December 24, 2013 at 11:15am
Mining God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen!
Had I had more time, I would have been able to give this entire message to the praise and worship musicians during our shared communion backstage this weekend. As it was, we only had time for a taste. So here’s the rest of the meal. This weekend we performed a very cool version of the familiar, and yet misunderstood Christmas carol, God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen. As it turns out, by just going a little deeper into it’s archaic phrasing, we hit pay dirt.
God rest you merry, gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
For Jesus Christ our Saviour
Was born upon this day,
To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray:
O tidings of comfort and joy,
comfort and joy,
O tidings of comfort and joy.
Here is the intended meaning of the first line:
God rest you, means may God hold you, keep you, or wrap his arms around you. It’s another way of saying, “God bless you.”
The word merry modifies the verb rest. Therefore the line is saying, “May God keep you and give you joy.” Another way to put it might be, “May you find sustained happiness in God’s loving arms.” This is the same idea as blessing someone with comfort and joy (yes, it is an incredibly well crafted carol).
Resting merry, is a sustained delight compared with the fleeting happiness generated by having a good time. It is celebration without the hangover. It is enjoyment without later regrets. The true joy of heaven is deeper and more satisfying than anything the world is able to offer because it is grounded in the work of God on our behalf, rescuing us from sin and death.
And what about the final word gentlemen?
Well, it makes this statement more than just a thought or idea. It becomes a proclamation. It is an announcement of good tidings of great joy, something an angel might declare. And more than a proclamation, it is an invitation. Gentlefolk everywhere, YOU are invited to God’s banquet table!
To get a taste of how this carol would have been received at the time when it first became widely known, imagine the setting of Charles Dickens’ story A Christmas Carol. Think of merry old England in the 1840’s. The author and composer are unknown but it likely came from some small village church in the area. A man named William B. Sandys (pronounced “Sands”) found it and placed it in a collection of seasonal carols in 1833. It’s popularity no doubt grew from the fact that Dickens mentions it in his story. Recall that there is a band of carolers standing outside the office of Scrooge and Marley singing. Yep. They are sing this particular carol.
“God rest you merry, gentlemen!” is the kind of a statement one might have heard shouted by someone entering a tavern or other public assembly at Christmas time. “May I have your attention please! Blessings to you all!”
Final thought. The longer we live the more acquainted we are with the sorrows of the world. With every heartache it becomes more challenging to maintain a spirit of hope and joy. Many make agreement with the devil’s lie that Christmas is just for kids. In other words, celebrating Christmas is a childish thing to do. This results in many adults, Christians included, going through the motions during this holiday season simply to please others. I know it can be hard, but it is important to remember that part of living a life of faith is living with hope and joy as well. Christians know how the story ends, and for this reason we need to continually return to our Heavenly Father’s loving arms to be filled once again with comfort and joy. Don’t let this pass you by, no matter how you are feeling. You don’t have to fake it, but you do need to go into your loving Father’s arms and allow him to kindle your joy once again.
Which reminds me of Jesus’ words to the first of the seven churches in Revelation 2:1-2a, 4. He says to John,
“This is what you must write to the angel of the church in Ephesus:
I am the one who holds the seven stars in my right hand, and I walk among the seven gold lampstands. Listen to what I say.
I know everything you have done, including your hard work and how you have endured. I know you won’t put up with anyone who is evil... But I do have something against you! And it is this: You don’t have as much love as you used to.” Revelation 2:1-2a, 4 (Contemporary English Version).
When we first fall in love, there is joy. It is just a part of the package. When we first discover that God loves us, it’s no different. Over time, however, joy, hope, laughter and merriment can fade and we can take on and sustain a dower sad feeling as if this is a good or normal or inevitable thing. God does not want us to remain in sorrow forever. As Auntie Mame said, we all need a little Christmas. For this reason, think of Christmas not as a drudge, but as an antidote.
Our Father who art in heaven, please rest us merry.
Open our hearts once again to the Spirit of Christmas. Give us this day that portion of comfort and joy we so desperately need.
