked at Steve, “Steve, would you do ten more push-ups so Jenny can have a donut that she doesn’t want?” Steve did ten and Jenny got a donut.

By now, a sense of uneasiness had started to fill the room. The students were beginning to say “No” and there were many uneaten donuts sitting on the desks. Steve was tiring. He had to put forth a lot of extra effort to get the pushups done for each donut. A small pool of sweat had formed on the floor beneath his face, his arms had started to shake, and his face was turning red because of the physical effort.

The Professor sent Robert, one of the most vocal members of the class, over to watch Steve to make sure he did the full ten pushups, saying he couldn’t bear watch Steve’s work so hard for all those uneaten donuts.

The Professor started down the fourth row, and when he looked toward the door, some students from other classes had wandered in and sat down on the steps that ran down the sides of the room. When the professor realized this, he did a quick count and saw that now there were now 34 students in the room. He started to worry if Steve would be able to make it.

The doughnuts continued to be placed on the desks in front of the students. Steve was now having really having a hard time, taking a lot more time between sets, but the Professor went on.

A few moments later, Jason, a recent transfer student, walked into the room and was about to sit down, when all the students yelled in one voice, “NO! Don’t come in! Stay out!” Jason didn’t know what was going on. Steve picked up his head and said through heavy breaths, “No, let him come.”

The Professor said, “You realize that if Jason comes in you will have to do ten pushups for him?”

Steve said, “Yes, let him come in. Give him a donut.”

The Professor said, “Okay, Steve, I’ll let you get Jason’s out of the way right now. Jason, do you want a donut?”

Jason had no idea what was going on. “Sure,” he said, “give me a donut.”

“Steve, will you do ten push-ups so that Jason can have a donut?” Steve did ten pushups very slowly and with great effort. Jason, bewildered, was handed a donut and sat down.

The Professor finished the last row, and then started on the visitors seated on the steps. Steve’s arms were now violently shaking with each push-up, struggling to lift himself off the ground. Sweat was pouring off his face, and there was no sound in the room except his groans of pain and heavy breathing; there was not a dry eye in the room.

The very last two students in the room were two young women, both cheerleaders, and very popular. The Professor came to Linda, the second to last, and asked quietly, “Linda, do you want a doughnut?” Linda said, very sadly, “No, thank you.”

The Professor sighed, and asked, “Steve, would you do ten push-ups so that Linda can have a donut she doesn’t want?” Grunting from the effort, Steve did ten very slow pushups for Linda. He merely lay on the ground after he was done.

Finally, the Professor turned to the last girl and said, “Susan, do you want a donut?”

Susan, with tears flowing down her face, began to cry. “Professor, why can’t I help him?”

The Professor, with tears of his own, said, “Because Steve has to do it alone. I have given him this task and he is in charge of seeing that everyone has an opportunity for a donut whether they want it or not. When I decided to have a party today, I only wanted to give it to students who got a perfect score in my class. But looked my grade book and Steve here is the only student that achieved an A+ Grade. Everyone else has failed a test, skipped class, or offered me inferior work. Steve told me that in football practice, when a player messes up he has to do push-ups. I told Steve that none of you could come to my party, and he said that he would pay the price by doing your push ups. He and I made a deal for your sakes.”

“Steve, would you do ten push-ups so Susan can have a donut?” As Steve very slowly finished his last push up, he knew he had accomplished all that was required of him, and his arms buckled beneath him and he fell to the floor.

The Professor turned to the room and said. “And so it was, that our Savior, Jesus Christ, on the cross, plead to the Father, ‘into thy hands I commend my spirit.’ With the understanding that He had done everything that was required of Him, He yielded up His life. And like some of those in this room, many of us leave the gift on the desk, uneaten.” Two students helped Steve up off the floor and to a seat, physically exhausted, but wearing a thin smile.

“Well done, good and faithful servant,” said the professor, adding “Not all sermons are preached in words.”

Turning to his class, the professor said, “My wish is that you might understand and fully comprehend all the riches of the love, grace and mercy that have been given to you through the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. God didn’t even spare His only Son, but gave Him up for all who would believe, now and forever. Nothing was going to stop Him from allowing you to be with Him. He would not, and will not, ever quit on you.”

The Parameters of Love

Posted on

Parameters of Love

The Right Way vs The Bosses Way

I remember listening to an old southern Baptist preacher that told the story of a time his daddy was driving him to his first job at the age of 7 years old. His father gave him this advice: “Son, there are three ways to do things in this life: The right way, the wrong way, and the bosses way. Now which way are you going to do things?”

That’s a great question, especially today – what with truth being a relative term these days. What’s your answer? Most people, I think, would say “the right way.” At the time that was my answer too, and it turns out to be the wrong answer. If you’ve had a job where you’ve had to work under a superior for any length of time, you eventually realize that even though you want to do things “the right way”, it usually only causes trouble. The right answer is “the bosses way”.

When your boss says to go do something, and to do it this way, deciding to do it “the right way” usually means that you think that you know better than the boss, better than the training, better than the other employees around you. You decide to do it differently than the boss expects, and that’s where the trouble comes.

I know… in a world where everyone is told they are unique, special, snowflakes that can think outside the box and achieve anything they dream… it seems counter-intuitive. But the truth is that they jobs where you get treated like a unique, special, snowflake are very few and far between. Most jobs still expect you to do it “the bosses way”. He’s the one that hired you, trained you, and who signs your pay cheque. He’s the one that sees the big picture. Theoretically, that’s why he’s the boss.

The Trinity

That’s how it works in the Christian faith too. God is the boss. In the words of Isaiah 45:18:

“For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): ‘I am the LORD, and there is no other.’”

And God made Jesus the Boss. Philippians 2:9-11:

“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.”

Jesus is the foundation upon which our life is built, the “founder and perfecter of our faith”, and is the one “seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2) He is the one “who is to judge the living and the dead” (2 Tim 4:1). He is the Immanuel, God with Us, our Saviour, Redeemer, Friend and King. He’s the boss.

In the mystery that we call the “Trinity” we see three persons with one nature. They have the same substance, but unique identities. One God, three persons. We baptize in the name of The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. In verses like Romans 8:9-11 we read about the distinctions and unity of the Trinity:

“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”

They are one authority in three Persons.

The Authority of Scripture

Why am I telling you this? Because this Supreme Authority took the time to write a book.

Paul spoke of the Scriptures this way:

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” (2 Tim 3:16)

Peter said it this way:

“For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21)

Zechariah said that God “spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old.” (Luke 1:70) King David said, “The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me; his word is on my tongue. The God of Israel has spoken…” (2 Sam 23:2-3) Jesus said to His Apostles:

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:12-15)

He had already confirmed the authority of the Old Testament – which was the Bible of the early church, and here He was talking about the writing of the New Testament.

The Bible that we read every week (hopefully every day) is so much more than an historical document, a moral guide, a list of suggestions to help our lives. It is a book written by our King and our Saviour, in the power of the Holy Spirit of God, carried through faithful servants, to tell us everything we need to know about everything that truly matters.

And one thing that truly matters to God (and to all humanity) is Love. So God told us how to get it right.

What is Love?

There’s a lot of talk about “love” – but how many people really know what love is? We all seem to know what love is, and even agree that love is important. Almost every movie, book, or song ever written has had some kind of reference to love in it. But what are we talking about? Let’s use Valentine’s Day as an example.

Say you go out for a nice Valentine’s Day dinner and a movie. You’re driving your car the restaurant and your significant other is sitting next to you. At the next stoplight look them deeply in the eye and say “I love you so much.” To set the romantic mood you turn on the radio and on comes your favourite song on the radio. “Wow, I love this song!”, you say. As you’re pulling into the restaurant parking your date says, “I can’t believe we got reservations here: I love this restaurant!”

You get to your table, order your food, and they bring out some bread sticks to munch on before the meal. “Wow”, you say, “I love these bread sticks.” You’re date gets up to use the washroom and you take a minute to look at your phone. You notice a text from your mom inviting you over for Easter dinner. You text her back: “Thanks Mom! I love you!”

Finally your food comes, you bow your head to say grace and begin “Dear God, thank you for this food and the hands that prepared it… God, we love you so much Amen.”

Wow! I love my wife, and bread sticks. I love God and the Hobbit movie. I love my mom and my iPhone. Really? Is that even possible? No one would argue with me, and we use the exact same word all the time – but they obviously have different meanings.  How can we get so much mileage out of this one word?

I think part of the reason is that we are lazy and grab onto the easiest word in our vocabulary. If we were trying to be more accurate, we’d probably saw we love our moms, but that we enjoy our iPhone and delight in the song. It’s like the word “awesome” today: it’s defined as “inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, or fear”, and people use it to describe everything from Niagara Falls to the whip-cream on their Frappuccino.

