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Walking Worthy of Our Calling

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Ephesians 4:1, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called…”

I think, I hope all of us know, that none of us is worthy of the Gospel…None of us is worthy of the grace of God, and being called to live the glorious life to which we are called to as Christians…None of us is worthy of the love of Christ. Certainly we all know that. And hopefully we all know that there is nothing that we can ever do, or will ever do, or that Is even within our power to do…that will ever, ever, make us worthy of the love of God…

So, what in the world does Paul mean here, when he tells us to walk in a manner worthy of the calling?

Well, Paul isn’t telling us to work really hard so that we will prove ourselves worthy…we aren’t trying to earn any type of merit before God. We can’t do that, as we all know. But what Paul is trying to tell us here, is that we should live a life that is fitting and appropriate for one who is in Christ. Our lifestyles should reflect who we are in Christ…One commentator said that  we should, “live lives equal to the blessings we’ve received in Christ.”

That is a staggering thought…That we need to live lives that are equal to the blessings we’ve received in Christ.

So, the question becomes…How do we as the church do this? How can we live lives that are appropriate of ones who bear the name of Christ? Well, Paul tells us…Jesus told us…

We walk in unity…

So then the question becomes…What does unity look like? How do we achieve it?

Again Paul tells us…

We walk…we live, “…with humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love…”

Well notice that three “fruits of the Spirit” that Paul also talks about in Galatians 5 are mentioned.  

Gentleness, Patience, and Love

So, we must understand first of all, that this is all a work of the Spirit. As the Spirit dwells within us, he changes us, and he enables us to live the types of lives that the Gospel demands of us.

So, does this mean we sit back and wait for the Holy Spirit to do his thing?

Absolutely not!! The Gospel…and the grace that we receive as a result of the Gospel is not an excuse for laziness or passivity…The Gospel and the grace given to us in Christ empowers us to get off of our lazy butts and do what we were created to do!

Glorify God…And again, God is glorified, Christ receives glory, when there is unity within the body of Christ.

So, what’s the first thing you think of when you see this list of attributes…”Humility, Gentleness, Patience, Love”?

When I read them, all I see is Christ.

So, how can we achieve unity within the body of Christ? By imitating Christ. By living as Christ lived…and we are to imitate Christ aren’t we? Ephesians 5:1 seems to think so…Paul says there to be imitators of God and to love like Christ.

So, let’s do what we should all do often, and spend some time thinking about Christ, and seeing how he put these attributes on display.

Let’s start with humility. Was Christ humble? Let’s look at Philippians 2:5-8

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross…”

Was Christ very humble? The God of the universe, making himself nothing, taking on the form of a servant, becoming a man, and humbling himself to the point of dying on our behalf on a cross?

Yeah…I’d say that is pretty humble.

Was Christ Gentle? Well, he has certainly been gentle with us hasn’t he? We certainly don’t get what we deserve do we? Did Christ come in as a conquering king in power? Not at all…Christ didn’t come as a roaring lion…but he came as a lamb…of course we know that one day…this isn’t going to be the case…indeed one day he will come as that conquering king and that roaring lion…but this is what makes his humility and gentleness even more amazing…

Simply by the word of his mouth he has the power to conquer and pour out judgement…but yet he doesn’t…he has humbled himself, much to our benefit, and he has treated us with great gentleness…and obvious he is very patient with us…

When you take the humility that we’ve already talked about, and you take the gentleness that we’ve talked about…and you put them together…and when you know the entire story of who Christ is, and how Christ will indeed come one day in power…what is plainly obvious to me…is that Christ was not weak..

And I think many times, and I know you’ve all heard this before…but many times, people mistake Christ’s humility and gentleness and patience for weakness…but it is anything but that isn’t it…The Bible has a word that sums up these qualities perfectly…and that word is meekness…

Again, a lot of people mistake weakness for meekness, or think the two words are interchangeable…but that is not the case…Meekness is not weakness, but meekness is power under control…

Again, how do we see these qualities, humility, gentleness, and patience…his meekness…on display in Christ…Well…did Jesus ever retaliate when he was wronged, or when he was struck…even to his executioners as he was hanging on the cross he asked his Father to forgive them…for they knew not what they did…That is amazing to me. Jesus certainly wasn’t one to carry a vendetta is he? He was well aware that Judas was to betray him…but still he washed the feet of Judas just as he washed the feet of his other disciples…indeed all of them betrayed him…but how much love did he pour out on those men? Heck, how much love has he poured out on us, the filthy rotten sinners that we are?!?

