More Like Jesus, Less Like Me!

-Measuring Spiritual Progress!

Have you ever tried asking someone, “How are you doing spiritually?” They always say, “Good, Good,” right? Probably not a very good question. It’s not likely to get the real answer you’re looking for! Next time, try this instead: “So, where are you at in your walk with the Lord? And, on what criteria do you base your answer? How are you measuring your walk with Christ?” When we enter into that kind of conversation with someone, we need those “qualifying” or “follow-up” questions too! On what basis can we say we’re doing “good” when someone asks us how we’re doing spiritually?

-Does It Matter What We Do?

Do we measure spiritual progress by the things we DO? Be careful! Don’t quickly dismiss the things we DO & SAY, that, “it’s only what’s in the heart that matters!” If our heart is right with God, it will impact the things we DO, right? Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will KEEP my commandments.” At the same time, we can DO all the RIGHT things for the WRONG reasons, can’t we? We can DO things to be SEEN of men; and, Jesus called that hypocrisy!

-What About “Spiritual Disciplines”?

I received a phone call, some time ago, from a young man who was saved years ago in my youth group in Colorado. He was on the pastoral staff of a church in Oregon; and, he called to ask if he could conduct an interview with me for a seminary class he was taking! The interview was based on how I lived my life according to the “spiritual disciplines.” If that’s a new term to you, suffice it to say that “spiritual disciplines” are practices found, in Scripture, that can promote spiritual growth. They are “habits” of devotion, like prayer, fasting, public & private worship, meditation & making disciples—all activities that we’re commanded to do, right? Jesus practiced them! But, I prefaced my answer, in the interview, with this caution: “We are NOT GODLY just because we practice certain spiritual disciplines!

-The Error Of The Pharisees!

That was the great error of the Pharisees! They believed they were godly BECAUSE they did certain things! You can’t separate what you’re DOING on the OUTSIDE by who you ARE on the INSIDE! WHAT you do matters! But, WHO you are matters even more! Here’s the point—spiritual growth happens as you become more like Jesus; and, less like you!

-Become Like Your Teacher!

It is our goal, as a local church, that our community of believers would become mature disciples of Christ in their personal spiritual development. That’s a core value! That we’d all grow in spiritual maturity! As disciples of Christ, that we’d all become more like Him! That’s what a disciple does! He becomes like his Teacher! And, it is our belief that individual spiritual development occurs BEST in the context of a local church! Faith grows best where it is challenged, not isolated! And, crucial to that is the realization that being a disciple of Christ does not begin with something we DO; but, with something that Christ already DID! He redeemed our broken relationship with the Father by His death on the cross! He took my sin! And, He paid the penalty that I should have paid so that I might receive forgiveness! That’s the Gospel!

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Daniel: Giving Up Your Life For Others

(NOTE: This Continues A Series Of Posts On Daniel’s Life)

-The Greatest Commandment!

One of the key lessons the Prophet Daniel shows us is how to give up our life for others. When asked which commandment was the greatest, Jesus responded, “The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and, with all your might.” Then He said, “And, the 2nd is like unto it—Love your neighbor in the same way you love yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). In other words, the 2nd is only surpassed, in importance, by the 1st. Or, understood, in context, the 2nd comes out of obedience to the 1st. Jesus was saying that when we truly grow in love for God, we can’t help but grow in love for our fellow man!

-Help Others Reconcile With God!

We can give up our life for others because our God has given up His life for us! That’s how we help others become reconciled with God—we LOVE them! We deny self! We even die to self! Daniel lived that kind of life! Even when facing the prospect of death, he persistently shared the truth & incarnated that truth in the way he lived. I’m fairly confident that Daniel never would have scripted his life the way God did—to be torn away from your family & your homeland; and, exiled to a foreign land to serve the very King that ruined your happy home life! But, his yieldedness to a Sovereign God made for quite an exciting life & gave him ample opportunities to offer praise to God!

-Why Are We So Whiny?

We American Christians, unfortunately, have a reputation for being kind of whiny about things! God help us see trouble & pain as opportunities for God to do miraculous things so He can receive the praise He so richly deserves! When God stepped in & miraculously delivered Daniel from the lions den, King Darius rejoiced and said: “I issue a decree that in all my royal dominion, people must tremble in fear before the God of Daniel: For He is the living God, & He endures forever;  His kingdom will never be destroyed, & His dominion has no end.  He rescues & delivers; He performs signs & wonders in the heavens & on the earth, for He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.” (Daniel 6:26-28) Daniel could be used, by God, because he willingly gave up his life for others.  He served people!

-What A Legacy!