Another reason, I think because most of us don’t know what we’re talking about. Love, for many people, is primarily a feeling, something difficult to define, hard to pin down. That’s why a lot of sins are committed in the name of love. “I can’t help how I feel” is the ultimate excuse for doing something selfish or immoral. “How dare you tell me that my feelings are wrong!

“I felt it needed to be done” is a way of saying, “I knew it was wrong, or unkind, or none of my business, but my feelings told me to do something – so I went along with that.”

Love as a Choice and a Feeling

I want to push back on that idea. I believe love can be defined, because scripture – the Word of God – defines it for us. But first, let me say this: the idea that love is not at all an emotion or feeling is wrong too. The popular saying, “Love is a choice, not a feeling”, is admirable and well meaning – because it’s mean to take us away from merely acting on feeling alone, but it’s not quite true. Feelings certainly play a part in our definition of Love. Love is both a feeling and a choice.

For example, when God saved us from sin, it wasn’t merely a clinical choice based on the strict definition of love. He felt for us. He didn’t begrudgingly say, “Well, since I am a loving God, then I guess I have to do something about this…” Scripture says, “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son…” (John 3:16). He feels love for us, and acted on that feeling. It was the right, loving, perfect action… but it was also motivated by feeling.

The Old Testament describes the love of God the way a parent loves their child:

“The Lᴏʀᴅ will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)

I’ve done all that with my kids. I’ve rejoiced over them, held them when they need comfort, and been excited for them. My choice to do that came from my feelings of love for them. God’s love is also described in the way a husband loves his bride:

“As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5).

That’s much more than a choice – that’s heart-felt emotion.

Even when disciplining his people God has amazingly sentimental, emotional outpourings for his people. In Hosea 11:8 He says:

“How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?…. My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.”

I know this feeling. The child needs to be disciplined, but you don’t want to, even though you know it’s the right thing. In that case, the feelings are in conflict, and a choice has to be made – which action shows the most love. God loves us with a passionate, emotional love..

Even our love for God is meant to be expressed through both feelings and choice.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…” (Matthew 22:37)

That incorporates our whole being. More than just our “mind” agreeing to love God, our Creator and our Saviour, because He deserves it… but also with our heart and our soul, the seats of our emotion. Sometimes we feel like showing our love for God and the decision to worship Him comes easily. Sometimes we don’t feel like it, so we have to decide to pray, read His word and worship Him. That’s normal.

Feelings and choice work together. Just like in marriage or friendship. Sometimes it comes easily because we feel love for the person, other times we don’t feel like it, but we choose to anyway. Or, sometimes we feel like we’re starting to love someone else… and we choose not to act on that feeling because we have made a previous choice of commitment to another. Feelings and choice.

When Peter writes to the church he says, “Love one another earnestly from a pure heart…” (1 Peter 1:22) and “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8) That describes a community that is held together by much more than the mere choice to love one another. That’s a heart-felt, emotion. Something that we are meant to be given by God, but also that we need to cultivate through the choices we make to be with each other and carry one another’s burdens.

For example, when we meet the practical needs of others, and tithe to God, it says, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7) In that we see not only the decision to love, but also the feeling of love expressed towards others. It’s both a choice and a feeling.

Perhaps the greatest example of this dichotomy is when Jesus tells us to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44). We certainly won’t feel like loving our enemies … but as we choose to love them… put ourselves in their shoes, see their sin and rebellion in the light of the revelation of our own sin and rebellion, and as God changes our heart from hard to soft, selfish to compassionate, we will begin to feel a love for our enemies.

Some love starts as a feeling and guides our choices… other love starts as a choice and guides our feelings.

The Parameters of Love

But God has spent time in scripture defining the parameters of love – the boundaries – the rules of love. Now, even saying that would cause some people to recoil.

Parameters and rules” on “Love”? How can there be boundaries on love? Well, there has to be. If love is a Choice and a Feeling, then we all have to agree that there is great potential for us to mess it up. We all make bad choices, right? And our feelings are often a mess, right? We’re all selfish, messed up, sinful people, who need divine guidance to learn how to love. As Jeremiah 17:9 says:

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

We read of the Apostle Paul’s own internal war between his feelings, his knowledge of God, and his choices:

“…I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 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? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:14-25)

Outside of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, we are hopelessly unable to control our feelings and our choices. So God sets parameters on love in the Bible.

The greatest example of the parameters of love is in 1 Corinthians 13:

“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. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

This isn’t the only place where love is defined – for example, sacrificial love isn’t explicitly mentioned in here, yet Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). There’s lots of other places in scripture that teach us about how we are to love, but 1 Corinthians 13 is a great example of the kids of boundaries that God has put on the feelings we have and choices we make based on Love. And so, to close today, I want to go through what God says about love:

Love Is Greater Than

In the first group of verses, from 1-3, we see that God has said that Love has a high priority. In verse 1 we see that the feeling and actions of love are greater than any amount of spiritual experience or prophetic speech. It says, it doesn’t matter how ecstatically spiritual we feel, or how many godly words or songs come out of our mouth, if we are not full of love for God and others, then we’re just making noise. God rejects worship and words that are not spoken in love – maybe only by the choice to love at first… but eventually also by feeling. They go hand in hand – faith and love, truth and love, worship and love, prayer and love, evangelism and love – or they don’t go at all.

Verse 2 says that no matter how connected we are to God, no matter how much Bible we know, no matter how intelligent or wise or godly we think we are, if it’s not guided by love, then it’s absolutely pointless. Some people choose to live in the head and not the heart. They’ve been hurt or let down when they’ve loved someone, or they’re not mature enough to know how to deal with their feelings, so they shut them off and live in their head. They do all the right things, make the “loving choice”, but are not guided by feelings of love. They have all the right answers, but no idea how to convey them in a loving way. They have all the faith, but no idea how to walk alongside people who are struggling with theirs. They spout platitudes and solutions, but without a heart for the person. And God says that they are “nothing”.

Verse 3 says that the inward feelings and choice to love is even greater than the outward expression of it. We can reject consumerism, corporatism, elitism, and join the 99% movement, but it can be motivated by fear or anger or jealousy. We can give away everything we have, live like Mother Theresa or Ghandi, and it is meaningless unless it is motivated by love. We can walk into the fires like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Dan 3), but even that amazingly faithful action loses its meaning if it is not motivated by love. Love cannot be measured by actions alone.

Love is…

And then, in verse 4, we see a rapid succession of things that describe of love is – and it forms the parameters of Love. Each one is an attribute of God – as is each of these descriptors. Jesus embodies all of these qualities, both now and when He walked the earth. And through the help of His Holy Spirit we can do the same. When we give our hearts to God, he changes them so we can have new feelings and make better

Love is “patient and kind”, it is “is not irritable or resentful”. Another word used is “long-suffering”, slow to anger, and “gentle”, “considerate”. I think of how Jesus, for three straight years kept explaining the same things over and over to His disciples. A person will try to excuse their short-temper and the verbal abuse they bring upon their family because they’re tired or sore. A parent will try to excuse the critical, hurtful words they bring on their children, saying that they are just trying to “toughen them up” because they love them. Or trying to hurry someone up so that you can get to the thing you want to do more. “C’mon! I’ve got places to be! I want to watch my show! You’re too slow!” they shout at the one they “love”. But Love is “patient and kind.”

“Love does not envy, it does not boast; it is not proud.” These are all tied to the opposite of love, which is selfishness. Jesus was the embodiment of humility and self-sacrifice. He avoided those who would try to put him on a pedestal and always pointed back to God.

“Envy” is more than just wanting what someone else has, but actually believes that the other person shouldn’t have it. “It should be mine, not theirs.” Love prioritizes others and is happy because of the other person’s happiness. “Boasting” is building ourselves up, love gives praise away. “Pride” makes us put ourselves first, love puts others first.

How we view and share our possessions can be an act of love, or an act of sin. When we come to someone’s house and constantly mention how much more comfortable and rich and better-off they are than we, we are being unloving to them. When we invite people over to brag about our new stuff, or get it so that we can look better than others – we are being unloving.

Love “is not rude” and “does not insist on its own way” seems pretty straightforward. Love doesn’t act disgracefully, shamefully or crudely. The only other time this word is used when men are told not to publicly disgrace young women by treating them like objects (1 Cor 7:36). This certainly eliminates every form of sexual exploitation. And it also eliminates parents begin overbearing in their children’s marriages – which they say is “done out of love”, or trying to get into a friends personal, private affairs with the excuse that you are “doing it in love”. Love isn’t shameful, and doesn’t butt its way in.

