God

My Help Comes from the LORD

smokey mountain

One of my favorite places to visit is the mountains of North Carolina. I think one of the reasons for that is because mountains make me feel very small. It’s hard to go to the mountains, see the majestic sky lines and the unbelievable views and not be in awe of God’s creation.

This year in particular, I felt very small. The house in which we were staying was surrounded by terrifying roads along with a terrifying driveway leading up to the house…and let me tell you, I probably prayed as hard and as fervently as we drove up and down these roads and that driveway as I’ve prayed in some time. There’s nothing like contemplating your impending doom, to get you praying…and praying hard!

I write all of this a bit tongue in cheek, but on a very serious note, I came back from vacation quite refreshed (even if it wasn’t that relaxing). I think one of the reasons I came back so refreshed was because I had time away from the everyday “hustle and bustle” of life to spend some time contemplating the things of God. And no matter where you find yourself, it is always a good thing, and a beneficial thing, and a soul refreshing thing to do…to contemplate the things of God.

For me personally, the mountains are a good place to do this. I’ve heard some say the beach helps them to connect with God in a way that they may not in their ordinary day to day lives.

With all of this being said, and aside from my terrifying drives that got me really close to God a few weeks ago, the fact is we as Christians here in America live in relative safety. We get to worship in relative safety. But this has not always been the case, and that is the backdrop for one of my favorite Psalms – Psalm 121.

The backdrop of Psalm 121 is that of a pilgrim traveler that was making his way up to Jerusalem to go up to the temple to worship. And this pilgrim who was making his way to and from the temple would encounter many trials and dangers along the way.

I suppose in light of the immediate context of this Psalm, some might wonder how this Psalm would apply to you and I. Well, let’s take a closer look.

While it is true that you and I dwell in relative physical safety in our day, that doesn’t change the reality that we are still pilgrims in the midst of a dangerous world. This being true, we can see very plainly in just the first few verses just how applicable this text is for us.

In verse 1, the Psalmist says, “I lift my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?”

Friends, even though we may not be facing perilous physical journeys right now in the way of dangerous mountain roads, the fact is that all of us deal with challenges in this world. Dangerous challenges that threaten to derail us on our journey WITH and TO God, and that threaten to derail us on our path to worship.

Our world and our lives are filled with things like sickness, the death of loved ones, difficult relationships, money issues, trouble at work, and we could go on and on. All of these things are in addition to the Spiritual and emotional challenges that we all face. (Of course the big one that sort of sums up all of these things up is SIN…We ALL deal with sin.)

Each of us could, I have no doubt name something that we are dealing with right now.

So…in this context, I love this question. Why? One, because it is an acknowledgement of and an awareness of the need for help. Secondly, because it implies that there is an answer, and there is help to be found.

The Psalmist asks, “Where does my help come from…?” As the Psalmist looks to the hills as a picture of the trials and dangers that await him, it reminds us that we are a people who do need help. Much like I said earlier about how the mountains help me to feel small and they humble me…so does our seeing and going through challenges and difficulties in our everyday lives. These things help us to remember that we are not self-sufficient. We are not strong. We are not the ones with all the answers. We are small…and we are in need of help along the journey of life.

But here is the reality. The truth is we are all tempted to look somewhere else, other than to God for our help. Unfortunately most of us, and maybe even all of us often look in places that offer no help at all or at least they don’t offer us the help that we truly need.

But, the Psalmist here in Psalm 121 gives us just the answer that we need, and tells us EXACTLY who we are to be looking to for our help. In the midst of whatever trial, and in the face of the mountains that lay before us.

Verse 2, “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”

Folks, we can and we MUST be looking to the ALMIGHTY, ALL POWERFUL, SOVEREIGN God of the Universe. The God who is the creator of the heavens and the earth. Look around at the world, look all you want, and you won’t find anything that God didn’t create. If God created it, He is sovereign over it. I know sometimes it seems like the world is out of control. Sometimes it seems like your problems, your hurts, your pains are too much for anyone to bear…but if you have the ALMIGHTY God, the creator of the world…the one who is sovereign over ALL things…then what should you fear? Nothing!

Is anything too hard for the Lord? Absolutely not!

Look what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 8.

Romans 8:31, “…If God is for us, who can be against us?“

Romans 8:35, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?….” Verse 37, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

There is a lot going on in these verses, but I think we can sum it all up quite simply…You are in good hands with God. Nothing can separate you from the love of God. There is nothing this world will throw at you that can destroy you if you are in the hands of God, and friends if you are in Christ, that is precisely where you are. Firmly in the hands of God.

