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!

 

The Humility Of Jesus!

-Our Lack Of Humility!

Our general failure to serve others, as Jesus did, stems from our failure to humble ourselves as Jesus did! As Jesus washes the feet, of His disciples, He finally comes to Peter— “Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, are You washing my feet?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.’ Peter said to Him, ‘You shall never wash my feet!’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’ Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you’” John 13:6-10.  Peter’s words express his shame; that, he had been unwilling to humble himself & wash the feet of the disciples, “Lord, You’re not going to wash my feet, are you?” His words express a brokenness among the disciples now.

-Overcome By Selfishness!

They were overcome by their individual selfishness & humiliated by their pride that kept them from washing each other’s feet! And, the occasion provided Jesus the opportunity to exhibit true humility! That seems to be Jesus’ intent when He tells him,  “…you don’t understand now, but you will know after this.”  “Peter, you’re protesting because you’re ignorant,” Jesus was saying, “I’ve been telling you, for 3 1/2 years, that I came to minister to people, not to be ministered unto. I came to be humiliated & humbled! Someday you’ll understand.” After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter did understand. He had observed the total humiliation & humbling of Jesus on the cross.  But, not now! As Jesus washed his feet, the complete picture, of what Jesus came to do, was not evident yet to Peter. He still thinks Jesus is about to launch His Kingdom! This is the King— “What are you doing down there washing my feet, King Jesus?” “Peter, you’re just not tracking with me,” Jesus was saying, “I must humble myself! That’s why I came! And, if you won’t let me humble myself, in your place, you can have no part of Me! If I don’t experience the ultimate humiliation of death, on the cross! If I don’t take your sin & the sin of the world! If I don’t make atonement for your sin, you can have no part of Me! You’ll never spend eternity with Me!”

-I’ve Given You An Example!

He finishes washing their feet & says, “You call Me Teacher & Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord & Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” John 13:13-15. The “example” He gave was NOT the practice of foot washing! The example He gave us was HUMILITY!  His ministry, as a SERVANT, didn’t appeal to the religious leaders! Serving others made Him weak, in their estimation. He couldn’t possibly be the Messiah! Judas Iscariot came to the same conclusion! So, he determined to cut his losses & make a little profit from his wasted 3 1/2 years with Jesus! How sad they missed the Servant King!

 

Serve One Another!

-Jesus, The Example!

For I have given you an example,” Jesus told His disciples, after washing their feet, “that you should do as I have done to you.  Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master…” John 13:15-17.  The example, He set before them, was NOT the washing of their feet! In some circles, where the washing of feet is practiced, individuals can actually take “pride” in the “humility” they display as they wash each other’s feet. No, the example Jesus sets is true humility in the serving of others! It is humble deference to others; and, serving them in every life situation!

-Jesus, The Master!

I am your Master,” Jesus says, “And I’ve given you an example to serve in the SAME WAY you’re seen me serve!” That’s the identity that Jesus gives us! That’s who we are! We are servants, just like Jesus, our Master! We’re called Christians; and, that literally means “little Christs.” Acts 11 says the believers were first called “little Christs” at Antioch. They so resembled the humble, servant Christ that the unbelievers said they acted just like Him! Like a “little Christ.” We will never serve like Jesus served until we grab hold of that! To use Jesus’ words, our purpose & calling is to “…do as I have done to you…” He calls us to be a servant to all! Just like Jesus!

-Jesus, The Lover!

But, we will never serve like Jesus served until we love like Jesus loved! In the first verse, of John 13, it says, of Jesus, “…having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” The key to understanding that verse; and, the kind of love Jesus had, is found in that phrase, “…He loved them to the end.” It means “to the uttermost” or with “total fullness.” He loved them “utterly”, with “total fullness”; even though He knew that His hour, to endure the cross, was near! Though He knew of His approaching death to pay for the sin of the world! All the way to the cross He is pre-occupied with His love for them! His kind of love drove Him to serve! To minister! And, we’ll not serve like Jesus until we learn to love like He loved! It’s quite simple really! We don’t serve because our pre-occupation is with other things! We’re pre-occupied with the building of our own little kingdoms; rather, than His kingdom! We don’t serve because it’s not on our agenda!

