When Church Culture Meets Needs!

-Haunted By A Scripture!

I grew up in a church culture that did relatively nothing to meet “physical” needs! It was argued that if you gave people money that they’d just spend it on booze & cigarettes & drugs. So, don’t give them anything, we were told! We had no food pantry to provide for the hungry in our city! We had no benevolent funds to assist with other needs! And, yet we thought we were being faithful to God’s Word.  But, there’s a scripture, in James, that always haunted me as I read it:  “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows” James 1:27.  What do you do with that?

-Playing The Legalist!

How can we just dismiss that? Or, play the “legalist” and limit the spirit of the text to caring for orphans or widows exclusively. At the same time, we cannot just be preoccupied with physical needs and omit the sharing of the Gospel! That’s the problem with many socially-minded churches! If we limit our care, for them, to physical needs & never share the Gospel, with them, all we’ve accomplished is to keep them alive longer, only to prolong their ultimate meeting with God @ the judgment, whereupon their unbelief will be exposed! It’s not “good deeds” or the “Gospel.” It’s not an EITHER-OR! It’s a BOTH-AND decision we must make!

-What Is Pure Religion?

To James, pure religion is not the RESULT of good deeds; but, RESULTS in good deed! We don’t take care of the orphan, the widow & the poor in order to ATTAIN pure religion! Rather, when our religion is the pure Gospel, of Jesus Christ, we become Jesus “in the flesh” when we meet the needs of the orphan, the widow & the poor! “Not by works of righteousness that we have done; but, by His mercy He saves us” Titus 3:5.  Salvation is “…not of works, so no one can boast…” Ephesians 2:9.  But, when we humble ourselves & trust Christ’s atonement work, on the cross, He changes us inside & the Holy Spirit gives us the heart of Jesus! As we are sanctified & grow, in our faith, we’ll want to meet the physical & spiritual needs of the down-trodden, of our world, just like Jesus did! This ought to be a core ministry value for the church!

-A Change That Includes Service!

Look again at that verse in James; but, this time let’s back it up one verse & see how it flows, in context, from one verse to the next:  “If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, then his religion is useless and he deceives himself. Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world” James 1:26,27. Notice how James lumps together 3 very practical evidence of pure religion; or, 3 areas of obedience that evidence genuine saving faith— 1) Self-control in your speech; 2) A Ministry of Compassion to the needy; and, 3) Practical holiness. See that? Inspired by the Holy Spirit, James places ministry to the needy & cleaning up a potty mouth on an equal plane as living a holy life! More on that next week!

 

Give Up Your Life!

-Great In God’s Kingdom!

In my last post we talked about the kind of life that Jesus called great! We picked up on His conversation, with the disciples, after two of them— James & John— asked if they could sit in the seat of power, next to Jesus, in His Kingdom.  “Jesus called them over and said to them, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them.  But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many” Mark 10:42-45.  In so many words, Jesus was teaching them that if you’re great in God’s Kingdom, that this world probably won’t even notice you!

-Slave Or Servant?

Jesus calls you great when you reject the world’s leadership style (v.42). He also calls you great when your ministry is measured by the people you serve (v.43).  But, there are 2 more points I’d like to draw out, from this text, related to what Jesus calls great.  He also calls you great when you humble yourself & become the world’s slave (v.44).  We touched briefly, on this point, in our last post.  The word is “doulos” in the original Greek language; and, it can only be translated accurately as “slave” in the English. So, while the Holman version actually translates it “slave”, many translations choose to use the word “servant.” And, while they can be credited with sensitivity for choosing to translate the word as “servant” because the history of slavery, in America, is so repulsive & offensive, we probably ought not change the word Jesus used.

-The Humility Of A Slave!

He meant for us to take on the humility, of a “slave,” when it comes to our ministry & service. In this way, we actually serve like Jesus did:  “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,” the Apostle Paul wrote, “who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave” Philippians 2:5-11.  In other words, Jesus didn’t use His title— GOD— as a BIG STICK! In His incarnation, He took the form of a SLAVE!

-Suffering For Others!