Jesus, the Lord of creation, was and is always quick to forgive…Jesus was a defender of the weak and powerless…Jesus did not retaliate as he was struck and beaten and hung on a cross…Again, this Christ, is the Lord of all creation…yet we see him doing these things…forgiving, defending, and restraining himself…indeed he was the embodiment of strength under control. Power being restrained.

And, I think in this we see the patience of Christ clearly on display.

And in all of these things, we are to be imitators of Christ…

We are to live lives of humility. We are to be gentle and patient with one another.

The good news is that we don’t have to do these things alone. The Holy Spirit enables us and strengthens us so that we are able to do these things…But one of the major ways in which the Holy Spirit works is He points us more and more to Christ, and opens our eyes so that we can see Christ more and more clearly…And as we meditate on who Christ is, and how he lived, and what he’s done on our behalf…we are amazed, in awe…and then we desire to be more and more like him…and we work together with the Holy Spirit and He molds us more and more into the likeness of Christ…

And then we begin to see these qualities in our own lives and in the life of the Church. Then we as the church will truly be walking “in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called…”

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Distorting the Gospel

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“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:6-8

As you read through these three verses, the thing that immediately stands out if you are familiar with Paul’s writings in his other letters is the firmness with which Paul is writing. Paul is not coming to the Galatians with a gentle rebuke. Paul is upset, and it shows.

Usually Paul would open his letters with some form of thanksgiving to those whom he was writing. But there is no such thanksgiving found in this letter. Paul gets right down to business.

As Paul writes this letter he is a lot like a parent whose child has gone off track or has gone astray. Many of us have children. Have your kids ever done something wrong, and honestly done something so stupid that you were just flabbergasted by it?

I know I’ve looked at my kids many times and just been dumbfounded as to why they would do something like that. They know better! I’ve taught them better than that! And that is sort of what Paul is saying here. Paul is saying, “I can’t believe you! Why would you do this? You know better!”

And why is Paul so upset? These believers were turning away from the true Gospel.

For those of us who have young children, if one of our kids were to take off running towards the road we wouldn’t gently call them back. No, we are going to raise our voices. We are going to yell at the top of our lungs for them to come back. We are willing to do anything, to say anything to keep our children safe and secure. Our child’s safety is a matter of life and death. And so is the Gospel…

This is Paul’s heart as he writes these verses.

In these verses Paul is astonished, he is angry, and he is grieved. It is clear that Paul has the heart of a Pastor. Paul is grieved that the Galatian believers would so quickly turn from the Gospel of grace that he has preached to them, in order to follow those who would distort the Gospel of Christ.

And friends I can so identify with Paul here.

Nothing grieves me more as a pastor, than seeing sweet people who have a real and sincere desire to follow God end up under teaching that distorts the biblical Gospel.

As we talk about this thought of distorting the Gospel, let’s look at some ways in which the Gospel gets distorted in our day. As we will see, this happens in both subtle and non-subtle ways.

First, there is this idea that many Christians have, or they have been taught that, yes they are saved through their surrender to Christ, but THEN they also have to have the right beliefs or the right behaviors to go along with this surrender.

This sounds almost right. And you might be hearing that and say, “Well, I don’t see the problem.” And I’ll give it to you, this is almost the gospel…but, almost the gospel isn’t the Gospel.

There are also times we will hear folks say, or challenge us to “give your life to Jesus” or “ask Jesus into your heart or life” and then we will be saved. Again, this sounds biblical. But here is the problem. When we say things in this way, or believe that this is the order in which things happen, we miss the fact that it is “grace first.” Here is what I mean.

You aren’t saved by your strong belief in God, or even our level of trust in God. Your level of faith or the strength of your faith isn’t the measure of whether or not you are saved. You don’t need to manufacture strong feelings or desire for God in order to feel secure in your standing with God.

Here’s the key. You aren’t saved BY your faith. You are saved THROUGH faith. If we think we are saved “BY” our faith then that means we are making our performance our savior. But when we understand that we are saved “THROUGH” faith, we make it clear that Christ is our Savior.