-Will They Know You’re His Disciple?

We’re not in love with the same things Jesus was in love with! Later, in the same chapter, John records these words of Jesus: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” John 13:35. The world will know that we are Christians (“little Christs”) by our love; and, our love will be evidenced by a life of service to others! Loveless people are too pre-occupied with their own “self importance” to do common ministry… like washing someone’s feet! Not Jesus! He is fully aware of His identity! He is the “King of kings and Lord of lords.” He is God incarnate! And, He’s washing the feet of disciples who were too proud to serve each other! That is true love’s character! And, the nearer we are, to Jesus, the closer we’ll get to other people! And, we’ll serve them like Jesus did!

 

The Prayer Of Repentance!

-Once Upon A Time!

The Parable Of The Ducks”— Once upon a time there was a town where only ducks lived. Every Sunday the ducks waddled out of their houses & down Main Street to their Duck Church. They waddled in & squatted down in their proper seats. The Duck Choir would waddle in & take their place. And, the Duck Pastor would waddle forward & open his Duck Bible. And, he’d read to them:  “Ducks! God has given you wings! With wings you can fly! With wings you can mount up & soar like Eagles! No walls can confine you! No fences can hem you in! You have wings, so FLY!” All the ducks would shout, “Amen!” And, then they would all waddle home!

-When Sin Invades!

The moral to the story? Once sin invades our life it cripples our ability to live the Christian life the way God intended for us to it; and, until we repent of our sin, we’ll “waddle” through this life though God has ENABLED us to “FLY” IN CHRIST! Before his ascension, to the throne of Israel— and, for much of his early reign—  King David was a man of moral integrity. But, some where he began to take himself too seriously; and, pride began to crowd out the voice of God’s Spirit, in his life; and, he began to lose his way spiritually. The tragic events leading up to King David’s most memorable sinful gaffe are found in 2 Samuel ch. 11.

-David’s Tragic Gaffe!

It began “..in the spring,” v.1 says, “when kings march out to war.” It was customary for kings to march out to war, with their soldiers, to inspire them! But, David decides to indulge himself at home while his soldiers set up camp in an open field. “…David sent Joab,” the text says, “with his officers and all Israel.  They destroyed the Ammonites & besieged Rabbah, but David remained in Jerusalem.” That decision proved to be a dreadful mistake for David! One evening, while out for a stroll on the roof of his palace, he sees something he never would have been exposed to if he had marched to war with his men. A woman was cleansing herself. She was a beautiful woman, according to v.2; and, David decides he wants her. So, he sends messengers to find out who she was—she was the WIFE of one of his soldiers, Uriah & that should have ended it! She was another man’s wife! But David sent for her & slept with her!

-The Big Cover-Up!

It would just be a 1-night fling for the king; but, she got pregnant! And, then he orchestrated a cover-up that ended in her husband Uriah’s death! But God was displeased with what David had done; so, He sent Nathan, the Prophet, to expose King David’s sin & to inform him that the son, that Uriah’s wife would give birth to, would die. It’s at that point that the Scriptures allow us to peer in on King David to see what a “Prayer of Repentance” looks like! What we learn is that repentant prayer re-opens communication with God that sin had closed! I’m pretty confident that David’s sin didn’t begin here with Uriah’s wife. When the big sin shows up, there’s always a trail of little sins leading up to it. And, David repented of 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!

 

God’s Glory In Our Salvation!

-We’re Rendered Speechless!

Music is a powerful medium! Especially, in a worship service! Just combine a deeply moving message—about grace, mercy, love, the cross & salvation—with an appropriate musical score and it locks up my vocal chords! I’m just rendered speechless! I can’t sing! All I can do is praise Jesus—in my heart—as I listen to the congregation sing! That’s the kind of picture I get, in my mind, when I read about the worship service that will one day take place in heaven— “And I beheld, and I heard a voice of many angels round about the throne, and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor,  AND GLORY, and blessing.” And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying, “Blessing and honor AND GLORY and power be unto him that sits on the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever” Rev. 5:11-13

-Jesus, The Lamb, Is Worthy!

