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!

 

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!

The Fruit God Produces In You!

-The Evidence Is The Fruit!

Everyone that is “in Christ” will evidence the fruit of that relationship. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches! So, if you don’t bear fruit it’s because you’re “not abiding in the vine,” He said. So, let’s take some time to consider what kind of fruit is expected to be growing, in our life, if we belong to Him. Besides Galatians 5, which speaks to fruit the indwelling Holy Spirit produces in us, there is also an expectation that our lives would produce the fruit of winning others to Jesus.

-The Fruit Of Disciple-Making!

In John 4, Jesus said: “Do not say, ‘There are yet four months and then comes the harvest. I tell you lift up your eyes and see how the fields are already white for harvest. He who reaps receives wages and gathers fruit for eternal life so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.” Does your life reveal the fruit of disciple making? Jesus also said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” John 14:15.  So, we would expect to see the fruit of obedience in the life of someone who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

-The Fruit Of Obedience!

If our faith is genuine, the indwelling Holy Spirit will be at work in us—pointing out all the areas of our lives we still need to line up, in obedience, to the Word of God. In John 15, Jesus refers to The Father as the Vinedresser (v.1); and, He added that God will remove you, from the vine, if there’s no life in you. In v.6 He says you’ll be thrown into the FIRE! Jesus taught the same truth in His parable about the wheat & the tares in Matthew 13. The “tares” LOOKED like wheat; but, they were frauds! They were weeds & at the harvest they’ll be separated from the genuine wheat and burned up. That pictures judgment for everyone who claims to be Jesus’ disciple; but, have no fruit to evidence that claim! Just as the owner, of a vineyard, expects fruit; so, God expects every one of us— who genuinely abide in Christ— to produce fruit! He saved us on account of His great Name & for His great purpose— that He might gather a people, to Himself for all eternity, that belong to Him! Jesus Christ “invested” His life in you; and, He expects a “return” on that investment! Consider what Jesus said!

-Jesus Chose Us!

You did not choose me,” Jesus said, “but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” John 15:16.  It’s fruitfulness, He says, that evidences real faith! If your life is absent, of fruit, you’d do well to examine yourself against the Scriptures to see if you’re faith is the real thing! Please consider Jesus’ words carefully, with all sobriety! This is “life or death” because fruitfulness is always the result of “abiding in Christ.” If there is NO FRUIT of the Spirit; if there is NO FRUIT or passion to “MAKE DISCIPLES”; If there is NO FRUIT of obedience—it may be because you do not abide in Jesus! Nor does He abide in you! The church, here in the west, has made a distinction between a “believer” & a “disciple.” A distinction that’s not endorsed by Scripture! We’ll get into that in next week’s post!

 

God Makes Us Fruitful!

-Through An Encounter With Jesus!

No one has a genuine encounter with Jesus Christ & walks away unchanged! The deaf were made to hear! The blind were made to see! The lame could walk again! The hungry were filled! The ignorant were instructed! The guilty were forgiven! And, sinners were set free from their sin! There is nothing in scripture to support the “cheap grace” religion so prevalent in the western church— that someone can be saved without becoming Jesus’ disciple! That repeating the word to some kind of “sinners prayer” is like a “get out of hell” free card!

-Saved From A Self-Absorbed Life!

Jesus didn’t save us to live a self-centered, self-absorbed life! He didn’t just die, on the cross, so we could listen to a good sermon & some worship music every Sunday morning! This post is about FRUITFULNESS! God makes us fruitful when we enter into a genuine salvation relationship with Him! Just as you anticipate that an apple seed, planted in the ground, will grow an apple tree that produces more apples; so, God will produce the fruit of the Spirit, in us, when the seed of the Gospel is planted & His Spirit begins to indwell us! Always! Every time! Let me tell you why that’s important! It’s important because if you don’t get this right it could lead to eternal judgment & condemnation!

-Gotta Get This Right!

