Growing Up Spiritually In Community

The Greatest Commandment?

We’ve often pointed out that the world generally obsesses over the “self.” But, God, in the Scriptures, directs us to be “God-focused” and “others-focused”! When Jesus was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” He responded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). Love God supremely; and love others in the same way that you love yourself! That means looking out for their best interests in the same way we look out for our best interests.

“Self-Centeredness” In Our Churches

Unfortunately, this “self-centeredness” has trickled down into our churches; so, even our spiritual growth is seen as something accomplished as an “individual.” For many modern believers, here in the West, being part of a church or a “community of faith” is seen as “supplemental”, and not “essential”, to our spiritual growth. We believe the Scriptures debunk that individualistic mindset.  God uses our local church— our faith community— to grow us at a deeper & more intimate level than can be accomplished alone.

Build Up The Body

Paul often reminded the local churches (as he did the Church of Ephesus in ch.4:11-16) that they were to function as a “body” functions; not as a group of self-centered, self-absorbed individuals! The “work of the ministry” is to “build up the BODY”, he said. The spiritual growth God intends to accomplish in us individually happens in the context of the local church body. It’s NOT that we don’t grow as “individuals”; we do! But that growth comes, in part, through our interaction with others! God uses our fellowship & even our fights to sanctify us! He teaches us humility, forgiveness, and how to resolve conflicts. When we live an isolated life outside of the church we live as though we are autonomous!

Only God Is Autonomous

Only God, however, is truly autonomous! He alone answers to no one! We must give an account of our lives to God; and, He has devised the church body to keep us accountable! It’s His plan that by holding ourselves accountable to other believers we will be stretched & matured so that we might hear a “well done good & faithful servant” when we stand before Him! We are called to “bear one another’s burdens”; and, those burdens come in different shapes and sizes. Sometimes we are burdened by sin. At other times, our burden is physical or emotional; and, God intends to use our brothers & sisters, in Christ, to help mature us!

Why Are We Here?

Since making disciples is the main reason why a church exists, everything in the corporate body of the local church needs to be aligned in a way that funnels people toward these discipleship environments, the most notable of which is the relational small group”—from the chapter titled “Rethinking Our Practices” p.171 in Jim Putnam’s excellent book,  DiscipleShift.  Depending on the English translation of the Scriptures that you use, there are between 60-65 “each other” or “one another” admonitions in the New Testament. All of them relate to the interaction of believers in the body of a local church! I would conclude that it’s not even possible to obey those “each other” or “one another” commands unless we are part of a local community of faith! God uses even our “bad experiences” in the church to sanctify & grow each member!

How Important Should Politics Be?

-The Reaping & Sowing Principle

In my last post I talked about the Church’s well-intended; but, disastrous decision, to exchange Jesus’ commission to “make disciples” in the hope that their political clout— as a “Moral Majority”— could change our country, for the better, by electing the right individuals to office & through legislation.  Five decades later, we’ve discovered the accuracy of God’s word in Galatians 6:7, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” It’s the reaping & sowing principle!

-A Biblical Theology Of Politics

The Church has severely shrunk in size; and, for the most part, the strategy of the “Moral Majority” of the 1970s and 80s, has failed to elect God-Honoring public servants or pass God-Honoring legislation. However, let us NOT get back on the pendulum; and, swing it to the other extreme, making government & politics of no importance! That’s reactionary, and it’s not a Biblically acceptable response either! What we need is a Biblical Theology of the “Christian & Politics.” Our Theology; and our Doctrine always have to begin with God! He’s the starting place for everything.

-Government Was God’s Idea

The earth is the LORD’S and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it” Psalm 24:1.  “For the earth is the Lord’s, and everything that is in it” 1 Cor. 10:26.  Government was God’s idea! He created it—  “Submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God…the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves” Rom 13:1,2.  The principle in Scripture is that God is Sovereign over human governments; and, uses them to advance His ultimate plans (Prov. 21:1;  Dan. 2:21; 2 Chron. 20:6).  At the same time, God blesses the nation that chooses Him (Psa. 9:17; 33:12; Isa. 60:12; Prov. 14:34).  There’s an element of man’s free will involved.

