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!

 

Pure Religion!

-An Orphan’s Story!

I married the granddaughter of an orphan! When my wife’s grandfather was a young boy, his father died; and, his mother remarried.  Unfortunately, her new husband out NOT to be the kind of man she thought he was.  He held no regard for her children; and, when she died, he considered them disposable; and, had them removed from his home. My wife’s grandfather was a 14-year old boy when the authorities placed him in an orphanage where he was physically abused; until it was discovered and he was removed and placed in a foster-care home where he was loved & cared for. Eventually, he came to faith in Jesus Christ, married my wife’s grandmother & they established a Christian home together. A home that produced a legacy of faith with children, grandchildren & great-grandchildren who’ve grown up loving Jesus. What a great story, right! An “orphan’s story” with a happy ending!

-An Orphan Crisis!

Unfortunately, that’s the exception. There is an orphan crisis in our world! I was shocked to discover that there are more than 153 million orphans worldwide! That’s staggering! If orphans were a country, of their own, their population would rank 9th in the world, ahead of Russia! 100 million of them live or work on the streets. They survive by selling flowers or cigarettes, by watching cars; and, many sell their bodies, for sex, or engage in criminal activity. Many, of these street children, are subjected to abuse, neglect, exploitation; or, in extreme cases, are murdered by “death squads” paid by their governments to “clean up” the image of their cities.

-It’s Easy To Become Hard-Hearted!

So, why am I sharing all this with you? Why should you care? It’s so easy to become hardened to all the images, isn’t it? We’re bombarded with the infomercials! The sad faces. The sad music. The compelling stories. All meant to move us to reach into our wallets ad pay up! And, we can try and rationalize that so many of the agencies out there, who claim to be helping the orphan population, are just siphoning off huge amounts, from the giving, to support elaborate lifestyles for their big-name CEO’s. So, let me tell you why this is important to you! Because we can’t just ignore what God’s Word says about it! God has an opinion & we need to listen!

-Look After Orphans!

It’s a statement inspired by God’s Holy Spirit— “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 1:27.  What was that? “PURE RELIGION” is looking after orphans & widows? Is James supporting a salvation of good deeds? No, he’s not! The book James authored dovetails quite nicely with Paul’s book to the Romans. James is NOT saying that your good deeds, like caring for orphans & widows, will result in salvation! Rather, that the result of genuine, saving faith, in Jesus—or, “pure religion” he calls it—is to love others! Like orphans, widows & the marginalized of society! God gives us a heart to love & serve them!

 

A Distinctly Christ-Centered Home!

-It’s Counter-Intuitive To The Majority Culture!

(PART II) In so many ways, keeping step with Jesus and Scripture is counter-intuitive to the majority culture! The culture will often tell a woman to divorce her husband if they don’t share the same values! But, the Apostle Peter’s Holy Spirit inspired words tell us that a husband, who is disobedient to the Lord, “…may be won over without a message by the way their wives live…” 1 Peter 3:1.  She doesn’t need to NAG! It’s possible that the Spirit can use her life, in such a dramatic way, that her husband may be “won over WITHOUT A MESSAGE.” She doesn’t need to PREACH at him!

-Internal Adornment & Beauty!

And, Peter builds on that point in the verses that follow:  “…when they observe your pure, reverent lives. Your beauty should not consist of outward things like elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold ornaments or fine clothes. Instead, it should consist of what is inside the heart with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very valuable in God’s eyes” 1 Peter 3:2-4.  If you’re a wife, who’s a follower of Jesus, your life should be marked by an internal adornment and beauty! And, let’s be clear, Peter is not teaching that women should refrain from makeup and jewelry! What he’s saying is that your life should consist of more than the “paint” and “bling” on the outside! How shallow! Live pure & reverent lives, he says!

-Have A Beautiful Heart!

