Tag Archives: New Testament

Sharing is Caring

10 Jul

You can watch and listen to the message here.

Last week, the disciples were ordered to stop preaching in the name of Jesus and they responded in prayer. They established a pattern for prayer that we should follow in our lives: pray first, pray together, pray with confidence, pray biblically, and pray expectantly. As we continue our journey through Acts, we’ll see how vital prayer is in accomplishing the mission God has set before us. This morning, we’ll see what happens when people are truly transformed by God.

Acts 4:32-35 says, “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.”

Let’s be clear on something. The disciples have just prayed and God answered by shaking the place where they were and they were, “filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.” This is not a contradiction to 2:4. They were empowered again by the Holy Spirit which leads to v. 32. Luke tells us, “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul.” The word congregation is better translated multitude. At this point in the young church, there are at least 8120 men. There had to be lots of women and children that aren’t numbered so it’s reasonable to conclude that the number of believers far exceeds 8120. Don’t use this as an excuse to justify the attendance at a particular church as a measure of success. The point Luke is making here is that of those people that made up the assembly that believed in the finished work of Jesus Christ, those that made a profession of faith and lived like Jesus, those people, “Were of one heart and soul.” You’ve heard that phrase heart and soul before. It should be obvious that Luke is not talking about a physical heart or soul, but a spirit of oneness, a spirit of togetherness, a spirit of community. This passage is very similar to 2:42-47, but one theme stands out in this passage compared to the previous passage at the end of chapter 2.

The overarching premise here is that of unity. This spirit of unity led them to do something very contrary to our way of thinking. “And not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.” That doesn’t mean they didn’t own anything themselves. This isn’t some justification for socialism or a misguided notion of fairness. The idea of fairness is running rampant through our society. We think it’s not fair that someone has a better car than we do. It’s not fair that my kid doesn’t get a trophy. It’s not fair that they got promoted and I didn’t. The idea of fairness has spread to the church too. It’s not fair that they get to teach and I don’t. It’s not fair they get to sing and I don’t. Thankfully, we haven’t really experienced those kinds of things at 3RC.

The defining point where selfishness gives way to selflessness is found in that word, “believed.” Jesus always transforms the heart. Show me someone that remains the same after salvation, and I’ll show you someone that is not genuinely saved. Only in the modern church do we deemphasize the power of God and accept simple profession of faith without corresponding transformation. The murderer Saul was radically transformed into the Apostle Paul. The greedy tax collector Zaccheus was transformed to the point that he gave away half his wealth and if he cheated someone he paid back four times the amount. Peter was an uneducated fisherman and forsook all he knew to follow Christ and was transformed into the leader of the Apostles. Don’t tell me that God doesn’t have the power to transform lives today. The same power that transformed those Bible guys, transformed me. Paul told us, “In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (Eph. 4:22-24)

These believers were so radically transformed, they had all things in common. We tend to think of things as our own. I earned it; it’s my money; it’s my room; it’s my toy; it’s my guitar. This selfish nature is destroyed by Christ. Our attitude should be, what’s mine is yours. If you need it, I have it. “And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all.” The apostles continued telling people about what they saw after Jesus died. The resurrection of Christ is a pivotal event in the history of the world. I don’t have the time to go through all the reasons why it’s so important, but the short answer is that Jesus’ resurrection confirms the Old Testament prophecies of Messiah and it validates who He said He was.

At this point, Luke focuses on one particular aspect in the life of the new believers and that is sharing. This idea of sharing is nothing new to these people. Luke mentioned the idea of common property in v. 32. This goes back to the ideals of Greek society attributed to Pythagorean and Plato that there is no private ownership of anything. That ideal likely never materialized, but the concept would not be foreign to the people that the Apostles are now teaching. This idea of sharing is more in keeping with the Old Testament promises of God. Deut. 15:4-5 says, “However, there will be no poor among you, since the Lord will surely bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, if only you listen obediently to the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all this commandment which I am commanding you today.” These believers were experiencing the power of God and, “abundant grace was upon them all.” Peter referenced the last days in 2:17 and they are experiencing God’s blessing in 4:33, and now they are working toward the ideal that there should be no poor people among them.

Is this an ideal or is it something that can actually be achieved? Again, we can point to society today where we have so called experts saying it’s not fair that executives make so much money. We have government programs for people that fall below a certain income level. We have government grants that are available for some people to go to college. We have Obama phones because everyone needs a cell phone. These are all programs designed to even the playing field of society. But did these first century believers seek to even the playing field? I can answer that with one emphatic word: no.

So how did it work? Look at vs. 34-35. There were believers that had property. They voluntarily and willingly sold property when there was a need. There is no evidence to suggest this was mandatory, but when a need arose, they sacrificed some of what they owned and laid the proceeds at the feet of the apostles. Before you go and put your house on the market, this is what they used to do. Now if the Lord is leading you to do this, by all means go ahead and do it. In reality, we have to go back to the first century context of what a need is. A need is to require something because it is essential or very important rather than just desirable.

Over the years, I have become very jaded over the subject of needs. The vast majority of people that have come across my path wanting help from the church are not affiliated with any church and are not affiliated with Jesus Christ. Somewhere along the way, the church has become the go to place to make ends meet. From car repairs to cable bills, from rent to utilities, from gas to medical bills, I have seen a lot. Strangers coming to the church expecting to get what they want. They want the church to help them because they think that’s the way it should be. Before you get all judgmental on me and say we should help our folks, most people that come to the church wanting money are not in need; they are in want. I have watched people spend foolishly then come to the church and expect to be bailed out. If you have ever been involved with church finances, you will quickly agree. We will help our members in one way or another. It might be with money, but it also might be with biblical, financial counsel, and accountability. Sometimes we talk about giving up that Starbucks or passing on a new outfit, or you’ll be encouraged to eat at home instead of eating out and then we can give to a good church cause, but these early believers were selling property and land to meet the needs of other believers.

We have such abundance in the church. We fill our homes with stuff and when it overflows, we put stuff in the attic, then is spills into the garage, then we build a shed, and that overflows so we put our stuff in a storage unit. We end up paying money to store stuff we don’t use and likely won’t use. Why? Because we’ve bought into the idea of the American dream. I’ve never heard of the Honduran dream or the Brazilian dream, or the Paraguayan dream. The American Dream was publicly defined in 1931 by historian James Truslow Adams. He coined the phrase in his book, Epic of America. In the book, he says, “The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” He goes on to say the American Dream is not, “. . . a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

The America Dream seems contrary to the example of the early church. Maybe you’ll point out that what the early church did was descriptive and not prescriptive. You might say, “We don’t have to sell our houses and land to meet people’s needs,” and I would agree. I think it would be appropriate to look at an Old Testament passage from a book few people have read let alone studied. Take the time to turn to Haggai 1. To quickly set the context, a remnant had returned to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon. There is economic hardship in the land of Judah. Look at the five things Haggai says is going on in vs. 5-6. Even though they’ve planted a bunch of crops, they’re not getting much in the way of harvest. Since the harvest isn’t so good, there’s not much food to satisfy their hunger. There’s not enough to drink to quench their thirst – the word drunk here means satisfy fully. They just can’t keep warm with the clothes they have. For the people that do work, it seems like they just put their money into a pocket full of holes where it disappears. The people have got to be thinking, “How in the world can we afford to rebuild the temple when we can’t even afford to take care of our families?” Many today would ask the same question, “How can I afford to sow into the work of the Lord, when I’m having trouble making ends meet?” I cannot afford to tithe or give.