And I think the Psalmist in Psalm 121 would agree. So,  no matter what challenge or what mountain you see before you on this day…be looking to the LORD, the only one that can truly give you the help that you need.

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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…”

A Psalm for Thanksgiving

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Psalm 100 is the only Psalm in the entire book of Psalms that is specifically labeled and referred to as a “Psalm for giving thanks.”

It certainly isn’t the only Psalm used to give thanks, or the only Psalm that speaks of giving thanks, or that exhorts us to give thanks. We see expressions of thanksgiving or exhortations to give thanks all throughout the Book. Psalm after Psalm encourages us to consider the LORD, His love, and to give Him honor and praise for who He is.

Yet, this is the only Psalm that is specifically labeled and given the subscription “A Psalm for giving thanks.” With this in mind, I think it does us well to take some time to consider this Psalm and to see what it might tell us about the giving of thanks, especially on a day like today in which many of us will come together specifically for that purpose. To celebrate our LORD and to give him thanks…

The picture we have in Psalm 100 is the people of God coming together to worship their king, and the Psalm expresses for us what that is to look like…

“Make a joyful noise to the LORD…” Some of your translations may say to “shout”.

“Serve the LORD with gladness!”

“Come into his presence with singing!”

Now shouting is a bit out of character for some of us, but the picture we have here is of a people called into the presence of their almighty God and King and being so filled with awe and joy that they just can’t contain themselves. Their hearts are full of joy, and this joy simply flows out of them.

Folks shout for joy at a lot of things. You can go to sporting events and hear people shouting for joy and celebrating the feats of their favorite team or athletes. Sometimes folks shout at their own TVs. You can go to a concert and hear people making joyful noises as talented musicians perform on the stage. Some of us may shout for joy today at all of the delicious food that is going to be on our tables. But here is my question for us all, and this is a question that we have to ask ourselves…

What thrills our soul?

If the Lord God thrills your soul, how and why would you hold it in? Make a joyful noise! Shout for your king! Sometimes we come to church and it looks more like we are coming to a funeral than the fact that we are coming to praise and worship a risen LORD. Folks our God is alive and when people come into his presence they ought to look alive. Coming to church isn’t a funeral but a celebration and our worship ought to look like it.

So, again…let’s make a joyful noise to the LORD, and shout for our king!

But, true worship doesn’t stop at giving God lip service does it? Verse 2 tells us to “serve the LORD with gladness.” I don’t believe the Psalmist has in mind simply coming to church…because worship doesn’t just happen in the church house does it?

In Matthew 25:35-36 Jesus praises his people for serving him by caring for the needy. He praised his people for feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, inviting in the stranger, clothing those who needed clothing, looking after the sick, and visiting with those in prison…

Now, time keeps me from exploring these things enough to truly given them justices, but I think we can see clearly that worship isn’t simply what we do when we come to Church, but worship is also what we do when we leave the church!

In Hosea 6:6 God himself says, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” And Jesus Himself told the Pharisees to, “Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” God isn’t only interested in how we come to worship him in church, though that is important, but it is infinitely important how we serve him when we leave the church as well…

Doesn’t Jesus say that the great commandment is to, “…love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…AND TO…love your neighbor as yourself…”?

So, in a lot of ways and in a very real sense the way in which we love our neighbors and other people reveals how much we really love God.

Now don’t think I’m ONLY talking about physical needs, I’m not. But taking care of folks physical needs is extremely important…James 1:27 says that, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction…” So what James is really telling us here is that if we aren’t caring for other people, those people who are hurting, and suffering, struggling, and in need…then our religion isn’t worth a whole lot…

But, like I said, I’m not just talking about physical needs. We are also called to care for folks and to tend to their spiritual needs…There are those who are spiritually hungry, spiritually thirsty…We must feed them with the Word of God, we must tell them where to find the living water…the only thing that can satisfy the thirst of their souls. Jesus said that those who drink of the water he will give will never thirst again…So let’s give them the living water of the Gospel that leads to eternal life!

Jesus praises his followers in Matthew 25:35 for bringing in the stranger, and we too are to give the Gospel to those who aren’t like us…the “strangers” if you will. We are to give folks clothing, help them to clothe themselves with the righteousness of Christ…We are to care for the spiritually sick and hurting, and certainly we are to proclaim the Gospel, and point those who are in spiritual bondage and in a prison of their own sin to the only one who can set them free…which is of course the Lord Jesus.

So…what have we seen so far? First…we have seen that we are to worship God.

But we have also seen how we are to worship God…

We are to worship him with a joyful noise…we are to sing songs of praise…and we are to be caring for those in need. Both physically AND spiritually.

