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!

 

Jesus In The Flesh!

-Do We Look Like Him?

In a conversation one of our church family members had with someone, who was struggling to understand & accept the Gospel, she said to them, “I just need to see Jesus in the flesh!” She meant, by that, that she needed to see what it looked like for someone, claiming to be a follower of Jesus, to actually live it! That’s a powerful statement! And, the Gospel of Christ actually frees us to be “Jesus in the flesh” to everyone we encounter!

-It’s A Radical Transformation!

When we truly humble ourselves before God & submit to Him, Jesus moves into our lives— by the Power of His Holy Spirit— and, radically begins to transform us in every way, including our relationships! We can actually become Jesus to everyone we meet! Let me explain! When humanity, in Adam, sinned, it was a complete breakdown of our ability to IMAGE God. We were BROKEN! Because of our fallen nature, we are born into this world with an inability to love like God loves! So, we hate others! We lash out! We become self-absorbed! We use people for what they can do for us! That’s our default condition at birth!

-Everything Changes In Jesus!

But, when the Gospel of Christ is introduced to us & accepted, everything changes! Just read Matthew, Mark, Luke & John’s account of Jesus’ life & marvel at the way He loves…  even His enemies! And, we are transformed, into His image, as we dwell in His presence through the written Word! The Apostle Paul described it like this, when he wrote the Church of Corinth:  “We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit” 2 Cor. 3:18.  By the Power, of the Gospel, we see God’s Glory— in Jesus— and, we are transformed into that SAME IMAGE from one Glory to another!

-Re-Imaged Into Jesus!

We are being “RE-IMAGED” into Jesus! We need to hear this! Far too often, the inter-personal relationships, within the body, look no different than the relationships among unbelievers! And, I submit to you, that THAT plays a huge part in the overall ineffectiveness of the Western church when it comes to making disciples & attracting people to the church! So, how do we change this? How can this trend be reversed?

-Jesus’ New Command!

Jesus told His disciples: “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” John 13:34,35. As He transforms us to love others— in the SAME way He loves us—  the world will know we belong to Jesus! They’ll know we love Jesus because we love them! Here’s what I believe God wants us to do about this— He wants us to REPENT over our broken relationships! To repent literally means, “to change your mind.” So, God wants us to change our minds about our broken relationships! We used to think they were okay! But, they’re NOT OKAY! We need Him to fix them! So, the world can see Jesus in us!

 

Do You Have Financial Pride?

-This Is A Real Problem!

When the Apostle Paul instructs Timothy, about his finances, he does so in a way that a disciple-maker might teach his disciple; or, a leader, in a church, might preach to his people.  “Instruct those who are rich in the present age,” Paul begins, in 1 Timothy 6:17-19, “not to be arrogant…” People, who are blessed with money, tend to struggle with pride. So, “…instruct them,” Paul tells him, “NOT to be consumed with financial pride.” Let me stop there, for a moment, and, address those of you who don’t think Paul’s words apply to you because you don’t think you’re “rich.” YES! He is talking to you! And, YES, you are rich!

-Yes! He’s Talking To You!

Half the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 a day! If you live on more than that you’re in the upper half of the world’s wealthy! If you’re household income is $37K or more you’re in the TOP 4% of the world’s wealthy! If you make $45K or more, you’re in the TOP 1%! YES! The Apostle Paul is talking to you; and, he says, “Don’t be consumed with financial pride.” How do you know if you have financial pride? Have you ever said, or thought, something similar to this: “If they worked as hard as I do; or, if they used their brain like I do, they wouldn’t be poor.” That’s PRIDE! That’s saying, “I’M the reason I’m wealthy! I worked hard for it! I used my brain & I deserve it.” To the Church of Corinth, Paul reminded, “…what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you BOAST as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7)

-All Things Come From God!

God has given us our brains, our opportunities, and, our resources! He’s given us EVERYTHING we have! How can we boast about it? And, as if to emphasize that point, Paul adds this: “…don’t set your hope on the uncertainty of wealth…” Don’t be consumed by financial DEPENDENCE! Don’t DEPEND on it! Wealth, Paul says, is uncertain! It can’t be trusted! The wisdom, from the book of Proverbs, puts it like this: “Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle” Proverbs 23:5.  In other words, just look at money and it’ll fly away! Avoid living an insignificant life! Don’t waste your life! The sin of “consumerism” draws it’s strength from financial pride and financial dependence!