Love “does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth” certainly points us to the parameters, the boundary markers, of Love. Helping people follow God’s standards of right and wrong, and live within His declaration of Truth, is loving. To allow someone to stumble into evil, and then rejoice in their folly, is not loving. It reminds me of Galatians 6:1 which says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” or, Proverbs 9:8, “Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.” or Psalm 141:5, “Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness…” or Proverbs 27:6, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend…”

The loving thing to do is to keep people from wrongdoing and to rejoice with them when they live in truth. The unloving thing to do is to allow them to break God’s law and then mock them their folly. Remembering that “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal”, sometimes the most loving thing to do is to whack a person back into the arms of God.

Let’s close with the final group of words: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” Love protects others when the bullets are flying. Love defends someone’s honour. Love steps in and helps where the hurt is – that’s what it means to “bear all things” – to willingly take upon ourselves someone else’s burden.

Love isn’t naïve, but it does assume the best of others. It gives people the benefit of the doubt, and doesn’t judge without knowing the situation first. Love isn’t racist or sexist or chauvinist or feminist. Love seeks the best for all, knowing that it means making ourselves less, even servants, of others.

And love looks forward, not backwards. They know the mistakes of the past, but are willing to trust that God can do amazing things in the future. Sure, we learn from our mistakes, and we don’t have to keep making the same ones in some kind of a naïve, idiotic, dreamland, but we always leave the door open for reconciliation, renewal, and resolution.

Love never ends because Jesus’ love never ends.

Jesus of the Advent Candles

Posted on Updated on

Jesus Advent Candles

Podcast Audio:

Over the past month many churches around the world have celebrated Advent using a special wreath of candles. It is a simple and beautiful way to remind us that the meaning of Christmas. Each week we light a different candle, read a special scripture, and are reminded of another meaning of what Jesus Christ brought with Him when He came at Christmas.

Different traditions have different shapes, different readings, even different amounts of candles, but each one is full of symbolism. In ours we see five different candles – three purple, one pink, one white. Purple is the historic liturgical colour for the four Sundays of advent. Pink (or technically “rose) is the color of the third Sunday.  The purple traditionally represented a time of prayer, penitence and repenting from sin as we prepare ourselves for Christmas, but the third candle interrupted that time with a time of rejoicing and celebration that Jesus has come and will come again. Even the priests wore pink vestments. (Unfortunately, our church doesn’t have such a tradition because I think they’re pretty!)

Each of the candles has a different them representing Hope, Love, Joy and Peace, and they surround the middle candle which we are lighting today, the Christ candle. It reminds all believers that all of our deepest longings –all that the other candles represent – are found only when we have Jesus at the centre of our lives. That’s what I want to talk about tonight.

In Jesus There is Hope

Hope is something we cannot live without, but is tough to come by these days. There’s so much bad news that it’s hard to find any hope. Most people are taught, from the moment they enter school, that they are evolved scum, there is no such thing as eternity, that their choices don’t ultimately matter, and that any emotion they feel is merely biochemical trickery. They are told to squeeze as much pleasure out of this world as they can before they slip into oblivion.

There is no hope in that. And as we look at the world, it doesn’t promise much. No hope for the future as the world gets more violent and all of our worldly saviours fail us over and over. No hope for anything of real consequence, no hope of true love – and so we distract ourselves from thinking about the future, staying trapped in the immediacy of entertainment, because all we see when we look forward is a black hole that is getting blacker – no hope.

But the whole Christmas story is about hope! Jesus came into that black hole to shine His light. In Jesus there is salvation from sin, resurrection from the dead, restoration of our lost souls, and eternity with God! 1 Peter 1:3-4 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you…”

That’s what we are all longing for! There is no hope in this world, but there is hope in Jesus Christ! A hope “that can never perish, spoil or fade!” That’s a hope we can build our lives on. That’s the hope that Jesus brought at Christmastime to offer to all people.

In Jesus There is Love

Why? Because He loves us. Not a worldly kind of love. Not one only for people that love Him back. Not only caring for those who do something for Him. He doesn’t just come for those He deems worthy. We’ve all experienced that kind of worldly love. No, that’s not the kind of love we’re looking for, is it? We want a better kind of love – a deeper love.

Romans 5:6-8 talks about that kind of love, which is only found in Jesus Christ. It says, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

That’s remarkable. It says that Jesus came “when we were still powerless”. It says that Jesus came when we were “ungodly” – when we had no dignity or worthiness. He came to a people who are His opposite. And then He “died for the ungodly”.

It says that God showed us the deep kind of love that we have all been so desperate to experience. It says “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” When Jesus came at Christmastime He wasn’t coming to help His friends.  A couple verses later, in Romans 5:10 it says that “we were God’s enemies”. That’s the story of the deep love at Christmas. Jesus came to the unlovely, the unlovable, His enemies and his opposites, to live among us, and save us the trouble we brought on ourselves. He gained nothing, we gained everything.

When we sing Silent Night in a moment, we will sing the words “Silent night, Holy night, Son of God, love’s pure light.” The love of Jesus was pure – not clouded by selfishness, or ulterior motives. He came to pour out His love on a undeserving world.

In Jesus There is Peace

Which is why, if there is no Jesus, there is no peace. Many of you know this feeling. Without Jesus, we are still enemies of God and our spirits can never be at peace. Without the guidance of Jesus, we will never know what it means to love our enemies and be at peace in a world full of strife and turmoil. Without being in relationship with Jesus, we will always be trying to fill our lives with something that will quell our fears, give us security, and help us understand the world – but they will all fail us because it’s impossible to find anywhere else but in Jesus Christ.

In Romans 5:1-2 we read, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.”

When we put our trust in Jesus, He grants us is peace. Peace in our hearts that we know our eternity is secure because we don’t have to earn heaven. Peace with others because we understand forgiveness (because we have been forgiven so much). And the peace that comes with being loved so very much.

In Jesus There is Joy

And, of course, when we are secure in the hope we have in Jesus, understand the love of God found in Jesus, and are a peace with God and others because of what Jesus has done for us – then we have joy.

Without Jesus a person can’t have true joy. Certainly, in God’s common grace, even the most godless pagan can have momentary happiness. We can be entertained and distracted for a time. We can surround ourselves with many good things – family, friends,finaces, food, fun – but all of those things are fleeting. Our parents pass away, our children leave, we fight with our friends, the food makes us fat, the money doesn’t keep it’s promises, and the fun is temporary.

Joy is so much more than happiness, and is perhaps the greatest gift God gives to His followers. It is more complex than an emotion, but comes from a connection to something that transcends this world, transcends our emotions, is bigger than what this world can offer – joy comes from our transcendent God.

Jesus talks about Joy in John 15:8–13, “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. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

What brings a person joy? Know that we are on the path that leads to more and more life, in right standing with God, thankful every day for the good things given to us by Him, bearing much fruit as we see His hands work through ours, living a disciplined life free from folly, abiding always in the love of God, knowing the Creator is on your side, being surrounded by a family of believers who love you, accept you and will care for you no matter what – and to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus loved you so much that He was willing to lay down his life for you and call you His friend. That’s the kind of joy that is the exclusive province of the Christian who believes in Jesus Christ as their Saviour and Lord.

I know that everyone wants these things: Hope, Love, Peace and Joy. The Christmas message is that they are found ultimately, fully, perfectly and only, in Jesus.

Christian Integrity: “Stand Firm: Evaluating our Spiritual House”

Posted on

9 Psalm 15 - Stand Firm - TITLE BANNER

Podcast Audio:

This is the final week we will be spending on Psalm 15. We have been going through it for nine weeks now, and it has been a challenging, and hopefully encouraging, piece of scripture to study. I know it has been for me! And from the responses I’ve heard from some of you, God has been working on your heart too. And for that I’m glad.

Let’s open up to Psalm 15 together, and let’s read it one more time from beginning to end.

“O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?
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 eyes 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.” (ESV)

Our Foundation

Throughout the series, we’ve been using the illustration of a house that God is building our spiritual house (our lives) into. If you remember, each part of the psalm speaks about a different column that holds up the roof, which is our Integrity. All of this is built on the foundation of our relationship with Jesus Christ.

If we are going to have Christian Integrity, then these 5 characteristics will describe your life: You will Speak the Truth, Love Your Neighbour, Honour the Faithful (which included Rejecting Hypocrites (Part 2)), Be Trustworthy and Generous (which means we Use Wealth Well).

The Psalm says that “He who does these things shall never be moved.” In order for this house to be secure, all of these parts have to be there holding up the walls. You cannot build your life on another foundation other than Jesus Christ because all other foundations we build our life on, no matter how strong we believe them to be, will falter and fail when the storms come.

At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, which is the longest recording of a sermon Jesus preached to His followers, He tells this story:

“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.” (Matthew 7:24-27, ESV)

There are so many foundations out there that people will build their lives on – where they will seek to find hope, strength, security, and peace: Their Government, The Economy, Themselves, Other Religions. But all of these things are insecure. The only solid foundation is Jesus Christ. He is the only immovable, unchangeable, all powerful One who can weather all storms. Therefore, before all else, we must make sure that we have a strong relationship with Jesus Christ.

