Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Why Does Following Jesus Cost So Much?

When I was a little boy growing up in church, we learned the steps to becoming a Christian. We learned that we first had to realize that we were sinners, confess our sin, repent of our sin, get baptized, and live-the-Christian-life. The last step was always said as almost an afterthought; the focus was to get us in the door. I left children’s church thinking that it would be easy to live the Christian life.

If you’ve been here for long, especially if you attend our 11 service, you have doubtlessly heard Jesus’ words repeated: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). These are words from Jesus himself, and they are true, and they go hand in hand with my early understanding that it was easy for adults to live the Christian life. Some of you are new along this journey and you might still be under the illusion that it’s easy for the rest of us. After all, you might only know us all from Sunday mornings, when we all look our best and when you’ve asked someone, “how are you doing?” they’ve answered, “fine” and you believed them.

But there comes a time in the life of every Christian when we realize it isn’t always easy to be a Christian, when we finally understand that living the Christian life is hard.  In explaining to his disciples about his impending death, Jesus told his disciplesIn this world you will have trouble. (John 16:33b) So today we continue asking “why” – this time asking “why does following Jesus cost so much?”

The first cost of being a Christian is our tie to this world. When we accept Jesus as our Lord, we accept that this world is no longer our home.  Hebrews 11 is regularly known as the “Faith Hall of Fame” and it lists some famous (and not so famous) Bible heroes who lived by faith. Verse 13, however, reminds us that All these people were still living by faith when they died.  They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.  And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. (Hebrews 11:13) They were aliens and strangers on earth.  This is why this world is not a friendly place for Christians. We don’t belong here; it’s not our home. We were created to be in perfect relationship with God, bringing him glory in everything. But because of sin, this world became a hostile place, a place that hates Christians.

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. This is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. John 15:18-21

Following Jesus costs the comfort of home. God called Abraham to leave his family’s land to go to a place God would show him. He left without knowing where he would end up and how he would get there. He trusted that God would do what He said He would. That’s not comfortable, but God doesn’t call us to be comfortable.

Why would God call us to leave what is comfortable? To even suffer? Because God wants all of us. God will not share us with Satan. There is no such thing as a part-time Christian. Our society has gotten somewhat comfortable with divorce, with shared parenting; one parent gets the children and the other gets to have them for the weekend. It doesn’t work that way between God and Satan. Everyone belongs to either one or the other. A good verse to remember comes from 1 Samuel 7:3: If you’re going to serve the Lord, then commit yourselves to the Lord and serve him only.

To truly follow Jesus is to get rid of anything and everything else that holds us back. Quite honestly, this is hard. It means taking a long, hard look at life and asking the question: can I give this up? If the answer is “no” then it’s possible that whatever “it” is has become a god to you. Jesus says “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Matthew 6:24)

Last week, I explained that God cannot accept anything less than perfection in his presence; his justice demands perfection. Just as you wouldn’t accept a glass of water with only a little poison in it, neither will God accept us with “only a little sin.” Jesus’ death serves to perfect anyone who accepts, but we have to allow Him to perfect us completely by surrendering everything to him.  Not just part of us, but everything.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says it is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matthew 5:30) In other words, if there is something holding you back from giving everything to God, get rid of it. It’s not worth what you’re paying for it! Why does it cost so much to follow Jesus? Because the eventual cost of not following him is much higher. 

But following Jesus also costs so much because the payoff is so great. When Jesus talked about his kingdom, he often did so in parable. The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:44-46) These stories illustrate the value of the Kingdom; it is so great that when someone discovers it, they realize that everything else pales in comparison. And what happens is this: once you count up what you “paid” for the Kingdom, you realize that Jesus is worth so much more.  The costs don’t come close to the reward.

But why does it cost at all? Since God loves us so much, why doesn’t he make it easy for us? Simply put, God uses the high cost of discipleship to purify us.

