Broken Relationships!

-The Way Of The Transgressor!

During the early years, of my kid’s lives, I often quoted one verse of Scripture, to them, more than any other. It was from the Old King James version; and, I quoted it whenever they had gotten themselves into some kind of trouble. It’s Proverbs 13:15; and, it says “…the way of the transgressor is HARD.” Many times I gave them no additional words of correction! I just shook my head & repeated those words, “…the way of the transgressor is HARD.” It means that there are consequences for sin & disobedience! Sin is HARD! Sinful actions reap painful, cruel results!

-Hard Circumstances!

And, my wife and I would speak to our kids from our own experiences. We’ve experienced the hard circumstances of transgressing against the Word of God. Nothing good ever comes from disobedience to God! Never! Only pain and suffering! And, one of the most painful circumstances we endure is the broken “relationships” that lay scattered in the wake of our sinful conduct. Some relationships will never be reconciled because the damage is perceived as being too severe.

-The Toxicity Of Sin!

The Scriptures, from its early chapters in Genesis, with Adam & Eve’s sin, expose the toxicity sin brings to our human relationships. Just flip back to Genesis chapter 3 for a moment. God confronts them after their sin; and, demands an explanation for their disobedience.  “What is this you’ve done,” God asks Eve in v.13. And, Eve shifts blame, “It was the serpent.” She avoids the question. God asked her, “…what have YOU done…” And, she shifts blame to the serpent. But, she wasn’t the 1st person to shift blame! She had just heard her husband, Adam, respond to God’s question, “It was the woman YOU gave me— she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate.”

-The Ultimate Blame Shift!

Did you catch that? Who is Adam ultimately blaming? GOD, right? He shifts blame to God, “…the woman YOU gave me…” So, Adam & Eve’s relationship, with God, is broken! And, their marital bliss also came to a very abrupt end because of their sin. In outlining the curse, because of sin, God told Eve v.16, “…your desire will be for your husband, yet he will RULE over you…” Sin would forever mar their relationship; and, though God, by His indwelling Holy Spirit, will work to sanctify our marriages, it’ll require work & great effort to overcome the harmful effects of our sin.

-What A Nightmare!

And, what a nightmare, that we pass our sinful nature on to our children, who in turn, make many of the same sinful decisions we made; and, also make up a few of their own. We read, in Genesis chapter 4, of the tragic history of humanity’s 1st murder; and, incredibly, it happened within the family, as one brother (Cain) murdered his brother (Abel).  We bear, as the human race, the consequences of our sinful natures. You can try & deny it or ignore it; but, “…be sure about it, your sin will catch up with you” Numbers 32:23. Also, “…don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows he will also reap” Galatians 6:7. Why? Because “…the way of the transgressor is HARD.” Only God can fix the mess we’ve made!

 

A Faith That Doesn’t Serve!

-It’s A Questionable Faith!

Faith that fails to serve is, at best, questionable! Listen to what James writes, in his epistle:  “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself” James 2:14-17.  “Is that even saving faith?” James seems to be asking,  “What good is that kind of faith?

-Can That Faith Save Him?

If I understand the text correctly, in the original Greek it has the definite article relating to “faith”; so, the question James really seems to be asking is, “Can THAT faith save him?” Can a faith that has no passion for serving the needy & the less fortunate even be genuine, saving faith? It’s questionable! The Apostle Paul wrote this to the Church of Galatia: “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love” Galatians 5:6. In other words, if we are “in Christ” HE will produce a faith, in us, that is working through love! God IS love! So, if God— in Christ— is IN us, we’ll love more & more as we are sanctified more & more. We’ll look like Jesus!

-Looking Like Jesus!

