bible study

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.

I’d Rather Have Jesus

rather-have-jesus

Jesus asks the question in Mark 8:36, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” The answer, of course, is nothing. There is no profit, no matter how much you gain in this world and in this life if you lose your soul. If you lose your soul…then you lose everything. If you lose your soul, then you lose eternity.

As I contemplate this question from Jesus and the powerful implications, I’m reminded of King Solomon. King Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes talks at length about his pursuit of meaning, purpose, joy, and ultimate satisfaction. Solomon in the first two chapters of Ecclesiastes talks about how he pursued meaning in laughter, having a good time, alcohol, his work, possessions, wealth, wisdom, and even sexual pleasure. Yet, in spite of all his pursuits, Solomon arrived at the conclusion that ultimately all of these things he pursued were empty and meaningless. Listen to his own words in Ecclesiastes 2:9-11, “So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all ALL WAS VANITY AND A STRIVING AFTER WIND, and there was NOTHING TO BE GAINED UNDER THE SUN.”

Solomon is basically telling us in these few verses, and really the entire book of Ecclesiastes, “I’ve done it all, I’ve tried it all, and I had it all…yet in spite of all I did and all I had, I found it completely meaningless.” All of Solomon’s pursuits left him empty. He found no lasting and ultimate satisfaction in any of it.

I think the question we all have to ask ourselves in light of these revelations from Solomon is, why.  Why can Solomon not find meaning or satisfaction in any of his earthly pursuits? Well, it’s for the same reason that you or I can’t.

You nor I won’t ever have the wealth of a King Solomon. (Just guessing) You nor I won’t ever possess the earthly wisdom of a King Solomon. You nor I won’t ever have the means to pursue the many things that King Solomon does as we read about his life in Scripture. But the same conclusions that Solomon arrives at in the book of Ecclesiastes are just as true for us as they were for him. You and I won’t ever find ultimate satisfaction, meaning, or purpose in the things of this world.

Why is this? Very simply because we weren’t created to be satisfied by the things of this world.

This doesn’t mean that everything in this world is bad. Laughter and fun is a wonderful thing. Most of us could use more of it in our lives. But it’s not an ultimate thing. It’s not why we were created. A nice house, more money, a lot of possessions can be good things. Wisdom is certainly something that we should all strive for. Even sexual pleasure is a gift from God. But all good gifts must be enjoyed in their proper context and with a proper perspective. The good gifts God gives us must not overshadow the God who has given us the gifts.

Is this because God is some cosmic killjoy who doesn’t want us to have fun? Absolutely not. God wants us to enjoy our earthly existence. It’s why he gives us good gifts. But ultimately those gifts are meant to point us to the ultimate good, which is God himself. God doesn’t want us to settle for the inferior pleasures of this world when he himself offers us the greatest of all pleasures.

Psalm 16:11 says, “…in your presence there is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” We know from Scripture that at the right hand of God is Jesus. So it is in and through Christ that we find the fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore.

The overwhelming teaching of Scripture is that God is the greatest good, the greatest pleasure, and the greatest joy. Only in a life focused and centered on God will we find true and ultimate meaning, and all of this is found in Christ. These things being true, I find the words of the well-known hymn “I’d Rather Have Jesus” especially pertinent, and my prayer for all of us is that these words would truly be the cry of our hearts:

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;

I’d rather have Jesus than have riches untold;

I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands;

I’d rather be led by his nail pierced hands

Than to be king of a vast domain and be held in sin’s dread sway.

I’d rather have Jesus than anything, this world affords today.

 

May these words be true for all of us, and may we all live our lives as if it were so.

An Ordinary Church

acts 2

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” –Acts 2:42-47

In Acts Chapter 2 we see the birth of the very first church at Pentecost. Now what I’m about to say about this church may catch some of us by surprise. Many of us have probably heard a few sermons on this passage and about what a powerful example this church is for how a church should look. This is certainly true. But in these same sermons we’ve probably also heard the preacher say something about what an extraordinary church this is.

Now certainly this church was birthed and came about through extraordinary means. This can’t be denied. But in my mind, this church isn’t any more extraordinary than any other church.

At the beginning of Acts Chapter 2 we see that the Spirit of God came upon the believers. We see in verse 14 of Chapter 2 how empowered by the Spirit of God Peter preached a powerful sermon. Peter preached Jesus. Peter preached Jesus crucified. Peter preached Jesus risen from the grave and ascended to the right hand of God the Father. Peter preached Jesus as Lord of all! Through the powerful preaching of Peter the Bible tells us that 3,000 folks were saved. So, certainly this was an extraordinary event. I’ve never preached a sermon in which 3,000 folks got saved. And not many preachers can say that they have!

