Jesus

Distorting the Gospel

cross

“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.

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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.

 

The Vanity of Envy

envy

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.

 

Don’t Waste Your Social Media

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Anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time has heard the “Great Commission”. Even if you aren’t a Christian, chances are you probably know what I’m talking about when I refer to the “Great Commission”. In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus says these words: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…”

As I contemplate these words of Jesus, I am both encouraged AND discouraged, let me explain.

First of all, I am encouraged as a believer, because God has placed me in a time and in a society in which it is easier than ever for me to reach the masses with His Word. Now, we could list any number of things to make this case – things like air travel, radio and television, or even print media – and these are all wonderful things. What I have in mind though is social media platforms, such as Facebook or Twitter.

I can hear some of you chuckling right now. Many of us don’t take social media seriously. Many of us think of our social media time as simply a way to connect to friends or to share cat videos and photos of our dinner. Others think of social media as a complete waste of time. I want us to think about this, however: In what other forum do you have dozens, maybe even hundreds or thousands of people listening to hear what you have to say? In terms of Gospel impact, what other forum do you have in which you can post a Bible verse or an inspirational quote or thought, and that same verse or quote get seen and shared by people on the other side of the world? All with the simple click of a button. All of us have a circle of friends and a sphere of influence. Social media allows us to multiply that exponentially.

Again, some of us think of social media as a giant waste of time. A lot of us value a physical visit or a phone call more than a message on Facebook or a comment on a status. I get it. In a world that is increasingly becoming more digitized, and folks are communicating by text and email, the sound of someone’s voice or the sight of a friendly face at your door is often refreshing. I don’t think social media can ever replace that, nor should it. BUT, this shouldn’t be a reason to ignore such a powerful tool that God can use for His glory and to spread His message.

As a pastor, I share a lot of Scripture on social media. I often post inspirational quotes or even thoughts that come to my mind throughout the day. I post links to blogs that I find helpful or even blogs that I myself write. Some people would see all of this as a giant waste of time. You would be amazed though at how often people who would never step foot in a church send me a message and ask me questions about spiritual matters. You would be amazed at the number of people, and the types of people that interact with the things that I post. Again, people from all walks of life, with a variety of beliefs, and worldviews. I hear often, “well I never thought of that” or, “I’ve never had anyone explain things like that before.”

I don’t say this to puff myself up, but to say that all of us can reach people via social media that perhaps we would never be able to reach otherwise. I think we would be silly to ignore such a powerful tool. Do we really believe if Paul or Jesus had access to the internet that they wouldn’t take full advantage of it? Absolutely they would, and so should we.

The power of social media and its potential to be used for Great Commission impact is very encouraging to me. As I said though, I am also a bit discouraged, and here is why. With such a powerful tool that we have been given as Christians to make such a powerful impact for the Kingdom of God, I see so many of us wasting this opportunity…and not just because we aren’t using it, but because we are using it so unwisely.

In our charged political climate, as opposed to us seeking to make an impact for Jesus, we would rather use our time online to spout off about our political ideas and philosophies. Instead of us taking advantage of the opportunity to share about the love of Jesus, we use that time to tell everyone how angry we are about this politician, or this group of people, who we believe are ruining our country.

But it isn’t just politics. So many times I see Christians sharing posts with language or images that certainly do not honor the Lord we say that we worship. I see Christians themselves using language or writing posts that are unbefitting of one who calls himself a child of God. I’m no prude, and I can enjoy a good joke, but it is hard for people to take you seriously as a Christian if you share Scripture in one post, then in the very next post go on a profanity-laced rant about the guy who cut you off in traffic.

Social media, like anything else, can and should be used for the glory of God, and I believe this is the reason for which God has given it to us. That being said, Satan will do everything in his power to use it for evil and distract us from using it for its intended purposes. For some, he will simply try to convince us that there is very little value in it. For others of us, he will try to tell us that it’s really just a big waste of time…and if we aren’t using it as a means to glorify God, then he is right.

Don’t fall for Satan’s trap. Take advantage of every opportunity to make much of Jesus. Take every opportunity you can to spread the message of the Gospel. Use the power of social media to take the Word of God to all nations. You never know how much impact one click of a button might have.

“So, whether you eat or drink, or WHATEVER you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31

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.

Gold Medal Faith

gold medal

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Few things are able to capture the attention and the imagination of the world like the Olympic Games. Every four years there seems to be a new story, or a new athlete that captivates the hearts and minds of the people. It’s easy to understand why. The best athletes in the world train their entire lives for this one moment in history. The life of an Olympic athlete is one of drive, determination, and discipline. When they succeed and achieve their goals of Olympic Gold, we can’t help but rejoice with them. When they fall short, or tragedy strikes and they end up injured and fail to obtain that moment of glory they’ve worked so hard for, our hearts break for them and we too mourn.

As I ponder these things, I can’t help but be reminded of Paul’s words to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 9. He was quite fond of using athletic analogies to describe the Christian life. Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 9 of a race in which all the runners run, yet only one can receive the prize. He speaks of the self-control and the discipline that an athlete must possess. He then speaks of the focus and self-control he himself lives out in order that he not be disqualified.

I believe one reason the Olympic Games and Olympic athletes capture our hearts and minds so powerfully, is because we all understand what it is to have a goal and to work hard to achieve it. There are few pleasures as sweet as working your entire life for something, and then achieving it.

Another reason the Olympic Games and Olympic athletes so easily captivate us is because we also understand the desire for glory. What small kid hasn’t dreamed of hitting the game winning home run or the game winning basket or goal? If athletics isn’t necessarily your thing, perhaps your goal is getting the highest grades, or being the best at your job. Maybe you want to be known as the greatest cook, or a great artist. The fact is we all have something we love to do, and if we were really honest with ourselves we would love to be known as the best.

Well, if we want to be the best, we know what it takes: Hard work, discipline, focus, and perseverance. So, when we watch the Olympics, we see people who have achieved, or are striving to achieve their life’s goal of being great and taking hold of Olympic glory. And the symbol of that glory is the Gold Medal.

But here’s the thing. Olympic glory is fleeting. For most of the athletes that capture the attention of a nation, in a few years most people won’t remember their names, or at best they will be simply a footnote in history. Even if they do achieve that ultimate glory and become household names as some do, even that doesn’t last for eternity. One day they will die, and their gold medals will end up lost or in a trash heap. Olympic athletes might no longer receive wreathes like they did in the day, but even a gold medal isn’t imperishable.

We however, don’t run for a perishable prize, as Paul reminds us. If Olympic athletes train so hard and exercise such discipline and live lives of such intense drive and focus in order to attain worldly glory, how much more should we as Christians live and work to take hold of Spiritual glory? An Olympic athlete can’t just drift through life, or breeze through training sessions and hope to win the gold…and Christian, we can’t just drift through life and think we will receive our crown of glory.

In an athletic competition there can be only one winner, and only one who will achieve glory. The good news for the Christian is that all who call upon the name of Jesus will receive an eternal prize, and will know the glory of God and share an eternal inheritance with Christ. The Bible tells us that at the cross Jesus secured the final victory already. How did this powerful truth motivate the Apostle Paul? He said, “So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

Knowing the imperishable prize that awaited him drove Paul. It ought to drive us as well. As an athlete must live lives of discipline and single minded focus, so should we. What is your focus? As those who are partakers of the eternal glory of Christ, then our focus must be on Him. We should live our lives to honor and glorify Him. We should live our lives in a way that shows that instead of living for this life, we are living for something far greater. We as Christians don’t live for the perishable, but for the imperishable.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith..” –Hebrews 12::1-2

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…