In v. 7, the Lord says, “Consider your ways.” Haggai doesn’t stop there. Look at vs. 8-11. The real call is to evaluate your priorities. Have you ever thought that perhaps your current economic situation is a result of misplaced priorities? The people of Haggai’s time sure didn’t. They were content to hang out in their paneled houses all the while neglecting God’s house. In other words, they were more concerned about how their own houses looked. Their priorities were messed up. These early believers Luke is talking about are way different than the remnant that returned to Jerusalem. I think it’s fair to ask, is your attitude more like those exiles that returned to Jerusalem or these early believers? The early believers sold their stuff when there was a need and brought the proceeds to the Apostles. In the church today, we operate a little differently. We receive tithes and offerings as a way to support the mission of the church God established in Scripture and to fulfill the vision of your pastors. That financial support typically comes in through giving a portion of the wages people earn through their vocation. The attitude of these first century believers demonstrates an attitude of sharing. We are grateful for all the Lord provides for us at 3RC and I don’t take for granted the blessings He has poured out on me. But sometimes, we focus more on what we don’t have than on what we do have and on what God can do. These believers used what God had blessed them with to meet the needs of others in the church.

What’s mine is yours. If you have a need, we must be willing to see those needs met. There is no reason anyone in the church should walk around naked or hungry, but if you have Netflix and the fastest interned available and can’t pay the electric bill, there’s some issues. As Paul said in Phil. 4:19, “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

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The Good Wife

22 Aug

MarriageListen to the podcast here.

Last week, Solomon reminded us that there’s always hope. Prayer is one key to seeing hearts changed, but the heart that is changed might not be the one that you’re praying for. Understand where we are in the scope of eternity. We’re in the last days where people are turning away from absolute truth. Everything that happens is part of God’s eternal plan, but we’re not briefed on the specifics of that plan. We saw some important qualities from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians that we must put into practice on a regular basis. The screams for tolerance today is not the same tolerance Paul talks about in Scripture. Sometimes people are unwilling to acknowledge their sin choosing instead to blame others and sometimes even blame God. Contentions between people can cause you to feel like your trapped in a prison. Love God, love others, do what you can to spread the hope that is found in Christ and you might just find that the immovable object that was in your path will move out of the way by the power of God. This morning, we look at some speech metaphors and we’ll close by seeing the value of a wife.

Pro. 18:20-22 says, “With the fruit of a man’s mouth his stomach will be satisfied; he will be satisfied with the product of his lips. Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit. He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.”

Solomon might just be the most prolific painter of the word picture. He begins by saying, “With the fruit of a man’s mouth his stomach will be satisfied; he will be satisfied with the product of his lips.” It may not be obvious, but Solomon is talking about a man’s speech. Words have the power to encourage or discourage. They have the power to build up or tear down. Don’t underestimate the power of your words. As always, the caution remains to be careful about what you say. This really is quite a curious verse. At first glance, it seems like this is an edification type of statement. You eat fruit, it tastes good, and your tummy is happy, but that’s not the meaning here. The meaning here is that there are people that really enjoy hearing themselves speak. These are the people that have something to say about every topic. These are the people that will gladly provide their viewpoint on an issue whether they are asked or not. These are the people that have the answer to the question, but haven’t read the book. These are the people that hijack the Bible study, but didn’t do the homework. These are the people that have a lot to say, but there is no substance. These are the people that really just like to hear themselves talk.

The next verse is a continuation when Solomon says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” This is confirmation that Solomon is talking about the power of speech. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me came onto the scene way back in 1862. Back then it was probably true, but times have changed drastically since then. When you think about what can happen because of our speech, it should slow us down and encourage caution. If Peter had paid attention to what Jesus told him, maybe he would not have denied knowing Christ. If Ananias and Sapphira hadn’t lied about the money they made from selling their property, they wouldn’t have been struck dead.

Ps. 141:3: “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.”
Matt. 15:11: “It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.”
Ja. 1:26: “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.”
Matt. 12:36: “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment.” There are a boatload of other examples in Scripture about how to use the power of our speech for good and not evil.

There’s life and death in our words in the world we live in too. Think about telling lies about people. You can get people fired from their job because of what you say about them. You could get fired for something you say. Your testimony can get someone locked up or sent to prison. Don’t underestimate the power of your words. You can’t talk to everyone in the same way. Don’t talk to your boss the way you talk to your kids. Don’t talk to your parents like you talk to your friends. Take Paul’s guidance very seriously: “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.”

Let’s shift gears. Solomon changes subjects and talks about marriage. He says, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.” After God created man, he said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” (Gen. 2:18) After Adam gave all the animals names, the Bible says, “But for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him.” What’s really interesting about this is the word suitable is that it means corresponding to. There was nothing in the garden that looked like Adam. Mankind was created to have fellowship with the Creator and with one another. 1 Cor. 11:9 says, “For indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.” Before you get all freaked out, it is true that we were not meant to be alone, but this is not a misogynistic, barbarian, caveman type of relationship. Solomon is going back to the type of woman that was created by God for Adam.

The wife was and is to be a helper for the man. I know this probably isn’t popular teaching today, but it’s the design God intended. That does not mean women are inferior to men. It doesn’t mean women are not valuable. It doesn’t mean women are not smart or capable. It doesn’t mean women are not important. Solomon is saying if you find a wife, that’s a good thing. It doesn’t mean you must be married, but, “An excellent wife is the crown of her husband.” (Pro. 12:4) You’ll hear wives referred to as the better half. If you’re here and you’re not married, I don’t believe you’re out of the will of God, I don’t believe you’re sinning, I don’t believe you’re inferior or somehow don’t measure up to God’s desires or standards. The best plan for marriage is to allow God to bring someone into your life. You’ll likely hear people say they have the key to success in marriage and I actually do have it. Marriage is not easy. There will be disagreements, unfulfilled expectations, hurt, sorrow, misunderstandings, laundry, chores, cooking, and cleaning. But there is also great joy and happiness, companionship, fellowship, communication, and intimacy. Before I tell you the secret to a successful marriage, you might be thinking you’re already a failure and there’s no hope for you. Don’t believe that for one minute. Marriage is hard, but you successfully navigate through hard things all the time. Don’t tell me it’s hard, I know it is. If you’re married to someone that does not know Jesus Christ as their Savior, it’s even harder. I will even acknowledge that marriage can be challenging between two people that are committed Christians.