-Personal Responsibility Required

He’s made us a free moral agent; and so, people often get the government they’ve “chosen.” There seems to be some personal responsibility required; especially, if we have the freedom to choose our public officials as we do here in the United States of America. If we’re given the opportunity to choose good governments that exalt God, that’s what we’re called to do! Paul told Timothy to pray for good governments— “…for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity that provide a peaceful atmosphere for us to do the Lord’s work…” (1 Tim. 2:1,2).

-Balancing The Tension

In Philippians 3:20, Paul puts government & politics in its proper perspective—“But our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Peter says to “…conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your temporary residence here” 1 Pet. 1:17. It’s ultimately a matter of “identity.” I must view my identity as a “citizen of heaven” and a “temporary resident” of this world and my home country!  The moment I lose sight of that I’ve made my nation an “idol”! As one whose identity is “in Christ”, my goal must always be to pursue Christ as the prize! At the same time, we’ve been blessed with the privilege and responsibility to vote! And we must vote our conscience, based on our understanding of Scripture! But, then we leave it there! We leave the results in the hands of our Sovereign God! No anger or rudeness toward leaders that God has installed for His eternal purpose! Now we pray for those leaders!

Divine Slavery

-A Slave Of Christ Jesus

The Apostle Paul introduces himself, in his letter to the Church of Rome, with these words, “Paul, a SLAVE of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle and singled out for God’s good news” (Romans 1:1) I respect the editors of the Holman translation of Scripture for their decision to use the word “SLAVE”. Many translations have chosen to use “servant” or “bondservant” instead of “slave” out of respect for our human brothers and sisters that have been, and continue to be, subjected to the inhumane cruelty and bondage of human slavery.  But, here’s the fact – that word in the original Greek language is “doulos” and it means “slave”! So, if we believe the Scriptures are the inerrant, inspired Word of God (and I do!) then we’re left with the cold, hard truth that the Holy Spirit of God inspired Paul to use the word “slave”.

-Moved By The Holy Spirit

It was NOT Paul’s choice! He was moved by the Spirit of God to use that exact word – for a purpose! A “slave” – in the Roman world – was “owned”! A slave was purchased, “bought with a price”! They received no wages for their efforts; and, didn’t have any rights of their own. They were the personal property of the slave owner.  A “servant”, on the other hand, had rights – they were free to quit; and, they were compensated for their work. They belonged to no one! So, I was meditating on Paul’s words to the Church of Corinth, “Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) While he doesn’t use the word “slave” (“doulos”) he does use descriptive phrases that define slavery – “you are not your own” “you were bought at a price.”

-I Am Not My Own

Now, it’s not like I’ve never thought about this before! It’s not like I haven’t preached this passage before – probably numerous times! But, I grasped its meaning in a whole new way – I had an “epiphany”! I am God’s “slave”! I was “purchased” by the blood of Jesus Christ – “bought at a price”! I am not my own! Everything that I tend to see as “mine” is not mine! It all belongs to Jesus – because He bought me! If I live my life as an “owner” of my life then I’m NOT HIS! I can’t have it both ways – I’m either “free” to live as “owner” of my life & with the consequences of that decision! (Not really! Sin is the ultimate cruel taskmaster!) Or, I’m a “slave” to God!

-Does God Approve Of Human Slavery?

Let’s be real! God opposes every kind of sin against humanity. “Kidnapping” and “slavery” are condemned – “He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 21:16) “If a man is caught kidnapping any of his countrymen of the sons of Israel, and he deals with him violently or sells him, then that thief shall die; so you shall purge the evil from among you.” (Deuteronomy 24:7) ‘Nough said? I thought so! So, why does God inspire Paul to use the word “slave” to describe our relationship with Him? I don’t pretend to know all the reasons! But, clearly, God sets Himself apart from mankind that would enslave other humans! He is love! He is benevolent & well-intended toward us! To be a “slave” to Him is to enjoy the BEST LIFE we could ever have – He is not a “killjoy” in the sky trying to spoil our fun! All His commandments are perfect & for our good!