The Gospel is also sometimes distorted by those that teach it doesn’t really matter what you believe as long as you are a “good” person. (As if there was such a thing. We may be good compared to other people, but compared to a Holy and perfectly righteous God whose standard is complete holiness, we fall quite short)

Now on some level this sounds good. I think a lot of us would like to believe that everyone who is a good person was saved. We all probably know some folks who we would call “good people”, yet they don’t know Christ. It grieves us to think that perhaps these people if they don’t come to know Christ may end up in hell. So, I think a lot of us probably wish that we could be saved simply by being good.

But the problem is, it’s simply not the case. The Bible is clear that we are saved by Christ and Christ alone.

Again, this way of thinking that we can be saved by doing good works, is simply not true. If it were true that we could be saved based on our own goodness then Jesus wouldn’t have needed to die. There would have been no need for the cross. But hopefully we all know that we were in desperate need of the cross. We needed to be rescued, for apart from Christ we have no hope.

But not only would this teaching mean that Christ died for no reason, but what does it say about “bad” people? If “good” people can be saved, where does that leave bad people? I guess it damns them all to hell, with little or no chance of redemption.

But this clearly contradicts Scripture and even Jesus himself, most notably Matthew 9:10-13. Jesus tells us in those verses that He didn’t come for “good” people. Jesus says that He didn’t come to call “righteous” people. Jesus came for sinners, and he came to save sinners. Sinners like you and me!

So trusting in our own works completely misses and distorts the Bible.

There are also those who would tell you, (both professing believers and even unbelievers) if you were to ask them about heaven or how they get there, they would say, “Well, it doesn’t really matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.”

But friends, being sincere won’t get you saved. I have a friend who is very sincere that she doesn’t need to believe in Jesus to be saved. But she’s just as lost as she can be. A runner can be very sincere about wanting to win a race. But if he goes the wrong way he’s never going to get to where he needs to be. You have to know the way, and Jesus and Jesus alone is the way. Sincerity isn’t enough. Only Jesus is enough.

There is also another way that the Gospel gets distorted, and I think this is probably the one that most of us are familiar with. There are a lot of churches that are very intolerant of small differences, or what I would call secondary (non-essential) beliefs.

I’ve seen this in some churches who say you can only use a particular Bible translation. Some churches say you can have to dress a certain way, or you have to have your hair a certain length. Other churches elevate certain spiritual gifts to the point of making them a condition of salvation, or perhaps maybe a higher level of salvation…

But the problem is, none of these things are in the Bible. So what these folks are doing is adding to what the Word of God says. They are being more strict about certain issues than God himself is, which I think is a problem. We must be very careful not to speak where God hasn’t, or to shout when God has only whispered. We must put emphasis where God has put emphasis, not where it suits our fancies.

As believers our emphasis must always be on the “gospel of Christ” that the Apostle Paul spoke of. This is the one and only Gospel we see taught in the Bible, and we must be very careful to neither add to it nor to take away from it. We must never, ever, lose sight of this Gospel or the Jesus it points us to.

The God Who Mourns

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One thing my family and I try to do is have a time of family worship in which we spend some time reading and talking about the Bible, and praying. Normally my kids love this time we spend together, and love hearing about Jesus and what God has to say to us through His Word.

Recently however, my 4 year old daughter didn’t want to have Bible Study. She wanted to play with her older sister. Even though I told her we were going to talk about Jesus, and how it was so important because Jesus loves us, she still wanted no part of our worship time. Even though I told her that the Bible tells us all about God, and how we can love God better, at that moment she had zero interest in hearing what the Bible had to say. (This sounds a lot like some adults I know also.)

After several minutes of me trying to encourage my daughter to join us, she finally got frustrated and blurted out, “I don’t like Jesus! I don’t want Him! I don’t want to know about God!”

Now, I understand that she is 4 years old and she really doesn’t understand what she is saying. I understand that she doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to understand that when we read the Bible, and read about Jesus, and when we choose to receive it as truth or reject it…there are eternal consequences. But nevertheless, when she blurted out those words, I was crushed. My feelings were hurt, and my heart agonized hearing such harsh words come from the lips of my little girl.

Her words got me to thinking though. If those words crushed me – If hearing the voice of my little girl reject Jesus and the things of God affect me so powerfully – How much more does it hurt the heart of God when He is rejected?

How it must pain Him when He hears people say they don’t want Him. How it must cause Him to mourn when people reject His Word. How it must grieve the heart of God when He sees people turn away from His Son Jesus, and the salvation that He brings. Sadly, there are times when even those who profess to love Him still choose to reject Him…either with their lips, or with their actions.

