God

Walking Worthy of Our Calling

walking

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

thanksgivng blog

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..

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.