The Humility Of Christ

-We’re Usually So Full Of Ourselves!

For Jesus, to become a man was the most humbling experience God could ever endure! How foolish we are when we lift ourselves in pride as though we were really something! We won’t grasp how insignificant it is to be human unless we see ourselves as God’s image bearers! We are usually so full of ourselves; so self-centered & self-absorbed; and narcissistic, that we just don’t get the reality of our existence. Jesus’ humility, however, went way beyond lowering Himself to become a man! He died the most humiliating death ever devised to kill a criminal— Crucifixion! The pain was excruciating & the public shame beyond comprehension.

-Jesus Humiliated Himself To Serve Us!

It was especially true for this one, Who was God! For, He had created the very tree that was used to crucify Him. He humiliated Himself in order to serve us at our greatest point of need—we desperately needed a Savior because we could not possibly save ourselves! So, as we’ve talked about being Gospel lights over the last several posts, we will shine as we let God’s Holy Spirit change our attitude to the mind of Jesus Christ; even if that means humiliation in the service of others! And, church, that will only happen as we live in search of God’s approval! We will only shine as Gospel lights to our city as we seek the approval of God alone!

-We Were Created To Bring God Glory!

That was Jesus’ attitude—pleasing the Father! “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” Philippians 2:8. And, because of His obedience to the Father’s will, “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (vs.9-11). Edward Welch wrote a great little book titled “When People Are Big & God Is Small.” In it, he reflects on how broken & distorted is the image of God that we reflect because of our sin. We were created to bring HIM glory! We were designed with certain “needs” and “desires” that only God can fulfill. But, when we replace that “God-Shaped vacuum” in our life with the created things in this world, we take glory away from God & transfer it to that thing that becomes an idol! And, because of our sinful brokenness, it can be so easy to be caught up in idolatry; and not even be aware!

-We Need Jesus’ Attitude!

We need the attitude of Christ! Because He willingly left His throne in Heaven! Because He took the form of a slave! Because He lived His entire life here solely for our benefit! Because He stopped & lowered Himself even to the humiliating death on a cross to serve our needs! And, because of all of that, God has highly exalted Him & given Him a name above every name! In fact, that word in v.9 literally means “super exalted.” God super exalted Jesus! This is the only place in Scripture that that word is used! Everything Jesus did was for God’s glory! And, our attitude is most like Jesus when we are God-Centered in everything we do! Casting aside our personal agendas! Letting “Christ In Us” restore the image of God that we were created to reflect! God uses the church that is full of people who live their lives like that! He uses them for His glory! We need to pray that way! That God will transform our churches to live like that!

Shining Like Stars In The World!

-God Enables Us!

Over the last few posts, I’ve asked you to read with me from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 2. In writing to this church, Paul shares something significant in v.15, “So that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world.” God intends that we would shine like stars in the world as He enables us & gives us the desire to have the mind or attitude of Jesus. Go back earlier in the chapter & re-read verses 5-11.  God will enable us to shine like stars in the world when we empty ourselves of self-glory as Jesus did.

-Empty Yourself Of All Self-Glory!

Consider that phrase, in v.7, where Paul says that Jesus “…made Himself of no reputation…” It means He “emptied Himself.” The word, in the original Greek language, means “to empty, or to pour out.” In a practical sense, the word means “to give up status or privilege.” When Jesus “…made Himself of no reputation…” or “emptied Himself,” Scripture means He willingly set aside some of the privileges He enjoyed as God.  Paul says that Jesus also took on the “form” of a slave. The word “form” means “the exact essence.”

-The Exact Essence Of A Slave!

Jesus was the exact essence of what a slave looks like, but He took it on voluntarily. No one forced Jesus to do it! He willingly took the form of a slave! He willingly came to earth! He willingly died so we could live!  Then, Paul says He came “…in the likeness of men.” In other words, He wasn’t just God in a human body. He took on all the essential attributes of humanity— He experienced all the emotions, the pain, and the suffering of betrayal & death! So, here is the application— Paul calls us out, as the church, to think of ourselves in the same way as Christ who emptied Himself! To set aside self-glory; and, become slaves to one another in the church, until it spills over into our city!