-Finding Your Significance!

Set your hope on God, Paul says—“Instruct those who are rich, not…to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy.” God is the giver of the gifts we enjoy! But, He never intended that we should enjoy the gifts more than the Giver! Our significance is wrapped up IN HIM; not, in the stuff he has lent to us! So, be consumed with Him! We overcome the consumerism bug by being consumed with God & with others! He continues, in v.18, “…do what is good, to be rich in good works” Be consumed with serving others with the gifts God has blessed us! And, “…be generous, willing to share…” Paul adds. There is really no worse testimony, about the sufficiency of Jesus, than a stingy, Scrooge-like Christian. Jesus said, “FREELY you have received, FREELY give!” Matthew 10:8

 

 

Avoiding An Insignificant Life!

Next Post July 5th!

A Little Vacation Time

-A Culture Of Consumption!

Let me share something, with you, that you may not know about the average 5-year old in America—the average 5-year old, in America, has 250 toys! Yes! I said 250 toys! Now, let’s apply some math to that. A 5-year old has only lived on planet Earth roughly 250 weeks. So, that 5-year old has grown up getting 1 new toy every week—on average—for their entire life! That’s just the AVERAGE! Some have 500 toys! Others have 1000! And, why are we surprised that they are rarely satisfied? That they are always wanting more? We’ve trained them to be “consumers”, haven’t we? We’re a culture that’s consumed by a desire for more stuff!

-The Stuff We Don’t Have!

We’re constantly exposed to commercials that advertise all the stuff we don’t have; and, telling us that we need it! “Our friends went to Best Buy, on Black Friday, and, got a new 70” Smart TV & our puny 55” TV just doesn’t cut it anymore”—that’s the general mindset of the average American! You take a ride in your friends new car & you love that new car smell! You get back in your old car and it smells like french fries & damp, moldy soccer cleats! You walk through SAMS or Target or COSTCO and you see all this new stuff that you NEED! You didn’t know you need it until you got there & saw what you were missing! Now, I may be exaggerating a bit; but, not by much!

-Managing God’s Estate!

If we’re followers, of Jesus, we can’t tolerate that selfish, consumerism controlling our lives! We must see ourselves—as Scripture tells us—as faithful “stewards” of God’s resources! We “manage” a portion of God’s “estate” that He’s entrusted to our care! How are we doing with that? If you live your life like you think you “own” your stuff, you’ll waste it all on building your own “little kingdom”—you’ll live an insignificant life! For the one, claiming to follow Jesus, we should not fear failure as much as we should fear success at something that really doesn’t matter in light of eternity! We need a constant reminder, from God’s Holy Spirit, that NOTHING we have is truly our own! It all belongs to God! And, whatever He’s given us, He’s trusting us to manage it well for Him; or, to leverage it in a way that builds His “big kingdom”! That’s how we avoid an insignificant life!

-How To Beat Consumerism!

In the Apostle Paul’s 1st letter, to Timothy, he instructed him to: “Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do what is good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good reserve for the age to come, so that they may take hold of life that is real” 1 Timothy 6:17-19. Here’s how I would paraphrase Paul’s challenge—You beat consumerism by denying your flesh & by chasing a new passion! It’s not just enough to deny your flesh! You need to live for a new passion! To the rich, he says, don’t be arrogant (v.17). So, a key, to avoiding the insignificant life, is to renounce the financial pride that can over take us! Remember, it’s not ours!

 

That Tension Between Our Flesh & Spirit!

-Do You Feel It?

If you’re a genuine “born again” follower of Jesus Christ it’s a tension you live with every day! Your spirit longs to be rid of sin; and, you know, from Scripture & intuitively, that you’ve been set free from the “power” of sin! It doesn’t rule over you as it once did! You’ve experienced victory over many sins that once controlled you! At the same time, your broken, totally depraved flesh continues to lust after sin.  Sometimes that tension between doing what your flesh demands & what your spirit wants is such a burden that the weight, of it, overcomes you and you slip back, temporarily, into an old sin!

-That’s Not What I Want To Do!

The Apostle Paul nailed it when he confessed: “When I want to do what is good, evil is with me. For in my inner self I joyfully agree with God’s law. But I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this dying body?” Romans 7:21-24. It’s in that tension—in the battle between our spirit & our flesh—that God progressively sanctifies, or, changes us. An “unchanged” believer is a contradiction in terms! If you’re not changed; and, being changed you’re not saved! You’re not a genuine believer; or, follower of Jesus. Jesus, Himself, said there will always be “fruit” to evidence genuine faith (Matthew 13).