Now, this idea of God mourning over the words or the actions of people may strike some as odd. God is sovereign, He has perfect foreknowledge…so, does God really grieve over the actions of men, or how they choose to respond to Him and His love? The answer to that question is an emphatic, “Yes!”

Colossians tells us that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. (1:15) This means that if you’ve seen Jesus, you’ve seen the Father. Jesus Himself says this exact thing in John 14:9. Jesus was God in human flesh, and perfectly reveals God and His character and personality to us. This being true, if we want to know how God feels about something, or how He would react to a particular scenario…all we have to do is look to Jesus.

So, how did Jesus respond to being rejected? He wept and He mourned. In Matthew 23:37 Jesus says of Jerusalem, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Luke 19:41 tells us that when Jesus drew near and saw the city, “…he wept over it.”

I don’t know about you the reader, but as I read these words and think about the heart of God, I am amazed. To think that God loves us so much and longs to bring us to Himself is amazing. To think that God grieves when we choose to reject Him with either our words or our actions, is a powerful thought.

Friends, God loves you. God longs to be with you. We know this because He sent His Son Jesus to tell us so. God loves you and longs to be with you so much, that He sent Jesus to the cross to make it possible. Jesus took upon Himself your sin, and my sin, so that we could be forgiven and no longer separated from Him. There is no questioning the love of God for His people, or His desire to be with us. The only question is…how will you respond to His love?

My prayer is that none of us would foolishly echo the words of my young daughter. She spoke out of youthful ignorance. If you are reading these words, you don’t have that excuse. Jesus loves you, I pray that you will love Him back. Jesus wants you, I pray that you want Him as well. God knows all about you, do you have the desire to know Him? I hope that you do.

Dear reader, don’t grieve the heart of God by rejecting so great a love. Run to Him. Desire more of Him. Learn all you can about Him, learn how to love Him better, and rest in His precious saving grace.

All Scripture

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Let’s be honest. When most of us open our Bibles to read, there are some books, some passages, and some verses we like and read more than others. More times than not, I would bet we spend most of our time in the New Testament. If we do spend time in the Old Testament, we probably read the Psalms or maybe Proverbs. Those books are very poetic, and contain such practical wisdom! Who wouldn’t love reading them?

Now, if I were to ask us why we read the New Testament more than the Old, we would probably say something like, “Well, that’s where Jesus is,” or, “Well, I like to read about the Gospel…and the New Testament is where we read all about the Gospel and the good news of Jesus Christ.”

Just to illustrate this point, friend of mine told me recently about visiting a church, and a pastor glanced at the Bible that was on the table in the sanctuary – which was opened to and Old Testament passage – and the minister said something like, “I don’t know why the Bible is opened to that book, this is a NEW TESTAMENT Church!”

Now, most of us probably wouldn’t be so blunt…but I have a feeling, that even if we wouldn’t verbalize things quite that way, I think practically in our personal study of the Scriptures, that’s how we approach the Bible.

Take for instance a book like Leviticus. Most of us probably wouldn’t associate the book of Leviticus with the Gospel. Leviticus is one of the five books of Moses that we call the Law. Normally when we start our yearly Bible reading plans, IF we start a yearly Bible reading plan, or if we’ve ever attempted to read through the bible in its entirety…I would imagine that more times than not, Leviticus is the book that we end up getting bogged down in.

And there are probably many reasons for that. As you read through the book you’ll find that basically the entire book is instructions in regards to the various offerings and sacrifices that the people were supposed to offer to God.

In this book we see Moses talking about burnt offerings, grain offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, guilt offerings…and on and on it goes. So, as we read through this book, it can be quite easy to get a bit bored (Let’s just say it)…especially because as we read through this book, we really don’t see how it applies to us.

We don’t have to offer these types of offerings. We are no longer bound by the Law. We don’t have to offer sacrifices. We are now under the new covenant, we have Jesus…so, the question we probably bring to the Bible as we read through a book like Leviticus, is “Why in the world should I read this? What the heck does this have to do with me?”

I would love to take the time to tell us all about how these various offerings and sacrifices all point us to Jesus and see His Gospel, but for now time doesn’t allow.

But, let me say first and foremost, the reason we should read a book like Leviticus in particular, and the Old Testament in general…is because it’s the Word of God. And as the inspired, God breathed Word of God, it ought to be important to us!