Finally, from Jesus’ words here, we discern that He calls you great when you give up your life to suffer for others (v.45). Even Jesus suffered for others, willingly, all the way to the cross! He served ‘til it hurt! ‘Til it killed Him! And, you image Jesus when you live your life similarly! That’s probably not going to get you a fancy TITLE; or, the corner office in the big corporation! But, it will get you a “Well done, good & faithful servant” from Jesus! You may have noticed that the focus, in this post, was not on spiritual gifts, the reason being, that, the greater emphasis, in Scripture, is on the heart attitude toward ministry rather than giftedness or knowledge! Jesus emphasis humility over giftedness; and, the power is never said to be in our GIFTS; but, in the Holy Spirit! So, how will you respond to needs around you? I hope like Jesus did!

 

Is God Pruning You?

-Pruning Produces More Fruit!

My parents used to grow grapes; and, there were times when they had to cut away the dead branches that produced no grapes! But, they also cut back “living” branches; so, the vine would use it’s resources to produce more “fruit”—GRAPES! In the timeline, of John 15, Jesus is preparing His disciples for life after His death, resurrection & ascension. He begins with these words: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (vs. 1-2).

-Things To Come!

As you move, through the rest of the chapter, Jesus tells them that 2 things will come after his departure. First, He says there will be defections from inside the faith; or, inside the church body! People, who claimed to be followers of Jesus, will walk away from “the Faith.” They’ll quit! It’s not for them! And, second, Jesus tells them there will be persecution from the outside! Bogus faith inside the church & suffering from the outside! And, He uses the metaphor of a vine, a branch; and, the fruit produced, to illustrate the difference between a true disciple of Jesus and a fraud! Jesus is the Vine! The Father is the Vinedresser! And, there are 2 different kinds of branches here—ONE that bears NO FRUIT! And, the Father REMOVES it! And, the other—that produces FRUIT! And, the Father prunes it so that it produces more fruit!

-Responding To God’s Pruning!

So, here’s the bottom line—It is our RESPONSE to God’s pruning that proves what kind of branch we are! Are you a dead branch that produces no fruit? Or, a living, healthy branch that responds to the painful process, of pruning, by producing more fruit? Let’s talk about some of the points that Jesus makes, about fruitfulness, through His use of the metaphor of the Vine & the branches! First, He clearly indicates that fruitfulness is expected from every genuine disciple of Jesus. In the first 3 verses, of John 15, He says that if you don’t bear fruit, it’s because you’re “not abiding” in the Vine! In other words, you’re NOT “IN CHRIST.” So, what kind of fruit should we expect to see growing in the life of a follower of Jesus? While several passages answer that question; perhaps, none better than Galatians 5.

-The Fruit Of The Spirit!

The Apostle Paul, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, wrote the Church of Galatia to tell them that the indwelling Spirit will produce fruit in their life that looks like this: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (vs. 22-24). That’s some of the low hanging fruit that’s produced by those who belong to Jesus! The Spirit produces it! If you’re a believer, Jesus invested His life in you! And, He expects a “return”— or, FRUIT— from His investment! We’ll come back to this next week!

Don’t Worship God Empty-Handed

-Bring An Offering!

So, my last few posts have focused on King David’s communication to Israel, in 1 Chronicles 16, about the proper way to worship God.  It’s never acceptable to worship God according to our own homespun rules! We must worship Him in the way that He demands to be worshiped! One way, that David commanded the congregation to worship God, was with an offering! “Ascribe to Yahweh the glory of His name; bring an offering and come before Him. Worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness” v.29.  In other words, do NOT come to worship God empty-handed!

-We’re Not Owners!

Remember that we’re stewards of God’s “stuff.” Nothing, we have, actually belongs to us! We’re not really an owner of anything! We’re managers of a portion of God’s estate! God owns it ALL; and, proper worship includes a return, of a portion of His blessings to us, in the form of an offering! He’s the Creator! He’s created all the wealth, in the universe; and, He lends it to us! So, worship God because He’s the Creator! That’s how David continues his admonition to the people of Israel:  “…the world is firmly established; it cannot be shaken. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, “The Lord is King!” Let the sea and everything in it resound; let the fields and all that is in them exult. Then the trees of the forest will shout for joy before the Lord, for He is coming to judge the earth” v.30-33.

-All Creation Worships God!

All of creation—the heavens, the earth, the sea & everything in it; the fields and all that is in it; the trees of the forest—ALL creation worships Him! Finally, David concludes with a charge to worship God NOW because it’s what we’ll do for all eternity:  “Give thanks to the Lord, “ he says, “for He is good; His faithful love endures forever. And say: “Save us, God of our salvation; gather us and rescue us from the nations so that we may give thanks to Your holy name and rejoice in Your praise. May Yahweh, the God of Israel, be praised from everlasting to everlasting” v.34. Clearly, it’s a sign that a believer has not spent a lot of time in prayer & the Word when they express a fear that heaven may be boring!