Heavenly Father, we acknowledge that Christmas is your present to us. Help us receive it with gladness and unwrap it with thanksgiving, in spite of our mixed feelings that, for many, if not all of us, include some sadness and fear.
Give us the gift of spiritual sight. Help each of us unwrap your Christmas present and find from you a very special and personal blessing crafted just for us. Most importantly, show us how Easter is wrapped inside of Christmas. Remind us that your most profound and costly gift to mankind is the cross. This is because it was through the cross, as the carol says, that you saved us from Satan’s power when we had gone astray.
And now Lord, help us focus and work together in harmony. Continue to remind us that our performance within this worship service is to be like the beautiful paper used for wrapping a very beautiful gift. And at the same time may we offer you the gift of ourselves with all our love. Papa God, be blessed in all we say and do now and always. Amen.
Merry Christmas Everyone!
December 15, 2013 at 10:49am
Going Deeper with Joy to the World
The lyrics for Joy to the World were penned by Isaac Watts (1674 - 1748).
He is given the title Father of English Hymnody and is credited with writing 750 hymns with many of them still sung in churches today.
But it really isn’t the volume of his work that distinguishes him from others great hymn writers.
Before Isaac Watts, the words to music sung or performed in churches came out of Scripture directly. He introduced new poetry taking psalms and filtering them through the newer truth of the New Testament, namely the life and work of Jesus. He believed Christianity should have a distinctive sound and message. For example, look at this his famous Christmas carol, Joy to the World. Did you know he took it from a psalm? Psalm 98. And he was not actually writing about the first coming of Jesus.
A Call to Praise the Lord for His Righteousness.
O sing to the Lord a new song,
For He has done wonderful things,
His right hand and His holy arm have gained the victory for Him.
The Lord has made known His salvation;
He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered His lovingkindness and His faithfulness to the house of Israel;
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth;
Break forth and sing for joy and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
With the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
Shout joyfully before the King, the Lord.
Let the sea roar and all it contains,
The world and those who dwell in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
Let the mountains sing together for joy
Before the Lord, for He is coming to judge the earth;
He will judge the world with righteousness
And the peoples with equity.
Joy to the World was actually written about Jesus’ second coming and how the world will be different when he comes to rule.
Take a moment and read the lyrics.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heav’n and nature sing,
And heav’n and nature sing,
And heav’n, and heav’n, and nature sing.
Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.
The following is a prayer I wrote out of the message of Joy to the World.
Your Bible ends with these words: (Revelation 22:20)
He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.”
And then your servant John said, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”
We bow before you with humble thanks understanding that your word is true. Always. It is more unchanging than everything else in this life that we take for granted - like the sun, moon and stars.
By faith we agree your coming is a done deal. It will come to pass.
Now, what is true in heaven may it manifest on earth.
And as we wait for your literal return, come into us afresh today, for where you are there is joy.
Joy enters the world when the Lord is come. So open our hearts to receive our King.
Jesus, we confess that often our hearts are so small, so selfish that we give little room for you. Come in Lord and throw back the curtains. Open the windows wide so your Holy Spirit breezes through and freshens our souls once again. Revive us O Lord.
We breath you in and feel your presence and joy. We hear heaven and nature sing.
And now Lord make your blessings flow through us as far as the curse is found.
O Sovereign King, rule this world with truth and grace. Impact the nations and establish life in righteousness. May goodness win. May evil lose. And may the wonders of your love abound now and forevermore. Amen.
September 8, 2013 at 10:57am
Matthew 6:16-18 (HCSB)
How to Fast
16 “Whenever you fast, don’t be sad- faced like the hypocrites. For they make their faces unattractive so their fasting is obvious to people. I assure you:They’ve got their reward! 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head, and wash your face, 18 so that you don’t show your fasting to people but to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Whatever I thought fasting was about and what it would or could do for me turned out to be incorrect.