I will offer one assumption and that is that we are talking about followers of Christ so here’s the secret: the most important thing in a marriage outside of Jesus is commitment to one another. This commitment comes out in the marriage vows. I ask the groom: Groom, in taking this woman to be your wife, do you promise to honor, to love, and to cherish her in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, in good times and in bad, as long as you both shall live? Then I ask the bride that same thing. In all the ceremonies I’ve done over the years, not one time has anyone responded “I don’t” to that question. Do you see the commitment? No matter the circumstances, you’re committed to one another. There’s never talk of divorce. I don’t care how great a communicator you are or how much money you have or make, how awesome your house is or how great your job is, if you’re not committed to one another, your marriage will fail. Too many people today treat marriage as a dating relationship. If you’re committed to one another, you will do whatever it takes to work through issues to make your marriage stronger.

Finding a wife is a good thing and I want to encourage you to review the biblical standards for husbands and for wives. Every guy can quote Eph. 5:22: “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as unto the Lord.” If there’s one verse that every guy has memorized it’s this one. They may not know that God loved the world, but they can spout off the submission verse in their sleep. Often though, the guy that quotes that verse in an attempt to force his wife into doing something, but has neglected the previous verse that tells us to, “be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” A more important principle is one that you’ve heard me quote on numerous occasions and is found in Eph. 5:25: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” Nowhere is that love dependent on what your wife does or does not do. The comparative love is that of Christ. No matter what we do, He still loves us.

Let’s take a look at a very important passage directed at wives found in 1 Pet. 3:1-6. I encourage you to check it out yourself. Nowhere does Peter limit this mandate to men that are wonderful, loving, godly, caring, and wholesome men. Women, it’s a whole lot easier to love a man that is awesome and wonderfully supportive of everything you want to accomplish in life. Look at what God holds precious in v. 4. Hold on now men, Peter hasn’t forgotten about you. 1 Pet. 3:7 gives us this incredible command: “You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.” Are your prayers consistently not answered and you feel like God doesn’t even hear you? Maybe it’s because you’re not the man God wants you to be. Peter finishes this passage by saying, “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.” (1 Pet. 3:8-9) Finding a wife is a good thing.

We began today talking about speech. Our words are powerful tools that can cause great harm and great joy. Be very careful in your speech and don’t be the guy that talks all the time. You do not get extra jewels in your crown for being verbose. Don’t talk just to hear yourself talk. We spent a lot of time on marriage and we will spend more time later in Proverbs. Finding a wife is a good thing and finding a wife whose ultimate goal is to live an authentic, passionate, and zealous life for Christ is something of immeasurable value.

The Miracle of Easter

6 Apr

CrossYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we checked out Solomon’s words regarding wisdom and learned that no matter the path you’re on, there’s always opportunity to get back on the right path. Maybe you’re here and you’re thinking, I don’t know the right path to take. I didn’t even know there was a path. Today is your lucky day! Today, Easter is celebrated all over the world, but do we really understand this day that many people celebrate? Is it just another consumer holiday where we look forward to seeing everyone’s new outfits and enjoy chocolate and jelly beans? Maybe you enjoy Easter because it generally marks the beginning of Spring. I don’t want you to miss the miraculous and eternal significance of Easter. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s go back in time from the first Easter to a week or so earlier.

Take the time to read our passage for this morning found in Luke 19:28-40.

So who is this Jesus? The name Jesus brings many thoughts to people’s minds. Names are like that; they mean a lot. Sometimes nicknames are commonly associated with people and are instantaneously recognized. Old Blue Eyes – Frank Sinatra. The King of Pop – Michael Jackson. The King – Elvis. Michael Jordan is known as Air Jordan. There are the not so great people like Ivan the terrible , Jack the Ripper, Bloody Mary, and Vlad the Impaler. Biblically we have John – the Baptizer. Lydia – the seller of purple. Few people call him just Thomas without preceding it with doubting. These descriptive names are no different for Jesus.

In Matt. 1:21 an angel appeared to Joseph and told him, “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, f He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus means Jehovah is salvation. Jesus most often referred to Himself as the Son of Man. He is known as the Messiah. The Light of the world. The Prince of Peace. The bright and morning star. He is the alpha and the omega. He is the redeemer, the advocate, the bread of life. He is the power of God. He is the Lamb of God, the good shepherd, the high priest. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He is the resurrection and the life. That’s who Jesus is. This Jesus was loved by people of all walks of life. This is the Jesus that the prophet Micah said would come to rule Israel, One whose, “Goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” While loved and adored by the common people, this Jesus was despised by the religious groups of the day – the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Jesus upset the apple cart; He rocked the boat; He went against the flow, He said things that were different than what those religious people had been taught and what they believed. They called Jesus a blasphemer, they judged Jesus because He hung out with the less desirables; the tax collectors and sinners. They accused Him of violating the Sabbath because He encouraged His disciples to pick grain when they were hungry. They didn’t like this, in fact, “The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him.” (Luke 6:7) Jesus taught on the Sabbath, Jesus healed on the Sabbath.

So now we know who Jesus is, but why do we need Jesus? The religious crowd of the day despised Jesus because He threatened their power, their control, their desire to be elevated above others, their desire to be better than anyone else, their desire to control their own destiny, their desire and requirement for everyone to follow the Law. The Law was an interesting thing. Various religions and even denominations attempt to control people by requiring the strict following of a set of rules and regulations. Rom. 3:19-20 tells us, “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” Even though the Pharisees wanted everyone to keep the Law, they were powerless to keep it – all the Law did was show people they were law breakers. We need Jesus because no matter how good we think we are, the Bible says there is not a single person that is good. The Bible is very clear about our need for redemption. We need redemption because according to Rom. 6:6 we are slaves to sin. Sin owns us, it is our master. Rom. 3:23 says, “All have sinned.” 1 Jo. 1:8 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.” Rom. 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.”

What is sin? If we redefine what sin is, it’s easier to deal with. In our culture, we conform to the idea that personal feelings are the barometer of right and wrong, of morality and truth. We seek comfort and the least resistant path. We seek to please ourselves. We listen to so called “Christian teachers” or influential people who make us feel better about following our own path, about living in sin. Instead of calling people to repentance and authentic Christian living, these people refuse to call sin what God calls sin. We have a whole new generation of people that have succumbed to cultural pressure that it’s intolerant, judgmental, and unloving to declare God’s truth as absolute. I love Paul’s description of this found in Gal. 5:19-21 that says, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Evident is from the word that mean plainly recognized. These are the things of the flesh – they are incompatible with a life that follows God. Left to our own devices, we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

We know who Jesus is, and we know why we need Jesus, now finally, what should we do with Jesus? In answering this very question to the Jews that gathered in the treasury at the temple in Jo. 8:34-36: “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. ‘The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.’” There is freedom in Christ. It’s freedom from the penalty of sin, not from the consequences. God will not and cannot allow us to get away with sin, but don’t expect to see someone’s nose grow if they tell a lie. We live in such a hectic, no time for anything world; a world where we seek instant gratification. Our cure then, comes not by redefining sin or by avoiding it. Our cure comes by admitting our sin, turning from it and receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Easter          is about hope, it’s about life; it’s about fulfilled promises; it’s about Jesus. Maybe you’re thinking, “I want to be free, how do I get this freedom?” To answer that question, we need to go again to the standard of truth. Remember that each of us is a sinner, we have all done wrong. Rom. 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” As with any gift, you must accept it; just because it has your name on it does not make it yours until you receive it. Maybe if we just try harder to be good and righteous. No, the answer to sin is not to try harder to avoid it or change who you are. No matter how hard you try, no matter how good you are, it’s not enough. Eph. 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Rom. 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Confess is a great word. It means the same thing as agree. In other words, when you confess to God your failure to meet His standard or admit your wrongdoings, you are agreeing with Him.

