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!

 

The Minimization Of Sin!

-All Sin Is Against God!

All sin is ultimately against God! After sleeping with another man’s wife & then having that man killed, to hide his sin, King David prayed to God:  “Against You—You alone—I have sinned and done this evil in Your sight. So You are right when You pass sentence; You are blameless when You judge” Psalms 51:4. He didn’t say that he sinned against the woman by sleeping with her! He didn’t say that he sinned against the man by having him killed! His sin was against God ALONE, because God, alone, is the LAWGIVER!

-Caught In Sin’s Carnage!

It was God, who said, “Thou shalt not commit adultery”; and, “Thou shalt not kill.” We minimize our sin when we say that we sinned against a human being— whether it’s spreading lies, or gossip, etc. No! Those sins are against God alone! You may “wound” someone who’s gotten caught up in the carnage of your sin! But, the sin was against God; and, that’s why there is judgment! That’s why there is pain, suffering & death; because, in Adam, we sinned against God & brought the curse of death on ourselves!

-God’s Plan To Save Man!

But, in Genesis— the book of beginnings— God also reveals the beginning of a plan to save mankind from their sinful depravity! No sooner had Adam & Eve “missed the mark” of obedience; no sooner had they sinned against God; then, God shares a plan to redeem them from the deadly consequences of their sin! It’s found in Genesis chapter 3, verse 15; and, it’s a veiled prophecy pointing forward to a coming redeemer! A Savior! Amid His judgment against Satan, for the part he played in Adam & Eve’s Fall, God says, “I will put hostility between you (Satan) and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” And, that prophecy comes together in the New Testament. Satan strikes a wound to Jesus’ heel when He dies on the cross! But, Jesus strikes a mortal wound to Satan’s head in that very same act on the cross; as, His death atones, for their sin, and, negates everything that was lost in their disobedient act against God! Now, all members of the human race can be FORGIVEN… REDEEMED… and, made RIGHTEOUS by repenting, of their sin, and trusting in Christ’s work on the cross!

-God Makes A Way!

God makes a way to undo what sin did, in the beginning, back in the garden! And, He plans to use a nation—Israel & the Jewish people—as the people group, through whom, Messiah would come! The book, of Genesis, really sets up the rest of the Biblical narrative. It begins with the Creation & the Fall. We’re then introduced to Abraham, whom God, according to His promise, makes a great nation, Israel. Let me draw this post to a close, by getting a little personal with you. You are part of this whole thing! God is your Creator! You’ve sinned against His authority over you! But, to the praise of His Glory, God has made a way for you to be saved! Have you ever personally accepted His gracious offer? He is willing to move you from death to life! Don’t presume on His grace! Come to this awesome, loving God; and, trust Him for salvation!

 

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 Every Believer A Disciple?

-What Does Scripture Teach?

The Church, here in the west, has often made a distinction between a “believer” in Jesus Christ & a “disciple” of Jesus Christ! It’s a distinction, however, that Scripture fails to make— that you can be a saved “believer” & just live your entire life for yourself! That, if you desire, you can become a “disciple” and live out your days as a “super saint” for Jesus. No where, in Scripture, does Jesus say anything even close to that! If you abide, in Jesus, you will produce the fruit of a disciple! That’s the outcome of genuine faith!

-Grape Vines Produce Grapes!

There will always be fruit where there is genuine faith. It’s as natural as a grape vine producing grapes. That’s what grape vines do! And, there is fruit that is naturally produced, by God’s Spirit, in the life of every genuine believer who abides in Jesus! In fact, that’s exactly what Jesus says! Fruitfulness is the proof that you’re a “believer” & “disciple.” “If anyone does not abide in Me,” Jesus said, “he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” John 15:6-8.  We bring glory to God when our lives produce fruit because it PROVES that He’s saved us! The PROOF is in the FRUIT!

-Love, Joy & Obedience!