In Zechariah 13:9, we hear the word of God: I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’ What would happen if we looked at the troubles and difficulties we were going through and instead of grumbling or complaining, we had the attitude that through this, God is making me into the person He wants me to be.

Sometimes that refining comes through difficult people. There are some people who are just mean. They aren’t just “extra grace required” – they go to every length to make life miserable for you. In 2 Samuel 16, we meet a man named Shimei who comes out, cursing King David, pelting him with rocks and mud. I love this passage. One of David’s men, Abishai, asked David, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and cut off his head!” I love this! But David, who had the power and the right to have Shimei beheaded, but instead he poses this possibility: “If he is cursing because the LORD said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who can ask, ‘Why do you do this?” 2 Sam 16:10, “Leave him alone let him curse, for the LORD has told him to. It may be that the LORD will see my distress and repay me with good for the cursing I am receiving today.” (2 Sam 16:11b-12).

In his book The Beautiful Fight, Gary Thomas writes this: “What does it matter whether God causes [our problems] or merely permits them? What truly matters is how he uses them to conform us to the image of his Son. Don’t run from social frustration or relational confusion; be humbled in the midst of it. Learn how to love in the messiness of human relationships – confronting, forgiving, and asking to be forgiven. Don’t make a hassle-free life your primary pursuit; instead, listen to God to discern how he is using these interruptions to cleanse your soul and purify your attitudes.”

What might your interactions with others look like if you took every conversation, every interruption, every conflict, as a chance for God to cleanse your soul and purify your attitudes? Did you ever consider that maybe God actually put that person in your path to help you grow closer to Him. We can probably all quickly think of someone who God gave us to teach us patience…

When we commit to be Jesus’ disciples, he will use everything, even (and especially) difficult circumstances, to move us toward perfection. The word disciple is the root word for discipline. To be Jesus’ disciples, we must endure discipline. 

Listen to this passage from Hebrews 12:7-11 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Discipline doesn’t only mean punishment, though sometimes it feels like it. It’s kind of funny that sometimes coaches punish their players by making them do what I do for fun, something that will doubtlessly make them better athletes. Are you disciplined? Discipline isn’t easy. It’s not fun. It hurts. But if you ask any coach, they will tell you that disciplined players are the ones who make it. The ones who are the first in the gym and the last to leave are most likely to succeed. I have a friend who was somewhat of a basketball star in high school. He told me that when he was young, he had a goal of becoming a basketball star, so he made a shot chart and free throw chart and disciplined himself to make so many shots and so many free throws before everyone else came to the gym. Some of you remember the teams Blaine Keene played on here in Millersport. Yes, he had natural talent and ability. But he worked his tail off to get where he got. Not only are disciplined players successful, but disciplined teams are the ones who win championships. And disciplined Christians are the ones who succeed. And Hebrews 12 tells us that success for a Christian is a harvest of righteousness and peace. 

Not only does our discipline give us peace and a right relationship with God, but it also moves us toward perfection. We are told to Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4) The word here for mature and complete carries the same weight as perfection or sanctification.

Every one of us must be moving toward Christian maturity. When we feed our baby with a bottle, it’s really cute. But it wouldn’t be so cute if our 6 and 4 year old sons were being bottle fed. And a lot less adorable to see me, drinking formula. Why does following Jesus cost so much? Because Jesus expects us to grow toward perfection, and it’s a rough transition from formula to solid food.

For those of you who are more mature, please understand that it’s messy. It’s never neat and clean when a baby begins to eat solid food on their own; that’s why the baby Christians need those of you who are more mature. And understand that if the only spiritual feeding you’re getting during the week is from me or from other pastors or leaders, then you’re probably not a mature Christian yet. If you can’t feed yourself yet, that’s a sure sign that you’re not yet eating solid food. Try it! You can do it! There’s nothing like a baby’s first birthday, when we give them their first cake. They usually take a while to figure out what it was, but then they dive in face-first. It’s awesome. But if that happens on your 50th birthday, that’s just not right.