Maybe you’re thinking God won’t accept you like you are. Pastor Ian if you only knew about me. Maybe you’re thinking, when I give up ___________, I will be good enough and I’ll trust in Christ. Here’s the good news: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8) We don’t have to try harder because God knows that apart from Christ, we can do nothing. (Jo. 15:5) Rom. 10:13 says, “For ‘WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.’” You are that whoever. It is a guarantee. Becoming a Christian is a choice; it is a decision only you can make for yourself. Being a Christian really means being a follower of Christ. God changes your heart, changes your attitude, and you joyfully want to follow Jesus. It’s not something you do begrudgingly. Being a follower of Christ gives you freedom! You are not a Christian because you live in America or because you attend church, or because you pray or read the Bible, or go to a Bible study. You are a Christian because you have made a decision to trust in what Christ did to pay the penalty for sin; you choose to follow Christ. Paul gives us this hope in Rom. 6:10-11, “For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” “To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (Jo. 1:12) So how did we get to the point of death? What began just five or so days earlier as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt with people waving palm branches and expressing their adoration for this man from Galilee, was overwhelmed by the crowds in Jerusalem that demanded His death by crucifixion. They got what they asked for and Jesus was sentenced to die on a cross for being found guilty of nothing. Jesus dies a horrible death on the cross and was buried in a tomb.

The rest of the story is found in Luke 24:1-9. Easter is all about the penalty Jesus Christ paid to cover our sin debt. He shed His blood for you, because of His incredible, unending, unconditional love. He is not here because He is risen. Easter is all about the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the new life that He can give you.

You have heard about who Jesus is and why we need Jesus. You have heard about what you should do with Jesus now there remains just one question. What will you do about what you know?Risen

Church Shopping?

13 Jan

ShoppingA Facebook friend recently posted that his family was in a new place and had begun week #1 of church shopping. It sounds innocuous enough, but I think there are some real underlying themes there that are overriding traditional church culture and is indicative of where we are in the church today.

While finding a church home is not as critical as other decisions, it’s not to be taken too lightly either. I’ve heard many people use this phrase and it gives an indication that if you keep shopping, you’ll find a better bargain. Have you ever scoured the internet or searched sale papers looking for the best deal for a purchase? As soon as you pull the trigger and buy or order the item, you see the same thing advertised at a better deal. Shopping can be really exciting and fun, but it can also be a real bummer.

Does God’s desire come into play or are we like an excited bride looking for the perfect dress for her wedding? Wedding dresses have become such big business that we now have reality TV shows that follow brides seeking that perfect dress. Tirelessly trudging from store to store with the idea that there is the perfect dress out there . . . you’ve just got to be willing to find it.

Well Captain Obvious, churches are not dresses. You’re right. But when we shop for a church, we convince ourselves that there are better deals, better bargains, and more choices if we just keep looking. I live in a military town and there is a fairly high rate of turnover with people transferring in and out. Unfortunately, God seems to be consulted a lot more frequently about a dress than He is about where to serve. It’s not a life ending choice . . . about the dress or a church. At our church I’ve heard from people’s own mouths that they’ve been looking for a church for years. I think the longest I’ve heard is five years of searching. It took less time to build the Golden Gate Bridge. Paul’s first missionary journey took less time. So did his second and third. What in the world are you looking for? People today are significantly more transitional then they used to be. It’s not unusual for someone not in the military to move every three or four years. Why do people delay in committing to a church? There it is . . . commitment. People are quicker to jump into relationships than they are a church. What if it’s the “wrong” church? What is a wrong church?

I’ve often said there are three things to look for in a church. When I say church, I’m referring to a New Testament church. I remember speaking at a church years ago discussing their future and I preached from Acts 2. I asked the question, “Are you functioning as a New Testament church?” The leader of the church, a 78 year old woman (that’s another story), told me, “No.” That church was dead, they knew it, but they didn’t care. Okay here are the three:

  1. Does the pastor preach biblically based messages?
  2. Does the church care about the community?
  3. Are the people mostly friendly?

There are a number of other benchmarks I would include (doctrine, theology, missions, vision, accountability, etc.), but if a church has these three, then you can enter into further discussion with the leadership about those other important areas. People have got to quit browsing the spiritual buffet to determine where God wants them. Oh, well church X has something for the kids, but church Y doesn’t so we’ll go to church X. In my own ears someone told me, “We’re looking for something for our kids, they’ve never even sat with us in church.” Huh? It doesn’t matter how awesome a church’s student group is if the pastor never preaches from the Bible.

Here’s the deal, if you’re looking for the perfect church: STOP! You’ll only mess it up by going there. Be intentional about plugging in. Take advantage of what is offered. Don’t wait to be asked to serve or participate. Time is short and eternity is long. Do what you can to show people the way there. Get in the game and live out your faith. Do not be a lone ranger Christian.

No Regrets

29 Dec

No RegretYou can check out the podcast here.

If we think about our lives even for just a moment, we’ll think of things we could have done differently; things we shouldn’t have done, decisions we’d like a do over on. I call it what if land and it’s not a good place to be. The Apostle Paul provides us some excellent insight in his letter to the Philippians. This letter differs in some respects from any of Paul’s other letters. It contains less logic and more of the heart. His letter to the Romans has incredible logic. His letters to the Corinthians rebuked certain prevalent sins. Galatians rebukes a dangerous heresy that threatened the welfare of the Galatian churches. Ephesians unfolds the mystery of God in reference to the Gentiles. This letter is the outpouring of the love towards one of the most affectionate and faithful of all congregations which he had planted. The church at Philippi was founded in A.D. 50 or 51 (Acts 16). On his second missionary journey, Paul, led by a vision at Troas, crossed into Europe, landed at Neapolis and went directly to Philippi. Why Philippi?  It was “a leading city of the district of Macedonia.” (Acts 16:12) It is interesting to note that this was the first church planted in Europe.

Take a careful look at the incredible words of Phil. 3:1-14.

Paul begins with what is not the Way. He starts by this third chapter by telling the church what the way is not. Religious ceremonies are not the way. Paul was, “circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.”  (Phil 3:5-6) If anybody had a heritage to brag about it was Paul. He met all the religious requirements of a good Jew. “Circumcised the eighth day.” In strict compliance with the Law. “Of the nation of Israel.” He could trace his lineage as far back as any Jew. “From the tribe of Benjamin.” Remember that the tribe of Benjamin and the tribe of Judah were the only two tribes not to revolt under the leadership of Jeroboam and maintained their allegiance to God. The tribe of Benjamin was physically located next to the temple. “A Hebrew of Hebrews.” He belonged to a tribe that was as honorable as any other, and that had its location near the very center of religious influence; both of his parents were Jewish with no mixture of Gentile blood. Not one of his ancestors had been a proselyte, or of Gentile extraction. Paul says he was entitled to all the advantages which could be derived from it. “A Pharisee.” The Pharisees strictly adhered to every letter of the law. “So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem.” (Acts 26:4) If religion could save anyone, it certainly would have saved Paul. “Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law.” He was zealous in his persecution of the church who he thought was in great error in doctrine. As a Jew and a Pharisee, he believed righteousness was found in the Law.