Wobbly Pillars

9 Psalm 15 - Stand Firm - WOBBLY PILLARSBut to have a strong spiritual house, the pillars must be there too. Jesus doesn’t move – He will never leave you, forsake you, and you can be sure in your salvation – but our pillars can shift. We call this sin.

A person of Christian Integrity wants to be a fully functioning, healthy disciple of Jesus. And God works in them to build them into a strong spiritual house. But when we lie, act in an unloving way, embrace hypocrites, ignore fellow Christians, don’t keep our word, hold onto our money like Scrooge, or waste it on frivolous things, we are willfully making our spiritual house insecure. We are shaking our pillars, shrinking them, and chipping away at them.

What this series has been about is causing us to evaluating our relationship with Jesus (are we built on the right foundation) and then to test strength of our pillars. If we want to people who “stand firm”, “never be shaken”, and “never moved”, then it means we must be diligent about keeping our Christian Integrity.

I hope you understand this. We talked about it in the first sermon and referenced 1 Corinthians 3:11-17:

“If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light [that is the day where we all stand before the judgment seat of Christ]. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”

God will test our spiritual house. He will judge our eternal destination – heaven or hell – based on our foundation, our relationship with Jesus. Then He will judge Christians based on their obedience to His word – he will judge the columns.

When you sin, it doesn’t mean that you have lost your faith, or lost your salvation. No, the biggest difference between someone who is a follower of Jesus is that when they fail in these areas, they are convicted of their sin, come to God for forgiveness, and then ask Him to change that part of their life to be more like Jesus. A non-believer doesn’t see their sin… and if they do, they don’t hate it. They excuse it or blame someone else.

Testing the Columns

So I want to do something a little different today. What I want to do is go through some of the questions we’ve been asking for the past number of weeks, and give you a chance to talk about them together during the week. My hope is that over the next week or so you will gather together with a Christian friend, your spouse, or your small group, and go through these questions together. To reflect on them and test the strength of your spiritual house.

But before we do that I want to tell you why this is important.

Not Be Shaken

The reason I want to do this today is because of that last line in the Psalm. “He who does these things will never be shaken.” I don’t want you to be shaken. I want you to be able to stand firm no matter what happens. I want this church to be able to stand firm, and I believe the secret of the strength in your life as an individual, in your relationships, in your work life, in your home life, and in this church, is found in Psalm 15. If you get just this psalm right, you will be a huge step closer to living a life without regrets, without fear, without doubts, and without worries. This is the formula. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good. “He who does these things shall never be moved.” That sounds like a promise from God to you and me.

It reminds me of another favourite passage of scripture of mine and many others: Ephesians 6:10-19. Would you turn there with me and listen to what it takes in order to be able to “never be moved”.

Listen closely because this isn’t about gritting your teeth and trying to do your best. This isn’t about showing God how holy you are by how miserable you can make your life. It’s not about thanking Jesus for saving you and then saying, “Ok, I’ll take it from here.” This is about depending on Jesus every day, living by His strength and not yours. It’s about putting down your own ideas about how life should go, and picking up His plan and putting Him in charge of how to build your house. It’s about not doing things in your own strength, but asking God to use His strength through you. There’s a huge difference between doing things for God, doing things with God, and letting God do things through, for, in and around you.

Fight the Right Battle

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” (vs 10-11)

Do you see that? The strength comes from “the Lord”. The “might” comes through a closer relationship with Him. The “armour” comes from God and is given to every person in His kingdom who asks for it. And your primary enemy is not you, or the world – the enemy is spiritual, it’s Satan.

That’s critical to realize or you will spend your life running from column to column, trying to hold up your own house, and feel like a complete failure when your life ultimately collapses. And if you think this is a battle against yourself, or against your enemies in the world, then you won’t even be on the right battlefield! However, if you realize that this is a spiritual battle, and your strength comes from a spiritual source, then you will come to God for the weapons you need to build, rebuild and defend your house.

Fight the Right Opponent

“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.” (vs 12)

That’s important to know. When it comes to your Christian Integrity: being truthful, loving people that are different, knowing the difference between right and wrong, keeping your vows even when it’s hard, living generously… we have to realize that the enemy hates that, and He will fight tooth and nail, pulling out every trick in his book to stop you. And you don’t have the power to withstand him. All of the decisions you make to be truthful, loving and the rest are all made in your spirit, way before they happen in the real world. The battle doesn’t happen when you are faced with something that tests your integrity. The battle is fought before you ever get there – in your spirit – as you contest with pride, jealousy, covetousness, idols, and the temptation to put yourself in the place of God.

If you have the chance to lie, that’s not the first strike – it’s the final blow of the battle. That question has already been answered. Did you come to God and commit yourself to Him? Are you living in His spiritual strength? Are you feeling weak and entitled and selfish? Have you asked for the strength to be truthful, and told the devil that you are not one of his people – you are not a liar! Either way, you already know how you will answer the question.

The battle whether or not you will keep your vows has more to do with your view of God then it does with the circumstances that happen to you or the person you made promises too. The decision to break your word isn’t just a human decision, it is one that is fought in your heart. The spiritual forces of evil are seeking to corrupt you, through temptation and fear, to break your vows, and they are giving you every excuse in the book. And when you break them, they know it has ripple effects that will harm many people, mar the image of God, and hurt the reputation of Jesus and His church. It’s a spiritual battle that happens way before the bad days come.

It’s the same with the decision to be generous, or loving. It’s not based on whether or not the person is worth our time, worth helping, worth our money… it is about whether we are seeing through God’s eyes. Do we recognize the generosity and grace that has come from His hand? Satan doesn’t want you to see that, so he will do everything he can to distract you from it. He will fill your mind with reasons why you don’t have enough, why you deserve more, why you’ve already loved enough and it’s someone else’s turn. He’ll tell you that people aren’t worth the trouble, that it won’t make any difference, that you’re too busy, and that you don’t need to love them if they don’t love you back. I know you’ve felt this spiritual battle.

And so Paul says this in verse 13. Since it’s a spiritual battle…

Suit Up

“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.” (vs 13)

The only way you will be able to stand against all of these schemes, to see straight, and to have the sensitivity to know what’s really going on, is to have the full armour of God on. When the day of evil, the day of temptation, when that spiritual battle rages in your heart about who you are, who God is, whether to be obedient, selfish, generous, loving, honest… if you are not wearing the full armour of God, you will not be able to stand.

Be careful to see how it is written. Who puts on the armor? Does God put it on you? No, you put on the armour. The day of evil is coming – the day of temptation, of fear, of anxiety, of death – and you stand your ground because you chose to put on God’s armour. He’s willing to suit you up, make sure the armor is strong, and give you the power to fight, and when it’s all over, to “stand firm”. But He wants you to come to Him to put on the armour. It’s called dependence.

What’s the difference between the one standing, and the one who is lying dead on the battle field? It’s not who was carrying the sharpest sword, or biggest gun. It is who had the best armour. The one who could take what the enemy dished out, and then turn the battle around. Satan is a coward and a bully and fights like a terrorist or a sniper. You don’t often get to see the battle coming before he’s on you. You won’t have a chance to take a swing with your weapon – you’d better have your armor on.

There’s an old sports quote that says: “Offence sells tickets, but defense wins championships” Our spiritual armour is the difference between having a strong spiritual house, or a weak one. It’s the difference between being “moved” or standing firm.

Testing the Pillars

9 Psalm 15 - Stand Firm - PDF for BLOG
Click here if you would like to download a PDF of all the questions.

Let’s talk about these pillars.

For a long time my father worked as a pipefitter at the mill in the town where I grew up. It was his job to fix the pipes that were broken. Then they gave him a different job: he was in charge of maintenance and safety. Instead of fixing things, his job was to make sure things didn’t break and no one got hurt. He would inspect machines, check the fire suppression system, order parts in advance, make sure things were up to code, shut things down that weren’t working properly, and schedule time to fix little problems before they become big problems.

That’s what I want to do for the rest of our time here. Let’s do a maintenance and safety walk around our spiritual house – using Psalm 15 as our guide. Let’s inspect these five pillars that hold up Integrity and see what we need to work on, what we need to pray about, and what areas of our life God is going to be challenging us in over the next while. Maybe some parts need a little fix, and maybe some need an overhaul.

What I’ll do is give you a quick intro, some questions for you to discuss, and then a little time to consider your answer – maybe even write it down.

Are You Truthful?

The first pillar of Christian Integrity is to be Truthful: “Who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue.” Here we talked about how people really don’t like “right and wrong”, but instead like to talk about “differences” and how nothing is ever anyone’s fault. In contrast, Christians should realize the importance of truth, and be able to speak the truth in love to one another.

We said that truth is under attack from Relativism, Scepticism and Pluralism… and that people who tell the truth are probably going to get into trouble at some point. Jesus told nothing but the truth, and he was hurt, rejected, slandered and murdered.