Admittedly, if you are looking for expertise on this subject, I’m not your guy. All I can tell you is that what I have discovered is not what I expected and what I expected didn’t really happen in ways I thought it would.
I decided to do a forty day fast denying myself specifically sugar in candy, drinks and desserts. I also cut out sweeteners. In other words, I didn’t want to get around the sugar by going to a substitute. I thought that would be cheating. Plus I’m not so sure the stuff is that good for me, however this wasn’t my crusade against sugar or sweeteners, it was an intentional fast for spiritual reasons.
In addition to fasting on the sweet side, I also decided to cut out salty stuff like chips and fries, however I did not try to remove salt from my diet.
And what were my reasons? I don’t actually know except to say I felt a prompting.
Here is what changed in my routine. I began drinking black coffee, or coffee with a little creamer. I also at the beginning started drinking unadulterated ice tea. This turned out to be a bit of a problem when I drank ice tea in the late afternoon or dinner because my kidneys enjoyed processing the stuff all night long. So finally I settled on one small cup of coffee in the morning and water the rest of the time.
My fast isn’t over and I have had to extend it twice. The first time came after a day when, without thinking, I ate some potato chips. The second time came half way through when I ate a tootsie roll. That event stunned me so much I wrote about it right after it happened.
Here is what I wrote.
Crying over a Tootsie Roll.
I did. I actually cried over a Tootsie Roll, not that I wanted one, but I ate one. They were real tears too, because I couldn’t believe I did it.
My awakening to the realization came about twenty minutes after the slip up. I was driving on the freeway, heading home when suddenly I recalled that I had actually opened up a Tootsie Roll I took out of a bowl on the counter at the dry cleaners. I unwrapped it, and popped in in my mouth while carrying on a pleasant conversation with the store manager. I didn’t steal the candy. It was there for customers, and I only took one, so it wasn’t the sin of gluttony either.
Here was the problem. I had vowed a fast from sugar and even sugar substitutes in drinks. Also no fries or chips for 40 days.
Why the fast? I’m not actually sure except to say I wanted to, or God nudged me to.
This particular fast was focused on some of the mindless calories I have come to see I consume without thinking. This recent infraction certainly could count as exhibit A in my eating problem.
But why the tear? Because I want my words to count for something. I want what I speak to have power and carry truth. If I can’t follow through with a simple vow like this one, what does it mean when more serious matters are at stake?
For this reason, I decided I needed to do two things. First I would tell people what happened, that I messed up. God obviously already knew and I talked with him the rest of my drive home, but there is something important about being honest with other people, especially in areas of spiritual disciplines because should they happen to know about the fast, and people I am eating around will often learn of my odd behavior and why I am not doing what I am normally doing. Allowing them in on my struggles I have learned is healthy. Second. I would start my forty day fast all over.
The other day I went for my haircut. They, like the dry cleaners, always have some candy in a small bowl. Again, while visiting with Mike, who, along with his wife Jeannette, have cut my hair over the past fifteen years I took a few small pieces of candy. This evidently has been my longstanding habit forged over years. When I got in the car I popped a piece in my mouth. A second or two later, realizing what I was doing, in horror, spit it back out into my hand. I hadn’t eaten the candy, but it was a close call. The legalist in me wanted to demand a reset, but I reasoned that this is actually evidence of improvement. So I counted this event as a small victory of will over habit, rather than a defeat. So the day this fast ends remains unchanged.
Now what am I discovering by taking on this fast?
I’m more empathetic with people struggling with habits and addictions.
I have found the change in behavior has continually enabled me to think about God and my need for him. Another way to put this is that fasting has helped me better focus my mind on spiritual matters, but it hasn’t made me think better thoughts per se.
Fasting has an end point. God is infinite but we are finite. We dont always do well with things that seem to go on forever. Fasting gives me an end I can look forward to. It does not remove small unsinful pleasures forever from my life. It only helps to tame them by enabling me to step away from behaviors that control me more than I often realize or care to admit.
