Your Good Works Offend God!

-Because Jesus Already Did It!

Being a disciple of Jesus does not begin with something we do; but, with something Jesus already did! When Jesus went to the cross, He redeemed our relationship with the Father.  A relationship broken by our sin against Him! By Jesus’ death on the cross, He paid the penalty, for our sin, that we should have paid so that the Father would be just to grant us forgiveness, grace, mercy & love.  By Jesus sacrificial act, He made a way for the Father to actually adopt us into His family when we accept the work of His Son & His payment on our behalf.

-Don’t Disrespect Jesus’ Sacrifice!

But, Jesus’ work, on our behalf, is only effective when we quit trying to work our own way into the Father’s favor! We must accept God’s offer of salvation through Christ alone by grace alone; and, cast aside any hope that our good deeds might impress the Father.  Can you see how offensive it is to God when we try to make ourselves presentable to Him? We trample on His Son’s sacrifice when we try to impress God with our “perceived” good deeds! We spit in His face & tell Him His Son’s work on the cross wasn’t good enough; that, we need to “add” our own. What God requires of us is nothing more than humility & brokenness, along with a confession that we’re not worthy & incapable of ever becoming worthy of the salvation He offers us!

-Are You Heaven’s Citizen?

What we need is a new start; a new beginning; a new birth! “You MUST be born again,” Jesus said. He was referencing a “SPIRITUAL” birth. Your “physical” birth makes you a citizen of this world; but, only your “spiritual” birth can make you a citizen of heaven! That becomes your new identity! You’re no longer a citizen of this world; rather, Scripture calls you a “temporary resident” here! Your citizenship is heaven! And, that’s where we have to begin when we start a conversation about “spiritual growth.”

-An Identity In Christ!

You have to be sure of your identity—in Christ—before you can ever hope to mature as a disciple of Christ. That, in fact, is what Paul said happens at the moment of faith. Here’s how the Amplified Bible expands on the meaning of Paul’s words:  “Therefore if anyone is in Christ [that is, grafted in, joined to Him by faith in Him as Savior], he is a new creature [reborn and renewed by the Holy Spirit]; the old things [the previous moral and spiritual condition] have passed away. Behold, all things have become new [because spiritual awakening brings a new life]” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

-You’re Not The Old You!

If you’re a believer—or, a disciple—of Jesus, you’re no longer that OLD you. You’ve become; and, are becoming the NEW you—the spiritually born again you! And, one day God will finish the work He began in you that day you were converted—that’s the coming day of “glorification”! Until that day, God will be at work, in you, sanctifying you. That’s a big word—SANCTIFICATION—but, break it down to it’s simplest form & it’s the process by which God makes you more like Jesus and less like you! He does that, in part, by revealing to us our sin, convincing us to forsake it, and, empowering us to actually overcome it!

 

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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!

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: God’s Mercy Has A Limit!

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

-Do Not Test God!

So, how long will God extend mercy, toward the habitual sinner, before He finally breaks out in judgment against him! No one, but God, actually knows! But, Scripture is clear that it’s incredibly dangerous—and stupid—to test God! He does have a limit; and, the Babylonian King Belshazzar discovered it according to the prophet Daniel’s account in chapter 5 of the book named after him! As the grandson of King Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar should have known better! By his grandfather’s own testimony, he knew that God had judged him to live like an insane animal for 7 years until he acknowledged that God was Sovereign over all the affairs of man; and, that all of life’s “stuff” is a GIFT from Him. But, Belshazzar continually turned his back on God until God, in judgment, turned His back on Belshazzar. And, that would be the tragic ending to Belshazzar’s life.

-He Died A Fool!

His was a wasted life! He became a “byword”; or, a moral proverb! He should have known better! But, the words of judgment, “…you…have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this…” haunted him at the end (v.22).  He died a fool! What about you? You need to know that pride invites God’s judgment! You need to know that human wisdom is inadequate! You need to know that God’s patience can run thin! It can be exhausted! You need to know that God’s Word is certain; and, that there’s no escaping God’s judgment!

-You Need An Advocate!