How would you like to be the one who led an Adolph Hitler or a Saddam Hussein to become a follower of Jesus? Sound impossible? That’s probably the equivalent of Daniel influencing Nebuchadnezzar & Darius to the faith! These were bad guys! History records that the kings of Babylon & the Medo-Persian empires were some of the most ruthless ever to walk the earth! But, it seems pretty clear, from Scripture, they’ll both be gathered around the throne of God—with the rest of us—worshipping & praising God for all eternity! Because Daniel saw God’s “big picture” & submitted to God’s plan for his life, he became a disciple maker of Kings! What a legacy Daniel has left us! In one of the most spiritually hostile environments in the history of the world, Daniel survived & thrived in his faith! Will you, like Daniel, trust God with all of your life?

 

Daniel: Sanity Based Worship!

(NOTE: This Continues A Series Of Posts On Daniel’s Life)

-God Is Gracious To Humble Us!

When God fulfilled King Nebuchadnezzar’s prophetic dream (Daniel ch.4) and cut him down to a stub, it was truly an act of grace on God’s part! If God hadn’t stepped in to humble him, Nebuchadnezzar would have continued in the “insanity” of his pride; and, he would have died in the “insanity” of his pride! God’s humbling was the most gracious thing God could do for him! It saved him! For the rest of his days Nebuchadnezzar bore the scars of being “cut down” to a stub! A new shoot would grow from that stub as God returned the kingdom to him; but, everyone would know that something happened there! The tree had been cut!

-Worship Is The Basis For Sanity!

Let me make a couple more observations from King Nebuchadnezzar’s story! First, we see that it’s “worship” that is the basis for sanity! When we’re full of pride we’re out of touch with reality! But, humility leads us back to God’s Sovereignty & to worship Him, where sanity is based. Sanity is based in the reality of God & experienced when we worship Him! To worship God is our highest calling! It is worship that separates us from the animal kingdom & the rest of creation! Listen to Nebuchadnezzar’s response:  “…at the end of those days, I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up to heaven, and my sanity returned to me.  Then I praised the Most High and honored and glorified Him who lives forever…” (ch.4:34ff).  When his sanity returned to him, praise & worship were his response! When we worship God we see Him for who He really is & we see ourselves for who we really are! Worship is the path to sanity because it humbles us & exalts God!

-Testimony Is The By-Product Of Worship!

And, then, giving witness or testimony is the by-product of our worship! “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt, and glorify the King of heaven, because all His works are true & His ways are just. God is able to humble those who walk in pride!” (ch. 4:37ff). When we give witness to God’s work in our lives, it’s to the praise of His glory! It should be our delight to give Him praise everywhere we go! That is the overriding moral to Nebuchadnezzar’s story—Humble yourself, or God will do it for you! No truth is more fundamental than that—He is God! We’re not!

-Get That “G” Off Your Chest!

If you’ve been trying to wear a big “G” on your chest (“God”) like King Nebuchadnezzar did, I’m going to warn you like Daniel warned him earlier in the chapter:  “Therefore, may my advice seem good to you my king. Separate yourself from your sins by doing what is right, and from your injustices by showing mercy to the needy. Perhaps there will be an extension of your prosperity.” If only he had listened, he would have avoided 7 years of insanity! That’s my plea to you—Stop the insanity! Confess your sin of pride & ask God’s indwelling Spirit (if you’re a believer!) to help you beat it! Stop trying to play “God” with your life! You’re NOT Him! Tear that big “G” off your chest; and, experience the FREEDOM of letting God run the universe! Let Him run your life; and, lead you in His Sovereign plan! It’s the best decision you can make!

 

Daniel: A King’s Pride Is Broken!

-Here’s Nebuchadnezzar’s Story!

(NOTE: This Continues A Series Of Posts On Daniel’s Life)

Should you find yourself reading the Book of Daniel someday, you’ll note a significant change as you start the 4th chapter—it’s no longer Daniel’s story! This is King Nebuchadnezzar’s personal testimony of how he came to have saving faith in Yahweh—it’s become Nebuchadnezzar’s story! His words are directed at “…those of every people, nation, and language, who live in all the earth”; and, reads like what someone would say if they stepped up to the mic in a worship service & shared a testimony of faith! “I am pleased to tell you about the miracles and wonders the Most High God has done for me” (v.2).

-Your God Becomes My God!