While I fast I wonder what I will do when it is over on Oct 10. If I simply pick up where my old self started into this discipline I think I will not be too happy about this. Consequently I am praying about how God will continue to direct me.
Fasting has not turned out to be an exercise in denying the self quite the way I thought it would be. It hasn’t involved any suffering. Instead it has been empowering and rich in content.
Fasting has actually brought me pleasure and so it’s now silly to think I deserve anything special from God for having fasted apart from the pleasures I have already received.
Although I didn’t go with non-sugar sweeteners, I have not been deprived on natural sources of sweetness like honey and the taste of fresh fruit. I begin to see and appreciate how man has altered food and drink in ways that create cravings, but that all of these entice us away from what God creates for us naturally, and the difference is that one ultimately causes harm and the other enhances health. They are polar opposites. But God in his grace permits us to make choices, even when it comes to things like fasting, which looks ugly on the outside, but has great beauty and worth on the inside.
Finally, the things that God does to grow us up are ultimately kinder than what we often do to ourselves or one another, yet this is a difficult lesson to both learn and live out. Thank God for opportunities like fasting.
Matthew 9:14-17 (HCSB)
A Question about Fasting
14 Then John’s disciples came to Him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?”
15 Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests be sad while the groom is with them? The time will come when the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16 No one patches an old garment with unshrunk cloth, because the patch pulls away from the garment and makes the tear worse. 17 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. But they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.”
A Few Hard, But Important Gifts
When we think of gifts from God we automatically think of good things, gifts of music, intellect, health, loving relationships, God himself never leaving or forsaking us. But actually his blessings extend even further than this.
Part of our gifting includes our painful pasts, our sufferings, and our weaknesses.
These are actually a big part of our equipping for ministry.
The pain, disappointments, and mistakes we made that took us down wrong roads, once these are redeemed, which is a process we cannot control, even though we might try, become our basis for ministry to others.
Where else is the true unvarnished demonstration of God’s power and grace evident? Our other gifts and talents, so admired by the world, can be duplicated by people who never experience God in their lives.
Our suffering reminds us we are not yet home. If we allow it to, it will draw us into an intimacy with God those who have not suffered much are not able to comprehend or enjoy.
And when we know how weak we are, we are able to move toward God and others for help.
Being in relationships where we show love by helping others AND permitting others to help us connects us to a power through love that can literally change the world.
When we come to the place where our junk becomes one of our treasures, and we no longer seek the best seat in the house, but prefer to be in relationships with other needy and beautiful people, it often accelerates all the other unique and special gifts God has bestowed on us.
We become safe in his kingdom when he decides it is time to raise us to positions of prominence.
A Note to My Soul
Reflections after hearing another’s prayer I thought lame.
Be reminded that God hears, understands and loves every prayer. Even the prayers I might think are odd, silly, weak, or off the mark are pulled into the Lord’s heart and responded to according to his love and power. This means judgement of another’s prayers is my problem. Likely it indicates I am being influenced by a selfish prideful spirit apart from the Holy Spirit who I know is residing within me.
Do I agree with every prayer? Certainly not, but does God need my editorial comments? Instead, should not my prayers come with these other prayers I am hearing with a request that God bless this child who has brought this request?
Remember, dear soul, every prayer is opposed because Satan hates it when we pray. He is the one who whispers to us that we are wasting our time. Do not side with him against any human being.
Soul, you understand the purpose of prayer is not to get what we want even though what we want drives us to prayer. Therefore, why should you judge a request that connects someone with God? It is evidence that God is somewhere in the mix and this is a good and holy thing.
Whether we know it or not we are always desperately in need of connection and life through God and there is no such thing as a special prayer technique guaranteed to get what we want out of God. It is God who is special, and he loves to hear our prayers whenever we pray. Leave the requests to God.
Understanding we are completely hopeless and helpless without God we should never stop seeking him in prayer. In fact praying is the wise activity of the child of God even though it is mocked as foolishness to those of this world (and the dark forces behind them).