But this being said, aren’t all churches pretty extraordinary? All churches are made up of sinners who have had the scales removed from their eyes and have seen clearly who Christ is, and have chosen to follow him. This is an amazing thing. It’s not natural. Salvation is all a work of God. This is true whether we are talking about 3,000 people or 30, or even 3.

So, even though this event was powerful. Even though we can say this was an extraordinary event…this first church was no more extraordinary than any other church. This first church was no more extraordinary than my church or yours.

And do you know why I can say that? Because the same Spirit that empowered Peter to preach on this day, is the same Spirit that empowers men today to preach. The same Jesus that Peter preached in Acts chapter 2 is the same Jesus that faithful preachers today preach. And the same Spirit at work through this Church that we read about working so powerfully in and through this church, is the same Spirit that will work through our own churches, IF we will faithfully preach this Jesus and be obedient to His Word.

So, yes. This church came about through extraordinary means. It was a wonderful event. But, in a lot of ways this church was simply an ordinary Church. The Church we see in Acts 2:42-47 was not some unreachable standard for us as the modern church to attain. The Church in Acts 2:42-47 was God’s ideal local church, and what God desires every local church to look like.

May it be so…

True Repentance

Psalm 51

Psalm 51 is one of the most beautiful prayers of repentance in all of the Bible. The heading just above the beginning of the Psalm tells us that it is “A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.”

David, the greatest king (other than Jesus of course) sinned terribly against the Lord. I’ve written about this event previously, but you can go back and read about it in 2 Samuel 11 if you want to review. David slept with another man’s wife, the wife even of one of his trusted soldiers, Uriah. He made many unsuccessful attempts to cover up his sin, and ultimately ended up having Uriah killed.

2 Samuel 12 then details an encounter between David and the prophet Nathan in which David is confronted with his sin. This is a fascinating event in the life of David, and if you don’t know the story or haven’t read it in some time, I would recommend you go and read it now. For time sake however, I’m not going to go into great detail here today.

What I do want to talk a bit about today though is David’s response to this confrontation with the prophet Nathan, and David’s response when he is confronted with his sin. That is what we have here in Psalm 51.

David’s sin with Bathsheba and his attempts to cover up his sin are tragic. Sin is tragic. The sad fact of the matter is that all sin is tragic, and the consequences and repercussions of sin are often wide reaching and can be felt for years to come. This is certainly the case with David and his sin. The good news though, is that God doesn’t just leave us in our sin. He confronts us with our sin, he convicts us of our sin, and he gives us the opportunity to repent and turn away from our sin. Once this repentance happens, then God will pour out his grace and mercy upon us and forgive us of our sin.

Psalm 51 is the record of David’s repentance. It is a beautiful prayer of repentance and one that I believe we all would be well served as Christians to look to, and even pray for ourselves on a regular basis. In this Psalm David appeals to God’s character – his mercy and steadfast love – and asks God to blot out his sins. He admits he is a sinner and always has been and his sins weigh heavily upon him. David asks God not to cast him away from His presence, he asks to have the joy of his salvation restored to him. He promises God true worship, and that he would tell all people of the merciful ways of God, and that he would live a life of praise.

As we read through this Psalm, we see clearly that David acknowledges his brokenness over his sin – he truly mourns over his sin. This is an important point I don’t want us to miss. Many times we think of repentance as simply being sorry for sin. I think often times we aren’t so much sorry for our sin, but we are really just sorry that there are consequences for our sin. Ironically, we usually aren’t sorry for our sin, until we are caught in our sin. This isn’t true repentance.

True repentance is brokenness over our sin. True repentance is understanding how serious our sin is. Our sin, all of our sin, is a sin against a Holy God. (Verse 4) Sin is no small matter. David understands this and begs God to forgive him for his transgressions. David is truly broken over his sin.

David also doesn’t try to justify himself, make excuses, or try to blame others. What about us? What is our first response when we are confronted with sin? Usually we respond like our first parents, Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, how did they respond when God confronted them with sin? Adam blamed Eve, and even God himself. Eve blamed the snake. No one was willing to fess up and just say, “Yes God, I disobeyed you. Please forgive me.” I wonder how different things would be if they had.

True repentance doesn’t involve us making excuses or trying to justify ourselves. True repentance involves confession. Why make excuses? God knows the truth anyway!

So, Psalm 51 is a beautiful prayer of repentance because it is an honest confession of sin, and a sincere plea for God’s mercy. Our prayers should be no different.

As I read through Psalm 51, I also get a sense of joy. David is a man who knew God very well. He knew God’s character. He knew God was merciful, he knew God was a God of steadfast love. (Verse 1) As David pours out his heart, you get the sense that David knows that he is forgiven. David isn’t going to sit around and dwell on past failures, he is going to take hold of God’s grace, and live his life in response to it.