Now, let’s look at the “why”

Verse 3, “Know that the LORD, he is God!”

God is God! God is our creator. Why do we bow before him in worship, why do we give him our praises? Why do we give him thanks? Because He is our creator God. The Psalmist tells us to “know Him”…Friends, there are a lot of people who know a lot about God, but they don’t really “know” God. It isn’t enough for us to just know a lot of stuff about God, but we must know God as He is…even more importantly, we must have a relationship with God…we must have an intimacy with God…that is what the Psalmist is really trying to convey here…an intimate relationship with God…

Satan knows a lot about God…but he isn’t saved is he. So we must move beyond a head knowledge of the LORD and get a heart knowledge. It’s not enough to know him in our heads, but we have to know him in our hearts as well…

So, how do we come to know God as He is? Well, we must spend time in His Word. We must spend time seeking Him in prayer. We must do both of these things alone, and corporately amongst other believers. (Church, Small Groups, Bible Studies/Prayer Meetings)

And as we come to know God…as we know the real God as He is…we see that He is Lord of all…and if he is Lord over all…then that means that we are not. God is in control, God is in charge…we are not. We have a tendency to think much more of ourselves than we ought to…and it’s really hard to worship God when we are too busy worshiping ourselves.

But the Bible makes it crystal clear that He is God and He is the LORD. He is the creator, and we are the creatures. We are the created ones…So, it is imperative for us to see God as He is…because when you truly get a glimpse of the true God, of the God of the Bible…and the God revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ, then everything changes…

Isn’t that what happened to the Apostle Paul on the Damascus Road? The Apostle Paul was Saul of Tarsus…zealously serving the God in the way that he thought he should…persecuting and trying to destroy the church…trying to climb the ladder of success in Jewish circles…but on that Damascus Road Jesus revealed to Paul who He truly was…and Paul was a changed man. And I think we know the story of Paul…But that’s what happens when you truly get a glimpse of God and Lord Jesus in all of his splendor and beauty…You are changed…

We must know God as He is to worship Him as we should.

But guess what the best part of knowing God is…?

Being KNOWN BY God.

Verse 3 of Psalm 100 says that “…we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”

So, not only is God our creator as we talked about earlier, but God is also our redeemer. And knowing God as your redeemer, knowing God as your Savior is even more important and even more life changing than knowing Him as your creator!

It’s one thing to know there is a big God up there who created all things, including us…but it is a whole other thing to know there is a big God up there, who came down here, came down to the earth, took on human flesh, took my sins upon Himself, and saved me FROM the hell that I deserved, and saved me TO an eternity with Him. That is an amazing thing…

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…I know my own and my own know me. Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep…” (John 10:11, 14-15)

Jesus, the good shepherd has redeemed us and made us the sheep of his pasture.

If we had no other reason to thank God, this is reason enough. Not only has he made us and given us life, but he has redeemed us and given us spiritual life…he has given us an eternity with Him. He has given us as Ephesians 1:3 says, “Every Spiritual Blessing…” and as I told my church this past week…if we have Jesus, what more do we need? The Spiritual blessings we have in Christ are far superior to the physical blessings we enjoy, as great as they are….(Not to say we don’t give thanks for the physical blessings also…)

This is why we give thanks as it says in (verse 4)…this is why we praise…this is why we bless his name.

Verse 5 says, “For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”

Friends, we have a good God. A God who has ALWAYS been good. We have a God who has blessed us far more than any of us deserve. And we have a God who will ALWAYS be good. We have a God who is unchanging.

Our text says, “His Steadfast love endures forever…”

In 1 John 4:8, John says that “God is love.” God is many things…God has many attributes, (Holy, Just, All Powerful, All knowing) but love is the overarching attribute of God. Love is what holds all of the other attributes of God together…Every attribute of God falls under the umbrella of His love. And it is God’s love that is so attractive and endearing to His people…

God is also faithful…

We live in a world that is changing, and changing fast. I was talking to someone the other day and I mentioned it Sunday in church, that the world is really in a lot of ways a terrifying place…But in a terrifying world that is changing so fast, we can rest in the fact that we have a good God who doesn’t change.

God has been good in the past and he will always be good. God has been loving in the past and he always will be. Has God ever seen you through difficult times? Then He will again.

This God who is good…this God who is love…this God who is faithful…is the God to whom we must come and give thanks. This is the God whom to which we sing our songs of praise. This is the God whom we come and worship…this is the God that we serve…

So, people of God…Let us…

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”

Amen..