Those who begin to see how loving and good God already has been to us will find themselves beginning their prayers with praise and worship. This is because what we already have - if we are in Christ Jesus - is bigger and better than what we need or desire to have changed in our immediate circumstances. Praise and worship are therefore not techniques or conditions required in order to enter God’s throne room, because we are already seated there in Christ. Instead they are the natural outpouring of the regenerated heart.
Whenever we place conditions on our love for God based on him answering our prayers the way we want - even though what we want seems logical and good to us - we are engaging in idolatry. We are declaring to God that we know best. This is actually attempting to be gods ourselves. Whose behavior in the Bible does this remind us of?
Thank you that you hear every prayer from everyone who offers them, no matter their religious affiliations. No one is excluded, even any who I might see as my enemy or who might see me as theirs. You see our hearts. You love us unconditionally and yet also respect us, not walking over our wills. Your love offered freely does not restrict our choice to not love you back. However, whenever our eyes are opened to our wretched condition we find your arms opened to us. You are above and beyond our comprehension of goodness and this causes joy beyond our understanding to bubble up within us. Praise your holy name. In Jesus I pray. Amen
On the back end of every life
Oak Hills Church
Genesis 22:9-10 (NASB)
Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.
On the back end of every life there is a battle of faith. I don’t care how strong, good or religious we think we are our faith will be tested, and the test will be no less challenging than the test of Abraham with Isaac.
Most of my life I didn’t think this way when reading Abraham’s story. I thought it was an extreme event in one special man’s extraordinary life to be appreciated by the fact God would never do anything like this to some average people like one of us. Where did I get such an idea? Certainly not Scripture.
1 Corinthians 10:11-12 (NASB)
Now these things happened to them…
Is talking about the children of Israel, but I think events like Abraham and Isaac certainly apply]
as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.
It wasn’t just that he had to lay his son on the altar, he had to lay the son of promise, the son he and Sarah waited their whole lives to have on the altar. That was the one he was called to kill with his own hand.
And what is your Isaac?
The death of Isaac to Abraham - for this was what God wanted him to face - was the death of the one dream that may have mattered most to the old patriarch, the one bound up with his very heart.
The greatest test of faith is always one of obedience and usually involves backing away from the things we most want to do or have, putting them on the altar and declaring, “Not my will but yours be done.”
If every talented musician on a praise and worship team did this, what might change in that particular church? Might the Spirit of God descend on that place in powerful and unpredictable ways? Might we see revival?
More and more I believe we go farther and see further spiritually when we go to the thrown of God humbly together laying aside personal agendas and actually supporting each other in our weaknesses. I know, totally counterintuitive, but when you think about it how else can the power of God shine through to others if we are striving so hard at getting everything we think is best out there for public consumption?
We are in such a hurry to make our marks and use our gifts for God but this is not actually what God wants. He wants our hearts, and we show our true hearts to him by what we are willing to give and what we want to hold back from his complete control.
Remember God doesn’t need our talents, he gave those to us. Those talents he can place into anyone or anything he chooses. But because he is love the one thing he can never take from us is love. Love is never forced. And we show our love to God by acts of obedience. And we can only truly obey and love a God we trust to be loving toward us. This is why it is vital to spiritual life and growth to guard our hearts against any insinuations that God is anything but love. The question of God’s character is at the core of all the conflicts of our lives. Do we have faith in the goodness of God or not? That’s the question.
But what did Isaac learn from his moment on the altar?
Even though he was raised as special, even though he was the rich man’s son, in place to inherit it all, he was also expendable. In the end this life he was living wasn’t really about him.
This understanding is actually a blessing to every child of privilege, every child of the King. Even though we are created to ultimately inherit the kingdom, this does not mean this life will take an easy path. And the reason the way will be blessedly difficult is because our Heavenly Father loves us too much to allow us to develop hearts of fat or stone.
A heart of fat is a selfish, self serving appetite that thinks the world is centered around its own comfort.
A heart of stone is one cut off from connections with others because it sees only its own needs.