Notice how Paul introduces his religion to the Philippians: “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” (Phil 3:2-3) Look at the warnings. Dogs – the greatest insult you could give someone. The Jews called the heathen dogs, and Islam calls Jews and Christians by the same name. The term dog also is used to identify a person that is shameless, impudent, malignant, snarling, dissatisfied, and contentious. Evil workers. Probably the same people Paul considered dogs – Jews who taught that religion saved you. False circumcision – from the Greek word meaning to mutilate. These dogs and false teachers were not truly circumcised. True circumcision comes after salvation as a sign of obedience; it does not cause salvation. But Paul says, “For we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” (Phil 3:3) We are the circumcision. We worship God the only way one can worship God – in Spirit. We rejoice in Christ Jesus and place no confidence in the flesh.

What is the way to God? You’ve got to look at verses 7-11 to find out. All things were loss except the knowledge of Christ Knowledge in this verse is the Greek word gnosis. This is head knowledge. Anything he had mentally. His seven religious credentials. In v. 8 Paul says, “I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” “Suffered the loss” comes from a Greek word that means to willingly give up. Paul gave up “all things.” Anything thing that someone might depend on for salvation: works, religion, heritage, earthly favor, position. Paul considered it rubbish. Rubbish comes from the word that means excrement. Just as you rid your body of waste, Paul wanted to rid himself all of the earthly advantages and Jewish privileges as a means of obtaining salvation. Why?  Look at what Paul says: “That I may gain Christ.”

In verses 9 and 10, Paul speaks of his own righteousness which comes from the Law. Paul wants the righteousness of Christ which can only come through faith. What is faith? Faith comes from the Greek word pistis meaning a strong and welcome conviction or belief that Jesus is the Messiah, through whom we obtain eternal salvation in the kingdom of God. “That I may know him.” This is a different know. This is from the Greek word meaning to know and understand. Paul wants to know Christ so he could share in His sufferings and be conformed to His death. This knowledge or understanding of Christ’s sufferings is obtained by experiencing the daily challenges and needs of ministry that will draw us closer to Christ. Sharing in the Lord’s sufferings will bring you into a more meaningful and intimate relationship with Christ. Comfortable or conformed unto death has a double meaning here. Just as Jesus died because of the sin of the world, Paul is dying more and more to sin in his daily life. Remember that Paul is in prison as he writes and is prepared to die for Christ if that is what’s necessary.

In v. 11 Paul desires to attain the resurrection of the dead. In v. 12 he denies that he has attained it. The word “attained” means to have arrived at the goal and won the prize, but without having as yet received it. Paul knows Christ, but not to the fullest extent possible. He has experienced God’s power, but not to the degree he desires. He has been made like Jesus in His death, but Paul can still die to sin and self. Paul walks in newness of life, but there is still room for improvement. Paul didn’t think he arrived after 25 years of serving the Lord, so we shouldn’t either. In verse 13 Paul says, “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.” Notice that Paul forgets those things that are in the past. The wrongs you have done. The sins you have committed. The things you should have done, but never did. The things Satan tells you cannot be forgiven. Put all of them behind you and forget them. In his pursuit to know Christ, Paul refuses to let guilt drag him down and doesn’t rest on past accomplishments. We don’t sail on yesterday’s wind. He’s pressing toward the mark. What is the mark? The mark is contained in vs. 10 and 11. Be like minded with Paul because his thinking comes from the Lord.  If you don’t think like Paul, the Lord will reveal it to you.

Are you living in the past or allowing Christ to renew and refresh you? Are you repeating mistakes or sins of the past? Rom. 8:1 reminds us, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Giving May be the Best Barometer

2 Jun

BarometerYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we looked at the certain destruction and ruin the pursuit of riches brings. Instead of pursuing riches, we are to, “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.” The question that remains is what is your attitude about giving financially to the church? Is it a burden to you? Is it an obligation? Do you see it as a ministry to the saints? This morning we’ll look at something that folks may not want to hear about. In this passage from Paul, he repeatedly refers to giving as a gracious work.

In 2 Cor. 8:7-9 Paul says, “But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also. I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”

Paul begins by reminding them of how far the Lord had brought them in their Christian walk. Corinth had been known for its immorality. Temple prostitution was the norm. The people of Corinth took to listening to the wisdom of men. The Corinthians satisfied all their fleshly desires without condemnation until God intervened through Paul’s preaching. It had been a long journey, but they are growing in Christ. He says they abound. That word means exist in large numbers or amounts. He speaks of their faith, utterance (speech), knowledge, earnestness, and love. These are great qualities to have, but Paul doesn’t tell them they have arrived. They have yet to achieve perfection. Paul is looking at one aspect of their faith they need some help on, they need some guidance, they need some encouragement. He tells them, “See that you abound in this gracious work also.” Paul is talking about giving.

So often when we talk about money, we speak of affordability. Mortgage companies make a house payment affordable, credit card companies give you a minimum you must pay; you can pay on a new car for seven years; there are payment plans for court fines. When we think of the gracious work of giving in light of affordability, we miss the real point of giving. Giving is not about the haves and the have nots. We have been through this before, but maybe we still haven’t really grasped the opportunity and responsibility of giving. Perhaps you’ve convinced yourself that the Lord isn’t talking to you, that you are somehow exempt from this teaching.

I encourage you to take the time and read 2 Cor. 8:1-6. Let’s take a closer look at this example. Have you ever thought, “If I was rich then I’d be happy,” or “If this situation was gone, then I’d be happy.” When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, the Macedonians were in a state of, “Great ordeal of affliction.” Ordeal means a prolonged painful or horrific experience. Not only were they experiencing a great deal of affliction, but they were experiencing deep poverty. Deep means an extreme point on a scale of extent. It means exceedingly great or very very. Keep these definitions in mind and read v. 2 again. Did you see the contrast? Even though they were going through all this horrible stuff, they had an, “Abundance of joy” that was expressed, “In the wealth of their liberality.” Abundance means a very large quantity, plentiful. Christian joy has nothing to do with outward circumstances. For the Macedonians, joy + poverty + affliction = wealth. There is no banker in the world that can do math like that, but that’s how the equation works in the Kingdom of God.

To say that Paul was pleased with the Macedonian believers would be an understatement. He uses them as an example of what the grace of God does in the hearts of believers. He’s not playing one church off of another. It’s not a competition to raise more money. The amount is not what Paul is after; he’s after the attitude or the spirit behind the giving. The problem with that though, is the spirit is hard to measure. At the end of the year, we don’t give a record of the spirit of your giving; we give a record of the amount of your giving. There is no measuring stick for attitude. Paul was no dummy, he knew people and he knew how money can be a wall between us and the unstoppable power of God. Paul tells us the really incredible thing in vs. 3-4. They gave according to their ability and beyond. Their giving was not motivated because of a surplus; there was no surplus. They had deep poverty. Paul didn’t badger them for money. They gave of their own accord and not only that; they begged him for the chance to participate. It was because of the grace of God in v. 1 that they were not only able to give, but able to give beyond their ability. Paul is encouraging the believers at Corinth to excel in this area like they excel in the areas of faith, speech, knowledge, and earnestness.