Because learning discipline is messy and hard, the Bible tells us to fully devote ourselves to it. Paul writes to the Corinthian church Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:24) In other words, do everything in such a way as to attain that which God has set out for you. Don’t be satisfied with a consolation prize or participant’s medal; do the best that God has called you to. Paul says I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

There are some of us who are absolutely undisciplined. We only read the Bible only when we “feel like it.” We are too busy to meet with other Christians regularly to encourage and uplift one another. We only pray when there’s an emergency, never just stopping and listening to the Holy Spirit speak to us. Friends, the cost of following Jesus is discipline, and the prize is perfection.  So when we see some aspect of ourselves that does not conform to the image of Christ, we do whatever it takes to rid ourselves of that defect. 

God demands we do everything it takes to follow Him, because He is worth it. Anything less than full commitment isn’t enough for God. It would be like your spouse saying, “I love you enough to be your spouse six days of the week.”  Or one hour, as the case may be. Elton Trueblood says, “A little commitment turns out to be the same as none.”

It costs to follow Jesus because he won’t allow a half-way commitment. He paid the ultimate price for us: his life. And he asks the same in return.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Why Did Jesus Have to Die?

Over the past few weeks, we have been asking the question “Why?” We first tackled the little question of the meaning of life: we were made to bring God glory.  Everything about us is meant for that purpose, to extend to God the central position in everything.  We revolve around God, not the other way around.  So last week, when we asked the question, “Why the church?” we have to remember that the church’s purpose is to bring God glory.  Everything we do should bring God glory.  Anything else is missing the mark.

This comes in handy when we consider this week’s question: Why did Jesus have to die? 

This is a very good question, and it gets to the heart of our entire belief system.  One way of putting this question is this: If God is so good, why doesn’t he just forgive?  To ask God to simply look the other way, like a kindly grandfather tsking “boys will be boys” would be to ask God to be someone who he is not.  God is just. 

As humans, we’re hard-wired to desire justice.  Imagine you’re driving down the road and some guy in a speedy convertible comes zooming up, tailgates you for a few miles, then finally passed you in a no-passing zone, cuts you off, and waves dismissively at you.  If you’re like me, your blood pressure is probably through the roof!  Now imagine that you drive on down the road and you’re distracted by red and blue lights up ahead.  You approach and you see… that same convertible, pulled over by the road with a state trooper handcuffing the driver.  You’re probably thinking “He got what was coming to him!”

Or you’ve done the hard work of studying for an exam while you know your classmate has a plan to cheat and get an A… and then that classmate gets caught and gets a 0. 

Or the Buckeyes finally beat an SEC team in a BCS bowl game.

We desire justice!  This is part of God’s image in us; He made us to desire justice, because to desire justice is to desire God.  God is completely holy, without the slightest impurity.  He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just.  A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he. (Deuteronomy 32:4) To be anything less would render him less than God.  And to allow anything less than perfection into heaven, into God’s presence, would diminish heaven to something lesser as well.

If you’ve got a problem with that, how would you like to drink a glass of water with only a little bit of poison in it?  Or eat brownies with only a little bit of dog waste in them? 

Likewise God demands perfection.  Jesus tells his followers to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

God’s holiness requires perfection from anyone who would approach him.  Without perfection, we cannot approach God. As we recognize from scripture and from our own experience, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23).  So something has to give.  God will not just forget that we sinned, because that would allow something less than perfection in his presence.  God’s justice requires sacrifice.   In his book The Passion of Jesus Christ, John Piper puts it this way: “If God were not just, there would be no demand for his Son to suffer and die. And if God were not loving, there would be no willingness for his Son to suffer and die.  But God is both just and loving.  Therefore his love is willing to meet the demands of his justice.” 

The Apostle Paul expressed it this way: If righteousness could be gained by the law, then Christ died for nothing. (Galatians 2:21)  In other words, if we could gain perfection on our own, then the answer to today’s question would be that Jesus’ death doesn’t mean anything.  But to us who were stuck in our sin, Jesus’ death means everything.