Focus on making your heart beautiful by yielding to God’s Word & his Spirit! Just because you CAN say something, doesn’t mean you should! Don’t give your husband a piece of your mind that you can’t afford to lose! My girls are familiar with a verse of Scripture that I often quoted to them:  “A beautiful woman without discretion is like a gold ring in a pig’s snout” Proverbs 11:22.  Your hope ought to be placed in God’s Sovereignty—  “…in the past, holy women like Sarah PUT THEIR HOPE IN GOD as they submitted…” 1 Peter 3:5-6.  Go back and read the Genesis account of Abraham and Sarah’s life. It’s interesting that she was never present when God gave Abraham His instruction; but, she submitted to Abraham by putting her hope in God’s Sovereign control of the situation.  She let God work out the kinks in her husband’s head! She didn’t nag!

-Husband: Know Your Wife!

Let me finish by drawing your attention to Peter’s words, to the Christian husband: “Husbands, in the same way, live with your wives with an understanding of their weaker nature yet showing them honor as coheirs of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered” 1 Peter 3:7. Your life, as a husband who follows Jesus, will be marked by an understanding of your wife! Now, I know that some of you men, reading this, are laughing inside— “You really think we can ever understand a woman?” No, I don’t! And, this is a subject I have a really hard time preaching on because I personally stink at it so badly! But, what it seems Peter is saying, in part, is that “…AS you LIVE with your wife, gain an understanding of her…” Study your wife! What causes her tension & frustration? Serve her in those areas! Be a help to her!

 

A Distinctly Christ-Centered Home!

-It Starts With Communication!

(PART 1) I’m quite sure that everyone would agree that communication plays a huge part in family relationships! I heard of a man & wife, who had only a dog that they loved like a child. One day the wife headed out on a business trip; and, when she got to her destination she called home to check in with her husband. “How are things going?” she asked. His reply was shocking: “The dog’s dead.” “What,” she asked, “why would you just come right out and say it like that? That’s devastating! Couldn’t you have told me that news a little differently? I’m miles from home & you just blurt it out there, ‘the dog’s dead.’” “Well, I don’t know how else to say it,” he responded, “I mean he’s dead!” “Well,” she said, “you could have broke the news to me in stages.” “Like, what do you mean?” he asked. “Well, when I first called, you could have told me the dog fell off the roof; and, then when I check in later you might have said you had to take the dog to the animal hospital & he wasn’t doing well. The next day you might have told me to sit down & brace yourself; but, our darling dog has passed away! You could have done it like that so I could have handled it better.” “Ok, I get it,” he said, “I’m sorry! I’ll try & do better next time.” “Ok, thanks, honey” she said, “I just needed to clear that up! So, how is my mother?” There was a pause, “She’s on the roof!” While that story may or may not have an awful lot to do with a distinctly Christ-centered home, I thought it worth the chuckle it would generate.

-A Uniquely Distinct Home!

So, let me begin with this series of posts with the following statement—the life of a Christian husband & wife will be uniquely distinct from the marriages of the world! If you intend to follow Jesus, you need to settle that in your heart! The world will think us crazy; but, that’s the world’s wisdom & always remember: “The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom” 1 Cor. 1:25. As long as we live by “the Book”, our world view will never be accepted by the unbelieving crowd. We need to be okay with that! Don’t be abrasive about it! Always be kind & respectful when sharing your position! Just know that your view will be rejected!

-Your Life As A Christian Wife!

According to the Holy Spirit, of God, who inspired Peter to write these words, your life as a Christian wife will be marked by a submission to your own husband. “In the same way, wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, even if some disobey the Christian message, they may be won over without a message by the way their wives live” 1 Peter 3:1.  Ladies, you’ll make no friends with the “Women’s Movement” if submission marks your relationship with your husband; but, you will be a friend of God! That word “submit”—in the original Greek language—means to submit “voluntarily” to your husbands lead. And, notice how significant that could play in an unbelieving husband’s life. If your husband is disobedient to God, God may use YOUR obedience to win your husband over to the Lord! (PART II Next Week)

 

What Sexual Health Looks Like!

-It’s Not What You Think!