Paul knows the Macedonians provided a practical example of giving, but v. 9 provides our ultimate example. Paul’s not talking about material wealth because that’s not consistent with the Macedonian example. So Paul must be talking about spiritual riches. Riches that cannot be taken away. Treasure in heaven. Christ became poor by submitting Himself to the cruel and humiliating death He suffered because of us.  2 Cor. 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” The 19th Century commentator Cornelius Lapide wrote, “Christ was made poor that we through His poverty might be rich. He took the form of a servant that we might regain liberty. He descended that we might be exalted. He was tempted that we might overcome. He was despised that He might fill us with glory. He died that we might be saved. He ascended, to draw to Himself those lying prostrate on the ground through sin’s stumbling block.”

Don’t think that if you’re a giver you can ignore the clear teaching of the rest of Scripture. We need to break out of the American church consumer mentality of what I can get from the church or what can the church do for me. As Christians, we need to be reminded that the church is the primary vehicle by which God accomplishes His work. We are not called to be lone rangers, but to partner together in a common goal to reach our community for Christ. You can’t use your service to the Lord as an excuse not to give. “I teach so I don’t have to give.” Etc. I encourage you to prayerfully consider this matter of stewardship in your life and ask God what you can do.

Monetary Foolishness

27 May

GreedYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last time we looked at worry and how it cripples many people in the church. Worry doesn’t indicate a loving concern for people or situations; worry results from a lack of faith or trust in God. This morning we’ll look at the principle of contentment and we’ll look at one thing that can cause unrest in the life of a Christian.

Take a close look at 1 Tim. 6:8-11.

Here’s a reminder. In v. 8 Paul reminds us that we should be content with food and clothing. Content comes from the word that means in a state of satisfaction or accept as adequate. In v. 9 Paul offers the contrast to contentment or satisfaction and that is someone who wants to get rich. I should point out that Paul is talking about someone who plans to get rich rather than what many of us say, “It sure would be nice to have some extra cash.” This is someone who is driven to achieve wealth. That’s his goal; that’s where his energy is directed; it is his motivation. V. 9 provides three adverse side effects to the desire to get rich. First, the desire to get rich leads to temptation. The desire lures people to do things they might not ordinarily do. Perhaps they’ll put money into a risky venture. Perhaps they’ll borrow money for a “sure thing.” Second, these people fall into a snare. They are like an animal that is trapped. The desire is materialistic. Third, once they’re trapped; ruin and destruction will follow. There is no way out, no way to be released, no escape. One writer equates this to material and spiritual disaster. This is a progressive destruction: temptation, snare, destruction. It’s all driven by foolish and harmful desires. It’s not driven by a desire to provide for family.

Here’s the explanation. Paul doesn’t leave us to wonder what he is talking about.  One of the most misquoted verses regarding money in the entire Bible is found in v. 10. Let me point out some obvious and some maybe not so obvious things from this verse. Money is not evil. It is the love of money that is the bottom line to all kinds of evil. Money is amoral.  It is not good or bad in itself. The love of money is not the cause for all evil in the world. The KJV translation is not consistent with the Greek here. It is wrong to say that the love of money leads to all evil. Ambition, lust, idolatry, and a host of other sin can certainly lead to a whole lot of evil. “Some by longing for it [money] have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” Longing for money. Think Judas.  Think Ananias and Sapphira. They were driven by their love for money. That word pierced means make a hole with a sharp object like you would pierce a piece of meat to put on a spit. The idea is that longing for money will bring an all consuming grief to the individual. That’s why people who are consumed with money are never satisfied. There is never enough money. Remember the rich man who came to ask Jesus the question, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” After Jesus answered the question, Mark 10:22 tells us the rich young ruler, “Was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.” We all have a choice. We can seek to obtain stuff or we seek Christ.  It is a choice each of us must make.

Don’t get Paul wrong. He is not against getting ahead in the workplace. Christians are to work hard in order to provide for their families. We should be model employees because of who we are in Christ. Christians must have a Kingdom mindset and be driven to glorify Christ in all that we do no matter where we are, no matter what the circumstances. To be true to the context of this passage, Paul was talking about materialism among the heretics in Ephesus. Materialism is a desire to possess stuff instead of a love for the God who made those things. According to Col. 3:5, being transformed by Christ tells us to,  “Consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.” I agree with Paul and say that materialism and an authentic Christian life are not compatible.

So what’s a guy to do? That’s a valid question Paul answers in v. 11a. Timothy was commanded to flee. The word means run from danger. The danger of what Paul just talked about in vs. 9-10. It’s not just run away, Paul told him to, “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.” Timothy was to pursue or constantly strive for six Christian virtues. Pursue means to follow something in order to catch it. This isn’t some wild pipe dream Paul is talking about. Each of the qualities represents something Timothy must maintain to maximize the effectiveness of his ministry. Righteousness means doing what God requires, doing what is right. It reflects interaction with people. Godliness is the quality of being scrupulously observant of all the teachings of Christianity; practicing virtue and avoiding sin. This reflects our relationship with God. Faith and love reflect trust in God and goodwill toward others. Perseverance means to keep going, not giving up. Timothy will need gentleness to deal with the heretics, the false teachers, those that would deny the faith; those that don’t hold to sound doctrine.

Being a good steward is not about pursuing money and telling God how much you’ll give to the church. People whose life’s desire is to get rich, who are consumed with the pursuit of riches are destined for ruin and destruction. We are given instructions as to how Christians are supposed to act. The choice is whether or not to apply what we have learned from the Scriptures.

Religion versus Relationship

28 Apr

Religion

You can listen to the podcast here.

Last time we were in stewardship, we looked at the results of true repentance. We saw that repentance really should affect our values and our stewardship. This morning we’re going to look at a story that is told in each of the synoptic gospels. It is a story of a young man that has become known as the rich young ruler.

Mark 10:17-23 says,

 “As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.”Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!”

Here’s the setting. Mark begins in v. 17 by reminding us that Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. Some Pharisees just questioned Jesus about divorce in vs. 2-9. The disciples had follow up questions about divorce in vs. 10-12. And in vs. 13-16 we see Jesus scolding the disciples because they tried to keep the little children from coming to Him. All this to set up a somewhat strange encounter.

We see three unusual things in v. 17. “A man ran up to Him.”  Matt. 19:20 calls him young. Matt. 19:22 says he owned a lot of property so he was likely rich. Luke 18:18 calls him a ruler. That’s where we get the rich young ruler. In that culture, men did not run so it is very unusual that a man of his stature would run to Jesus. The rich young ruler, “Knelt before Him.” Again, something unusual for a ruler to kneel before someone else. Here we have a ruler of people, someone considered important; someone who owns a lot of stuff, kneeling before Jesus. The rich young ruler addresses Jesus as “Good Teacher.” In the Jewish way of thinking, only God is good and it would be quite unusual to attribute this quality to someone other than God.