Sin requires sacrifice.  If you’ve ever read the book of Leviticus, you’ll see that God put great stock in purity and prescribed sacrifices to regain that purity.  It is clear that it is the blood is the important part of the sacrifice; the life of every creature is its blood. (Leviticus 17:14b)  So the Levitical law required blood sacrifice on the altar (just as an aside, I am not on an altar; this is a stage. We have a Communion Table, but not an altar.  We have a kneeling rail, but not an altar.  The altar is where sacrifice was made, and to call another piece of furniture an altar is to change the meaning of words).  As God’s people, chosen and called out, blessed to be a blessing to the nations, Israel failed.  And we have failed as well. And the animal sacrifice we see in Leviticus was never sufficient for God’s plan, for our perfection. 

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming – not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Hebrews 10:1-4)

The Old Testament symbols of the sacrificial system don’t help us in our quest for godly perfection. Solomon built the Temple as a dwelling place for God’s glory, but the glory left the Temple (Ezekiel 10:18a). Then the Temple was destroyed and later rebuilt by Herod, a mockery of itself, to be destroyed once more by Rome.  Now a mosque sits where God’s Temple used to be.  The kings, priests and prophets, those who God sent with promises that He would deal with the world’s evil, are themselves “overwhelmed by the weight and force of evil itself.” (N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God).

We need a pure sacrifice, which only comes in the Person of Jesus Christ.  So Jesus took Israel’s calling upon himself, taking on himself the direct consequences of Israel’s sin and failure, “literally dying for their sins.” (N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God).Jesus’ death fulfilled God’s plan perfectly.  We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:10) He has set us apart and made us perfect.  Forever.  Not only did Jesus death take away the guilt and punishment of sin, but it actually makes us perfect, taking away the actual sin itself!  By his death, Jesus completely defeated evil.

According to N.T. Wright, “Evil is the force of anti-creation, anti-life, the force which opposes and seeks to deface and destroy God’s good world of space, time, and matter, and above all, God’s image-bearing human creatures.  That is why death, as Paul saw so graphically in 1 Corinthians 15:26, is the final great enemy.” Evil and the Justice of God

“To be released from sin is to be released from death, and since Jesus died in a representative capacity for Israel, and hence for the whole human race, and hence for the whole cosmos, his death under the weight of sin results immediately in release for all those held captive by its guilt and power.”

When Jesus returned to Galilee in Luke 4, we see him reading from Isaiah’s prophecy, saying The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor’ … Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. (Luke 4:18-19, 21b)  I have always seen Jesus preaching good news to the poor, healing the blind and releasing the oppressed and proclaiming Jubilee, but I wondered about the freedom part.  But deliverance was what Jesus was all about. Again, from N.T. Wright: “This is what it looks like when YHWH says, as in Exodus 3:7-8, I have heard the cry of my people, and I have come to set them free.   Jesus’ death was all about freedom.  No longer would humanity be held captive by sin and death.  No longer would Satan have power over us to hold us in captivity!  Satan attacks by inciting us to sin and accusing us before God.  Satan’s very name means “accuser.”  When Satan comes and makes accusations, he is tricky.  He looks at our history, reminding us of our sins, of how bad we’ve been, of where we’ve fallen short.  Then he tells us we’ll never be anything different… His power over us is through his accusations, but Jesus, in taking our place, satisfied God’s requirement for justice. 

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. (Colossians 1:21) This is where Satan wants to leave us.  As enemies of God.  Yes, we sinned and could not even stand in God’s holy presence.

But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation (Colossians 1:22)

We who are in Jesus Christ are holy.  We are set apart.  Satan doesn’t have a leg to stand on.  He has no basis for accusation. Don’t allow Satan to distract you from Jesus’ redemption. As I reminded you last week, the Gates of Hell will not prevail against Jesus’ Church, namely because of our status before God, based on Jesus’ sacrifice.