-Serving Our City With The Mind Of Christ!

Until we serve the people of our city in a way that the mind of Christ would direct us! God will also cause us to shine like stars in the world as we humble ourselves of our self-importance. In v.8 Paul says, “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” Jesus so humbled Himself that when a man looked upon Him, many of them only saw a “man.” He had no glory glow about Him; no halo as artists have erroneously depicted Him. He just appeared to be a man to them. He left the glory of heaven where He was “King of Kings & Lord of Lords.”

-Angels Worshiped him In Heaven!

In heaven, Jesus couldn’t go anywhere without angels bowing down to worship Him & singing Him songs of praise! While He could have strutted onto this planet with a spectacular display of His omnipotence, His omniscience, His holiness, and His justice— so that no one could mistake Him for anything other than the God He was— instead, He humbled Himself so that many disrespected Him & saw Him as nothing more than a mere man! Application? Paul said the Church of Philippi filled his heart with joy (v.3) because they humbled themselves of self-importance. When they esteemed the needs & interests of others as more important than their own & become more concerned with the rest of the faith community’s needs above their own, that’s when they were thinking like Jesus. That’s Christ IN YOU! The Spirit produces the mind of Christ IN YOU! We can’t! But He changes our minds & attitudes when we trust Him.

Ungodly Men & Ungodly Laws!

-We Don’t Have To Take Care Of Ourselves!

The Old Testament prophet, Daniel, viewed himself as nothing more than God’s humble servant. He didn’t take himself too seriously! He saw himself as just one piece in God’s sovereign plan for the world! Though life circumstances, no doubt, made him fearful at times; fear did not control him! When we get over our fear, we can kind of “let go” & “let God” use us however He wants. I don’t have to take care of myself. God takes care of me! God shows us, in Daniel’s story, how we ought to respond when ungodly men make ungodly laws.

-Bow Down & Worship!

In Daniel, chapter 3, Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, builds a 90’ tall gold statue of himself; and, demands that everyone bow down & worship it; or, be thrown into a fiery furnace. That would be a problem for Daniel’s 3 Hebrew friends— Hananiah, Mishael & Azariah! They had been raised in good Jewish homes. They knew the commandments Yahweh had given to Moses in Exodus 20— “I  am the LORD your God; do not have any other gods besides me; do not make an idol for yourself; You must not bow down to them or worship them.” So, here they were between a rock; and, a hard place! Obey the King & face God’s judgment; or, obey God & face the fiery furnace.

-An Awkward Moment!

Get the picture? There are probably thousands of people, representing all the nations that Babylon had subdued; all, waiting for the sound of the music. They hear it; and, everyone bows down & worships the gold image except 3 men. They had to know that their insubordination wouldn’t go unnoticed. And, it wasn’t:  “Some of the Chaldeans took this occasion to come forward and maliciously accuse them” (3:8). So, they are made to stand before King Nebuchadnezzar; and, they “…replied to the king, ‘Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question.  If the God we serve exists, then He can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He can rescue us from the power of you, the king. But even if He does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up’” (3:16-18).

-God Is Able To Deliver!

Enraged by their insubordination, the king demanded that they be thrown into the furnace. But, they determined to obey God rather than the king; and, trust God to do whatever he willed. They had faith that God was able to deliver them; but, even if He didn’t, they would not bow to the king’s image. There is a great application to take from their example—we need to be careful we don’t make claims for God on His behalf! We may think that God has to respond in a certain way; but, our knowledge is finite! His ways are higher than ours! So, don’t make promises for God that He doesn’t make!

-How Our Story Ends!

