Godliness vs. Giftedness

This summer was the bi-annual all staff conference for Cru out in Colorado, and Alistair Begg was the keynote speaker. He has long held a place on my list of favorite pastors, and it was a joy to join the sessions via the live feed even though I am no longer on staff.

He spoke to us from Jude on how to live as believers in light of our culture, and something he said has stuck with me for weeks:

Right now the world’s greatest need is our godliness, not our giftedness. 

My first thought has to do with how we as the church react in light of our current culture. There is a tendency in ministry to want to fit in, to make our message palatable and acceptable. Many of us are drawn to try new methods and new programs, to change the outer wrappings to make it look pretty. We falsely think that by acting like the rest of the world, the world will want to join us.

The second thought has to do with the culture of performance within the church. Great pressure is felt on our hearts and minds to have the best sermons or talks, the most current programs, the nicest buildings, the best staff. We are convinced that we actually bring something of our own to the table, that our ‘giftedness’ in a certain area is of more value than anything else.  Again, we falsely believe that the mission will go forward based on our talent, that people will be drawn to us based on what we do, not who we are.

I am using the plural pronouns because I have both seen these trends and been a part of them. And yet, in reading Acts 2, we see a completely different scene. The early church believers were set apart in virtually every way from the culture of their day. They lived authentic community. They shared their possessions. They gave freely to the poor. They showed forgiveness to their enemies as well as their friends. They lived the gospel of Jesus Christ as a lifestyle. They spoke differently, loved differently, even died differently. They had a reason for finding joy in death, because their hope lay in what was to come, not in anything they had on earth. They were fearless, bold, confident, and captivating to the world around them.

This generation on many levels seems farther away from the Lord than ever before, and I wonder how much of it has to do with putting our giftedness above our godliness? Of putting our desire for relevance above our passion for living distinctly from the culture? This generation actually needs us to show them a different way a live. A way that is so captivating because it is nothing like they have ever seen before. It is counter-intuitive in a sense; this idea that living ‘other’ is more significant and will have a greater impact than living as close to the culture as possible.

Godliness, not giftedness. We don’t need to model our great talents, or show how hip we are. We need to model love for Christ and others, dedication to the Word, and a lifestyle in line with all that the gospel holds. Our culture cannot change if it has nothing better to strive towards. There is a better way, and that way is found in Jesus. True culture change will come when we stop living like everyone else and start practicing true godliness.

This challenge is just as much for me as for anyone else. What do people see when they look at my life, or at your life? Do they see the gospel? Or do they see someone who looks just like them? Are they drawn towards Christ in us? How can we be culture changers today, this week, this year? How can we engage with the culture, yet not forsake the truth of the gospel?

This is my prayer for the church….that we would become captivating as we continuously choose to pursue godliness.

 

Compassion vs. sacrifice

I’ve been reading through the gospels for the past few weeks, and came to this passage in Matthew:

“And it happened that as He [Jesus] was reclining in the house, behold many tax-gatherers and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “why is your Teacher eating with tax-gatherers and sinners?” But when He [Jesus] heard this, He said, ‘it is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire compassion and not sacrifice,‘ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

– Matthew 9:10-13

———-

The burden on my heart to preach the gospel in the context of fighting for the justice of the oppressed continues to grow as I seek the Lord and study His word. Jesus made the bolded statement above to the Pharisees as they marveled in incredulity that Jesus would stoop so low as to eat with sinners and tax-gatherers. These Pharisees were zealous in their Quest for perfection as regarded the Law, and they thought that Jesus would be proud of them for disassociating themselves from the unclean, from those who failed in keeping the Law.

And yet the exact opposite is true. Christ tells this group of Pharisees to go and learn a part of the Law they had missed entirely. The phrase ‘I desire compassion and not sacrifice’ is originally written in Hosea 6:6, when God is lovingly calling the wayward tribes of Israel who refused to repent of their sin and guilt, back to Himself.

The Pharisees talking with Jesus were blind to their own sin, proud of the fact that they obeyed the Law and kept themselves clean. But the gospel will not reach the dirty and broken unless it is taken to them. God could care less about how perfectly we follow the Law if we fail to love those He created who are eternally lost and wandering in the darkness.