One of the big reasons it is so hard to hear God’s voice personally or lose the context of current events with the movement of God’s hand is not because he is so quiet or still but because our lives are so loud and frenetic.
Most religion is about man attempting to control or obligate God. It is trying to make God safe in order to avoid having to place ourselves on sacrificial altars and by doing so lose control of our lives. Ironically we really don’t control life in the first place. Not really. Sure we make a few decisions involving what we will do here and there, but most of life is lived in a current we have nothing whatsoever to do with.
Really knowing God has nothing to do with religious practices intended to please him. It has to do with a relationship based on two-way love and trust. It is very different to obey laws compared with obeying our Papa - and we ultimately can’t do both but are forced to choose. This is s big problem for the legalist inside us.
Abraham’s religious activities would never have placed Isaac on the altar, and if they had, without the direct voice of God, they would simply have resulted in just another pagan sacrifice.
And Isaac’s religion apart from a personal relationship with God would have been about doing everything possible to keep himself personally off all altars not completely conducive to good health.
PS. As it turned out, and as the test proved, what actually was revealed to matter most to Abraham was not Isaac. You see he understood that whether by his hand or in another way, Isaac would eventually die. Most important to Abraham was trusting God to keep his promises - including the one about Isaac. The good news for him as it is for us in our lives, is that he was not disappointed.
The Pride of Affluence
Crownridge Campus, Oak Hills Church, San Antonio, TX
I worry about finances and about the economy.
I worry about crime and the problems in marriages and children.
I worry about education and the indoctrination of young people into false philosophies.
I worry about my health and healthcare and I worry about the direction of this country and the direction of the world in general.
I recognize that I have a small voice and limited power and ability to change very much if not everything I have mentioned, and so I worry about feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
Against all of this is a strange feeling of pride and security. You see, I am an affluent person. Compared to the truly poor of this world I am wealthy beyond their wildest hope for themselves or their children to ever achieve.
I have often considered this feeling of pride and security as blessing and attribute it to God but it isn’t from him because it doesn’t bare righteous fruit. It’s just a self-satisfied contented sort of feeling.
It doesn’t make me more loving or give me more peace and joy.
Also this pride of affluence narrows the scope of my prayer life.
I don’t see my real needs clearly and I am insulated from seeing or caring for the true needs of others.
It causes me to lose perspective for what the true problem is from God’s perspective and therefore what the true solutions are.
If the problem is more about physical poverty over spiritual darkness, for example, then my solutions will likely be centered in economics and politics, supplies and demands. Thinking that Jesus is of any help in such a big problem will be left unconsidered.
As an affluent person, if things are going well for me, I then have the capacity to feel and act more generously, so my prayer life has a lot to do with asking God to prosper me.
But then there are the times when something pushes my buttons. Things don’t work out as I planned and prayed. Often this results in something exploding inside me.
Often I justify this response by considering it in some ways righteous. “Well,” I tell myself, “at least I care and have standards.”
Sometimes, upon reflection, I end up going back and apologizing to those who took shrapnel from my explosion. I admit that I’m not perfect, but this admission is really not an admission of anything as much as it is a slick technique for keeping critics at bay. It allows me to say things like “Didn’t I already say I’m not perfect? People need to give me a break.”
No, I don’t like this about me and it has often resulted in me seeking penance in doing good things, like going to church or working as a volunteer for some good cause like singing in a choir or teaching in Sunday School.
Everything I have just described has been true about me at one time or another. It is me putting on a form of spirituality after the true fire has extinguished and been replaced by worries - with the dominant one being the fear of exposure.
Scripture has a name for the behavior I have just described. It is called Justification by Works. It’s the kind of thing affluent people like me do to justify our lives.
Justification by works is hope that God will look at the good things we do and based upon our really trying hard to be good give us a break.
Of course he can’t be tricked into justifying that which is actually a veiled form of wickedness. He won’t redraw reality to look like my egocentric delusions that try to put me in a favorable light compared with others.