Why? Why will there be such a scene in heaven? Because Jesus, the Lamb, is worthy! Jesus is worthy of blessing, honor & GLORY! He willingly submitted Himself to the Father’s plan! He was the Lamb of God, who shed His blood—on our behalf—so, that we might be saved! And, every believer since creation will sing their praises to Jesus because our salvation was the result of Jesus’ work, on the Cross, ALONE! Our salvation is God’s work alone! So, He gets all the Glory alone! There is no one else to praise!

-Because Of His Great Love!

We can take no glory for our own salvation! We were DEAD in our trespasses & sins— “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens, so that in the coming ages (That’s the scene described earlier in Rev. 5) He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast” Eph. 2:4-9.

-Nothing To Boast About!

We have nothing to boast about in ourselves! We boast in Jesus & the cross! Our greatest preoccupation must be with God’s Glory! It’s for that purpose that we exist! Jesus is the HERO of our story, NOT us! Our salvation didn’t require a little bit of our effort & a lot of Jesus’ work! All that we contributed was our total depravity & brokenness! His coming, to save us, was nothing short of a “rescue mission”! And, Scripture teaches clearly that He is to be offered praise for the entirety of our salvation! So, that, from the beginning of our faith, in this life, to the completion of our faith, in heaven, He gets ALL the Glory! It’s appropriate that we remain committed to giving God Glory for our salvation every opportunity we can!

Stealing God’s Glory!

-That’s What Pride Does!

At the top of God’s “hate” list is PRIDE— “These six things the LORD hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him…” Proverbs 6:16-19.  Care to guess what’s #1 on the LIST? It’s “…A PROUD LOOK…” God hates pride because it’s man’s attempt to steal glory that belongs only to Him!  Only God is due glory; because, all glory was His from the beginning of Creation.  Remember that! All that exists is “GOD” & “everything He has created”! That’s it! There is nothing else! So, when we speak about the “glory of a sunset”, the sun didn’t create that glory! God created it! The sun is just borrowing it until God wants it back! The “glory” of the 28 Olympic Medals that Michael Phelps won is NOT his glory! It’s God’s! Creator God gave him those abilities! He’s just borrowing a glory—that belongs to God—until God decides He wants it back!

-American Pride Is Deadly!

In Isaiah 42:8 God says: “I am Yahweh, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another or My praise to idols.” And, the Apostle Paul ends the book of Romans with these words:  “To the only wise God, through Jesus Christ—TO HIM be the GLORY FOREVER! AMEN!” Romans 16:27. We face deadly consequences when we lift ourselves up, in pride, and steal God’s glory! That’s a hard message to preach here in the good old U.S. of A. We talk about being “PROUD Americans”! We’re proud of our rugged individualism! We put up billboards & sing songs about it! But, if you’re a child of God, don’t go there! Don’t wear your “American Patriotism” first! This place is NOT where you hold your citizenship Scripture says (Philippians 3:20).

-Aliens & Temporary Residents!

We’re called, of God, to live our lives here as aliens & temporary residents (1 Peter 1:17; 2:11-12).  So, when we lift ourselves up in pride & deny God the glory due His name, it actually has a negative impact on the way we think!  The Apostle Paul speaks of certain men & women, that “…though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools…” Rom 1:21-22.  Pride can really mess you up badly!

-Thinking Nonsense!

We lose our ability to look at the world & draw accurate conclusions when we reject the glory of God! Our reasoning ability becomes skewed when we fail to acknowledge the “finger prints” of God on everything! Claiming to be wise, they become fools, Paul adds. And, we actually see this when we look at the people of the world! Normally intelligent people—but; denying God’s existence & denying that the glory of creation belongs to Him—come up with some of the most bizarre theories for our existence! Even, believing it more plausible that aliens, from another solar system, brought humanity here! That’s some of the foolish stuff scientists will offer when they deny & dismiss God the glory He is due for creation! We exchange the GLORY of an Immortal Creator for the “glory” of created things! We accept cheap substitutes!