Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Truth about Idols - sermon from 4/26/2015

1 Corinthians 10:14-22 – The truth about Idols

Therefore, my beloved, FLEE from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?

SKIP TO v. 20

No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

Hear a parable:

Four brothers of the Royal Family of India decided to leave home to receive special training that would enable them to return to their beloved homeland with unique abilities. Time went by, and the brothers met to reveal what each had learned.

“I have mastered a science,” said the first, “by which I can take but the bone of some creature and create the flesh that goes with it!”

“I,” said the second, “learned how to grow the same creature’s skin and hair – IF there is flesh on its bones.”

The third said, “I can create its limbs if I have flesh, skin, and hair.”

“And I,” concluded the fourth, “have learned how to give LIFE to that creature if its form is complete.”

Thereupon the brothers went into the jungle to find a bone so they could demonstrate their various abilities.

As fate would have it, they found the bone of a lion. And just as advertised, the first added flesh to the bone; the second grew hide and hair; the third gave it matching limbs; and the fourth gave the lion LIFE.

Shaking its mane as it rose to its feet, the ferocious beast pounced on his creators, killing them all and vanished contentedly into the jungle.

The moral of the story??? Regardless the best of intentions, we often CREATE the things that ultimately destroy us!

Though We DREAM of success and pursue things we believe will lead us to fulfillment, those things often have a way of threatening the well-being of our families.

When we pursue ANYTHING that rivals our devotion to God, we sabotage our happiness and jeopardize everything of importance.

That is the essence of idolatry – bowing to gods of our own making that cannot satisfy and that ultimately destroy us. Anything… ANYTHING that receives the priority that belongs to God… THAT, is your idol.

In his book, Your Father Loves You, J. I. Packer talks about modern-day idolatry and says, “What other gods could we have besides the Lord??? Plenty. For Israel there were the Canaanite Baals, those jolly natured gods whose worship was a rampage of gluttony, drunkenness, and ritual prostitution. For US there are the great gods of Pleasure, Possessions, and Position, whose worship is described in the Bible as the “lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.” Sports, career, and hobby are also gods for some. Indeed the list of false gods is endless, for anything that one builds his life around – is his god.”

Are you guilty of Idolatry? People routinely worship at the altars of materialism, entertainment, and sensuality, but when they are confronted by the second commandment which condemns idol worship, they try to exonerate themselves by saying “that doesn’t apply to us anymore…” “We are under GRACE now.”

But if your life is centered on anything other than God, you are guilty of idolatry.

What is the object of YOUR affections? Where does the majority of your time go? On WHAT do you spend the greatest amount of resources? And are those things challenging your obedience to God - competing for control of your life? Have you told the Lord “I want to serve you - but THESE THINGS are off limits?”

This was Paul’s concern for the Corinthians. They had begun taking certain liberties that compromised their faith. Little things, not evil in and of themselves, had begun to compete for their affection and loyalty. What began as a small thing - grew in importance until it challenged their faithfulness.

And the same thing may be happening to some of you. Maybe YOU’VE allowed little things to become too important? Over time you have given them more priority than your relationship with God. You were once so faithful. You once felt so passionate about the things of God, but not anymore… now you are JUST ... TOO … BUSY. You get defensive when someone asks you where you’ve been.

YOU, my friend, are following the path of idolatry.

Paul was concerned for the people of Corinth – concerned that they had drifted. In order to awaken them, he does three things:

1. First, He calls it what it is. Notice v. 14, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” Idolatry is dangerously deceptive and seductive. It appeals to our flesh – to our senses. So out of deep concern, as a spiritual father watching his children going astray, he commands “FLEE from idolatry.” “GET AWAY from those things that are challenging your commitment to God!”

Great advice – which sadly often falls on deaf ears.

As a pastor I have seen it hundreds of times. People treat the Bible like some sort of SPIRITUAL BUFFET – where they get to pick the parts they WANT – and leave off the rest.

When I preach about God calling to MEN to be the spiritual leaders of their homes – to be devoted husbands and fathers, faithfully serving God, living the life every day - not just Sunday – they look at me like I’m speaking a foreign language… or they call it my “opinion.”

If I preach a sermon on the dangers of sex outside of marriage or the importance of modesty, young people and their parents look at me like I’m some sort of radical trying to start a cult or something.

If I tell people to read their bibles and pray, to stop being hypocrites, to be faithful to church – they think I’m just too negative.

It’s hard to convince people of the danger of their behavior when they are doing it every day and are absolutely convinced they can have Christianity on THEIR OWN terms.

So when Paul commands God’s people to “FLEE idolatry,” we automatically assume “he is talking to someone else.” “Since I don’t serve any idols this doesn’t apply to me.”