Up until now—throughout the first 3 chapters—the King always referred to “YOUR God…” Daniel; and, to “YOUR God…” Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego! In this chapter, the King describes a personal relationship with God—he shares what “…the Most High God had done for ME.” In v.4 the King said he was “…at ease & flourishing in my palace”—some translations render it “…content & prosperous.” Rarely do the “content & prosperous” seek after God! In fact, Jesus said, “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into heaven”; and, then He follows with one of the most misused statements in all of Scripture: “But, with God all things are possible!” Be careful! Don’t carelessly quote that verse outside of it’s context! What Jesus is saying is that it’s humanly IMPOSSIBLE for the rich to enter into heaven; but, “…with God ALL THINGS are POSSIBLE!” Even the salvation of a rich, powerful & pride-filled King, like Nebuchadnezzar, is possible with God; but, ONLY after he’s been broken & humbled!

-Until He Acknowledged The Most High God!

And, the rest of the chapter is Nebuchadnezzar’s incredible story—how God drove him away from people to live, as a wild animal, with the wild animals! For 7 years he ate grass & acted as a wild animal; until, he acknowledged “…that the Most High God is ruler over the kingdom of men, and He gives it to anyone He wants” (v.25).  The King learned that pride is way more dangerous than it appears! Pride blinds us to our sin; and, we become self-absorbed in our own little world of self-importance!

-Failure Can Be A Gift!

The British playwright, George Bernard Shaw, said, “There are two tragedies in life. One is to lose your heart’s desire, and the other is to gain it…we tend to listen more when God speaks through sorrow, pain, loss, and personal failure. Success tends to make us complacent…” What he’s saying, in a sense, is that failure can be a gift from God! It was for Nebuchadnezzar! Getting himself knocked off his perch of pride became his salvation because it broke his sinful self-confidence! Thank God! He will cut us down to size in order to save us! Nebuchadnezzar had taken credit for his accomplishments when it was God who had blessed him with his abilities! Someone said: “Pride is like plagiarism because it attempts to take for ourselves Glory that belongs to God alone!” God will not share His glory with us! Repent of pride or face His judgment!

 

Daniel: Debunking The American Dream!

-Even If He Doesn’t, We Won’t Bow!

(NOTE: This Continues A Series Of Posts On Daniel’s Life)

I love the response of Daniel’s 3 friends—Hananiah, Mishael & Azariah—when King Nebuchadnezzar demanded that they bow down & worship his gold statue; or, face death in the fiery furnace: “If the God we serve exists, then HE CAN rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and HE CAN rescue us from the power of you, the King. But EVEN IF HE DOES NOT rescue us, we want you as King to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up” (Daniel 3:17-18).  They trusted God  to deliver them either by miracle or by death! They trusted God even if it was part of His Sovereign will NOT to deliver them by a miracle! Their trust in God was not just tied to delivery from the furnace—“EVEN IF He does NOT,” they said, “We won’t bow to your false gods.”

-Will You Trust God With Whatever?

By application, we have to be careful that our trust in God is not limited to delivery by miracle! Sadly, the “gospel” being preached in the majority of our American churches is all about “ME”—it’s “MAN-centered”, not “GOD-centered”—“If God doesn’t deliver me from the ‘furnace’ of my bad circumstances, than He’s not to be trusted!” That’s where false teaching begins—with MAN’S WAY! God’s Gospel always begins with GOD! And, it contrasts the holiness of God with unholy mankind! God is always righteous & we’re not! We’re born, into this world, under His judgment and wrath—broken, depraved, in need of mercy & grace that is only available to us through Jesus’ atonement, for our sin, on the cross!

-The False Gospel Of The American Dream!

The so-called “American Dream” is a perversion of God’s true Gospel! It promotes an entitlement mentality of a bigger & better “YOU”—your “right” to own a home; your “right” to a high-paying job; your “right” to affordable health care; your “right” to be delivered from the “furnace”! The false gospel of the “American Dream” says Jesus came to make us bigger & better—that’s NOT the Gospel of Jesus Christ! He didn’t come to make you a better YOU! He came to put you on a CROSS & die to SELF!

-God Is The Treasure We Seek!

To His disciples, Jesus said: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). We don’t just need a little “makeover.” We need to DIE! Our “SELF” needs to be crucified & born again in Christ! That’s the true Gospel! This story wasn’t about the delivery of Daniel’s friends from the furnace! This story is about GOD & His eternal purposes—and, Daniel’s 3 friends were submitted to that whether it meant delivery by miracle or by death! That’s their testimony—having relationship with God was of far greater value to them than life itself! By their willingness to entrust their lives to God’s plan & purpose—rather than their own—they made God the treasure to desire more than anything else!

 

 

Daniel: Standing Against Evil!

-Evil Always Gives You A 2nd Chance!