Jesus died to bring God glory. It brings God glory when his creation is reconciled to him and when we thus continue in our faith, free from the guilt, reality, and punishment of sin. 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Why the Church?

Last week we asked the big question “Why?” and came to the conclusion that the reason for everything is to bring God glory.  Remember that glory means weight, weightiness, or gravity.  We revolve around God, not the other way around.

When the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Corinth, he tells them whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31).  So when we look at the church, we have to realize that the reason for our existence as an institution is to bring God glory.  The church is never about us. Our ultimate goal isn’t fellowship or even growth or learning or worship – these are all means to the same end; to bring God glory.  It reminds me of a business where I saw a sign that says “Safety is our top priority.” Or another that claimed something similar about customer service.  Those aren’t really true. Making money is their top priority, and they realize that if they keep safe and serve their customers, they will make more money. Otherwise they could just stop trying to sell products and just go around serving people and helping to make other people’s workplaces safer.

Paul concludes his letter to the church in Ephesus this way: Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)  To Him be glory in the church. When it comes to the church, we have to evaluate everything to determine if it brings God glory.  If we exist for anything else, we’re missing the mark. The Church exists to bring God glory.

In Matthew 16, we find a passage that should be familiar if you’ve been in church for a while.  Jesus is alone with his disciples and he asks them who people think he is.  They begin to answer: “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:14)   But he asks them “What about you?  Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15) Peter speaks up, with his great confession of faith:“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16).  Upon hearing this, Jesus makes a proclamation:  

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.  And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Right here, Jesus is founding His church.  Notice that he never calls it something else; it’s Jesus’ church.  That’s a good reminder for all of us – as a pastor, it’s never my church.  I have been called by God and appointed by a Bishop, but it’s not my church.  Some of you were raised here since you were little; it’s not your church either.  In my first appointment, I was in a church where there were still “charter members” – it’s not their church.  It’s always Jesus’ church.

There has been a lot of discussion about what Jesus meant when he told Simon “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” In Greek, Peter means rock.  And in Aramaic, Cephas also means rock.  Jesus was renaming Simon, calling him “rock” and saying “I’m building my church on the rock.”  Though it’s always Jesus’ church, He builds His church on people.  There is a song in our hymnal with the lyrics: “The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people.”

As Jesus institutes the Church, he also tells why.  The Church exists as a means of spiritual warfare. Jesus said that the gates of Hades will not prevail against His Church!  Do you really believe that? Then why don’t we go storming Hell’s gates instead of passively sitting by and letting Satan have his way even in the church?

This is absolutely pivotal; if we’re not storming Hell’s gates, we’re not being the church.  Where does scripture describe Jesus’ church as sitting back and letting Satan have his way?  Where does the Bible show Jesus’ church letting society or tradition dictate our course?  I do find the concept (if not the phrase) “We’ve always done it this way” in the scripture, and every time that attitude is taken, it makes God furious.  That can never be the attitude of the church.  If that were the case, we’d all still be Jews. 

You see, Jesus’ desire was that every person would come into a relationship with him.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9) There are people you see every day who are on their way to Hell, and we, the church, can do something about it. 

Jesus mission including doing all kinds of miracles; healing the sick, feeding the hungry, releasing the oppressed and imprisoned, raising the dead.  He did this all to bring glory to God.  But the incarnate Jesus was just one person in one place.  So he taught his disciples and he sent them out to do what he had been doing.

And before he was crucified, he said to them: I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.  (John 14:12)  

Jesus commissioned the church to do even greater things than his disciples saw him doing.  We can physically do what Jesus told his disciples would happen: You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8) 

God’s plan is that His Church would be his witnesses everywhere.  In Ephesians 3:10-11, Paul writes this about God’s plan: His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms in according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.  God planned for the church to be His scheme to reconcile everything to himself.  Everything and everyone will eventually bow to Jesus Christ, and the church is the vehicle through which he will accomplish his plan.