If you’re holding on to some prayer, that you repeated in 3rd grade Children’s Church, as proof you’re going to heaven, you may have been misled! The scriptures never encourage us to hold onto something WE did or said; or, our parents or pastor did or said, as proof of our salvation! God’s Word focuses on a changed life & a progressively changing life now! “If anyone is in Christ, HE IS A NEW CREATION; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come” 2 Corinthians 5:17. “If you love Me,” Jesus said, “YOU WILL KEEP My commandments” John 14:15. Our life will be marked by a love for obedience to God’s Word & a hatred & abhorrence for all sin we stumble into! The Apostle John wrote: “I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that YOU MAY KNOW that you have eternal life” 1 John 5:13. The written Word, inspired by God’s Spirit, was written to act like a mirror to reflect back, to us, our spiritual condition.

-Test Yourselves!

Seek proof, of your conversion, from the Scriptures! “Test yourselves TO SEE IF YOU ARE IN THE FAITH. Examine yourselves,” the Apostle Paul wrote, “Or do you yourselves not recognize that Jesus Christ is in you? Unless you fail the test” 2 Corinthians 13:5. Test your life according to God’s Word! Examine yourselves! Is there any evidence of a changed life? Is there FRUIT, in your life, that can only be produced by a genuine encounter with Jesus Christ? Listen to Jesus’ Words: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 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 15:1-2. Evidence, of genuine faith, is produced by life IN JESUS!

 

Children That Please God!

-Scripture Speaks To Children!

I find it interesting, that, in his letter to the Colossian church, Paul speaks directly to children:  “Children obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord” Colossians 3:20.  In a section of Scripture, devoted to family issues, Paul expects children to read & adhere to his admonition. And, if obedience to parents “pleases” the Lord, we can infer, from that, that God is NOT pleased with children who disobey their parents. Yes, He still loves them! But, He’s not pleased with them!

-Disobedience Produces A Hard Life!

I used to tell our kids, “Hey, I’ve figured out how to never get in trouble with your parents! If you never disobey them, you’ll never get in trouble with them!” I would often remind them that, “The way of the transgressor is hard!” If Paul were writing a letter to your kids today, I think he’d say something like this:  “Your life is going to be hard if you insist on disobeying your parents! Why put yourself through that? Disobedience produces a hard life because your parents are always on you; and, God is not pleased with you! So, OBEY! Your life will be much easier!” Jesus set the example of obedience—both to His Heavenly Father; and, to His earthly father!

-Attitude Originates In The Heart!

Obedience is a matter of the heart. It’s not just about obeying on the outside—your body language can show disrespect even if you did what you were told! Grumbling, rolling your eyes, shrugging your shoulders, stomping off, banging doors, sassing, arguing, justifying your behavior by making excuses, rationalizing with a “Jimmy’s mom doesn’t make him do that…”— all point to a disobedient attitude of the heart! And, to delay is the same as disobedience! When Paul wrote, on the same topic, to the Ephesian church, he told them that honoring your parents will earn a reward of long life. Put the two together— HONOR your parents by OBEYING them!

-Fathers Are Significant!

Back to his letter to the Colossians, Paul also pointed out that fathers play a significant part in raising children that please God— “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so they won’t become discouraged” Col. 3:21. I don’t believe that Paul is suggesting that mom has no responsibility in the upbringing of their children.; rather, he’s calling out dad for his “headship” in the home! He’s to be the family shepherd & leader!

-Don’t Crush Your Child’s Spirit!

Dad needs to be the leader when it comes to “voluntarily” loving his wife sacrificially (as we noted in our previous post). And, he needs to step up his leadership when it comes to training the children. Don’t exasperate your children, dad! Or, you’ll discourage them! You’ll crush their spirit! That’s what it means to discourage them. Don’t make promises you don’t keep! Don’t change your mind without a very good reason! Don’t withhold compliments! Give them credit for the good things they do! For the times they’re obedient! They’ll remember it forever! But, they’ll also remember when you fail to compliment them for a job well done! Love them unconditionally, mom & dad! And, give them room to grow!

 

Complementary Love & Submission!

-It’s Not About Inequality!

In our culture we tend to equate any kind of “submission” to another person as a sign of “inequality.” That’s unfortunate because it simply isn’t true! All of us submit to our boss at work; not, because of inequality; but, because of order! God designed order into every area of His world; including, the home! Jesus, Himself, submitted to that order in the home:  “And He (Jesus) went down with them (his parents) and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them” Luke 2:51.  I certainly hope that doesn’t mean that Jesus, the 2nd member of the Triune Godhead, was somehow BENEATH His human parents!

-Jesus Submitted To The Father!