His gospel is centered on the fact that on our own we are helpless, broken, lost and unclean. He, and He alone, can fix our plight. Only the blood of Jesus Christ can cleanse, repair, bind-up, and heal us. Without His blood we are without hope. There is nothing we can do to make ourselves clean enough to merit His favor and enter His presence. Yet in His great compassion He made a way for us to be saved, and then in His grace and mercy He allows us to take that same compassion we were shown and pour it out on the lost around us. Oh, how much we miss when our focus in on ourselves and our own obedience, rather than giving ourselves away in compassion to the lost.

 

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7 Statements that got Jesus Crucified

Jesus said a lot of controversial things in His three years of public ministry, enough to confuse some people and anger others to the point of desiring to have him murdered. At College Park’s Good Friday service last night, they had seven vignettes of statements that Jesus Christ made that incited the religious leaders to seek for His death on the cross. These religious leaders thought that by killing the rebel who was stirring up the people and making these claims they would be rid of Him for good. But, because the statements He made were completely true, they had no understanding that by killing their Messiah they were actually saving everyone who believed in Him.

1. “Before Abraham was, I AM” – John 8:58. It might sound like bad grammar, but in this statement Jesus is referring back to the story of Moses when God revealed His great and holy name “I AM who I AM”. Jesus was claiming equality with this God, saying that He too, existed before Abraham. To those who considered Him just a regular man, this was blasphemy. But this was no ordinary man…

2. “I and the Father are One” – John 5:10. Again, Jesus is speaking to the Jewish religious leaders of the day, claiming that He and God were completely equal on every level. If He was just a prophet, then this would have been blasphemy, and crazy talk for a Jew to compare himself to God.

3. “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me” – John 8:42. Here Jesus makes 2 bold claims. First, that they do not actually know the God they worship, because they have not recognized and loved Jesus. And second that Jesus came from God, making Himself out to be more than a prophet.

4. “Destroy this temple, and in 3 days I will raise it up” – John 2:19. The Temple was the very place where the Jewish people met God. It was the place of continual sacrifices, making atonement for their sin. In this statement Jesus is claiming to be a temple that will last forever. That the place of sacrifice is finished in His death and resurrection, and He is now the everlasting sacrifice for our sins. When He said it though, the people, including His own disciples, did not understand that He was going to rise from the dead.

5. “No one can come to Me unless granted to Him by the Father” – John 6:65. This statement made even some of His disciples turn away. Jesus was saying to them that salvation is not based on the works of the Law, or anything that they could do on their own effort, because our obedience will forever be incomplete. Our earthly minds would not naturally embrace this kind of salvation – our sin nature is hard wired to desire to earn favor based on our good behavior and deeds. It is only in the wooing of God Himself that we can be saved by faith.

6. “I am the bread that came down from heaven” – John 6:21. Jesus said this one day after breaking two loaves of bread in half and feeding 5,000 people. In this passage He refers back to the manna that was provided for the Israelites while they were wandering in the wilderness, and here claims to be greater than this bread. The disciples respond by asking Him to give us that bread always, and Jesus’ response is that He is the bread of Life, and anyone who eats of Him will never hunger again.

7. “But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” – Matt 26:64. Jesus made this statement while standing before the High Priest during His trial. The high priest asked Him to tell them plainly whether He is the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus answered by quoting two old testament passages – Psalm 110 and Daniel 7, effectively saying “yes, I am the Christ, the Son of God”. At this, the high priest tore His robes and called for Jesus to be crucified, showing us one of two ways we can handle Jesus. Either by refusing to believe His Word as true, rejecting Him as Messiah, attempting to put Him to death or ignore Him in an effort to continue in our own life. Or by believing that what He said was true, that He is the Messiah, and therefore surrendering our life to Him and believing that through Him alone we have salvation.