-Putting Self Back On The Cross!

If our faith is real, God is moving us toward the completion of our faith! He’s moving us toward the Day of Glorification, when we become like Jesus permanently! Until that day, God will continue to transform us into the image of Christ by overcoming our remaining sin in the same way that Jesus overcome sin—on a CROSS! Jesus said we must die to self— “Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me’” Luke 9:23. We have to continually put “SELF” back on the cross! EVERY DAY, Jesus said; or, it will rise up & wrestle back control from us.  And, THAT is how we grow spiritually! We ARE sanctified; and, we’re becoming MORE sanctified! We’re experiencing more & more freedom from the power of sin as we DENY & CRUCIFY self!

-Put The Flesh To Death!

The Apostle Paul followed up his dilemma, expressed in Romans 7, with these words from the very next chapter: “For if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live “ Romans 8:13. The old King James Version said we must “…MORTIFY the deeds of the body…” A huge part of God’s sanctification work, in us, is to strengthen us in our efforts to “MORTIFY” or “put to death” the works of our flesh. The old Puritan, John Owen, made famous this quote about killing sin: “Do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work? Be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”  I like to say that spiritual growth is ultimately becoming more like JESUS; and, less like YOU! Do you look more like Jesus today than yesterday?

God Makes You New (Part II)

-He Doesn’t Condemn You Anymore!

One of the most powerful Scriptures for a believer to hold onto is this:  “Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).  God no longer condemns you if you’ve placed faith, for your salvation, in Jesus’ work on the cross! So, we need to quit condemning ourselves! When you mess up & sin, CONFESS it—that means you AGREE with God that what you did was sin! (1 John 1:8-10) But, after you confess it, thank Him for forgiveness; and, get back into fellowship with Him!

-You’re Part Of The Family!

God has adopted you into His family; and, no one is going to overpower Him and rip you away! You belong to Him! That’s your “identity”—it’s WHO you are! Until you live by faith, knowing who you are in Christ, you will struggle to experience spiritual growth! Unlike “JUSTIFICATION”—which is an instantaneous judicious act of pardon by God; and, a passing from death to life—”SANCTIFICATION” is a process that God begins IN YOU the moment you’ve been JUSTIFIED! God frees us from the power of sin as He SANCTIFIES us! The Apostle Paul, in Romans, speaks of our sin as DOMINATING us BEFORE “JUSTIFICATION”—i.e. we were chained to sin; and, we couldn’t help but sin! But, at the moment of our “JUSTIFICATION”, the Holy Spirit indwells us; and, empowers us in a battle to “mortify”—or, “put to death”—the deeds of our flesh; or, the “old man” Paul calls it!

-We’re Saved! And, Being Saved!

So, at “JUSTIFICATION” we WERE saved; and, “regenerated” or made alive! In our “SANCTIFICATION” we are BEING saved! Don’t be concerned by that! It’s a good thing! Theologically, we mean that God’s “SANCTIFICATION” work, in us, is PROGRESSIVE & ACTIVE! The Holy Spirit is not passive about purging sin from our lives! He’s aggressive! In the Spirit, we now have the power or the capacity to overcome sin; and, at the same time, a growing DESIRE to be rid of it! That is one of my greatest PASSIONS—to BEAT SIN! If you have no desire to overcome sin, your “salvation” is in question! Perhaps you’ve been deceived! It’s in the “SANCTIFICATION” process that you are progressively becoming MORE like Jesus; and, LESS like you! It’s a work that only God can do in you!

-Trying Harder Doesn’t Work!

Unfortunately, it’s pretty typical for believers to try hard, do good & FAIL. That didn’t work; so, try HARDER, do BETTER & FAIL again! Until they stop trying so hard; and, just give in and FAKE IT. Can you relate to that? I know I can!  Listen, God’s “SANCTIFICATION” process tells us to take off the masks & quit pretending we’ve reached perfection! We’re all broken! We all need to be made complete in Christ! So, make yourselves accountable to each other to strengthen the Spirit’s effort to crucify your flesh! And, finally one day we will all become who we already are “positionally” in Christ—we’ll be “GLORIFIED”; and, set FREE from the very PRESENCE of sin! We’ll be like Jesus, Amen! No more corruption! No more sin!