-We Can Only Imagine!

After a billion years, in heaven, we’ll still not know God entirely! No amount of intimacy, with Him, will close the gap in our knowledge & understanding of an eternal, infinite God! I’m certain that I’ll find Him more fascinating than all the Super Bowls and Star Trek reruns I’ve ever watched! Then all the people said “AMEN” & “Praise the Lord” v.36. And, there was great joy as God dwelt with His people as His Glory descended on the Ark of His Covenant with His people! One day, the book of Revelation says, “God will dwell among us”; literally, “He will pitch a tent among us.” Joy flows from worship! If we’re genuine God worshippers, we won’t be able to hide it! It’ll show on our faces! Grumpy Christians just aren’t worshipping God as they should! So, worship God! It’ll change your life! It’ll change everything!

 

Worship God Rightly!

-Not All Worship Is Truly Worship!

It’s been my experience that many, who claim to be followers of Jesus, do not worship God rightly! I’ve found many who claim to be worshipers; but, their worship fails to resemble what God commands worship to look like in Scripture.  A great example, of Biblical worship, can be found in King David’s Holy Spirit inspired message, to Israel, about proper worship. Just open your Bibles, to 1 Chronicles 16; and, you’ll see what I mean.

-Worship God With Offerings!

Among other things, David commands the congregation to worship God with their “offerings”—“…ascribe to Yahweh the glory of His name; bring an offering and come before Him. Worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness” (v.29). Don’t come to worship God empty-handed! Remember that we are “stewards” and “managers” of God’s stuff, not OWNERS! God owns ALL of our stuff! We’ve been given the responsibility to manage a portion of “God’s ESTATE.” God is the owner of it all! And, worship has always included an offering!

-Worship God For His Creation!

David also led Israel to worship God for His creation—“…the world is firmly established; it cannot be shaken. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, ‘The Lord is King!’ Let the sea and everything in it resound; let the fields and all that is in them exult. Then the trees of the forest will shout for joy before the Lord, for He is coming to judge the earth”(v.30-33).  ALL of creation—the HEAVENS, the EARTH, the SEA & everything in it; the FIELDS and all that is in it; the TREES of the forest—ALL worship Yahweh, David says! At Jesus’ triumphal entry, into Jerusalem, when the Pharisees told Him to rebuke His disciples for giving Him honor as Messiah, Jesus told them that “…if they kept silent, the very ROCKS would cry out…”  We are called to worship God for the wonder of His creation AND for the wonder that all creation worships Him!

-Worship God Now!

And, then, David instructs Israel to worship God NOW because they’ll be worshiping God for all eternity—“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His faithful love endures forever. And say: “Save us, God of our salvation; gather us and rescue us from the nations so that we may give thanks to Your holy name and rejoice in Your praise. May Yahweh, the God of Israel, be praised from everlasting to everlasting” (v.34). We don’t know a lot about heaven; but, worship will be part of it!

-Worship Beyond Imagination!

It’s a clear sign that a believer hasn’t spent a lot of time in prayer & the Word—seeking after God—when they express fear that an eternity in heaven may get boring!  After a BILLION years, we’ll still not know our God completely! But, I’m certain I will find Him more fascinating than all the Super Bowls & Star Trek reruns I’ve ever watched! As David finished his sermon, the text says that all the people said “Amen” and “Praise The Lord” (v.36).  And, there was great joy as God dwelt with His people. The disciples also had great joy as God, the Messiah, dwelt with them during his 3 1/2 year ministry leading up to the cross. And, in heaven, Revelation reveals that “God will dwell among us”; and, forever we’ll worship Him!

 

What Fruit Does Your Life Produce?

-Your Happiness Depends On It!

Your happiness is contingent on the kind of “fruit” that your life produces! That’s what the writer of Psalm 1 tells us. In vs. 1-2 he says, “How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night.” Don’t be surprised that God wants you to be HAPPY! But, He qualifies what it means to be “HAPPY”! It’s not the “happiness”, of this world, that’s generally tangled up in sinful conduct; and, while it may provide momentary pleasure, leaves you empty and facing lingering painful consequences! The happiness that results from delighting “…in the Lord’s instruction…” leaves no “bad aftertaste”; and, culminates in a fruitful life that is eternal in duration!