If the Church is the vehicle to accomplish God’s plan of bringing Himself glory, how do we do it? 
The best place to look would be the early church.  In Acts 2, we see the birth of the church.  The Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost, and three thousand immediately joined the church.  In Acts 2:42-47, we see this:  They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.  All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,  praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

The church was all about four things: devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer.  Notice that they didn’t just “listen” to the apostles’ teaching; they were devoted to it.  We have the apostles’ teaching – the Word of God.  Are you devoted to the Word of God?  I have been up and down in my devotion to the Word; there are times when I would be studying the Bible every day and then just not wanting to even get into the Word.  But my continual prayer is that I will be hungry for God’s Word.  So I set aside a certain time every day when I get into Scriptures, before I do anything else, I’m spending time with God, devoted to the apostles’ teaching. 

But devotion to the teaching doesn’t just mean studying the Word.  It means that we allow it to inform us and transform us.  I had a district superintendent who told us: if you are studying a scripture or doing a book study and nobody is transformed, don’t switch and do another study; do the same one over again.  Do it until there is transformation!

The early church was also all about fellowship.  Chuck Swindoll says “if we had teaching without fellowship, the church would be a school – a place that simply dispenses information.” (The Church Awakening). But he continues by saying that biblical fellowship isn’t just “potluck suppers, dinners on the grounds, and Christmas concerts.  Koinonia represents close relationships that involve sharing life with one another – the bad times as well as the good.”

It means doing life together.  Authenticity with one another.  Encouragement.  Accountability.  These things don’t happen in the large group meetings.  We can’t really be authentic when we’re meeting with 100 people.  That’s why we have cell groups; to encourage true biblical koinonia!  Sunday morning worship is not a one-stop shop for all your church needs!

The early church devoted themselves to the breaking of bread – meaning Communion.  They were devoted to a lifelong communion with Jesus Christ, growing daily in His likeness.  This is to say that our lives should be devoted to worship – to ascribe to God the weight and the place He deserves in our lives.  This isn’t just singing.  I don’t know how I can make this more clear; music is one way we worship, but it’s not the only way.  And please don’t let Sunday morning be the only time you worship; what a fantastic thing it is when worshipers who have been worshiping all week gather together with a worship celebration!  Our very lives, everything about us, are meant to be all about worship, with everything revolving around God. 

And the early church devoted themselves to prayer.  We cannot pray enough.  Jesus himself got fired up when he went into the Temple and found all sorts of other stuff going on; he drove out the money changers, saying “‘My house will be a house of prayer’ but you have made it a den of robbers.” (Matthew 21:13,Mark 11:17, Luke 19:46) 

But 1 Corinthians 3:16, we read Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives within you?  So if God’s temple is to be a house of prayer and we ourselves are God’s temple, doesn’t it stand to reason that we should be all about prayer?

This is how we connect with God and how God communicates with us.  The church is all about connecting others with God and communicating with them –God chooses to do this through us.  And may God use us to bring Him glory.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Why?

It started on his third birthday.  He immediately went from regular conversations to asking “why?” Everything was “why?” Many of us promised ourselves we would never use those old lines our parents used, but it didn’t take long until one of my mom’s favorites popped into my head: “because I’m the Mom and I said so.” 

It can be frustrating to constantly answer the “why” question, especially as the parent of a toddler or when the question is simply a means to undermine authority (asking the police officer why the speed limit isn’t 75 in the school zone where you were pulled over is hardly profitable). 

But in all honesty, it’s our job to ask why.  If we don’t evaluate, asking the “why?” questions behind what’s going on, we’re in bad shape. In the 1960s Yale psychologist Stanley Millgram conducted a famous series of experiments.  In these experiments, volunteers were instructed to give shocks when the test subjects got answers wrong.  In reality, the test subjects were actors, and there were no real shocks administered, but the volunteers did not know this.  If at any time the volunteer hesitated, he was told that he had to continue.  And so, not questioning the orders, one after another continued administering “shocks” well into the dangerous levels, even continuing after hearing the actor pleading for them to stop.