Unfortunately, marriage & parenting are the butt of a lot of jokes in our society. We sing a lot of sad songs about lost love; and, it seems that’s one way we manage the pain.  Like the story of a woman whose husband lay in bed dying, going in and out of a coma. One day he briefly awoke & reached out to his wife to draw her close.  As she sat next to him, he began to whisper some of his remembrances to her:  “Honey, you’ve been right there beside me through all the rough times.  You were there when I got fired. You were there when my business failed.  You were there when we lost the house.  And, you’ve been right here—the whole time—by my side even as my health failed & I lay dying.” He paused briefly & asked, “You know what?” “What, dearest?” She asked as she wiped a tear from her eye.  “I think you’re bad luck” he said; and, then slipped back into a coma!

-Flawless Marriage Counseling!

I’m pretty confident that everyone enters into marriage longing for a partnership that remains strong & healthy! I hope that it doesn’t surprise you when I say that God’s Word provides us with the ONLY flawless counsel for building those healthy marriages; and, for training up godly children! If you’re a relatively new follower of Jesus, you may be surprised to find out how much the Bible has to say about marriage & sex & family! But, think about it! It was God who created marriage! And, it was God who created sex! He created the family, too! So, it really only makes sense that we would go to the SOURCE for wisdom & counsel in these areas!

-A Foundational Bible Text!

A foundational text on the subject of marriage, sex, and the family is 1 Corinthians 7:1-9. It’s incredibly practical; and, if you’ll commit to obeying the words of Scripture—rather, than listening to the foolish, so-called “wisdom” of the world—you’ll have that strong & happy marriage that everyone longs for.  It’s an intriguing passage! What the Apostle Paul says to the Church of Corinth—and, these are words inspired by God’s Holy Spirit—are completely out-of-step with the world’s wisdom and the societal norms for family & for human sexuality! So, choose who you’re going to listen to!

-Where Healthy Sex Happens!

If you just google “A Healthy Sex Life” you’ll get results like “10 Signs You Have A Healthy Sex Life”—but, not one sign is attached to marriage between a man & a woman! Your google search results will also include articles on sexual dysfunction & how to maintain an active sex life; but, again, with no reference to marriage! But, according to God, “Healthy Sex” ONLY happens in a marriage relationship between a man and a woman! Over & over, the Word of God warns us against the ramifications of sexual conduct outside of a marriage between a man and a woman! All other sexual activities are spiritually unhealthy because it is disobedience to God’s word! But, it can also prove to be physically & emotionally unhealthy! It has a trickle down effect, negatively impacting others downline! Next Week: We’ll get into 1 Cor. 7.

 

God’s Glory Is A Big Deal!

-He Alone Deserves The Glory!

God deserves all glory because He alone has designed everything & His Name is ON everything! It’s His Name that adds value to humanity & to the rest of creation! So, when we speak about God’s Glory we define it as, “the essence & beauty of His Spirit.” We’re not referring to His material or aesthetic beauty—like we typically define human beauty—but, to the beauty of His Character—to all that He IS! John Piper defines God’s Glory as, “the manifest beauty of His Holiness.” Holiness points to His absolute “uniqueness.”

-One-Of-A-Kind God!

He is ONE-OF-A-KIND! He is in a totally separate “class” all by Himself! There is no other God like Him! “O nations of the world, recognize the Lord, recognize that the Lord is glorious and strong. Give to the Lord the glory he deserves! Bring your offering and come into his presence. Worship the Lord in all his holy splendor” 1 Chronicles 16:28-29 NLT. God’s Glory is a really big deal to God; and, it’s a big deal in the Holy Scriptures! The GOAL of ALL things is God’s Glory! And, I’m not overstating that one iota! Let’s not forget that there is GOD & there is “everything He created!” That’s it! There is nothing else! And, in the original creation—before SIN—God declared that all of creation was GOOD! Why? Because ALL of creation reflected God’s beauty;  so, it ALL brought Him… GLORY!

-Redirecting All Praise!