-Every Life Bears Fruit!

In v.3, the writer says that the person who rejects the advice of the world & delights in God’s Word & meditates on it day and night, “…is like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” Every life bears fruit! Your life bears fruit! My life bears fruit! The Psalmist points to 2 different kinds of people who live their lives in 2 different ways; and, who bear 2 totally different types of fruit. The Apostle Paul uses similar language, in his letter to the Church of Galatia, when he says that the life lived in Christ produces the “fruit of the Spirit” like “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness & self-control”; but, the fruit produced by “the flesh” is “… sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like these.” (Galatians 5) Choose wisely who you listen to!

-Contrasting “World Views”!

The writer, of this Psalm, concludes, in v.5-6, with the FINAL END of the contrasting “world views”—“… the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” In this life, the way of the righteous & the way of the wicked may appear to run parallel. In fact, the way of the wicked often looks pleasant & fun! But, a Day of Judgment is coming, the writer says!

-A Day Of Reckoning!

There is coming a day of reckoning; when, those who took their advice & counsel from God’s Word; and, delighted in it; and, meditated on it, will be gathered into a glorious congregation around the throne of God, in eternal HAPPINESS! While, the wicked will face the Great Judge, of all the earth, who will give them exactly what they always wanted—an eternity without God! The Lord promises to watch over you if the advice you follow & the things you take delight in & the content of your meditation bear the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit! Are these the things you delight in? If not, you need help! You need to pray for Holy Spirit help; and, you need to make yourself accountable to someone; or, a group, who will encourage you! Only in the Truth, of God’s Word, will you find real, genuine, eternal HAPPINESS; and, a relationship with God!

 

Sustaining Spiritual Momentum Part III

-Why The Church Is Declining!

“The number one reason for the decline in church attendance is that members attend with less frequency than they did just a few years ago”—quote from author & church consultant Thom S. Rainer on his website http://www.thomrainer.com. So, it would seem—if that statement is true—that much of the blame for declining attendance, in 9 out of 10 churches in America, must be laid at the feet of the Church itself! Mr. Rainer explained it like this: “If the frequency of attendance changes, then attendance will respond accordingly. For example, if 200 members attend every week the average attendance is, obviously, 200. But if 1/2 of those members miss only 1 out of 4 weeks, the attendance drops to 175. ..attendance declined over 12% because half the members changed their attendance behavior slightly.”

-Finding Reasons To Miss!

Believers are finding reasons to “miss” the Sunday gatherings! And, unfortunately, this isn’t the first time, in the history of the Church, that this has happened! The last couple posts we’ve looked at Hebrews 10:24-25, which reads: “And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our gatherings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Previously, we considered what the author said about “love” and “good works.” And, in context, it seems quite clear that the writer is calling out some “absent” believers; and, challenging them to be concerned about one another by being present whenever the Church gathers!

-Show Concern By Being Present!

That word translated “gatherings” is a specific word—in the original language—that’s used only here & 2 Thessalonians 2:1 which refers to “…the GATHERING together of the elect to Christ at His coming…” Nothing too subtle about that! The writer likens our “gatherings” as a local Church body with the “gathering” of ALL the saints in Christ! None of us want to miss that! So, the message seems quite clear—“don’t just ‘blow off’ your regular Church meetings either.” Let me also suggest that the text doesn’t limit the meaning to Sunday services! A specific day of the week is not even mentioned! Rather, it carries the idea that “whenever” your church gathers, be there!

-The Early Church Met Daily!

In the context of the early Church in Acts, they met DAILY! The writer says that some were staying away from the gatherings; and, he REBUKES them for it! That rebuke falls on the Church today; and, confession & repentance must follow if we hope to sustain any kind of spiritual momentum! How will new believers learn to obey God’s Word, about “gatherings”, if the believers discipling them are disobedient? The writer says to do this all the more, “…as you see THE DAY approaching.” “THE DAY” is a Biblical term that refers to Jesus’ 2nd Coming & the Judgment Seat of Christ.  He’s saying that he wants us all to stand approved before Jesus! This is REAL! He wants his readers to hear Jesus say: “WELL done, GOOD & FAITHFUL servant.” So, Church—let us “make disciples” who “make disciples” who come to the “gatherings”!