God’s Word says, for certain, that “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one of us may be repaid for what he has done in the body, whether good or worthless” (2 Corinthians 5:10).  You don’t want to stand, before Him, alone because the deeds you’ve done will never earn you salvation! You need an advocate! You need Jesus to stand beside you! You want His atoning work, on the cross, for your sin to be applied to your account! Only by accepting His Son, Jesus, will God “…vanquish our iniquities; and…cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:19) He’ll “…remember them no more…” (Isaiah 43:25); and, “…remove them as far as the east is from the west…” (Psalm 103:12)

-You Are No Longer Ignorant!

I urge you to turn to Jesus! Don’t come to the end of life; and, say, like King Belshazzar, “I should have known better.” It matters not what you’ve done with your life up until now! If you humble yourself before God, He will extend to you His love, mercy and grace! Dedicate the rest of your life to serving God by the power of His Holy Spirit! You’re flesh isn’t enough! You’re physical strength isn’t enough! You need Jesus! You can’t “UNDO” what you’ve “DONE”; but, you can change the course of your life moving forward! We serve the God who makes beauty from ashes! He loves to set the sinner FREE! He redeems and makes all things new; including, your life if you’ll just give it back to Him!

 

Daniel: Pride Comes Before The Fall

-Wearing Pride Like A Badge!

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

As a young boy, I remember being taught by well-intended parents & teachers that I needed to take pride in my accomplishments! I needed to take pride in my grades & my education! I needed to take pride in my work ethic & everything I did! Wear pride like a badge! I learned that pride was important to  my “self-worth” & that it was even “healthy”! So, I “bought in” and became a pretty good bragger; and, I was proud of myself for that!

-Pride Makes “Me” The Standard!

And, since “I” was the standard by which I measured everyone else, it was easy for me to look down on you if you didn’t compare favorably to my ACT score; or, if school didn’t come as easy for you; or, if you weren’t as good as I was at sports or drama or music! But, that all began to change for me, as I began to understand the claims of the Gospel. As a young believer & follower of Jesus, the Scriptures began to come to life for me; and, I was forced to reconsider my pride on the basis of God’s Word!

-Pride: #1 On God’s “Hate List”

How could I justify my personal pride when I read in the Bible: “These 6 things the Lord hates, Yes, 7 are an abomination to Him…”; and, #1 on God’s “hate” list? “…a PROUD look…” (Prov 6:16-19) The Lord HATES PRIDE, it says! It’s an ABOMINATION to Him! How could I continue living with all this pride? Could all my teachers have been wrong? Additional Scriptures like Proverbs 8:13 & Proverbs 16:5 & Mark 7:21-23 confirmed that “PRIDE” was a SIN to be avoided at all costs! It’s like spiritual suicide! Jesus listed it right up there with sexual immorality, murder, adultery & wickedness!

-Pride Can Damn Your Soul

The 4th chapter—in the book of Daniel—indicates that it was pride that nearly damned the soul of King Nebuchadnezzar! Pride had deceived him! It blinded him to his true condition before God! But, God would not leave Nebuchadnezzar where he was at! Yahweh was about to get in the King’s “grill.” Things were going to get very personal! The King was about to experience God’s response to His pride; and, it would ultimately lead to his eternal salvation!

-A Personal Encounter With God

In the first 3 chapters of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar had only seen God from afar!  Each chapter found Daniel and/or his 3 friends dealing with a personal “crisis of faith.” Each time they trust God’s Sovereign plan—in the face of adversity & possible death—and, each time God shows up and delivers them!  But, for the King, none of those events were “personal.” He had not personally encountered Daniel’s God up to this point! There’s an individual application here:  We cannot live vicariously through someone else’s faith! The King thought well about Daniel’s God because he had seen what Yahweh had done for Daniel! Yahweh had made a favorable impression on him; but, the King didn’t “know” Him personally…..YET! That was all about to change! King Nebuchadnezzar…let me introduce you to KING YAHWEH!

 

 

Quit Trying So Hard!

-Is Change Even Possible?

Have your “New Year Resolutions” already hit the skids! Perhaps you’re at a place in your life where you think it’s impossible to change! What you’ve confirmed is the weakness of your flesh. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Church of Colosse, points out that human “regulations”—like “New Year Resolutions”—are powerless to change our fallen flesh:  “If you died with the Messiah to the elemental forces of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations:  ‘Don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch?’ All these regulations…are commands and doctrines of men.  Although these have a reputation of wisdom by promoting ascetic practices, humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value in curbing self-indulgence” Colossians 2:20-23.  That’s a sample of the world’s system for “behavior modification.” In our flesh, we wanna prove we can discipline ourselves to a “better behavior.” That gives us bragging rights to judge all the other wicked sinners by—but; that’s “legalism.”