(NOTE: This Continues A Series Of Posts On Daniel’s Life)

Have you ever noticed how evil will always give you a 2nd chance to do evil? If you miss the first invitation, there’ll always be a follow-up! That’s what Daniel’s 3 friends—Hananiah, Mishael & Azariah—observed after they failed to bow down and worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s gold image as he had commanded them to do (Daniel chapter 3). “Ya know boys,” I imagine the King saying, “I’m thinking you just must not have heard me! When the music starts, all you have to do is follow the crowd! Just bow down & worship my gold image & all’s cool!

-He Picked On The Wrong Deity!

And, then he lays down the gauntlet: “…and who is that God who can rescue you from my power?” Oops! You just picked on the wrong deity, Nebuchadnezzar! Don’t ever draw a line in the sand & dare Yahweh to cross it! But, that’s what he did! He bragged that no God could deliver them from his hand! I love how they stood up to evil—they “…replied to the King, ‘Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question. If the God we serve exists, then He can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He can rescue us from the power of you, the King. But even if He does not rescue us, we want you as King to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.” They had faith in God’s ability to deliver them—that God was ABLE!

-Don’t Make Promises For God He Doesn’t Make!

But, even if He, according to His Sovereign plan, didn’t deliver them, they would not bow to his image! There’s a great application to take from their example—we need to be careful not to put words in God’s mouth! Don’t make claims for God on His behalf! We may think that God has to respond in a certain way; but, our knowledge is finite and limited! His ways are higher than our ways! Don’t make promises for God that He doesn’t make! We can’t presume, on Him, about how our story ends! God doesn’t always deliver the way we “think” He ought to! While He brought these 3 through the fiery furnace unharmed, He may not do the same for us! We don’t know! We just know that He’s ABLE! Our response is to take a stand against evil no matter the personal cost! “When ungodly men make ungodly laws, godly men disobey them!”

-This Was Real: It Was Life Or Death!

One of the biggest challenges, to preaching this text, is overcoming some of your childhood perceptions. This isn’t a “fairytale” or a “myth”—Daniel & his 3 friends were real people who loved God! They were people just like you & me trying to live out the difficulties of life by faith in God. And, their story—like our story—put them in a place where they had to make a tough decision! And, like they experienced, when we obey God rather than man, we’ll be judged, by the world, as insubordinate & NOT a “team player.” This 3rd chapter of Daniel points out that “…some (of the King’s counselors) took the occasion to come forward & maliciously accuse the Jews…” of ignoring the King! Nothing could be further from the truth! They had proven their loyalty to the King! Be prepared to pay a price if you obey God over man!

 

 

Don’t Expose My Idols!

-Jesus Said Some Hard Things

Jesus earned quite the reputation for crazy, difficult, and hard sayings during His 3 1/2 year ministry on this planet. He said things like “…unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you”; and, “…it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”; and, “…let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God”; and, perhaps the craziest, “…if anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”

-Does This Offend You?

At one point, the Apostle John says the crowd, that followed Jesus, could take it no longer and said: “…this is a hard saying; who can understand it?” At that point Jesus turned to them & asked them, “Does this offend you?…there are some of you who do not believe.” (John 6:60ff) In that statement, we gain some insight into the reason for Jesus’ hard sayings—His intent was to flush out the unbelievers, in the crowd, so they might acknowledge their unbelieving heart & come to genuine faith; that, they might trust Christ for salvation.

-Don’t Sanitize Jesus’ Message!

Unfortunately, I’ve read more than one commentary try and explain away what Jesus said….trying to soften the blow of His message by making it more palatable and politically correct! But, when you try and “sanitize” His message it loses the impact of the Gospel. Jesus fully intended to be offensive to His self-righteous audience; and, to shake up the religious leaders that taught a works-based, performance-driven salvation—“If your righteousness does not exceed that of the Pharisees,” He said, “you’ll never see heaven.” To the rich man, He said: “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” In all His “hard sayings,” Jesus was putting a spotlight on the false gods and idols in people’s lives. These were the things that people valued more than Creator God; and, Jesus exposed their idolatry!

-But, Aren’t Idols Bad Things?

That’s what we think; so, we try to re-interpret what Jesus said because He just couldn’t be calling all those good things we love—like family, career, our standing in the public eye—as idols, could He? We want to believe that idols are bad things; but, that’s rarely the case! Tim Keller, in his excellent book Counterfeit Gods, says, “…the greater the ‘good’, the more likely we are to expect that it can satisfy our deepest needs and hopes. Anything can serve as a counterfeit god, especially the very best things in life.”  Jesus came to set things in order—God’s in charge; He is King; He is Lord; and, He alone is to be worshipped! He has all authority over my life; and, He is to be valued as the ONLY treasure, above all His creation!