Through this research, Millgram learned that people were very obedient to authority, even blindly obedient.  Nobody asked “why?” There is a time and a place to ask “why?”

In this sermon series, we aim to ask “why?” There are some important questions in life and we need to ask why.  Today we’re going to take a look from 40,000 feet above, kind of a big-picture view of the overall “why.”  Then we’ll come in a little closer to earth to take a more detailed look at some more why questions: why the church, why does ministry cost, why did Jesus have to die, and why the Bible. 

Let’s get started with the big “Why?”  What is the meaning of everything?  That sounds like an easy task for a Sunday morning, doesn’t it?  We’ll start with why God created.

God created everything for His enjoyment and to bring Him glory. It’s as simple as that.  If someone asks what the meaning of life is, it’s to love God and bring Him glory.  That’s what it’s all about.  When God created everything, he pronounced it all good, except for humanity, whom he pronounced very good.  In the Bible, out of 66 books, we get two wonderful chapters of everything like it’s meant to be.  God created everything to point to Him, so everything we see, taste, touch, and experience would cause us to thank Him, so that we might know he is and that we would worship him for his goodness. 

Adam and Eve are in right relationship with God, enjoying his presence. 

But then sin enters the world, and everything everything is messed up.  When I say everything, I mean just that.  Everything that was meant for good, for God’s glory, is perverted.  Nature was meant to reflect God’s glory, to move us to worship, but now it’s something to be ignored or exploited. We were in Sedona a few years back, and I asked a guy if the amazing view ever got old; he said, “it’s office buildings.”  God created sex for us to enjoy – fancy that – but it has become perverted.  God gave us food for our enjoyment, and the intended response to us eating food was to enjoy it and thank God for it.  Those before-meal prayers?  God created food so we would pray after our meals; food itself was created to move us to praise. But now food leads to indifference or gluttony.  This is why Paul writes to the church in Corinth: Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)  That was what everything was meant for; the glory of God.

I know we’ve gone over this before, but it’s important that we go over again what glory means. It can be one of those churchy words that we say but have no idea what it means.  The idea of glory is really a simple concept; it’s weight or weightiness.  It’s gravity.  Think of it in this way: The sun has more glory than the earth; because the sun has more weight, it has a stronger gravitational pull, so the earth and all the planets revolve around the sun.  And God is weightier than all of that. 

This is why humility is important; the earth does not revolve around us.  We do not have that glory.  It’s God’s and God’s alone.

The meaning of life, then, is to give to God the weight that he deserves.  That’s why the Bible can tell us that whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 

What would your life look like if you did everything for the glory of God?  Would you still do all the same things you do?  Many, many Christians simply go about their lives, asking God to “bless” whatever it is that they’ve already chosen to do.  They don’t allow Him to have any say in their lives.  This isn’t giving God glory.  This is saying, “I have the most weight in this relationship.  I only respect God as an advisor, but not a very good one, because I make the rules and decisions based on what I want.”  If this is the way you live, you’re probably not a Christian.  Honestly.  If we believe the Bible, there are a lot fewer Christians than those who profess to be Christians.  If we believe Jesus, that is. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:21-23)

In other words, it’s time for evaluation.  Are you doing what brings God glory?  Or do you keep busy doing so-called church work, all the while exhibiting fruit that doesn’t bring God glory at all?  Are you someone who goes to church, yet you’re not bringing God glory?  What would happen if you made all your decisions based on what would bring God glory?

I’m not even talking about just the major decisions, but even the little ones.  When you sit down to watch TV or go to the movies, ask, “Will this bring God glory?” When you spend any money, ask “Does this revolve around God or around me?”