2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that, “ALL Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

These words by Paul, do not simply apply to the New Testament, though they do…but we have to remember, that when many of the Apostles and their associates were writing their letters and going around from town to town preaching the Gospel and planting churches…the New Testament as we have it didn’t exist. They, inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit were in the process of writing it and putting it together.

But yet, we see God working powerfully through their preaching. And what Scripture were they primarily teaching and preaching, and appealing to in order to make their case that Jesus was the Messiah? It was the Old Testament!

Jesus did the same thing as he preached…When Jesus first began his ministry, we read in Luke 4:17-21 how Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah, and told them that the Scriptures were fulfilled in Him. But maybe even more clearly, look at Luke 24:25-27:

“And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses (which no doubt includes the book of Leviticus) and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

So, when Jesus was preaching Jesus, what did he do? He went back to the Old Testament and he preached the Scriptures.

My point is this, the Sacred Scriptures for the Christian doesn’t start in the New Testament with the book of Matthew. But Jesus himself tells us over and over again that the entirety of the Bible, including the Old Testament and the books of the Law are about Him. There is not a book in the Old Testament (Or the New) that we can’t see Jesus, teach Jesus, preach Jesus, and glory in the Gospel, because the entirety of the Old Testament was written to testify to the Jesus that is beautifully revealed to us in the New Testament.

 

Let Us Consider: Neglecting to Meet Together

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“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25

I’m sure these are verses that we all have heard quoted many times, especially by preachers who are trying to guilt us into coming to church. Let me say right now before we go any further, I don’t want to guilt you into going to church. I tell folks all the time, even the folks that I pastor, that it is not my job to beg people to come to church. Sure, I want you to know that I want you there. Yes, I want you to know that the doors are always open. Please, know that everyone is welcome. But, I will never beg you to come to church nor will I make you feel guilty for not being there.

Does this mean that I don’t think church is important? Absolutely not. There are few things in this world and in our Christian lives that are more important than worshiping corporately with fellow believers. In fact, as this passage from Hebrews shows us very clearly, corporate worship is a command from God. We are to “not neglect to meet together…” Why? So that we can stir one another up to good works, and encourage each other.

Likewise, in Ephesians 4 the Apostle Paul gives another powerful illustration of what is accomplished through the local church. Paul says that the saints are equipped…”for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God…to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine…we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

The picture we have throughout the Bible, ALL of the Bible, is that believers WILL gather with other believers in order to worship God and to be built up in their faith. It is through the ministry of the local church that we learn who God really is. It is through the ministry of the local church that we learn what God has done and is doing through Christ. It is through the local church that believers are built up in their faith, grow in their walk with Christ, and are shaped more into his image. It is through the local church that believers draw close to other believers and build relationships that help them to love God and love others as Christ has called them to love. It is through the local church that believers encourage each other, love each other, and build each other up.

This isn’t just a preacher talking, this is the Word of God talking.

So, no, I don’t want to beg anyone to come to church. But what I do want you to know is that if you aren’t a member of a local church, or if you don’t attend a local church and serve in a local church then your faith WILL suffer. Your Christian life WILL suffer. Your relationship with God WILL suffer. Your knowledge of and affection for the Lord Jesus will not be what it should be. Perhaps most frightening of all…If you are neglecting to meet together with other believers, you are neglecting and disobeying the clear command of the word of God, and this is called sin.

As a pastor, I don’t want to see people coming to church because it strokes my ego, or makes me feel more successful. As a pastor, I want to see people coming to church because I want to see people drawing near to Jesus and growing in their relationship with him.

I was reading this week about the persecution of Christians in many parts of the world, and I was reminded yet again what an amazing privilege we have here in the United States to worship and speak the name of Jesus freely. In other parts of the world there are believers who have to meet in secret, and literally risk their lives to speak, sing, and praise the name of Jesus. Believers in other parts of the world would literally die to do the things that so many of us take for granted, and even neglect.

I said previously that I don’t want to guilt anyone into going to church, and I don’t see it as my job to beg you to do so. Those things may be true, but I do want to leave you with this encouragement: PLEASE, for the sake of your own soul and your relationship with the Lord, find a local church. Attend that local church, join that local church, be faithful and serve that local church. This is the will of God for your life – Scripture commands it, a thriving and vibrant Christian life demands it.