The Life-Changing Gospel

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C.S. Lewis once said, “Christianity must be from God, for who else could have thought it up.”

I want us to think about this statement, because it’s true! Who could have made this stuff up? Think about how our message (the Gospel, the message of Christianity) must sound to someone who had never heard of, or read the Bible…

God created man and woman, and he gave them everything they could possibly want or need. The only thing God told them was not to eat of a particular fruit on a particular tree. Well, even though they had everything they could possible want or need, including food…they still chose to disobey God and eat of the fruit of that tree. And why did they do it? Because they were tempted by a talking snake. Now, because of their disobedience to God the curse of sin has come into the world and we all are headed to destruction…all because of a talking snake and some fruit on a tree.

But this isn’t even the craziest part. We also believe that God had a plan in all of it, and we believe that God did something to save us. What’s that? God came down to earth, as a man, was born in a stable and lived for 33 years as a poor man, spent three of those years traveling with a rag-tag bunch of people (sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, even some fishermen were his most trusted disciples) preaching and teaching them who he was and about how we should live.

Think about this, GOD became man and did these things. And if that wasn’t crazy enough, this same God went to the cross and died a horrendous death. The death of a criminal on a Roman Cross. Who would make this stuff up?

But it doesn’t stop there! After he died on that cross, three days later he rose from the grave, taught a small group of believers about himself, and then sent them out to teach others. During this time he was disappearing and reappearing, he was cooking fish and eating, and going through doors almost as if he were a ghost of some sort. After 40 days of doing this he went back to heaven. It doesn’t end there.

We also believe he is going to come back as a conquering king to judge the world, and set everything right. Of course there is much more to the Gospel story than that, but that’s the gist of it.

Now, If I’m going to make up a story, that’s not one I’m going to make up. If I’m going to make up a story that I want people to believe, and one that is easy to believe, it wouldn’t be that one.

Just the very fact that the suffering servant is the conquering King…Sin is defeated by death…The one who died is the one who brought victory and saved us…Humanly speaking it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Now to us who are believers it does, because we’ve had our eyes opened by God. We’ve heard the story so many times, it’s second nature to us…but in many ways the Gospel is completely contrary to human reason.

Not only that, the Gospel is contrary to how man’s mind works. Grace is contrary to how we think. We want something we can earn. We want rules to keep. We want to be able to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and earn our way to God. That’s the tendency of the natural man, but that is completely contrary to the Gospel.

The Gospel is, “it is finished.” God has already done enough to save you. In Christ you have the grace of God and all you have to do is believe it. It’s too good to be true! It’s like a fairy tale! But friends it’s better than a fairy tale, AND it’s completely true…

This is why Paul said in Galatians 1:11, “For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.”

The Gospel Paul preached, and the Gospel we preach is not man’s Gospel because it wasn’t made up by a man, and it wasn’t made up in order to please men. The Gospel is the Gospel because the Gospel is true and we can believe it!

We can believe the Gospel because we’ve seen it at work. We’ve been changed by it. False Gospel’s can’t change you. They may change your behavior as you try real hard to keep the rules, but they can’t change your heart. This is the beauty of the true Gospel. It changes your heart.  It changes who you are…and if you’ve truly experienced it, you know it’s true. And if you’ve truly experienced it, you want others to experience it too. As we are out in the world, as we are living our lives, as we talk to others about Christ…this is what they will see.

The obvious question for us is, has this Gospel we are talking about and the Gospel we say we believe changed us? Can people believe what we are saying?

Paul said in Galatians that the source of His Gospel was Christ. And if the source of His message was Christ, then that means the power IN His message, and the power OF his message to transform was Christ as well. Therefore Paul could confidently speak, write, and preach knowing that the Gospel would do its work.

Now, none of us have audibly heard God speak. None of us have the dramatic conversion experience Paul did (Read Acts 9, 22, or 26 to learn more), but at its core, the source of our message and the source of the Gospel we have to proclaim is the same Christ. Therefore, we too can confidently speak the Gospel unashamedly, knowing the Gospel will do its work. If we are doing that as ones changed by its message, there is no telling what God can do. Look back at the Bible. He took the church from 12 to 120 to over 3,000 to what it is today!

From a small group of 12, God changed the world. How? Through His Gospel being proclaimed, taught, believed, and lived out in the world – the very same Gospel we see taught in the Bible – that in Christ we can experience the grace of God, and have peace with God, all to the glory of God, forever and ever, Amen…

It’s a beautiful Gospel, it’s a powerful Gospel. It’s a life-changing Gospel.

 

 

 

 

 

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

dark sky

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

Bible

 

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.