We can’t make demands on God about how our personal story ends! They trusted that God would deliver them either by a miracle; or, by death! We have to be careful that our trust in God is not limited to delivery by miracle! Their trust in God was not just tied to delivery from the furnace:  “…EVEN IF He does NOT,” they said, “we won’t bow to false gods!” That’s a gospel response. Sadly, the gospel being preached in the majority of our American churches is all about “me.” It’s man-centered; and, not God-centered! So, if He doesn’t deliver me from the furnace I won’t trust Him! That’s where false teaching begins… with man’s ways! King Nebuchadnezzar took credit for his accomplishments; when, it was God who blessed him with his abilities! I read somewhere that:  “Pride is like plagiarism because it attempts to take for ourselves Glory that belongs to God alone.” God will not share His glory with you! Humble yourself before Him.

An Impossible Situation!

-When There’s No Happy Ending!

The Prophet Daniel, in the Old Testament book named after him, shows us how to live faithfully; even when life doesn’t have a happy ending! His country overrun by the brutal King Nebuchadnezzar, of Babylon; and, his parents perhaps slain right before his eyes; Daniel, nonetheless, remained faithful! He refused to defile himself by the ungodly culture around him; and, God blessed him for it! The 1st chapter reveals that; after enduring a 3-year period of training intended to indoctrinate him in the ways of the Babylonians, “…no one was found equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. So they began to serve in the king’s court. In every matter of wisdom and understanding that the king consulted them about, he found them 10 times better than all the diviner-priests and mediums in his entire kingdom” (1:19-20). 

-Bad Dreams & Insomnia!

The 2nd chapter, of Daniel, opens with a bad dreams; and, a case of insomnia for King Nebuchadnezzar. In v.2, he calls together all his diviner-priests, mediums, and sorcerers; and, gives them an impossible situation— he demands not only the meaning of his dream; but, he also demands that they tell him what he dreamed! Not because he forgot; but, because he was testing them; and, when they couldn’t deliver, he sends an assassin to kill them all.  That’s when God shows us, through Daniel, how to respond to an impossible situation.

-With Tact & Discretion!

The text, v.14, says, “Then Daniel responded with tact and discretion…” as he spoke to the COMMANDER of the king’s guard. In v.16 it says, “…Daniel went and asked the king to give him some time, so that he could give the king the interpretation. Then Daniel went to his house and told his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah about the matter, urging them to ask the God of heaven for mercy concerning this mystery, so Daniel and his friends would not be killed with the rest of Babylon’s wise men.” Notice that he responded to this impossible situation by taking it to his “faith community”; and, then, praying together until God answered.

-God Is Never Surprised!

It says God, “…revealed the mystery to Daniel in a vision at night.” Daniel shows us how to respond to the impossible situations in life. He lived out his faith— that God was Sovereign! That He was in the details! That He is never surprised! That He’s actually choreographing the impossible situations in life, in time; and, in history for His ultimate purpose! God was revealing Himself to King Nebuchadnezzar! Through Daniel’s story, God shows us how to live a “well done, good & faithful servant” kind of life; even, when the future looks bleak and scary! So, Daniel comes into the king’s presence; and, tells him that God had revealed to him, in his dream, things about the future!

-Give God The Glory!

And, I love Daniel’s humility! He takes no credit; but, he gives God the glory:  “…there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has let King Nebuchadnezzar know what will happen in the last days. Your dream and the visions that came into your mind as you lay in bed were these: Your Majesty, while you were in your bed, thoughts came to your mind about what will happen in the future. The revealer of mysteries has let you know what will happen. As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have more wisdom than anyone living, but in order that the interpretation might be made known to the king & that you may understand the thoughts of your mind” (v.28-30). That’s awesome! “I don’t want you to think that I have the dream & interpretation because I’m smarter than everyone else. This is a God thing, King Nebuchadnezzar! The God of heaven crashed your dreams; and, He’s got big plans to share with you!

Well Done Daniel!

-Action Thrillers!

You don’t have to know me very long to know that I love “action” movies like Star Wars; and, Marvel Comics movies; and, Mission Impossible! That kind of stuff! Those are the kind of books I love to read also— thrillers; like Ted Dekker & Joel Rosenberg books! That’s probably why I became such a big fan of the Old Testament book of Daniel after I came to faith in Jesus as a Junior Higher! I remember sitting by the record player (do you all remember those?); and, listening over & over to a recording of the action highlights of the book of Daniel being dramatized! The lion’s den! And, his 3 friends in the fiery furnace! I loved it! I couldn’t imagine a more action-packed story.