He loved the rejects of society, the wounded, the hurting, the forgotten & those who’ve been kicked to the curb! So, if the Spirit of Jesus is “in us”, that has to work its way out through acts of love & service! If you don’t care about those in need around you, perhaps you ought to question if your faith is the real thing! James seems to say that any faith that fails to serve is worthless! What good is it?  Young’s literal translation asks, “What is the profit” of a faith that doesn’t serve? It’s worthless! Jesus lived the most profitable, worthy life ever lived because He lived it for God the Father & for others! For US! He gave Himself up for all the sins of all people of all time! So, how can we say we love Jesus if we live our lives just for ourselves? That’s the message James is trying to get across to the churches he’s writing to:  “A loveless faith is worthless!” It has no value to God; or, to anyone else! He finishes by saying that any faith that fails to serve is DEAD! (v.17)

-As Good As Dead!

He says, “…faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself” (v.17).  He’s NOT preaching that we are saved by good deeds; or, that we serve others to earn our salvation! No! It’s in the serving & the ministry that our “faith” PROVES to be ALIVE! Otherwise, “…it’s dead by itself.” It’s just empty words! The 16th-century reformer, John Calvin, once said:  “It is faith alone that justifies, but faith that justifies can never be alone!” There have to be acts of service & works of love to prove it’s genuine faith. So let me close by making this appeal to you—seek service & ministry opportunities both within your faith community & your city! Not on the basis of obligation; but, because your faith is genuine; and, like Jesus, you’re a “friend of sinners.”

 

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!

 

Supernatural Prayer!

-Lot’s Of Goofy Ideas About Prayer!

The world— and, even the church— has some pretty goofy ideas about prayer! For some, prayer is like magic! If your faith is strong enough, YOU can pray the sick back to health! YOU can pray the dead back to life! I’ve heard prayers— by some who claimed to be believers— that sounded more like witchcraft or New Age spirituality, where, prayer is like “The Force”; and, the battle against the dark side! And, if God is going to win, YOU have to support Him with your payers! In other words, the fate of the world; and, even of GOD, is in YOUR hands; or, in your prayers!

-Blasphemous Prayer!

Then, there is the blasphemous “Word of Faith” teaching on prayer; or, the “Prosperity Gospel” that makes God out to be little more than your personal “Jeannie In A Bottle.” You want health, wealth & prosperity? Just name it and claim it! God is helpless against the power of YOUR words if you claim it in Jesus’ name! He has to give it to you! That’s a perversion of what Jesus taught His disciples to pray! It’s a perversion of what prayer looks like in the New Testament.

-Why Is Real Prayer Supernatural?

Prayer, in the New Testament, was SUPERNATURAL! I mean, by that, that prayer was an absolute reliance & dependence on God. These perversions of prayer are humanistic in nature. The power is INSIDE us! Biblical prayer, instead, depends on the power of God that is OUTSIDE us! We’re admitting to our WEAKNESS; and, to our inability to affect change! We’re trusting in a SUPERNATURAL God to do what we cannot do! Biblical prayer is expressed helplessness & a dependence on God’s power! Let me put it another way:  whatever we don’t pray about, we’re basically telling God, “I got this,” right? Don’t need you for this one, God! Let me get personal! How many of you get up early enough Sunday mornings to pray that God would move powerfully in your Worship service? How many of you prayed specifically for a certain person that needs to be saved? Whatever ministry you might be part of in your church, do you pray regularly over it? For people that are part of it? I doubt that most of you really believe you can do God’s work without His SUPERNATURAL help! But, if you’re not praying over it regularly it kind of casts doubt!

-What Are Your Expectations?

We need the Holy Spirit’s conviction that if we’re not spending significant time appealing to God, in passionate prayer, that we shouldn’t expect him to do any supernatural work in our midst, in our lives,  or, in our church! By our failure to pray, we’re telling God, “I got this! Don’t need your help!” Listen, the Holy Spirit doesn’t need our self-centered know how! He doesn’t need us at all! But, it seems to be God’s M.O. to engage His people in deep, passionate, humble, helpless & desperate prayer BEFORE He does His great,  SUPERNATURAL work! He includes us; and, He uses our prayer to grow, in us, a deeper dependence on HIS power, rather, than our own! Will you repent of your false views of prayer; or, your prayerlessness? God help us!