The Vanity of Envy

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In Ecclesiastes 4:4 King Solomon says, “Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is a vanity and a striving after wind.”

So, Solomon is saying that the reason he sees people working so hard, and striving, and toiling is what? It’s because of envy! It’s because they want what others have. It’s what we would call trying keep up with the Jones’.

Friends, is this something we still see in our day? Absolutely it is. Do you ever struggle with this? I know I certainly do. We see our neighbor, or our friends with a new car, or a bigger house, maybe even a new boat…and we want what they have! It’s something that I believe we all struggle with on some level, or at the very least we have at one time or another.

We want what other people have, and so many people are out there killing themselves, and working themselves to death – not because they have to and not because they need more money to survive – but simply because they want more stuff. They want the things they see that other people have.

Again, I believe we all struggle on some level with this…it’s simply a part of our sinful nature.

But, Solomon says that this is vanity. It’s pointless! Solomon says that it’s a “striving after wind.”

Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t to say that hard work is bad. The Bible certainly doesn’t say that, in fact it says the opposite. Hard work is a good thing. It is a virtue to be a hard worker.

But the question is, what is our motivation? Are we working simply to get more stuff? Or is our work motivated by the desire to honor and glorify God? Because it should be! Is God at the center of even our work ethic? In Colossians 3:23 the Apostle Paul says that, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord…”

So, your work is to be done for the Lord. So yes, work hard, but not for stuff, not out of envy, but for the Lord!

But, if we just take Solomon’s words here at face value, we could get the idea that maybe we shouldn’t be such hard workers. Some people do see the greed and selfishness that motivates so many people to work, and they come to the conclusion that they don’t want to be in this “rat race” so they just decide they aren’t going to do anything! That’s sometimes why we see 30-35 year old grown men still living with their mamas, or why people decide to be “free spirited drifters” bouncing around from place to place, just ‘living for the moment’ or trying to be ‘free’ and not ‘tied down by “the man”…whoever “the man” is…

But that’s not the right way either, is it? I think experience and common sense would tell us this.

Look at Ecclesiastes 4:5, “The FOOL folds his hands and eats his own flesh.”

Solomon says it’s a fool that won’t work. If you won’t work and take care of yourself you will eventually starve. You can’t provide for your needs if you don’t work, so a failure to work is self-destructive…it’s foolish! This is true economically, physically, mentally, and spiritually. We were created to work! One of the purposes of our existence is to work. I believe that this is why we feel so satisfied after a good hard day of work. So a refusal to work, when we get right down to it, is rebellion against God. (Of course some are disabled or simply unable and can’t work, this is another scenario altogether which I am not speaking of here. Please don’t misunderstand me.)

So, if working our fingers to the bone for more stuff isn’t the right way, and if refusing to work altogether isn’t the way to go…then what is? Well, Solomon tells us.

Ecclesiastes 4:6, “Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and striving after wind.”

Very simply Solomon is telling us to be content. Yes, work hard. Yes, provide for your needs. And THEN enjoy what you have. “One handful of quietness is better than two handfuls of striving after the wind.”

Contentment, being content with what God has blessed you with is much better…INFINITELY better that striving for what can’t satisfy.

My church hears me say this time and time again, but folks this world will never provide you with enough “stuff” or money to make you happy. This world can’t satisfy you and this is why it’s pointless to continue to strive and chase after the wind for more of what this world can offer you! Friends, you CAN’T keep up with the Jones’….

Someone will ALWAYS have more than you do! Always. And if you are living your life, and working simply for what others have, or if you are constantly competing or trying to keep up with other people then it is absolutely a striving after the wind, because you will never have enough…

So, be content. Enjoy what God has given you, and WILL continue to give you. Ultimately, our satisfaction and contentment comes when we realize that all we really need is Jesus.

John Piper has said, “No matter how glorious you are, you will never be glorious enough to satisfy your own soul.” Folks, this is truth and a truth we would be wise to take to heart. The only thing that is glorious enough to satisfy our soul is the Lord Jesus Christ. No matter how glorious you are and no matter how glorious you think your stuff is, or the stuff that someone else has is…it will never be glorious enough to satisfy your soul. Therefore, the only right option and the only logical option is to run to Jesus, who as I’ve said so many times, is the only one who truly satisfies.