Then, Jesus expands, on that, in the next several verses (v. 9-17). Fruitfulness, He says, is measured by our love, by our obedience, and, by our joy! “This is My commandment,” Jesus said, “that you love one another as I have loved you.” Loving others isn’t an option for anyone claiming to be a follower of Jesus! If there’s no love, it’s because there is no spiritual life. Where there’s no love, there’s no “abiding in Jesus.” “You are my friends,” He said, “if you do what I command you.” We cannot pick and choose what we’re going to obey in God’s Word. Disobedience isn’t an option! If we truly abide, in Christ, we’ll repent when we disobey & realign our life accordingly with the Scriptures. And, there’ll be joy in your life— “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may full.” Our joy is linked to a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ! It’s not circumstantial!

-Even When Life Is Hard!

Abiding in Christ produces joy! Even when the rest of life derails, our joy is centered In Jesus. All those grumpy, mean-spirited, haters out there who claim to be followers of Jesus must have missed that Scripture! Or… they don’t really abide in Christ! This text presents a clear case that God, the Father, won’t stand idle while His children act up! He will prune— “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” John 17:2. He will discipline His own! He will spank! But, He doesn’t spank the Devil’s kids! Our response, to His discipline, will either confirm or deny that our “faith” is legitimate! We will confess sin & let His Spirit clean house!

Is Your God Too Small?

-Are You Too Big?

40 some years ago, J.B. Phillips wrote, what turned into a Christian classic, Your God Is Too Small. It’s a great book! I highly recommend it! Phillips does a great job of capturing the struggle, that we humans have, of seeing how big God really is! We tend to see God as much smaller & less awesome than He is; and, we see ourselves as much bigger & more significant than we really are!

-Superman Don’t Need No Airplane!

I love the story about former heavy weight boxing champ, Muhammad Ali, who loved to boast, in jest, about being the greatest! It was part of his shtick & show! Once, while flying on a commercial flight, the stewardess told him to fasten his seatbelt just before takeoff. “Superman don’t need no seatbelt,” Ali replied; and, the stewardess shot back, “Superman don’t need no airplane, either.” That pretty much epitomizes the attitude the “health, wealth & prosperity FALSE gospel” has spawned here in the western church! The image of God has been distorted!

-He’s No “Genie In A Bottle”!

Much, of the Church, has turned God into a wimpy “Genie in the bottle” kind of God who grants OUR wishes; and, somehow NEEDS us to feel significant! Rather, than the self-sufficient, self-sustaining Sovereign God, that He is, who needs nothing & is the KING of kings & LORD of lords! I love how Paul addresses this subject in his letter to the Roman believers:  “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and untraceable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? Or who has ever first given to Him, and has to be repaid? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever.  Amen” Romans 11:33-36.

-Glory In God’s Wisdom!

That’s another one of those rich texts, of Scripture, that magnifies & lifts up our Awesome God! Paul is like caught up in the wonder & the mystery of who He is! He seems to be promoting the underlying thought that good or bad, big or small, whatever comes our way, let us give God Glory for everything that happens in life! Notice, he challenges the church to give God Glory for His “…wisdom and knowledge…” Whatever comes, give God Glory because of His wisdom & knowledge. He knows what He’s doing!

-Is God Foolish?

There’s another great verse that Paul included, in his letter, to the Church of Corinth: “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” 1 Cor 1:25. Don’t you just love that? Mind you, Paul is NOT saying that God has a foolish side to Him. On the contrary, He’s pointing out how foolish we are when we think we’re really wise & smart. IF God had a foolish side—and, He DOESN’T—He would still be wiser than you and me! He’s “omniscient.” That means He knows everything! Anything that’s knowable, He already knows it; and, He’s known it for all eternity! He knows everything you & I have forgotten; but, He still knows it! And, He knows everything that you & I will never know! Only God knows why He allows the wickedness, in the world, to enjoy temporary victories! Trust His wisdom!

 

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!