 

God’s Glory Over Our Sanctification!

-It Begins At Our Salvation!

Eternal salvation begins for us the moment we are “justified”! Though we are born “…dead in trespasses & sins…” we are made alive through Jesus’ substitutionary atonement, on the cross, on our behalf! And, because the sinless One paid the price for sin—that sinners should have paid—God is LEGALLY “just” to pass over our sin and grant us salvation. That’s why we say we are “justified.” Here’s a great way to remember what it means to be “justified”— “Just as If I’d never sinned!” Next, after God justifies us, He moves into our “house” & He begins to “clean house”; or, to “sanctify” us by the power of His indwelling Spirit.

-Sin Loses It’s Power!

Sin no longer has power over us! By God’s power, sin can be defeated! This is what it means to be “sanctified.” And, God is glorified in our “sanctification” also! He grows us spiritually! He matures us in our faith! Here’s what the Apostle Paul wrote, in his letter, to the Church of Ephesus:  “In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of His glory” Ephesians 1:11-12. In Christ we’ve obtained an inheritance! It’s an inheritance that has been predestined to us; but, we don’t have it yet!

-Receiving Our Inheritance!

Now, someone has to die before an inheritance can be received, right? Usually, someone else dies & we receive an inheritance as a result! In regard to our eternal inheritance, in heaven, however, WE have to die to obtain it, don’t we? So, Paul seems to be referring to this time—RIGHT NOW—the time in between our salvation & the time we will inherit it! When Daniel was taken captive, by the Babylonians, they intended to break him from his faith in Yahweh, in part, by a diet that was offered in sacrifice to their Babylonian gods.  “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine” Daniel 1:8. In other words, Daniel was “sanctified” or “set apart” for God as he faced this decision! And, God is glorified as we grow in our sanctification because He’s doing the work in us! We submit to His work! But our spiritual growth is His work!

-Work Out Your Salvation!

There’s an incredibly interesting scripture related, to this subject, in Philippians chapter 2. I’d encourage you to memorize it; or, at least remember where it’s found: “Work out your own salvation,” Paul tells the Church of Philippi, “with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose” Philippians 2:12-13. There’s no mistaking that God commands us to “work out your own salvation.” That’s an imperative! We are commanded to grow, in our salvation; or, to be sanctified! But, God actually does the work! He “enables” us & gives us the “desire” to grow in our faith! The flesh cannot produce a sanctified life! It appears, that our brokenness and depravity is so thorough that we can’t even muster the “desire” to grow up spiritually! God gets the glory for our sanctification! All of it!

 

God’s Glory Over Our Justification!

-He Alone Gets Glory For Our Faith!

When the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Church of Ephesus, he made it clear, from the start, that God ALONE must receive the glory for anyone’s salvation! From the beginning of salvation, through our “justification”, until it’s completion at our “glorification”; and, everything in between during our “sanctification” in the present— ALL of it is God’s work for which He is to receive Glory! “Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul began, “who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens. For He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will, to the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us with in the Beloved” Ephesians 1:3-6.

-To The Praise Of His Glorious Grace!

That phrase, “…to the praise of His glorious grace…” is actually translated, “…to the praise of the GLORY of His grace…” in the NKJV. In other words, God is glorified through our “justification.” He is glorified AS He justifies us! It isn’t anything that we do! HE justifies us! HE saves us from the penalty of our sin! That’s what it means to be justified in God’s sight! Our sin legally condemns us to death! But, when Jesus became the substitutionary atonement on our behalf, God could LEGALLY remove the death penalty, we deserved, because Jesus died in our place! And, clearly, Paul intends for us to understand that our justification was God’s work alone!

-God Chose Us Before Creation!