David says, “Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Verse 7)

But David isn’t content just to rest in the fact that he is forgiven. David asks God for a pure heart. He wants a heart that is renewed and on fire for God. David asks God for a “clean heart” and a “right Spirit.” (Verse 10) David then promises to tell other sinners about the mercy of God so that they too may come and experience it themselves, for God will receive all who come to him broken and truly repentant over their sin. (Verse 13-15, 17)

This is good news isn’t it? That all of us have the same access to the God of mercy that David did – the God of mercy that was revealed to us in Jesus Christ. Everyone reading this right now has the opportunity to come to God, confess our sin, receive forgiveness, have our hearts made pure, and joyfully take hold of the salvation God offers us all through Christ.

Once we experience this, the only logical response is praise God, and to go out and tell others about how merciful our God is. Once receiving this glorious salvation all of our prayers ought to be, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.”

Can we pray that prayer today? I pray that you can.

Breath of God

breath

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

We live in a world today in which we have more access to the Bible than at any other time in history, especially here in our own country. If I were to go into almost any home I would find at least one Bible, and perhaps several. On my smartphone right now I have every major translation of the Bible along with several commentaries and other reference materials to help me understand the Bible. You can go into almost any bookstore and purchase a Study Bible that has notes to help you understand the Bible and gives you information that Bible Scholars of yesteryear only dreamed of having at their fingertips.

Yet, even with all of this being true, we have never lived in a time in which people were so ignorant of the Bible and what it says. This is a sad truth.

Psalm 1:2 tells us that the blessed man takes his delight “in the law of the LORD.” Basically the Psalmist is speaking of the Word of God, or God’s instructions. So that is my question, do we delight in the Word of God? My dear reader, do you delight in the Word of God? Do you read it? Do you meditate on it? Is it on your mind in your day to day life, and is it your guide?

Why should you read the Word of God? Why should you delight in God’s Word? 2 Timothy 3:16 that I quoted above tells us that the Scriptures are breathed out by God. The Bibles that we read, the Bibles that we are able to hold in our hands are the very breath of God. So, when we sit down and read the Bible, when we meditate on the Word of God, when we drink deeply of the truths of Scripture…we are breathing the very breath of God. This is an amazing truth.

And what happens when we breathe in the breath of God? We get life! In Genesis 2:7 we see that it was when God breathed the breath of life into the nostrils of man that he became a living being. This is an amazing truth…that we can breathe in the very breath of God, and through it we find life! Yet, so few of us take advantage of this awesome privilege.

Many people will say, “Well I don’t really need to read the Bible, I just follow my heart and do what I think is right.” But this is a dangerous thing. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.” Friends, just “following your heart” will lead you astray. We are humans with human emotions. We are fickle. We change our minds. But the Word of God doesn’t change. God doesn’t change.

If we want to know who God is, the only place we can learn that is through His Word. If we want to know how to live a life that pleases God, that truth is only found in the Scriptures. If we want to know the blessings of God, and the wonderful treasures that he has in store for us through His Son Jesus Christ…we can only learn these things in His Word.

Please don’t forsake the reading of the Word of God. Delight in the Word of God. You have the amazing privilege to breathe in the very breath of God and find life in its pages as it points you to the One who is the Life. Jesus Christ Himself. Turn to the Bible and be blessed.

And he shall be their peace…

 

peace

Micah 5:1-5 is one of the clearest and most obvious passages in the Old Testament that points to Jesus Christ – His birth, his life, his ministry, and of course his eternal reign as King over His people. Around this time of year, as we approach Christmas, we hear this passage quoted quite often.

Micah 5:5 says this, “And he shall be their peace…”

For some of us, this could present a problem. I’ve just said that the opening verses of Micah 5 refer to Jesus, and then in verse 5 we are told that Jesus himself shall be our peace. But, we look around at the world today, and we see so little peace. Isn’t this true?

Many of us want to ask the question, “Does God not reign?” Some might ask, “If Jesus was to bring peace, and who himself would be peace has come, why do we see so little peace? Not just in the world as far as wars and violence and terrorism and such, but even in relationships of all kinds. Externally and internally within ourselves, and in our world there is so little peace!”

So, the obvious question is…Has Jesus failed? Did Jesus fail as Immanuel, “God with us?”

One day, peace will cover our physical existence and our physical world in the new heavens and new earth. But before we can know that peace, before we can experience that peace, there must first be peace between us and God…between sinful human beings and a perfect holy and righteous God. Because it is only then that we can truly know peace. Only then can we have true peace in our hearts. Peace between God and his people is the precursor to our ultimate peace that we long for…true and lasting peace with God in His presence as he dwells amongst His people.

This peace between God and man is the peace that God gives and offers in his coming to earth as a man, as the prince of peace, Jesus Christ.