Even in light of these statements, Jesus still went to the cross on His own initiative. He chose to obey the Father and die, in order that we could truly live. Friday is called “good” because in the horror of the cross grace and salvation were born. In his song, Phil Wickham says “When blood and water hit the ground, walls we couldn’t move came crashing down. And we were free and made alive, the day that True Love died…”

As we reflect on and remember His death, take heart and lift up your head, because Sunday is coming…

 

Romans 1-3

I love to write out what I am memorizing as I finish chunks of scripture. It helps me synthesize and remember the passages, but this chunk is a bit daunting to think of writing by hand. So, please excuse this long post. I hope you are encouraged by Paul’s letter to the church in Rome as much as I am as I memorize this great letter.

Chapter 1:

Paul, a bond servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrections from the dead according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord; through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles, for His name’s sake, among whom you also are the called of Christ Jesus. To all those beloved of God in Rome, called as saints, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the entire world. For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you; always in my prayers offering request, that if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established. That is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the others faith, both yours and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you, but have been prevented thus far, that I may obtain some fruit from among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles. For I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, to the wise and to the foolish. So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are at Rome.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written “for the righteous man shall live by faith”. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them, for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man, and of birds, of four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

Therefore, God gave them over in the lust of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. Therefore God gave them over to degrading passions, for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire for one another; men with men committing indecent acts, and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to do those things which are not proper. Being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed evil; full of envy, murder, strife, malice, deceit; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, arrogant, insolent, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without knowledge, unloving, untrustworthy, unmerciful. And although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.

Chapter 2:

Therefore, you have no excuse, every one of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself, for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindess and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourselves in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to each person according to his deeds. To those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory, honor and immortality; eternal life. But to those who are selfishly ambitious, and do not obey the truth but obey unrighteousness; wrath and indignation.

There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Greek. But glory, honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God. For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law; but all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law. For it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. For when the Gentiles, who do not have the Law, do instinctively the things of the law, these, not having the Law, are a law unto themselves, in that they show the works of the Law written on their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, in that day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.

But, if you bear the name Jew, and rely upon the Law, and boast in God, and know His will, and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher to the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth. You therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one should not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God?

For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you, as it is written. For indeed, circumcision is of value if you practice the law. But if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. And if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you, who, though having the letter of the Law and circumcision, are a transgressor of the Law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter, and his praise is not from men, but from God.

Chapter 3:

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect! First, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written “That you may be justified in your words and prevail when you are judged”. But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world? And if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, then why am I also still being judged as a sinner? And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim we say) “let us do evil that good may come”? Their condemnation is just.

What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin, as it is written: “There is none righteous, not even one. There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God. All have turned aside; Together they have become useless. Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep on deceiving. The poison of asps is under their lips. Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and misery are in their paths. The paths of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” 

Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those under the Law; that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God, because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. But now, apart from the Law, the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the prophets. Even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe, for there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God, He passed over the sins previously committed.

For the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just, and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed the God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith, is One. Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.

Amen. On to chapter 4!!!

Treasuring Jesus

On Sunday, Pastor Bill taught from Matthew 6:19-24:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

This is a rich passage that both convicts and comforts. There is so much to get out of it, but one thing from the sermon stuck out to me that I have been mulling over the past two days.

for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Where your treasure is [present tense, right now, in this moment], there will [future tense, later, ultimately at the end] your heart be also.

Treasure leads the heart. Or, to say it backwards, your heart will follow after what you find most important. This is why it is so crucial what we are treasuring right now. What we choose to spend our time investing in at this time is where our hearts will lead us in the future – either closer to Jesus or farther away from Him.

There are many ways I store up treasure on earth – investing my time, energy and talents in things that are just going to burn up one day – rather than storing up treasure that will last for eternity. One would think that eternity would trump temporal every time. But sadly, it doesn’t.

Most often it is because I fail to see Jesus as the ultimate treasure.

When I am pulled in by the things of this world, my “eye” becomes dark and my vision is blurred, and suddenly my allegiance has shifted. You see, it’s not about the stuff; stuff is fine when viewed rightly. It’s about attitude, and recognizing that Jesus and His kingdom are the only things that are going to last forever. Everything else, everything else, is going to burn up. We are called by Jesus to invest our lives in eternal things, and rightly understand that earthly things, while sometimes good, are all temporary.

Where is your treasure being stored right now?