So, here are the questions:

  1. Do Christians have the right to enforce the standards of scripture on one another? How have you handled this responsibility?
  2. Which attack on the truth do you encounter most? Relativism – there is no absolute truth. Scepticism – we will never really know the truth. Pluralism – all truths are equally valid? Which do you struggle with?
  3. Do you struggle with always telling the truth? In what ways have you been hurt by lying or being lied to? How have you been because you or someone else told the truth?

Are You Loving?

The second pillar of Christian Integrity is to Love people.  “Who does his neighbour no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman.” Here we learned we need to love everyone! We believe that all people are created in the image of God, that they are objects of divine love, and there are no divisions between us based on race, nationality, culture or social status. We have no reason to hate anyone simply because of how they look, where they are from, or what their customs are. Specifically, we are to do no wrong (no evil) to anyone, or slur (meaning despise or dishonour) someone. Especially other believers!

This is where we looked at Bikers, Goths, Emos, Rappers, Hip Hop Culture, Body Builders, and Metal Heads, and said that in Jesus’ eyes, these people are also objects of grace, and can be Christian ministers within their own culture – and even went as far as to say that we are missing out when we have so much division in the church.

So here’s some questions:

  1. What does it mean to love every member of the human race? Is that even possible? Do you?
  2. Have you, or someone you know, ever been discriminated against because of your race, nationality, culture, or social status? Has it ever happened among Christians? Did you respond in a godly way?
  3. Do you think you could go to a worship service at a biker church, a goth church, a hip-hop church? Which would be hardest / easiest for you? Why?

Are You Honouring?

Next we took a couple of weeks to look at the third pillar which was based on the part that says a Christian “despises a vile man but honours those who fear the LORD”.

Here we spent some time looking at what it means to reject the person who claims to be a believer but has clearly rejected what God is saying in His word – and to give weight and respect those who obey God and treat Him as Lord of every area of their life. On one hand we give VIP status to other Christians. Love them, serve them, forgive them, speak kindly to them, and do all the other “one another” verses to them.

We said, based on 1 Corinthians 5, that there are 3 ways we get this wrong. First are those who are claiming to be Christians, but who are openly sinning and don’t care. Second is the group that is enabling, or even encouraging that person to sin. And third are those who know about it, know it’s wrong, but who avoid dealing with it because they don’t want to get involved.

This is where we brought in Matthew 18:15-17 where we learned that Jesus commands us to get into the business of other Christians who are sinning. And if they don’t listen to us, to take some friends along and try again. And if they still don’t listen, to get the pastor and elders involved. And then if they still are unrepentant, to turn them over to Satan and treat them like a hypocrite and an unbeliever.

So here’s the questions:

  1. Are you an Unrepentant Sinner, Enabler, or Avoider? What do you need to do about it?
  2. Have you ever gone through the Matthew 18 process? What was it like? If not, is it because you’ve avoided doing it?
  3. Why would God command us to treat a hypocritical Christian like a non-believer? What benefit could come from being “handed over to Satan?” How do you deal with hypocrites?

Are You Trustworthy?

The fourth pillar of Christian Integrity is to be Trustworthy. “Who keeps his oath even when it hurts.” The concept here is simple to grasp, but sometimes hard to practice. Jesus said that we need to take what we say very seriously – and follow through, even when it hurts. He said we should let our “yes be yes and our no be no” and that “anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” We should have the kind of reputations that when we say something we don’t have to add disclaimers for why might not do be trustworthy.

So here are the questions:

  1. Can people trust you? Do you struggle with trusting others?
  2. Do you ever add a bunch of disclaimers, explanations and excuses to things you say because you’re not sure if you’ll follow through? Why?
  3. What vows have you broken, and what are you going to do to make it right?

Are You Generous?

The final pillar of Christian Integrity is Generosity, or Using our Wealth Well. “Who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent.” Here we talked quite a lot about the Amazing Grace of God, and how His grace and generosity should be the driving force for us to be gracious and generous with others.

We said that this has two sides. Those who have more should not take advantage of the people who have less by being selfish or using their resources to harm those who are poorer than them. And those who have less should not try to get money in a way that harms someone else. We then talked about some ways we can be selfish like: not tipping, valuing a possession over a person, or trading physical, psychological or emotional health for worldly wealth.

So here’s the questions:

  1. In what ways have you acknowledged the Amazing Grace of God this week?
  2. Have you ever taken advantage of someone by being selfish or using your wealth to cause harm?
  3. Have you ever done something wrong in order to get (or keep) more money or stuff?

Conclusion

That concludes our walk around our spiritual home. It is my deep hope that you were helped, and that this week you will draw closer to God, depend more on Jesus, and have a new understanding of the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life. For the areas that you have done well, thank God and give Him praise for helping you. In the areas that you have sinned, talk to God about that this week, ask forgiveness, receive forgiveness, and then spend more time putting on your spiritual armour so you will be able to stand firm.

Why Should I Love My Enemies?

Posted on Updated on

I gave a talk to a group of AWANA kids this week. It was “Heart Night” (celebrating Valentine’s Day) and I spoke on Love. I used some animated gifs in the powerpoint, which is where all the giggling at the beginning comes from. I linked to a few if you want a giggle too.

Here’s the audio (12 minutes):

AWANA Love Your Enemy - BANNER

How many of you are good at opposites? Let’s start off with a quick quiz.

What is the opposite of: UP – DOWN, AWAKE – ASLEEP, ANGRY – HAPPY, FRIENDSENEMIES, LOVE – HATE.

Since tomorrow is Valentine’s Day I want to talk about some of those opposite words.

Jesus taught a lot of things that seem opposite to us. He said things like: Help people without telling anyone (Matthew 6:3), lend things generously but don’t ask for them back (Luke 6:35), if someone hits you, let them hit you again (Matthew 5:39), if someone steals your shirt, you should give him your jacket too (Matthew 5:40), and He even said to “love your enemies and do good to those who hate you.” (Luke 6:27).

That’s a little confusing isn’t it? It’s not what we hear from most people. It’s easy to love our friends, but how can we love our enemies? The whole problem with an enemy is that they are someone who is trying to harm us! They trip us when we walk down the hallway, take our things, break our stuff, pull our hair, blame us for things we didn’t do. How can we love them?

The Fox and the Scorpion

Beautiful art, but I can't find the artist. Please let me know so I can give credit.
Beautiful art, but I can’t find the artist. Please let me know so I can give credit.

Let me tell you a story about someone who trusted their enemy. It’s the story of the Fox and the Scorpion.

Once, long ago, in the vast lands of the desert, there was a great river that had to be crossed for so the animals could get food and water. One day, Fox came to the river and was looking for a place where it was safest to cross. As he searched, Fox’s lifelong enemy Scorpion crawled up on a rock near him and began to speak.

“Fox, I’ve been walking along this river bank, looking for food, and I noticed a very easy place to cross the river – where the water is not so deep and not so swift. I would like to cross over myself, but I am so small it would be impossible! Would you be willing to take me across if I show you the place?” asked Scorpion,

Fox replied, “Why would I take you across!? How could I trust you not to sting me since we are lifelong enemies?”

“Why would I sting you? For if I stung you it would mean that we would both drown!” said Scorpion.

Fox thought it over, keeping a distrustful eye on Scorpion, but eventually said, “Show me where this place is, and I will take you across.”

When they got to the place, Fox bent down to allow Scorpion to climb on his back. And as Fox was swimming across, when he reached the middle of the river, he felt a sharp STING on his back! As the poison filled his veins Fox cried out, “How could you sting me? Now we will both drown!”

Scorpion replied, “It is better that we both should perish, than that my lifelong enemy should live!”

The Problem

That’s the problem isn’t it? Many people would hear this story and think, “Yeah, once I have an enemy. If I don’t like someone, or they prove that they don’t like me, then I shouldn’t ever be nice to them. I should stay away from them. If they are in trouble, I should walk away.” They make us mad! We want to hurt them back. We want to cry. We want to punish them.

But Jesus says that we need to love our enemies! Why? Why would He say that? Does Jesus want us to keep getting beat up? Does Jesus want us to be wimps? Does Jesus want us to be cowards? Doesn’t Jesus want the best for us? Of course He does! And He knows people a lot better than we do.

The Solution

So, may I share with you three reasons why I think Jesus wants us to love our enemies?

1. Love Conquers Hate (Romans 12:17-21)

The first reason is that love conquers hate. Have you ever heard someone say, “You have to fight fire with fire”? What that means is that when someone does something bad, you should do something bad to them. But what happens when you fight fire with fire? You only get more fire! Everything gets burned up.

 What should you fight a fire with? A fire extinguisher! Put out the fire! Hating and hurting our enemies won’t defeat our enemies. It will just create more, and stronger, enemies. When we love our enemies, it’s like pouring water on a fire, or blasting it with a fire extinguisher. We put out the hatered.