-Legalism Is Simply Self-Effort

Legalism is our attempt to reach holiness through our own self-effort; or, “regulations” as Paul calls them here! Let me be clear—Paul is NOT referring to God’s law! You’re not a legalist for keeping His law! Sexual promiscuity, lying, stealing & murder are ALWAYS sin! It’s all the other stuff they ADD to God’s law that makes them a legalist!  I used to be a legalist—I wouldn’t play cards; or, go to the movie theatre! I wouldn’t think of going to church unless I was wearing a suit! I would never consider being part of a church where there were drums & guitars; or, anything other than a King James version of the Bible used in the pulpit! You may find that bizarre; but, be careful! Legalism is rather chameleon in nature—your “list” might be different; but, you’re “extra biblical” rules to perform by & force on others is just as legalistic!

-To Be “In Christ”

If you’re “in Christ” you’ve “…died to the elemental forces of this world,” Paul says, “Why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?” Jesus Christ is the great liberator! He set us FREE from “performance-driven faith”! If you’re “in Christ” remove the masks! Stop pretending you’re a super saint! Quit trying so hard to make yourself acceptable to the Father! He’s already accepted you “in Christ.”

-Declared Righteous!

If your faith is in Christ’s work on the cross, you’ve been “declared righteous.” That is your forever standing before God! There is NOTHING you can do that will ever make you more acceptable to God; and, there is NOTHING you’ve done that makes you less acceptable to Him! Jesus bore ALL YOUR SIN—past, present & future; and, His righteousness was placed in your account when you trusted His work by faith! Then, God’s Holy Spirit moved in; and, told your spirit that He’s ready to go to work in you! But, it will be HIS WORK! He doesn’t need you to get in the way & put on that “HOLIER than thou mask” by keeping a bunch of man-made, human-inspired rules! It’s in your “weakness” that He is strong! God rejects all human effort!

 

God’s Plan For World Evangelism

-We’re Insulated From The Real World!

There’s something about living in America that insulates us from the real world. When we see pictures of some of the horrors that choke the rest of the world, they seem so far away that they’re almost surreal! Well, Church, we need to awaken from our slumber; and, we need to see the world through the lens of Scripture. We need to face some realities—at best, 1/3rd of the world knows Christ if you count everyone who claims to be a Christian! Even if we give them the benefit of the doubt, that still means that 4.5 billion people are, by their own admission, non-followers of Christ. They remain eternally separated from the God of creation at this moment!

-We’ve Failed The Rest Of The World!

What is God’s will for these? “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” 2 Peter 3:9.  It’s not God’s will that any of these would perish? So, why are many of them dying without ever hearing the Gospel? It’s because we—Christ’s Church—have failed them! And, we are without excuse! It is God who empowers us to be His witnesses to the whole world! We can’t ratchet up enough strength to follow through on the Great Commission. Jesus told His disciples, “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you…” Acts 1:8. His Spirit has come; and, He indwells each of us! God commands us to embrace the lostness of the whole world—”…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

-Jesus Didn’t Just Die For “US”; Or, The “U.S.”!

We need to face a humbling truth that Jesus didn’t just die for US! We may not say it; but, we live like we think God is an American! But, John 3:16 doesn’t say that “God loves ME so much He sent Jesus to die for ME.” The message of Biblical Christianity is that God loves me so that I might make HIM known among ALL the NATIONS! It’s about the LOSTNESS of the whole world before God; and, reconciliation by the work of Christ! The total depravity of the world requires our faithful witness to the Gospel’s work on behalf of sinners!

-The Gospel Is Intended For All Ethnic Groups!

He says, “…YOU will be MY witnesses…” We are witnesses of the Gospel work He has done in us! In Christ’s commission— “Go and make disciples of all NATIONS…”—that word, “nations”, is “ethnos” in the original Greek. It’s the word we get “ethnic” from in English. So, it’s “ethnic” groups or “people groups.” And, in Matthew 24:14, Jesus says, “…this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the NATIONS, and then the end will come.” Same word! So, it seems that God intends for all people groups to hear the Gospel before the end comes! Let’s be faithful to our calling