I have to squarely own Romans 3:23 (NASB)
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
And it’s the glory of God and his goodness I misrepresent when I try to pretend he likes me more than others and so will give me a pass not available to everyone.
But here is the good news. God justifies me in another and better way - a way in fact the liberates me from my selfishness and pride and ultimately enables me to become more than I can imagine and all that he intends me to be. It isn’t a slight-of-hand parlor trick. In fact it will cost me everything I have. Yes, this attacks my affluent attitudes.
First, I have to understand that before God I am already exposed, and if you have related to anything I have admitted here and see it in yourself as well, then understand your conviction is from the Holy Spirit. This is how he works and why he came.
Jesus explained this to his disciples at the Last Supper when he said in John 16:7-11 (NASB)
But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.
8 And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment;
9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me;
10 and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me;
11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.
Unlike the world and Satan who enjoy exposing weakness and holding people captive in their own guilt, God has a better way - a different justification that reveals how deeply he loves us even as sinners.
Romans 5:8-11 (NASB)
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.
10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
11 And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.
Dear Lord. Take my life and clean me by your blood from all unrighteousness. Give me a new heart, one that beats only for you. Remind me that everything I have that is good comes from you and everything I have that is bad you will take and redeem for your glory. Compared to your glory, my affluence is as filthy rags. Please exchange them for your robes of righteousness. And what you do for me do for my brothers and sisters as well. In your name I pray. Amen.
This song goes along with my presentation Life and Death.
Life and Death
The Real Gospel Part 2
A study of Ephesians 2
Oakhills Church Crownridge Campus 5/5/2013
Today: Verse 1
1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,
False gospels are usually not simple. Even a child can understand and be comforted by the real one. False gospels are always complicated and no one is blessed or relieved when they hear one. Keep in mind it is important to always remember that the best counterfeits look like the real thing. This actually makes identifying and dealing with false gospels extremely difficult.
The most common emotion when receiving a false gospel is specialness not gratitude. They flatter people who attempt to follow them that they are specially blessed and unique. The result is that people begin to believe a subtle lie, that they are not saved because they are dead in their sins and desperately in need of God’s deliverance, but because they have a special knowledge in how to please God or that God needs them because they are uniquely special in his eyes.
It reminds me of the parable Jesus told in Luke 18:9-14 where he describes the Pharisee this way in verses 11-12:
11 The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself:‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people:swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get. ’
Everyone else according to this divine insight is lost because they simply and ignorantly elect to believe to rely completely on God’s mercy to save them when obviously (to their way of thinking) God has gone out of his way to specially choose them over common people because they are actually good people - people capable of overcoming life’s obstacles. They truly see themselves as God’s gift to the world.
Rejecting the full teaching of Scripture (still according to these false teachers) minimally places the masses in a lower level of heaven if not a higher level within hell’s hierarchy.
Adding to the attractiveness of false gospels is something within the true gospel that irritates, troubles and annoys us, and that is the idea that we are completely bankrupt and that we have the same merits for salvation as the most vile person who ever turns to God and asks to be forgiven. How can this be fair? It isn’t necessary at this point to attempt to answer this to everyone’s satisfaction, but simply to acknowledge it to be true. Let me just note that a part of the answer has to do with our sin condition.
False gospels are a part of false teachings and although denominations form around them, this does not mean churches where the true gospel is preached and taught are immune.
In fact within each one of us are seeds of pride, doubt and unbelief that war against the true gospel. For this reason it is important and necessary to continually return to first principles in the same way we return to taking communion. Although the gospel message is simple to understand, it is also fundamentally transformational in enabling believers to live lives filled with the good spiritual gifts God promises to all who believe.
But the true gospel always begins with our condition apart from God. Whenever we attempt to water down the unpleasantness of sin we are leading people and ourselves toward accepting a false gospel that promises improvements to living conditions rather than a cure for the disease that has as good as killed us. It’s certainly good to remember that as long as there is breath there is hope, but physical breath and spiritual breath that sustains us past physical death are not the same thing.