Romans 12:20-21 says, “…if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink…  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Can you imagine what would happen to your enemy if you helped feed them when they were hungry? If you shared your lunch with them when they didn’t have one? If you gave them your juice-box when they were thirsty? What would happen then? They might become your friend! At the very least they would change how they think about you. You don’t overcome evil with more evil… you overcome evil with good!

2. Love Changes People (Luke 6:27-28)

Here’s another reason to love our enemies instead of hating them. We can’t change them – only God can. And the way that God changes people by us loving them and by His Spirit working inside of them.

If we do good to people who hate us, God can use our love to change their hearts. And if we pray for them, then God promises to answer prayers and change the world for us. He promises that when we pray, He will answer. Maybe He will make that person kinder. Maybe He will give you more patience when talking to them. Maybe He will help you know what to say next time they do something, or help you be strong and kind when they do something mean again. God does amazing things when we love people and pray for them.

That’s why Jesus says in Luke 6:27-28, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

3. Hate Is Like Poison

Here’s another reason Jesus taught us to love our enemies instead of hating them.

Have you ever felt angry with someone, and you wanted to hurt them and get back at them – and you had hate in your heart – and you felt so upset that you ended up treating people that you love badly? They didn’t do anything and now you’re mad at them too!

Maybe you have a bad day at school, or fight with your brother or sister, or someone said something mean to you – and instead of forgiving, you decide to stay upset and let hate into your heart. What happens when later? You yell at your mom. You’re grumpy with your friends. You are angry with yourself and stomp around. Hate has become like a poison in your heart.

The Bible says in Hebrew 12:15 to “Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.” (NLT) If someone hurts us, and we choose not to forgive them, not to pray for them, not to do good to them, not to love them… the hate inside of us acts like a poison – and that poison gets bigger, and can hurt many people.

Love Comes from Jesus

So, how can we do this? Loving our enemies is really hard, isn’t it? Here are two things to remember that I use to help me love my enemies, and I think they will help you too.

First, pray about it. Remember when Daniel was in the lion’s den, surrounded by hungry lions? What did he do? He prayed! So what should we do when we are surrounded by enemies? Pray! You’ve probably memorized lots of Bible verses about asking God for help. You are learning these because they are true! If you are having a hard time forgiving and loving, ask Jesus for help and He will help you.

And second, remember that love comes from Jesus. This is what Jesus did for us. The Bible, in Romans 5:8-11, says that even though we are sinners and enemies of God, that God sent Jesus to come and die for us! Jesus traded his life for ours because He loved us, even when we were his enemies. And then 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because He first loved us!” So, since Jesus loved us, even when we were His enemies, and once we become His friends by believing in Him, He will teach us and give us the strength to love our enemies too.

Integrity: Loving Your Neighbour & How to End Discrimination

Posted on

For the past couple weeks, and the next few, we are looking at what it means to look like a Christian. Saying that it is controversial because a lot of people don’t understand, or want to talk about, the fact that there are standards of practice for all Christians.

3 Psalm 15 - Love Your Neighbour - TITLE Banner

“God Loves Me The Way I Am” / “You Can’t Judge Me!”

For some, this list is going to look like a guilt trip, so they aren’t going to want to listen. They’ve told themselves that God loves me the way I am and that it’s ok to stay that way.

Unfortunately, you’re only half right. Yes, God loves you for who you are – but it is not ok to keep on sinning just because you are too lazy or afraid to change.

Along with this is the ever popular “You can’t judge me!” or “Only God can judge me”, which basically means “Don’t tell me that I’m doing anything wrong because I’m choosing to believe my personal version of god is ok with everything I do.” They love to quote Matthew 7:1 which says, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”

Unfortunately they don’t read the rest of it because in the next verses Jesus says, “…take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (vs 5)

Or Matthew 18:15, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault…”.

Or Galatians 6:1, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.”

Or 1 Timothy 5:20, “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.”

In no way are we to make excuses for our sin, but to always seek to conquer them through the power of the Holy Spirit and the help of the other believers around us. God’s grace is not a licence to sin.

Grace is Not a Licence to Sin

Please open up to Romans 5:20-21,

“Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Pauls’ whole point here is to say that “the law” – obeying the rules, following a list of right and wrong, being religious – cannot save you. Salvation comes through believing in the grace of God given to us through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ on our behalf. But some people took the amazing grace of God as a licence to sin!

Look at 6:1-2,

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

They figured that since Jesus died for all their sins, they could just keep on sinning and it would be no big deal. In fact, the more sin they had, the more they could be forgiven, the more God must love them! Paul’s responds by saying, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

Listen to his argument for why we need to keep pressing towards righteousness (starting in verse 11):

“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”

I hope you see this. Going through Psalm 15 may inspire some guilt and shame, but that’s not a bad thing. What that means is that you are learning to hate your sin. You don’t want it anymore. The Holy Spirit is making you more like Jesus and He is using that guilt to point out places in your life where you need to make changes.

Don’t listen to this teaching today and let your heart get hard. Don’t start making excuses for your sin. Repent and ask God to help you to “…present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life…” as an act of worship and thanks for saving you.

Superficial Christianity

On the other hand, some will might read Psalm 15 and use it as a list of ways to look good on the outside, impress your fellow Christians, and try to impress God. That’s not what this is either. This is all predicated on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. As I said before, there is a great danger in believing that we can somehow earn God’s love. We can’t.

What these traits describe is a picture of what a life looks like after God has gotten a hold of it, and what a church looks like when the people within it are obeying Him.

We talked about this before. Paul looks at all the impressive things in his resume and says,

“I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…” (Phil 3:8)

Isaiah 64:6 says that all the good deeds we do, when they are not done within the context of a faithful relationship with God, are like are literally disgusting to Him.

“We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment (or “filthy rags”, literally, “used menstrual cloths”).

There is no such thing as “good deeds” without Jesus. There is no reason to obey Psalm 15 if we are not worshiping and serving Him.

Quick Review

3 Psalm 15 - Love Your Neighbour - HOUSE ILLUSTRATION

Let’s turn to Psalm 15.

You hopefully remember that we are going through the answer that the Psalmist David gives to the question he asks at the beginning of the Psalm 15, “LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” Or “what does it meant to be a person (or church) that has Christian Integrity”?

And what we see in the rest of Psalm 15 are six descriptions of an obedient, growing Christian. Verse 2 talked about Integrity which we said that it is the roof of our house which is built on the foundation of our salvation through Jesus Christ.

Our Integrity is held up by the other five traits: Truth, Love, Honour, Trustworthiness and Generosity.

This week we are looking at the second trait – a Christian is Loving: “who does his neighbour no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman…” This a baseline for all Christian behaviour and is commanded in the Old and New Testaments – love your neighbour.

Who is my Neighbour?

Let’s take this apart a bit. The Psalmist uses 2 different words to describe who we are to love. Our “Neighbour” and our “fellowman”. The first is “Neighbour” which is the Hebrew word REA. It is comprehensive word used to describe everyone that lives around us. People in the same geographical area, people we associate with. In scripture it is used to describe relationships between husbands and wives, friends, and fellow citizens. The 10th Commandment uses this word when it says “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.”

In the Old Testament Law (Leviticus 19:9-18) there is a whole section about how we are to love our neighbours. After laws about not stealing from them, lying about them, oppressing them, or harming them, it summarizes it all like this,

“…love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

The question for the Israelites was always “Who is my neighbour?” The common answer was ,“Only my fellow Jews”. After all, REA meant people from our country — our people. “Who is my neighbour?” was the question the lawyer asked to Jesus, trying to justify all the wrong he had done to people who were not Jewish and the hate in his heart towards other nations (like the Samaritans) (Luke 10:29). But Jesus explained that God’s understanding of “neighbour” was much bigger than theirs when he told the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

Who is my Fellowman?

The other word is “Fellowman” which is the Hebrew word KA-ROV (QAROWB) which zooms in from anyone around to you the closest people in your life – the ones who you have to deal with every day, who live in your house, who get under your skin the most! This is pretty all encompassing. Love everyone around you and love those who are closest to you. That pretty much ruins any idea of nationalism, racism, homophobia, prejudice, sexism, classism, misogyny, feminism, favouritism, … or any other isms we can think of. God tells us to love everyone!

No Wrong, No Slur

Now let’s look at the commands. There are lots of ways to love our neighbours, but what does God want us to be careful of in Psalm 15,? “who does his neighbour no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman”. The first command is to do “no wrong”. That is the word RA and it simply means “evil”. It’s translated a bunch of ways, “wickedness, mischief, hurt, bad, trouble, affliction, adversity, harm.” That’s fairly straight forward. Don’t be evil to anyone.