In your relationships, ask, “Is God glorified in this relationship?” If the answer is “no” then you’ve got to ask, “How can God be glorified in this relationship?” If you’re in a dating relationship you’ve got to be asking that question.  Too many dating relationships are selfish – asking, “what’s this do for me?” instead of “How does this acknowledge God’s weight?” Do your relationships revolve around the Almighty God, or the Almighty Me?

Evaluate your friendships, too.  There are too many friendships where God isn’t glorified at all.  Your conversations are filled with poison, gossip, negative talk, put-downs or even just idle talk and nonsense.  How about this: pray for your friendships, that all of them will bring God glory or that at least you will bring God glory in all of your friendships.  That they will revolve around God.  This isn’t to say that you can’t talk about the big game or about your kids or other things, and it’s not to say that your friends are just “projects” because that doesn’t honor God or bring him glory either.  But if your friends don’t even know that you love God, what kind of fruit are you demonstrating?  Are you in orbit around Him, or are you just floating in space aimlessly?

Some of you have hobbies; do they bring God glory?  I know I’ve been guilty of playing sports because I like the sport.  Once I was in a soccer game, and this guy on the other team was completely annoying me.  He was playing dirty and he kept pushing me and kicking me in the ankles.  It got so ugly – to the point where I almost got into a fight with him.  How ridiculous is that?  Not only was the game not bringing any glory to God, it wasn’t much fun for me.  The next week we had a make-up game for a game that had been rained out earlier that season.  I was on my way, and I started praying.  Mostly selfishly, mind you.  I was praying that I would have a good time, and I was pretty confident that I would as long as we weren’t playing against that red team.  But then, pretty much as an afterthought, I prayed that God would be glorified in the game. Wouldn’t you know it, the team that we were up against was that same red team?

As I stepped up for the kick-off, I saw that same guy across the line from me, and I knew I had to do something.  So I walked across to him and said, “Hey, I want to apologize for last week’s game.  I was a total jerk, and I’m sorry.”  He admitted that he, too, had been out of line and said that he’d never gotten into it with anyone in a soccer game before.  But I continued, telling him “I’m a Christian, but my actions last week didn’t match up to my beliefs whatsoever.” We shook hands, and we had fun playing the game.  We even stuck around to play another game together as friends.  God answered the prayer, that He would be glorified through my soccer game.

And does the Church bring God glory?  Does our church really bring God glory?  Do we revolve around Him in everything, or are we more about our personal preferences?  It grieves my heart when I hear people complaining about worship style.  Friends, if an all-rap worship service would bring God the most glory, then I would be first on board.  Not because I like rap music, but because I’m more interested in what would bring God glory.  It grieves my heart when I see people who “sit in the pews” and aren’t living out the Christian life – nowhere in the Bible do I read the phrase “go to church.” God calls his people to be the church. 

In Romans 15:5-6, Paul prays this: May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

A spirit of unity can only be achieved one way: by following the Holy Spirit.  Otherwise our own agendas get into the way, and we start trying to influence the church to cater to me, mine, and ours, focusing on ourselves instead of asking God how we can glorify him in the world.

What would our church look like if we started praying, as a church, for God to send people our way?  To send us the people who need God.  This is a big reason why we have a food pantry – not just to feed people’s bodies, but to feed their souls.  Pray that we would be able to reach out to people who need the Lord! 

I’m reminded that Jesus, upon looking upon the crowds, had compassion on them.  Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”  (Matthew 9:37-38)

We have essentially no children’s ministry in our church – thankfully we are ministering wonderfully to our preschoolers, but we have little else.  We had to shut down Faith Weavers, our wonderful ministry to school children, because we didn’t have the workers.  I would love to have the problem that we have too many people who want to do ministry and to not have enough space for all of them or having to redirect people to different ministries because so many of you are committed to bringing God glory by ministering to young people.

Will you join me in praying, asking the Lord of the harvest to send workers into the plentiful fields?

Let us do whatever it takes to bring glory to God - let everything we are revolve around Him.