1 Chr. 16:34, “O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.”
2 Chr. 5:13, “He indeed is good for His lovingkindness is everlasting.”
Ezra 3:11, “They sang, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, saying, “For He is good, for His lovingkindness is upon Israel forever.”
Ps. 118:1, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;  For His lovingkindness is everlasting.”

Bible experts are divided on whether the rich young ruler was flattering Jesus or paying Him respect. So now the stage is set for the rich young ruler to ask Jesus a question. Here’s the question. The young man continues in his unusual fashion and asks in v. 17, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The question is unusual because the Jews would have said, “You follow the Law.” This has been the question that has been asked throughout the ages with a variety of answers. When you consider the context of the passage, it’s a fairly reasonable question for the young ruler to ask. Given what we know about this young man, it is likely he inherited his wealth rather than working for it. Perhaps this young man had heard Jesus’ teaching about the coming Kingdom. At the very least, he recognized who Jesus was. Before Jesus answers the question, He asks a question of His own: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” Don’t think Jesus is denying who He is. He said in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.” Jesus is simply establishing that God is the ultimate example of goodness.

Jesus points out some facts in v. 19. Jesus clearly has the upper hand being omniscient. Jesus says the ruler knows the commandments, but what exactly does that mean? The word know here means to understand or grasp. All Jesus is saying is that, yes indeed the rich young ruler knows the commandments. Remember for the Jews, they equated keeping the Law with salvation. It got really bad in Galatia and Paul told them in Gal. 3:21, “Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.” The commandments Jesus mentioned are 6, 7, 8, 9 and 5. The 10th Commandment is do not covet.  The “do not defraud” is not part of the Ten Commandments. Fraud is a practical example of covetousness and a special temptation of the rich. You notice that the commandments Jesus mentioned deal with relationships of people to each other. Obedience to these provides evidence of obedience to the other commandments –  the ones dealing with the relationships of human beings to God.

Here’s the answer. The rich young ruler offers an astounding answer in v. 20. The parallel account in Matt. 19:20 is more revealing where the young man says, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” He recognized that eternal life wasn’t a matter of keeping the letter of the Law. Jesus didn’t dispute the answer and, “felt a love for him” in v. 21. Here again Christ’s unconditional love is revealed. No matter where you are, or what you are doing, Jesus loves you. Even if you think yourself righteous apart from Christ, He loves you. Matt.19:21, “Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” The one thing the man lacked was poverty. Jesus offers a way out. Sell your stuff. Give it to the poor. Doing that would remove what was keeping the rich man from entering into a relationship with the One that could grant eternal life. Jesus was telling him to get rid of the distractions and be a follower. For this rich young man, riches were his god and that violates the 1st Commandment that says, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Ex. 20:3) The rich man silently responds in v. 22. We find Jesus’ conclusion to the story in v. 23.

A man is not saved by giving away his possessions. He becomes a Christian when he is willing to renounce anything that stands between himself and Christ. Riches make being a disciple difficult but the rewards of discipleship are worth more than material possessions. In the New American Commentary, James brooks writes, “The call is not to poverty but to discipleship, which takes many forms. Discipleship, however, is costly. It involves sacrifice. It involves obedience. It involves following the example of Jesus.”

A Tale of Two Men

21 Apr

TransformationYou can listen to the podcast here.

This time of year brings about lots of changes. The trees get new leaves, the flowers bloom, and the grass comes back to life. Our students took a break from school and eagerly await summer vacation. Is this what Easter has become in our culture? Is it just another day, another time of year that bridges the gap to something better? If Easter represents the risen Christ, what significance does that hold for us today?

We are in an age where simple profession of faith has replaced transformation. Churches seek the right mix of charismatic leaders to draw the crowds. Find the right mix of musicians, creative teams, and speakers and it doesn’t even have to be a Christian church. Elaborate, high energy worship services filled with emotion seem to draw the bigger crowds and people look around and conclude, “God must be doing something here.” In order to more effectively understand Easter, we need to go back in time. Does the resurrected Christ represent the same thing today as it did back in the first century? For many people in our culture, Easter is part of the semi-annual pilgrimage to church. For others, it represents the culmination of the truth that was foretold from the beginning of time. The church was growing dramatically in the first century and continues to grow at a rapid rate in countries where it is most dangerous to be a follower. I want to look at a first century man that was considered extraordinarily religious, yet was not a Christian.

This is a tale of two people. Stephen was an example of Christ like behavior and our story picks up as his life is ending. I hope you’ll take the time to look up the Scripture references. Look at Acts 7:51-57. Stephen was brought before the religious leaders of the day. They were the Sanhedrin, the elders, and the scribes and he was brought before them because of his testimony of Christ. He told them the truth about the history of Israel telling the leaders about Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and David. They had received the law yet did not keep it. This was total hypocrisy and when Stephen pointed this fact out, they became outraged. So outraged that they took him outside the city and began stoning him where we focus on a man whose story is just beginning.

Look at Acts 7:58-60. Who is this cruel, wicked, evil, heartless man that was so opposed to Stephen that he just stood there? His name was Saul. Stephen and Saul were polar opposites. Stephen is full of the Holy Spirit and Saul is without the Spirit. But Saul is more than an innocent bystander. Keep reading Acts 8:1-3. There was no coercion for Saul, he heartily agreed with what was happening. Heartily means loudly vigorous and cheerful. Think cheering like at a sporting event. The persecution of the church in Jerusalem began that day at the hands of Saul forcing Christians to scatter and Saul begins, “ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.” Ravaging means to cause extensive damage, to devastate. Saul wasn’t content to do this in public settings; no he went in people’s homes and dragged them out and it didn’t matter if they were men or women, he was an equal opportunity hater. To say that he was evil incarnate might be an understatement. But something happened in his life that would change the course of his life and change the course for humanity. Read some more from Acts 9:1-22.

Saul is an example of a total life make over. I want to compare his life prior to Christ with his life following his decision to follow Christ. The key for Saul was written in v. 18, “And he got up and was baptized.” We have to understand the biblical meaning of this word. It wasn’t just that he got put under the water. Biblical baptism comes after a change of mind and heart. It is the outward demonstration of what happened in Saul’s heart. It was a miracle. When you look at Saul’s life, there was a complete and total transformation that could only be attributed to the power of the Spirit of God. Look what happened immediately following Saul’s baptism. Read Acts 9:19b-22. Saul went from destroying Christians to preaching the risen Christ. What he was saying so upset the religious crowd – the Jews – that they developed a plot to kill him. The tables are now turned on Saul. The hunter now becomes the hunted.