The next command is to “cast no slur”. This is the word CHERPAH and it means to “despise, reproach, revile, shame”. Don’t hate your fellow man, don’t despise them or revile them, for no reason. One commentary says this is about not picking up “dirt out of a dunghill that he may cast it at his neighbour” (A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Psalms, p. 118). In the New Testament Jesus uses some complimentary words in Luke 6:22 where He says,

“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!”

We Do Not See The Way the World Sees

When a Christian looks at others they do not see the way the world sees. We see people that God loves, that Jesus died for. We do not judge the way the world does. We’ve already said that we do judge character and hold each other accountable to sin, but we do not judge people negatively based on their races, nationality, gender, external appearance, or other worldly divisions.

We do not do the things the world does. We don’t fling dung for no reason! We do not wrong other people. We don’t do evil to them. We are not mischievous, or troublemakers. We do not make racist jokes, omit people because of their clothing, hate them because of their culture, despise them because of what border they live beyond, or hate them because of their economic status.

Christians know what it means to be reproached, rejected and excluded because of our relationship with Jesus. And since we know that, we never, ever, ever, EVER reproach, reject or exclude others from our fellowship! Everyone is welcome in the church of Jesus Christ, and at the foot of the cross, and no one is turned away. There should a big sign on our door that says: “All are welcome! All may come! You don’t need to clean up your life, or look a certain way, or act a certain way, or be able to answer a list of questions, or have any qualification other than being a member of the human race. We’re all a mess, we are all in need, we all have a past, and we all want to help you in any way we can to come to Jesus and be saved!”

In Mark 2:15-17 it says that as Jesus went to dinner with Levi the tax collector and it says that:

“…many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’”

We must say, “I am a sick and Jesus welcomes me. I am a sinner and I am welcome. Sinners are welcome at our church. Therefore, homosexuals are welcome here. Abortionists are welcome here. Divorced people are welcome here. Pornographers, prostitutes and pimps are welcome here. Dead-beat dads are welcome here. Narcissistic, self-absorbed, snobs are welcome here. Atheists are welcomed here. Anyone who is tired of their sin and who wants to meet Jesus, is welcome here.” We don’t discriminate. We invite everyone to come to Jesus.

Discrimination Among Christians

I want to park on this idea of discrimination for a while. We like to think that there is no discrimination here in Canada, or even at our church, right? We’re not the most diverse church around, but we think we are inclusive, right? We don’t turn people away, do we?

Many of you think that we don’t struggle with discrimination at all. And though I don’t know where your heart is on this, I want to explore the concept of discrimination among Christians and see that it goes much deeper than skin colour or nationality.

As you were reflecting on Colossians 3 you no doubt came across verse 11:

“Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”

This is what we’ve been talking about. In the Christian church, because of the blood of Jesus and our adoption as sons and daughters of God, there is no discrimination for any reason. This would have been a huge struggle for the believers this was first written to, just as it is a struggle for some today. And Paul breaks down a lot of barriers in this short verse. Look at the different divisions that he gives.

No Racism

First, it says that in the church of Jesus Christ “there is no Greek or Jew”. In other words, no discrimination based on race or nationality – no racism. Greeks would look down on Jews as uncultured and small minded. Jews would look down on Greeks as immoral heathens who weren’t part of God’s chosen nation. Racism is a struggle for some Christians today – yes, even in Canada. Yes, even in Carleton Place. Perhaps even in the hearts our church this morning. What nationality are you prejudice against? I’m telling you that hating someone based solely on their nationality or skin colour is a sin and has no place in the Kingdom of God.

No Religious Discrimination

3 Psalm 15 - Love Your Neighbour - RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINIATIONNext it says “no… circumcised or uncircumcised”. In other words we are not to have discriminations based on how we practice our religion. This doesn’t mean the different world religions. Clearly we must be discerning when it comes to misrepresentations of God. This is regarding how other Christians practice their faith.

There were some believers that were circumcised, and were incredibly proud of it. There were others who weren’t and were incredibly proud of it! Some Jewish people would try to convince the gentiles that they had to follow Christ their way, worship their way, live their way.

For a gentile, being circumcised was like joining a cult. They mocked how serious the Jews took their laws and religious acts, and said they were all crazy for doing such extreme things. It was a huge problem in the early church. Neither understood the other, and it was a constant source of false-teaching and fighting. And, this is a huge struggle in the church today. Some call it the “worship wars” and it has taken hold everywhere.

Do you ever get wound up about how we are supposed to “do church”?  Stylistic differences create huge divisions, anxiety, separations, cliques and fights. What is a better instrument for worship, the piano, the guitar, the organ, or is singing a cappella the ultimate form of worship music? Can you bring a rum-cake to the church potluck? Is there such thing as Christian heavy-metal music? Are you a better worshipper if you sing while clapping? Or is it better to hold up your hands? Is it one hand or two? Open hand up, or elbow bent?

“I don’t go to the prayer meeting because they pray for too long – or not long enough.”

“I don’t go to bible studies because they are boring and I prefer something more exciting.”

“I don’t go to concerts because God doesn’t like loud music.”

“I don’t kneel down when I pray because that’s too religious.”

“I always kneel to pray because that’s how you’re supposed to do it.”

“You shouldn’t wear hats in church, unless you’re a woman, and then it can only be so big – or is it the bigger the better?”

Does a church have to have a cross on top? Must there be a cross in every room? Are we sitting in a sanctuary, a chapel, a hall, or a worship centre? Am I a pastor, a minister, a priest, a cleric, a vicar, a reverend, a shepherd, or just “Al”?

“A good church uses hymnals.”

“A good church uses powerpoint.”

“A good church sings using a guitar in someone’s living room.”

“A good church has small groups.”

“A good church has big conferences.”

“A good church has a good preacher.”

“A good church has a friendly pastor”.”

“A good church has lots of kids and a big Sunday school.”

“A good church uses real wine during communion.”

“A good church use the King James Version.”

“A good church has less than 100 people.”

“A good church has 1000 or more.”

We all have our own personal definition of what a “good church”, a “good pastor”, a “good sermon”, a “good worship song”, a “good Christian”, a “good devotional”, a “good Bible”, a good “Sunday service”, and a “good small group” looks like. And when it doesn’t meet our standards – what do we do? We complain, argue, condemn and make others try to conform to our idea of what church should be.

What we should say is, “I am blessed because I am experiencing a different side of people expressing and sharing God’s love. The kingdom of God is diverse and I’m part of it! I don’t have to get my way, and I’m glad others are being blessed by this.”

When was the last time you thought: “That kind of thing doesn’t belong in the church!”

“That person, that thing, that painting, that decoration, that whatever doesn’t belong in my church.”

“Why is he or she wearing that to church – it’s too formal, too revealing, too ethnic, too dressed down?”

“That person looks stuck up and religious.”

“That person doesn’t look spiritual enough!”

Slur, slur, slur! And it splits the church into fractures. And once the splits start, Satan gets in there and starts to force his wedge in. Religious division doesn’t belong in the kingdom of God. It will decimate a body of believers.

No Cultural Discrimination

Next it says, “no… barbarian, Scythian.” In other words, no discrimination based on culture. Greeks would call anyone outside their culture a “barbarian”. “Scythians” were a nomadic group located along the coast of the “Black Sea. To the Greeks, the Scythians were a violent, uneducated, uncivilized, and altogether inferior people.” (ESV Study Bible)  Religious discrimination is about how you live out your faith… cultural discrimination is about how you live out your life.

We don’t have a lot of barbarians or Scythians around, but we certainly find other cultural labels to judge other believers by. We look at them and their different ways of life, sit back and judge – even though we don’t understand them one bit. What’s worse is that we sincerely believe that these people must change if they are going to become one of us.

The Greek Christians would look at these new barbarian believers and say, “Ok, now that you know Jesus we need to clean you up and make you into a good Greek!” In the same way, we often look at people from the different cultures around us that get saved and say, “Ok, now that you’re saved… you need to start acting, talking, dressing, eating… like us.”

Some Sub-Cultures to Judge

I’ve done my best to come up with a list of people that – if they sat next to you in church, came into your living room, or went on a date with your daughter or son… that you might have a problem with. Someone you’d want to change into a version of you. And remember, this isn’t about becoming a better disciple of Jesus, or a better Christian… it’s changing them because you don’t like their culture.

I’ll start with an easy one. Bikers. Some people think that if you ride a Harley-Davidson, wear leather, spit tobacco, listen to rock music, and hang around in huge gangs in restaurant parking lots – that you need to change in order to come to church.

Not true! Here’s a website for a biker church chock full of Christians. As a bonus, check out this guy’s awesome testimony.

Reverend Leviathan

What about Emo kids or Goths? They couldn’t be a part of the church, could they? Certainly they have to clean up their act? Well, check out this website for Christian Goths which helps them understand their culture under the Lordship of Jesus, and connects them with other Christian Goths and churches in their area. That is Reverend Leviathan – who is a musician (and I hope is an actual reverend because that’d be awesome.)