-The Back Story To Daniel!

When I went off to Bible college I became fascinated with all the end-time prophecies in the book of Daniel. I remember evangelists preaching in chapel; and, using the book of Daniel to show us where we were on God’s prophetic calendar. As I’ve gone deeper in God’s word; and, matured in my faith, I’ve discovered another storyline that weaves through Daniel’s book that was hardly broached in Sunday School; or, even in Bible college. It’s the back story of the lion’s den & the fiery furnace. It’s the story of Daniel’s faith in God; and, how he lived out his faith in one of the most wicked environments the world has ever known.

-Well Done, Good & Faithful Servant!

Through Daniel’s story, God shows us how to live a, “well done, good & faithful servant” kind of life. Let me explain! In Matthew’s gospel, chapter 25, we find one of Jesus’ parables recorded, “The Parable Of The Talents.” In the parable, God is represented as a master who gives various talents to his servants; and, to those who use their talents faithfully, he says:  “Well done good & faithful servant.” If you’ve ever read the book of Daniel, you know that, despite of great pain & disappointment in his life, Daniel lived that kind of life—a “Well done good & faithful servant” kind of life! I long to use my life; and, I pray you long to live yours in such a way that you would hear those words someday when you stand before Jesus; and, give an account of your life:  “Well done good & faithful servant!”

-Responding To Everyday Issues!

It is my intent, over the next few posts, to show you how God helped Daniel respond to the everyday issues of life. Right from the start, God shows us how to respond when life isn’t happy! Daniel’s story begins, “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and laid siege to it. The Lord handed Jehoiakim king of Judah over to him, along with some of the vessels from the house of God…” (1:1-2). This is the result of God’s judgment. All God’s warnings to Israel, through the prophets, went unheeded; so, the Lord sent Nebuchadnezzar to lay siege against Jerusalem! This was God’s Sovereign work— “The Lord handed Jehoiakim…over…”

-A Story Birthed In Pain!

No one would have made a movie out of the start of Daniel’s life. His story is birthed in pain, suffering & separation! Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, was not a very nice man! History records him as one of the most brutal, powerful & ambitious kings the world has ever known! He was arrogant & ruthless! His strategy for assimilating a conquered foe was to remove young royalty, like Daniel, from their homes; usually, killing their parents right before their eyes! Daniel’s world was flipped upside down. He was uprooted from his homeland; and, carried off to a middle eastern country he didn’t know to learn a new culture & a new language. And, Daniel shows us how to live even when life doesn’t have a happy ending. The rest of chapter 1 finds him determined to stay faithful to God. He refused to defile himself by the ungodly culture around him; and, God blessed him for his faithfulness! We’ll dig into that in our next post!

Finding Your Way Back To God!

-The Bible’s Longest Chapter!

The longest chapter in the entire Bible is Psalm 119. It has 176 verses; by far, the longest chapter in all of Scripture. The last verse arrested my attention when I read it! Just look at v.176. The writer admits how vulnerable he is to wandering away from God; and, he makes, what to us, may seem like an unusual request; and, then concludes the Psalm with a significant statement. He says, “I wander like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I do not forget Your commands.

-A Buzz Without A Shock!

Recently, I read a story by an individual who trains Doberman Pinschers. They’re a highly intelligent & independent breed of dog. And, they love to run when he takes them out to the forest! Especially, when they discover deer! And, because it’s difficult to control them when that happens, he uses an electronic shock collar to train them for their safety. The transmitter has 2 buttons—one that sends out a very quiet “buzz” sound; and, the other that sends a very mild shock! He trains them by administering 3 “buzzes” followed by one mild shock! He never shocks them without buzzing them first! The method, to the training, is that the dogs will eventually learn to respond to the “buzz” without the need for a shock.

-God’s Quiet Little Buzz!