 

Follow Me: The Danger of Comparison

follow-me

On a recent Sunday as I was recovering from some minor surgery, I was home and therefore had an opportunity to listen in to various church services led by other pastors. For the most part this was a very positive experience and very uplifting.  To listen to other pastors as they expound the Word of God is such an encouragement, and something I enjoy tremendously. As a preacher, one of the ways I improve my craft is by listening in to how other guys approach the art of preaching. Of course anytime you hear the Word of God proclaimed, it should drive your heart to worship, and on this Sunday I was certainly moved to worship by many of my fellow laborers in the Word.

That being said, I was also reminded of something that I all too easily forget. Comparison isn’t always a good thing for a Christian, and very often it can be a dangerous thing. Let me explain.

As I listened to some very gifted preachers boldly speak of the truths of God’s Word, I found myself thinking, “Wow, this guy is a great preacher. I sure wish I could preach like that.” This might sound innocent enough to most of us, and I too am tempted to just shrug it off…but I think there is a bigger problem here than we might think. The problem as I see it, is that if I can hear a man proclaiming the amazing truths of the Scriptures, and all I can do is wonder if the guy is a better preacher than me…then I have a problem. How can I hear about the beauty of our God and the wonderful acts of our savior, and instead of being driven to worship…be driven to compare myself to another of God’s servants while wondering who the better preacher is?

Sadly, this isn’t something that is limited to this particular Sunday. It happens quite often. I find myself on many a Sunday afternoon scrolling social media and reading about what God is doing through other Pastors and other churches, and I often find myself questioning why God doesn’t seem to be blessing me and my church in the same way he might be blessing others.

But, comparison isn’t just a bad thing because it brings out our insecurities. It can also lead to pride.

You see, on this same Sunday I heard other guys totally miss the point of the text they were preaching. I heard others say things that were completely false. I saw some guys being just plain silly. I picked up on others who had weird quirks or mannerisms. I could go on, but you get the point and can probably tell where this is going. Just as previously I was questioning myself, and feeling very insecure about my gifts as a preacher…when I listened to others, I found myself feeling pretty good about myself and getting puffed up with pride.

It’s really quite silly. But, whether most pastors want to admit it or not, this is a problem for many of us. I know, because I have a lot of friends who are pastors and I know the conversations that we have.

Now, a lot of you are probably reading this and thinking, “What in the world does this have to do with me? I’m not a pastor. Why should I care about your weird insecurities?”

The reason I think you should care is because I don’t think this is a problem limited to pastors. I think all of us look around at other Christians from time to time and wonder why God is or isn’t blessing us like he is blessing them. Perhaps we look at how God has gifted someone else to serve Him, and we wish that we had that gift. Maybe we wish we could pray like someone else. It could be that we would like to teach that Sunday school class. It might even be the fact that we look at one of our brothers or sisters who have such an outgoing personality that the ability to witness or evangelize seems to come so easy to them, and we wish that God had given us that gift. It could be any number of things.

Perhaps this isn’t you, but maybe you are the one whom God has gifted in one of these ways. Do you ever look down on other Christians because they don’t have the same abilities that you do? Do you ever find yourself feeling superior to other Christians because you have the ability to pray in public or the gift of teaching, or because you’ve done so many great things for Jesus while others haven’t? Surely, none of us would want to admit to this…but in our most honest moments, are those feelings there?

Maybe no one else has ever had these feelings, and I’m just a bigger sinner than everyone else…but I tend to doubt it. I think all of us have a tendency to want to compare ourselves to others and gauge where we are in the Christian life by our perception of where someone else might be.

In John 21:18-19 Jesus tells Peter not just that he would die in service to God, but he tells him how he would die and glorify God in his death. He then tells Peter, “Follow me.” Upon hearing this, Peter looks around and sees John. Peter then questions Jesus by saying basically, “Well, what about him?!?” Jesus’ response to Peter are words of wisdom that we all need to take to heart. Jesus said, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that you? You follow me!”

Friends, we aren’t called to compare ourselves to others. We aren’t called to question why we have some gifts and others don’t. We aren’t called to wonder why God may be blessing someone else one way, while our blessings don’t seem so obvious. The fact is, God has gifted us all differently and called each of us to serve him in unique ways. My service to God won’t look the same as yours, and yours may not look the same as mine…and that is okay.

The fact is, we all have one calling in common, and that is to follow Jesus. We all would be well served by worrying less about how God is using others and comparing ourselves to them, and instead focusing more on our Lord who has called us to follow Him…no matter how he chooses to use us to glorify Himself.