No doubt drawing from Jesus’ words— “…You did not choose Me, but I chose you…”—Paul confirmed that, “…HE CHOSE us… BEFORE the foundation of the world…” v.4. Think of that! Let those words sink in! Feel the weight of that statement! BEFORE the world was created; BEFORE you were created, God had already CHOSEN you IF you’re a believer! “HE PREDESTINED us to be ADOPTED…” v.5. It’s because HE chose us & HE predestined us, to be saved BEFORE we were created, that all boasting or credit we might take, for our faith, is removed! One of the most significant aspects, of a marriage, is that from that day on a woman is called by a new name! Her name is changed because the groom loves her!

-Called By A New Name!

The groom loves her & invites her to take on a new identity as his wife! One of the most significant aspects of accepting Jesus, as Savior, is the fact that from that day on we’re called by a new name! Jesus loves us & invites us to take on a new identity! We’re no longer called  a “sinner”; but, a “saint”; His “bride”; His “church”! Throughout Scripture, there are many examples where God changed the names of His people— He changed Abram, meaning “high father”, to Abraham, meaning “father of a multitude of many nations”; He changed Sarai, meaning “argumentative”, to Sarah, meaning “princess”; He changed Simon, meaning “he has heard”, to Peter, meaning “the rock.” There are many more if you’ll look into it! When God justifies us He gives us a new name to signify a changed life; and, He does it all for His Glory!

 

We’re Gifted For His Glory!

-But, How Do We Bring Him Glory?

I find that the subject of “God’s Glory” tends to provoke more questions than it does answers. How do WE bring glory to God?  And, WHY does God seek glory? Why is it OK for God to bring glory to Himself; but, it’s condemned, as pride, if we seek personal glory? The wrong answers to those questions could prove deadly! The life & death of a King, named Herod Agrippa, provides a shocking illustration for us. One day, as he was dressed in his royal robes & seated on his throne, he began to speak; and,  “The assembled people began to shout,  ‘It’s the voice of a god and not of a man!’ At once an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give the glory to God, and he became infected with worms and died.” Herod Agrippa died, it says, “…because he DID NOT GIVE GOD the GLORY…” He did not REDIRECT the praise to GOD & it cost him his life!

-Why God Hates Pride!

God HATES pride because it’s man’s attempt to steal glory from HIM! Pride credits SELF for our accomplishments & DISCREDITS God who actually gave us everything we have, including our gifts & talents! Perhaps, like me, you were required to read Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in school; or, at least parts of it! One story included a vain rooster, named Chanticleer, who prided himself on all his accomplishments. He was most proud of the fact that his crowing caused the sun to rise each morning—every morning he crowed; and, every morning the sun rose making him quite proud! One morning, however, Chanticleer overslept; and, when he awoke, he was shocked to find that the sun was already up & it happened without any help from him!

-What Are You Crowing About?

When he realized that he could no longer take credit for the rising of the sun, he declared that, “IF by my CROWING I cannot bring in the dawn, then by my CROWING I can celebrate it’s coming.” Which begs the question—“What accomplishments, in your life, have you been CROWING about?” The moral to Chanticleer’s story is that his pride-filled “crowing” wasn’t accomplishing what he thought it was. He had deceived himself! But, there’s a 2nd moral to the story—when faced with the truth, he humbled himself & celebrated the sunrise though he had nothing to do with it!

-We Take Too Much Credit!

There’s much we can learn from Chanticleer’s story, isn’t there? We’re tempted to take way too much credit or glory for our own accomplishments, aren’t we? But, it’s God who created us! It’s God who’s given us our intellect, our talents, and, our gifts! It’s God who gives us life & the ability to make decisions! It’s God who regenerates us & raises us up from our spiritual death & gives us life in Christ. We can share in the process! But, we’d better not crow about it like we’ve done the work! God brings glory to Himself for our spiritual growth—or, sanctification—because He’s the One who does it! “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose” Philippians 2:12. God does the work in us! He enables us! Give Him the Glory for it!