I think that in more ways than we care to admit, that we resemble his dogs! We tend to run wild & to chase after things & wander away from God. So, God sends out a quiet “buzz”— He’s warning us about the dangers of living sinful, selfish lives! But, when His warnings fail to get our attention, He has to shock us! We experience the painful consequences of our decision to rebel against all the safeguards and the protections that God has revealed to us in His Word! As we grow, in spiritual wisdom, we’ll learn to respond to God’s “buzz” without the need for a shock!

-We’re A Lot Like The Prodigal Son!

These next couple of posts are about finding your way back to God! We tend to be a lot like the prodigal son, who was shocked to his senses! He realized what an awesome, loving Father he had wandered away from! He returned to Him in confession & humility & found that the Father’s love, mercy & grace was all he needed! We find our way back to God; and, experience spiritual growth only as we remove all the masks of hypocrisy & become transparent before God! The word “only”— in that last statement— is perhaps the most important in that sentence.  You will experience genuine spiritual growth only as you remove the mask of hypocrisy & become transparent with God and with others!

-Stop Pretending!

There can be no spiritual growth in your life so long as you hide your sin & wear a mask, pretending to be someone you’re not! The writer, of this Psalm, confessed; and, he put it in writing for the world to see:  “I wander like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I do not forget Your commands.” So, how do you make your way back to God from your wanderings? First, regularly confess that you tend to wander from God. That is the writer’s true confession as he concludes the longest chapter in Scripture. “I wander like a lost sheep,” he says. Can you identify with that confession? Can you admit that to another person? “I wander like a lost sheep!” He’s confessing his brokenness, isn’t he? “I’m not going to lie to you,” he’s saying, “I tend to wander like a lost sheep.” Can you say it with me— ”That’s what I resemble! A lost sheep!

A Faith That Doesn’t Serve!

-It’s A Questionable Faith!

Faith that fails to serve is, at best, questionable! Listen to what James writes, in his epistle:  “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself” James 2:14-17.  “Is that even saving faith?” James seems to be asking,  “What good is that kind of faith?

-Can That Faith Save Him?

If I understand the text correctly, in the original Greek it has the definite article relating to “faith”; so, the question James really seems to be asking is, “Can THAT faith save him?” Can a faith that has no passion for serving the needy & the less fortunate even be genuine, saving faith? It’s questionable! The Apostle Paul wrote this to the Church of Galatia: “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love” Galatians 5:6. In other words, if we are “in Christ” HE will produce a faith, in us, that is working through love! God IS love! So, if God— in Christ— is IN us, we’ll love more & more as we are sanctified more & more. We’ll look like Jesus!

-Looking Like Jesus!

He loved the rejects of society, the wounded, the hurting, the forgotten & those who’ve been kicked to the curb! So, if the Spirit of Jesus is “in us”, that has to work its way out through acts of love & service! If you don’t care about those in need around you, perhaps you ought to question if your faith is the real thing! James seems to say that any faith that fails to serve is worthless! What good is it?  Young’s literal translation asks, “What is the profit” of a faith that doesn’t serve? It’s worthless! Jesus lived the most profitable, worthy life ever lived because He lived it for God the Father & for others! For US! He gave Himself up for all the sins of all people of all time! So, how can we say we love Jesus if we live our lives just for ourselves? That’s the message James is trying to get across to the churches he’s writing to:  “A loveless faith is worthless!” It has no value to God; or, to anyone else! He finishes by saying that any faith that fails to serve is DEAD! (v.17)

-As Good As Dead!

He says, “…faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself” (v.17).  He’s NOT preaching that we are saved by good deeds; or, that we serve others to earn our salvation! No! It’s in the serving & the ministry that our “faith” PROVES to be ALIVE! Otherwise, “…it’s dead by itself.” It’s just empty words! The 16th-century reformer, John Calvin, once said:  “It is faith alone that justifies, but faith that justifies can never be alone!” There have to be acts of service & works of love to prove it’s genuine faith. So let me close by making this appeal to you—seek service & ministry opportunities both within your faith community & your city! Not on the basis of obligation; but, because your faith is genuine; and, like Jesus, you’re a “friend of sinners.”