Two of the most asked questions on the site are “Are there any Christian Goths in my area?” And “Are there any churches in my area that will not judge me when I walk in?” Tells you a lot, doesn’t it?

What about Gangsters, Rappers and Hip Hop Culture? What happens when they come to church? Certainly they must have to change their style of music, dancing and clothing, right? Nope! Here’s a Hip-Hop Church with Pastor Phil Jackson and they bring Jesus to hundreds of kids each week.

Here’s a Facebook page for Christian bodybuilders. You know those guys who are only interested in how they look, and how much they can lift? Turns out some of them love Jesus and work out in His name.

What about people who love Heavy-Metal music? They have to change their culture, don’t they? This is metalforjesus.org a ministry dedicated to Christian Heavy Metal Music.

I’ve just scratched the surface – and done some easy ones – but for every one of these groups there’s a group of Christians telling them they need to stop doing what they are doing and become more like them. We are seriously missing out on some amazing things that are going on in the kingdom of God by segregating and dividing ourselves, assuming church goes a certain way, and slurring those who don’t do things the way we do. It is wrong, it is evil, and it needs to change. We might not like it, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t please God!

No Social Discrimination

Finally, it says, “no… slave or free” In other words, there is to be no economic or social divisions among us – no classes. No rich churches and poor churches. Rich believers are not more blessed, and poor believers are not holier and more humble. We are to be and do as Acts 2:44-47 describes – helping each other and breaking down socioeconomic barriers so we can all worship Jesus together.

How To End Discrimination

So how can we end discrimination in our hearts? How can we break these barriers? By realizing that “Christ is all, and is in all.”

He is the One, central entity that everything else revolves around. He is the person who brings all believers together. His Spirit dwells within all believers, showing them His love, and helping them love others. He removes distinctions from us. In the light and the presence of Jesus, and the knowledge of our sin and His undeserved grace toward us, we have no way of seeing ourselves as being above anyone else.

He is rich, we are all poor. He is forgiving, we are all sinful. He is perfect, we are woefully imperfect. He is just, we are unjust. He is the source of truth, we were all liars. He is the source of life, we were all dead in sin. He is sinless, we love our sin too much. When we judge ourselves by the standards of God, we realize that we are miserable creatures who are desperately in need of in need of a Saviour – and we have no right to compare ourselves to anyone else. Every other distinction other than “Saved” or “Unsaved”, “Believer or “unbeliever”, melts away.

Five Ways to Kill Discrimination

And Paul, in the next verse (vs 12) gives us 5 very important words that will kill discrimination in our hearts. If you struggle with racism, sexism, or prejudice of any kind… if you struggle to love your neighbour, these five words are what you need to be praying God does for you.

“Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

That’s how you kill discrimination in your heart. That’s how you learn to love your neighbour. That’s what keeps you from slurring and doing wrong to others!

You see yourself as one of “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved”. “Chosen!” You didn’t earn ANYHING you have! You don’t deserve anything you’ve got. You deserve Hell and everything else is a gift. You are a chosen person, loved for nothing other than yourself. You did nothing to deserve His love, you can do nothing to increase it, and you can do nothing to lose it. You are one of “God’s chosen people.”

“Holy” means “set apart”. God set you apart – you didn’t rise to where you are, choose your family, pick your race, your gender, or any other part of your life – God put you there. When you realize that about yourself, it allows you to take yourself off of the pedestal you put yourself on, because you now know you don’t belong there. But for the grace of God, you belong in Hell. That’s how much you are loved – and that’s the kind of love you can now pass on to others. Jesus gives us a totally different lens to see your life through.

We now show “compassion” to others – meaning that we feel as they feel, we hurt as they hurt, we desire the best for them – because that has been done for us. Jesus feels for us, has compassion for us, and acted on that compassion to save us. And so we do that for others.

We put on “kindness” because we have been shown kindness. That means we are giving to those who don’t deserve it, careful around those who need care, and willing to let others go before us – just as Jesus was kind to us.

We put on “humility”, just as Jesus did, which means that we see ourselves as less than others. We don’t put our needs, our wants, our requests, our preferences and inclinations above others. We let others have their own way – and we don’t resent them for it – because we realize how far gone we were before Jesus got a hold of our hearts..

We put on “gentleness”, which means we are careful around people who are sensitive. They have hurts, and pains and pasts, and issues that we don’t know about. They may lash out at us, but we speak gently to them, and treat them gently because we don’t know where they are at. Jesus was infinitely gentle with us, not condemning, but saving us.

And we are “patient”. We don’t jump to conclusions, fly off the handle, commit assumicide, or give up on someone because they blew it again. Why? Because Jesus is so enormously patient with us! Can you imagine if Jesus ran out of patience and decided to pull away His grace, His love, His provision, His help? We would be destroyed! Christians realize that people are going to struggle, and sin, and make messes… and we will treat them with patience, just as we want to be treated.

5 Reminders For Christians that Need to Make Big Ministry Decisions

Posted on

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?

Matthew-6-33-web

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.

up-and-down

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.

fear-god-alone

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.

62353-Love-Question-Mark-1920x1080-

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.

Pastoral Prayer: Of Commitment

Posted on Updated on

Pastoral Prayer Banner

We shout for joy to You, God,

joining the praises of all believers across the earth.

We sing to the glory of Your name!

We give to You our praise!

How awesome are Your deeds, O God!

We are in awe of Your power.

So great is Your power that Your enemies cringe before You.

The whole earth worships You and sings praises to You;

they sing praises to Your name.

We come here in joy,

we are led forth in peace,

the mountains and the hills break forth into song,

the trees of the fields clap their hands.

We have been invited, and we invite

our family, our friends, our neighbours, and the world

to come and see what You have done in our lives, God.

You are awesome in Your deeds toward the children of man.

We remember when You turned the sea into dry land and Your people they passed through the river on foot.

In the same way we have felt beset by sin,

surrounded by the enemy of our souls,

fearing for our lives,

and You have delivered us across the impassable river,

and You have our feet set on dry ground,

and we walk towards the promised land

– towards You.

We rejoice in You alone.

God, You rule by Your might,

You keep watch on the nations.

We choose to believe that all the things happening in the world right now are under Your watchful eye

and that nothing is happening without Your permission.

We may not understand it, but we trust in Your love.

We pray against the rebellious, the evil, the sinful, the tempters

— let not the rebellious exalt themselves.

We thank You for keeping us among the living,

for giving us a hope and a purpose,

for keeping us in the faith,

and for not let our feet slip.

Our faithfulness is not of our own doing, but because of Your strength.

We even praise and thank You for our trials,

for You, O God, have tested us;

You have tried us as silver is tried.

You brought us into the net;

You laid a crushing burden on our backs;

You let men ride over our heads;

we went through fire and through water…

many of us feel like we have been to hell and back…

but we know that because of Your grace You have given us an abundant life,

just as You promised.

And so we come to You in praise,

bringing the offering of song,

of our finances,

of our wills,

our energy,

our time,

our attention.

We will perform our vows to You, and not falter in our promises.

The words our lips have uttered today and in days past…

all of the things our mouths have said when we were in trouble,

we will keep.

Forgive us for making idle promises to You,

for taking Your name in vain,

and help us keep our promises.

We want to hear You today.

We come to You to listen.

We who fear God, want to hear all You have done for our souls.

We come to lift up Your name and proclaim the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We cried out to You,

admitting our sins,

repenting of them,

and asking forgiveness,

and You have put high praise there instead.

We know that if we still love our sins,

if all we say today was only words,

that You have not listened.

But God, we do not cherish iniquity.

We truly desire You,

and God You have truly listened

and have attended the voice of our prayers.

Blessed be You, our God because You have not rejected our prayer

or have removed Yourself from us,

but continue to give Your love to us everyday.

We pray this in the name of our Lord and Saviour,

Jesus Christ.

Amen

(taken from Psalm 66 & Isa 55:12)

Pastoral Prayer: Love

Posted on Updated on

Invocation

“Lord God,

with confidence we draw near to Your throne of Grace,

that we might receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

“We are yours, as you have said,

O Lord of Hosts,

and you have made us your treasured possession

and have spared us.” (Malachi 3:17)

Confession

Lord, in your word you showed us the most excellent way.

We have sought to speak in the tongues of men and angels –

using technology to spread our voice and our desires far and wide, Read the rest of this entry »

Growing at Church – Make Love Your Priority

Posted on Updated on

(Click here for the video)

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

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

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

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

Thanks to Joslynn for this great pic!

Our Highest Priority

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Heart of the Kingdom

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

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

Love is an Action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My How They Love One Another

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

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

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

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

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

A video I watched this week said it this way:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Practical Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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