In order to protect him, look what happens in Acts 9:26-30. We don’t hear anything about Saul until Acts 11 when Barnabas was sent to get him in Tarsus. Are you thinking, that’s just two chapters over? Even though it’s just two chapters, those two chapters represent about 14 years. Another year passes before the Bible calls this man Paul in Acts13:9. We don’t know all that went on in those silent years of Paul’s life, but I’m sure he knew firsthand the meaning behind 1 Cor. 2:14 as he wrote, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” We often think that Saul got saved, God changed his name to Paul and he packed his bags and began his first missionary journey. That just isn’t so. There was a period of years where he must have studied the Scriptures with fresh insight and renewed vigor. We know he taught some and shared the Gospel during that time. He was preparing for ministry during the time he was engaged in ministry. We do get insight that God had big plans for Paul from Acts 9:15, but for about 15 years, Paul did what he could where he could. Paul had a lot of baggage and I’m sure people had their doubts about his authenticity. This is evident in his later writings. Paul mentions his turnaround I his letters to the Corinthians, the Galatians, the Philippians, and to Timothy.

There was such a radical transformation in Paul’s life that after his first recorded sermon (which was off the cuff) in Acts 13, the people begged him to speak again the following Sabbath. Look at Acts 13:42-44. That kind of turnaround can only be attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit. Paul went from being a persecutor of the church to one that was persecuted because of his faith. Why should we expect less of modern day people that are indwelt by the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead that we celebrate today? One last passage from Phil. 3:3-6. You see, Saul was very religious, but had no relationship with Christ. His attempts to get to God were fruitless because Jesus said, I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (Jo. 14:6) That’s the key to get to God. Saul resisted Jesus for the same reason we resist Jesus. We think we can make it on our own. We think we make the rules, we think we’re doing good and right in our own eyes. Easter is about the resurrection. 1 Cor. 15:17 says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” Easter is about acknowledging what Christ did on our behalf and trusting that His words are true.

The teaching of Jesus was countercultural and it still is. We talk about self sufficiency and Christ speaks of total dependence. Living authentically for Christ is the best way to show others He is alive. Saul was a religious zealot, Paul considered himself the chiefest of sinners. That can only be accomplished through the work of a holy and perfect God. We don’t see a period where he did nothing for Jesus, we don’t see a period where he was too busy to serve, too busy to study, pray, or be with fellow believers. We don’t see where he ever quit or gave up when things got hard or didn’t go as expected. For all the incredible things Paul did through the power of God, his main purpose in life, his main goal is found in Phil. 3:7-11. It should be our goal too.

Real Stewardship

7 Apr

PlantYou can listen to the podcast here.

In the past couple of weeks we’ve looked at the basics of giving. We looked at some examples of giving in Scripture and established some principles of biblical giving and the tithe. Hopefully, things are a bit clearer for you. Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it.” For the next couple of weeks, we’re going to look at some specific teachings of Jesus that deal with stewardship. In our first example, there’s a dual implication of the teaching.

I hope you’ll look at Luke 19:11-27 with us.

Here’s the background. Luke begins by saying, “While they were listening to these things.” The “things” represent the story of Zaccheus. He was a chief tax collector and he was rich. As Jesus entered Jericho, Zaccheus wanted to see Him, but he was very small. In order to get a better look, he climbed a sycamore tree. Jesus sees him and tells him that He’s going over to stay at his house. Zaccheus recognized that Jesus was, “The way, the truth, and the life.” (Jo. 14:6) Zaccheus gives away half his possessions to the poor as a demonstration of repentance. So often today, we talk about repentance, but don’t really see it demonstrated. We’ll look at Zaccheus again in a couple of weeks.

No other New Testament book is as concerned about possessions as the writings of Luke. Luke writes about selling possessions in 12:33, about giving up everything to be a disciple in 14:33. He writes about the rich young ruler and treasure in heaven in 18:22 and emphasizes generosity and giving. He warned us of the danger of possessions and even said that riches were a primary reason for choking God’s Word in 8:14. The list goes on and on. So the crowds continued to follow Jesus and they approached Jerusalem. Jesus speaks to them in a parable because the people thought, “The Kingdom of God was going to appear immediately.” Remember a common theme among the early disciples was the timing for this Kingdom stuff. It seems like they thought once they got to Jerusalem, Jesus would overthrow the Roman government and establish His Kingdom. That’s not the case, so Jesus uses this as an opportunity to teach.

Here’s the assignment. Look at vs. 12-14. In addition to the nobleman, there are two other groups of people mentioned. The slaves did business for the nobleman. The citizens hated the nobleman and didn’t want him to rule over them. Notice that the citizens said, “We don’t want this man to reign over us,” – present tense. They were adamant about that so they sent a group of people to protest the appointment. In verse 13, the nobleman, “Called ten of his slaves, and gave them ten minas and said to them, ‘Do business with this until I come back.’” Each slave got a mina – equivalent to about 100 days wages. They are to conduct business with the money, but just until the nobleman returns from the distant country. “When he returned, after receiving the kingdom, he ordered that these slaves, to whom he had given the money, be called to him so that he might know what business they had done.” (Lu. 19:15) The nobleman returned and the first thing he wants to know is what happened to the money the slaves were entrusted with. The first slave turned that 1 mina into ten – a 1000% return and was rewarded with authority over ten cities. The second slave turned that mina into five – 500% return and was given authority over five cities.

Then there is the last slave. He had a different plan and got different results. In v. 20 the last slave said, “Master, here is your mina, which I kept put away in a handkerchief.” You’ve got to wonder what this slave was thinking. I don’t know if the slaves talked with each other about what business they were doing with the mina. I don’t know if they checked on each other’s progress. When the nobleman comes back, maybe this is the first opportunity the slaves have to be together. He’s just watched the first two guys and what they did and how they’re rewarded. So the slave goes on to say, “I was afraid of you.” Why is the slave afraid? “Because you are an exacting man,” Exacting means harsh or severe. The slave justified this by saying, “You take up what you did not lay down and reap what you did not sow.” In reality, what that slave just saw was contrary to what he thought of the nobleman. He just witnessed the nobleman rewarding the other slaves, and the nobleman was quite generous. This sounds an awful lot like justification for his disobedience.

In v. 13, the nobleman assigned the slaves the task of doing business and in v. 15, he holds them accountable for what was given them. We’ve seen that the first slave got ten cities and the second slave got five cities. The third slave was rebuked in v. 22-23. If the slave really believed the nobleman was so exacting, he could have at least put the mina in the bank and gained some interest. Look at the reward of the third slave in v. 24. What the slave had was taken away and given to the first slave. In v. 25, the people protested for the sake of fairness. That guy already has ten minas. Verse 26 contains a shift and provides a harsh reality. The slave was disobedient and tried to justify it by saying the nobleman was exacting. It’s the reality of obedience versus disobedience. It is stewardship of what we have been given. We’re not asked to be stewards of what we don’t have. It’s the same thing Luke said in 8:18, “So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him.” The people who have will have more because they’ll continue doing the things that got them there while the people who have not, will continue doing those things that got them there and even what they have will be taken away.

I don’t want you to miss the other aspect of this parable. This is clearly a parable of stewardship, but stewardship is required because the nobleman has left to receive a kingdom and then he will return. When Jesus returns, He will reward the faithful servants (vs. 15-19), deal with the unfaithful servants (vs. 20-26), and judge His enemies (v. 27). The unfaithful servant had no excuse; his unjust fear kept him from doing what was right when it should have driven him to serve. At the Judgment Seat of Christ, the Lord will give us exactly what we deserve. Until that time we must, as v. 13 says, do business until He comes back.