Like Israel who in the book of Micah was laid siege against physically, so spiritually we have all been laid siege against by our spiritual enemies – The powers of Satan, demons, death, and of course and ultimately our sin which empowers all of these things to pull us away from God and destroys our peace.

But Jesus conquered the powers of darkness, the power of sin and death. He did that on the cross and through his resurrection. He now lives in and through us his people, his possession through His spirit. We all now, if we belong to Him, have the very life of God living in us. As we cling to Him, we have peace in the here and now as we wait for our ultimate peace in His new creation.

But apart from Christ, we have no peace…

So, this is what we celebrate at Christmas.

The incarnation of the God who became a man, to make this peace possible…Praise be to God.

Through the righteousness of Christ we find our righteousness. Through his life, the life of God, the life of God become man we find our life. The perfect peace of Jesus with God has now become our peace…

This blows my mind. I hope it blows yours. If not, I really have to wonder if you know it, or if you’ve experienced it. If not I implore you to seek it, to beg for it, to cry out for it. Seek Christ, because Jesus is the ONLY WAY to peace…

Blogging Through The Bible: Genesis 3:9-15

When we left off last time in our journey through the Bible, the man and woman have just eaten the fruit. We began to see some of the first consequences of sin: loss of innocence, shame, loss of intimacy. This loss of intimacy manifested itself by the man and woman making loincloths out of fig leaves to hide from each other, but even more importantly in their hiding from God as they heard him in the garden. That takes us to where we are today in verse 9…

God asks the man, “Where are you?”

Obviously, God knows all things, so he didn’t really need to ask this question, or the question that follows for that matter. He knows where man is, he knows what has happened. He asks these questions I believe for a couple of reasons. One, he wanted the man to think about where he was. To contemplate what had happened. It’s sort of like when I see my kids doing wrong, I will ask them, “What are you doing?!?” Obviously I know what they are doing, but I want them to stop and think about what they are doing, and to help them to see that this is not what they should be doing.

It’s the same thing with man. God had commanded man not to eat the fruit, yet he did. He disobeyed God. He did wrong, and he knew it. He hid from God…He was afraid, and rightly so. Disobedience of God has costly consequences, and God had already informed the man and woman what those consequences would be. Death.

Man told God he was afraid. He knew he was naked, so he hid. God then asked man how did he know he was naked, who told him? “Did you eat from the tree that I commanded you  not to eat from?” (3:11)

Here, man has an opportunity to confess his sin and disobedience. Which I believe is the second reason for these questions God is asking.  I’ve often wondered how things might have been different had man confessed his sin…I suppose we will never know…But we do know how the man responded, and if you’re like me, you see yourself in this story. Instead of acknowledging his sin, the man blamed the woman, and even God himself. “The woman YOU gave to be with me– she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate.” (3:12) Man is essentially saying, “It’s not my fault God! You gave me the woman, if she hadn’t been here, this never would have happened! She ate the fruit first, then I ate it.”

God then turns his attention to the woman, and asks her what she has done. She takes the same approach as the man. Instead of accepting responsibility, she blames the serpent, “He deceived me, and I ate.” (3:13) This was certainly true, but the serpent wasn’t force-feeding her. She ate the fruit because she wanted to. The same was true for the man.

God then turns his attention to the serpent, “Because you have done this, you are cursed more than any livestock and more than any wild animal. You will move on your belly and eat dust all the days of your life.” (3:14)

But here is where things get good…

“I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” (3:15)

If we’re unfamiliar with the Bible, this last verse might seem a bit strange or confusing…But, this is actually one of the most important verses in the Scriptures. Genesis 3:15 is the first prophecy of the coming Messiah. We know that to be Jesus Himself. Right after man has sinned and sin and the curse has entered the world, we have a glimmer of hope. The Gospel is being preached to us right here…

There will be hostility between the serpent and the woman, and between her seed (her children) and the seed of the serpent.Yet, God says He (The seed of the woman) will strike the head of the serpent. This is a picture of Satan’s defeat. The defeat of sin. A blow to the head is a death blow. Satan will be crushed by the seed of the woman…We know this ultimately to be through Christ. But we also see a glimpse as to how this would happen…”You (the serpent) will strike his heel.” The seed of the woman would be wounded. Here we have a picture of the cross. We know that Jesus was nailed to a Roman cross…We know that he died there…But we also know that he didn’t stay there. Death couldn’t hold him, and after three days he rose from the dead after satisfying the penalty for sin…Which we’ve already seen from our studies is death. So here in Genesis 3:15 we have a clear reference to Christ, his cross, and how Satan will ultimately be defeated. Amazing!

I had intended to go further, but I find myself in that familiar position of not wanting to stretch this out too long, and knowing that I can’t do the rest of the chapter justice in just a few words…so, keep a watch for the next post. We will pick up in verse 16 next time.