Remember Jesus said in John 10:10 (NASB)
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
The abundant life is not really discernible by those who are perishing.
2 Corinthians 4:3-4 (NASB)
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
Without Jesus coming, life lacks an indescribable depth the word “abundance” describes. But to get there we first have to see sin for what it really is and what it really does. In our culture this is not easy to do. In fact our society has done everything possible to relegate the word “sin” to being an archaic term completely of no relevance in this modern world. And as was pointed out to me in our discussion this morning, Madison Avenue has actually turned “sin” into a good thing. We are encouraged to enjoy those “sinful pleasures” in the product they are promoting.
But when we do away with sin, we do away with a need for Jesus to abide in us. And when we discount this we lose the idea of an active and growing relationship with him. He changes in our thinking from being alive and active working within us through the Holy Spirit who testifies of his reality and presence to a concept or good idea for better living.
How this looks within churches is that the abiding and active presence of Jesus is replaced by ethical codes and traditions intended to work in our brains but not in our hearts.
What they seem to miss, at least at a denominational level, is a close abiding relationship with Jesus, the lover of their souls.
Interestingly, and so typical of the God of the Bible is that he still seeks and saves people within churches who teach error. Of course if he didn’t none of us would see salvation for it is not based on our ability to get our understanding of God completely right, but because God extends his grace to people who need him. (Romans 5:8)
Why does he do this when it seems to extend error? Because he knows something false teachers often do not. He understands that unbeknownst to many he sends the Holy Spirit to take up residence in their hearts. From that moment on, they begin to live spiritually and he begins to walk them toward himself.
A good test for the spiritual health of someone living within an oppressive religious environment is to ask what they would want most for someone outside their denomination - (1) to have a personal relationship with Jesus apart from accepting their specific denominational doctrines, or (2) to come into their church as a member, even if they could not acknowledge a uniquely personal relationship with Jesus.
Do you see the challenge of attempting to correct doctrinal error and why it is essential to know the truth? The truth sets people free because the truth of the matter is Jesus embodies the truth. We aren’t invited into a deeper understanding of God and what he is doing, we are invited to be adopted into his family and as children get to know him in a deeply intimate and personal way apart from denominations and doctrines. Are denominations and doctrines inherently wrong? Not at all, they simply are not of first priority to people. Jesus is.
The Real Gospel
Oakhills Church. Crownridge Campus. 4/28/2013
There is a place within the body of Christ to disagree, to have different opinions, but when it comes to the gospel message there can be only one.
Here is how Paul puts it in Galatians 1:6-9 (NASB)
6 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7 which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!
In this case the problem was Judaizers, a form of legalism, but his comments are broader than this.
Since the numbers of false gospels is only limited by the imagination of man and the powers of darkness, the most important antidote to false teaching is to know the true gospel inside and out.
Although it is tempting to focus on the faults of others, God’s power comes in proclaiming the truth. One reason this works best is because none of us when we are in error believe ourselves to be. This is especially true with entrenched religious error. In fact when we are defending error and thinking we are defending God’s truth we become even more stubborn in our righteousness. This is why prayer and humility are weapons of great power, for when we are weak, then he is strong.
1 Corinthians 1:26-31 (NASB)
For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God. 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, “ Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
2 Corinthians 12:10 (NASB)
Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
So what is the gospel?
Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8 (NASB)
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Jesus speaks about the gospel
Matthew 26:12-13 (NASB)
For when she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial. 13 Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”
Associated with Jesus’s death.
It is the story of Jesus in the four gospels.
2 Corinthians 4:3-6 (NASB)
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond- servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “ Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
In full view of the world, the gospel is veiled. Why?
Because of the of opposing spiritual forces and the pride of man. We want to be important and the gospel is about being saved apart from works.
Which takes me to Ephesians
Made Alive in Christ
1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ ( by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Over the next number of weeks we will be looking at this important chapter in order to understand the true gospel. My prayer is that we will allow this truth to get under our skins and transform our lives and our music.