And, what of Jesus’ submission to the Father within the Triune Godhead? He is just as much “GOD” as the Father and the Spirit. But, He voluntarily gave in to the Father’s lead:  “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, 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, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross” Phil. 2:5-8. Did you see that? He was EQUAL with God, the Father; but, He didn’t use that to His own advantage! Rather, He humbled Himself and voluntarily became obedient to the Father!

-Wives Looking Like Jesus!

Wives—nothing you do, within the structure of your home, makes you look more like Jesus, than when you VOLUNTARILY give up control to your husband! Not because you’re incapable! In fact, I’ve counseled many marriages in which the WIFE was clearly the more “CAPABLE” leader; but, when she gave that up voluntarily it changed the entire dynamics of their home. By doing so, she empowered her husband to lead and love; and, she “imaged” Jesus for her children. Ladies, that’s how you complement your husband according to God’s design for the home! And, men, you complement your wife’s voluntary submission by your LOVE for her.  “HUSBANDS, LOVE your wives…” Colossians 3:19.

-A Voluntary, Sacrificial Love!

The context, of this Colossians 3 passage, shows that the wife’s submission is prompted by a husband who shows her unselfish love. In no way does the Scripture imply that the husband is to DEMAND submission from his wife! It’s impossible to draw that meaning from this text. The relationships are understood to be reciprocal. He gains the voluntary submission of his wife as he loves her & she enjoys more of his love as she voluntarily submits to him! That word translated “love” is “agape” in the original language; and, it’s interesting that “agape” love is a “voluntary, sacrificial kind of love.” Her submission is to be voluntary & his love his to be given voluntarily. It’s not governed by feelings! It’s a love that looks out for her best interests, regardless! A love that refuses to turn “bitter” as Paul points out in the rest of v.19.

 

Honoring Jesus With Our Gender!

-The Culture Doesn’t Get It!

We honor Jesus in our hearts when we obey Him with our lifestyles! And, by our obedient lifestyle, we create curiosity! The answer the culture is giving, about our sexual identity, isn’t working! And, it never will! But, when we live, sexually, in obedience to God’s word, we earn the right to share it when the world gets curious— to share with them the Gospel and God’s purpose for gender. This is difficult subject matter! It’s layered with lots of abuse & painful injuries dating all the way back to the Garden of Eden; and, it’s just not easy to jump into without laying a foundation of understanding with empathy and love.

-Say It With Empathy & Love!

And, that is what the world needs from us— understanding, empathy and love! It’s simply not helpful when, instead, we offer them self-righteous judgment and vindictiveness! So, let me try and unpack some of the main points from the first 2 chapters of Genesis; especially, as it relates to gender & sexual identity. We need to take note of some of the implications it plays for our homes, our families, and, how it plays into our child rearing. Keep in mind,   from an interpretive standpoint of the text, that Genesis ch.1 presents the “Big Picture” of God’s creative act; and, ch. 2 fills in the “details.” Chapter 1 is like the Super Bowl headlines the day after—  “Patriots Win The Most Boring Super Bowl Ever”; and, ch.2 is like the story that fills in the details how the Patriots pummeled the Rams into submission.

-What Shapes Our Opinions?

Let’s also remember the most important detail as a Follower of Jesus Christ—  When determining our roles, as men and women, God’s Word must shape our opinions, not the culture! And, perhaps, the most significant point, of the text, is that God created humanity to reflect HIS IMAGE.  “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth’” ch. 1:26.  God created humanity to function as His living image over the creation; and, I believe it’s correct to interpret “man” here as “mankind”; including, BOTH man & woman! I believe the next verse bears that out—  God created humanity to bear His image as MALE & FEMALE!

-God Created Maleness & Femaleness!

The text says, “So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female”  ch. 1:27. Our “maleness” and our “femaleness” are essential parts of being God’s image bearers! Somehow—and, I don’t want to get “weird” here—but, somehow it seems that God is saying that it was in the “complementing” or the “completing” of the man with the creation of woman, that humanity was created in the image of God. That image wasn’t clear or evident until woman complemented God’s creation of man. So, here’s my plea:  Men & Women! We need each other to correctly image God in His creation! When we grasp the significance of that we’ll begin to glory in both “MANHOOD” & “WOMANHOOD.” Together, we are God’s intentional design of human diversity!