In similar fashion we say that an artist’s painting is a reflection of the artist & the artist’s work brings him a certain “glory”! God has blessed humanity with certain creative abilities; but, they’re all SMALL “c—creative” because ALL mankind’s creative abilities were received from the CAPITAL “C—CREATOR” God. So, every “artist”—who is a true disciple of Jesus—will redirect all praise received to CREATOR God! In part, that is one way that we bring God Glory—by redirecting all praise & compliments received to God who created us with those abilities! We acknowledge that whatever TALENT or ABILITY we have is ON LOAN from God! It ultimately belongs to Him! Our greatest preoccupation must be with God’s Glory because that’s our reason & purpose for existence!

-Mandated To Give God Glory!

Here’s an observation from the 1st Chronicles 16 text—“the writer, King David, was inspired by God’s Spirit to offer this MANDATE regarding God’s Glory.”  This is an imperative or a command to “…declare God’s Glory…” v.28.  When David became king, he determined to make worship a priority again in Israel! And, one of his 1st acts was to return the Ark of the Covenant, which had been neglected under King Saul, back to Jerusalem! And, in the process, David preaches this great message that is included as the inspired Word of God. That means it’s AUTHORITATIVE—NOT because David said it; but, because God INSPIRED him to say it! So, “…DECLARE God’s glory,” he says! Don’t just study it and keep it to yourself! We’re commanded to declare it; and, that’s a general statement that means to declare it EVERYWHERE to everyone!

 

This Is Your Spiritual Worship!

-How Do You Define Worship?

Ask how the Bible defines worship, and, you may be surprised how wide & inclusive is the answer that’s given! Many of us perceive worship to be limited to this narrow part of a church service we call singing! For others, you grew up in a tradition where “worship” consisted of elaborate prayers spoken in the King James language—with all the “THEE’s” and “THOU’s”—very ritualistic & done in a “sanctuary” with stained-glass windows, lighted candles, incense & old classical sacred music with a pastor wearing a long, flowing robe! Each of those things can possibly contribute to authentic worship, provided the focus is on God & not some kind of warm, fuzzy, religious feeling you get from all those “accessories.”

-Is Worship An Activity?

Genuine worship is not an ACTIVITY, it’s an ATTITUDE of the heart—originating in your inner being; or, the REAL YOU; and, it changes your life! I guess that pretty wide and inclusive, isn’t it? Real, genuine worship impacts your entire life because you’re occupied with God, your Creator! Worship is being occupied with God’s character, with who He is—His love, His grace, His mercy, His kindness, His benevolence, His justice, His righteousness! It’s too praise Him for being a Good Father & a Faithful Friend & an indwelling Spirit who transforms us into His likeness as we’re engaged in genuine worship & reflect on His Beauty!

-Worship Re-Forms Us!

In other words, worship will gradually re-form us into His likeness—we become more loving, gracious, merciful, kind, benevolent, just & righteous! We become better fathers and mothers! We become more faithful friends all because we’re focused & occupied with God in worship! Romans 12:1-2 is one passage of Scripture that has recently arrested my attention because of what it has to say about worship! After breaking down the Gospel, of Christ, in the first 11 chapters, the Apostle Paul concludes:  “Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship…” I had never considered this a definition of worship! But, in fact, it is!

-Paul’s Worship Definition!

Paul is defining “worship” for us! Look at it again: ! He begins with a command: “…present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God…” And, than he says, “…THIS IS YOUR SPIRITUAL WORSHIP.” If you’ve even been curious about a good Biblical definition of “worship”; well, here it is! Why is that significant? Because we need to know HOW to worship God rightly; or, He will reject and dismiss our worship! I’m referring to the authority of God’s Word over every area of our lives!  The Scriptures are not only inspired, they’re authoritative! In other words, we don’t have the right to define “worship”—or, anything else for that matter—differently than God does in His Word. Paul is saying that genuine, spiritual worship impacts us & profoundly changes the way that we use our bodies—we sacrifice our bodies to please Him!