Idolatry is so much more than simply burning incense and bowing to a statue. A person can be guilty of idolatry whenever their job is more important than obedience – when their house and physical possessions keep them from tithing, when sports and hobbies are allowed to compete with the time God has set apart for worship. “But preacher, you don’t understand!” Yes I DO – I understand that you are trying to make yourself feel better about it. When we take a little exception here, commit a little disobedience there, we shouldn’t be surprised where that leads or get angry when the Bible addresses it.

Everyone worships something. And when we stop worshiping God the way we ought, we immediately put something else in His place. We stop trusting Him like we once did. Trivial things grow in importance.

So Paul calls it what it is… “Idolatry”, plain and simple. And the only appropriate action to take is to “flee from it!” Whatever it is that is competing for first place in your life, get away from it…

2. After Calling it what it is, He clarifies what it is in vv. 16-21. He clarifies a couple of things:

First, he wants Christians to know that Idolatry is inconsistent with who we claim to be. We LOVE being God’s people. Because of our union with Christ, we share in his death and life. We have fellowship with God through His Son. Our sins are forgiven. The peace of God fills our hearts. We have new life and new purpose! PRAISE THE LORD!

BUT We cannot serve God – and at the same time serve other things. We cannot neatly compartmentalize our lives where we serve Him on Sunday, but all the other days belong to our idols.

We come to church and sing “I surrender all,” without giving a single thought to what those words mean. We pray, we fellowship, we hug necks and shake hands… we work very hard to present the picture of what a Christian is supposed to be – but as soon as we hit that door, we pick up our idols and take them with us. Hypocrites who play the part well…

And secondly he wants us to stop putting such an “innocent spin” on evil – anything that rivals the Lord is demonic. At the root of those things that are competing for your time, your affection, your obedience – is the devil! Satan doesn’t want you listening to the Lord…living for Him…loving Him. No! He wants you to believe that you can have all the benefits of being a Christian without the commitment. He wants you to believe that going PART OF THE WAY is just as good as ALL the way – that you can slap the name of Jesus on something, and make it alright. He wants you to think that you don’t have to surrender to God in order to be blessed – that “you can have Christianity YOUR way and be just fine.” – It’s a lie, and the devil is behind it.

A few years ago, I knew a man who met with what most would call “an untimely death.” He was about 50. He didn’t have a pastor, was told he had terminal cancer, so I tried, as best as I could to get involved in his life and help his family. I got to meet the man and share Christ with him three days before he died. We had a long conversation. I was able to explain the gospel to him. Whether he truly believed, I don’t know, but I was able to say at his funeral that I had talked to him about the Lord.

He left behind a wife and a daughter who was about 26 years old. They were understandably devastated. They didn’t have a church, so I would check on them from time to time. The man had provided for his family financially. He had no debt, a good amount of savings, and insurance, so that, in his absence, they would be financially secure... at least that was the plan.

I told them about the Lord. How that Jesus would not only give them a home in heaven, but that He would comfort them in their loss and give them wisdom for navigating through all the hard stuff of life AFTER death.

Several months went by and I got a call from the man’s wife. She and her daughter were in financial straits already, and if something didn’t happen, they were going to lose their house.

Come to find out, they were so devastated by his passing that they would grasp anything that offered comfort. They started seeing a “psychic” who told them she could get them in touch with their deceased loved one. Over time, this huckster took everything they had, and though they were in ruins they still believed this woman had special powers.

And she DID have "special powers." Satanic powers.

Now, before you look down on these foolish, misguided souls, I want you to take an honest look at the things that are drawing YOU away from God. Are they not equally demonic? The devil will do whatever it takes to challenge your commitment to God – whatever it is, at its root - is Satan. Quit trying to dress it up and make it sweet and innocent.

3. And then third, after calling it what it is and clarifying what it is, he Condemns what it is in verse 22, “Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?” Two powerful points are being made here:

First, God takes the backseat to no one. He is a “jealous God.” We are told in His Word that we cannot serve God and idols. He shares His throne with no one. Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and material things.” In the Old Testament, Elijah made it perfectly clear when he asked, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” You can’t do both. A similar challenge was issued by Joshua, who, after telling the people that they could not serve God with a divided heart, said, “Choose you this day whom you will serve – but as for me and my house, WE will serve the Lord.”

God is issuing that same challenge to YOU today. For far too long you have been trying to follow the Lord with a divided heart. You want to be forgiven… you want a home in heaven… but you also want the things of the world. God wants you to know that He will not relinquish first place in your life to anyone or anything. It is either going to be HIM or your idol. Not both. What will it be?

THEN Paul impresses upon us the truth that we are NOT the exception to the rules, when he says, “Are we stronger than He?” Do we really think that our situation will be different? Do we really think we know better for us than God?

Ask yourself, right now, WHAT is challenging your faithfulness to Him? WHAT is competing for first place in your life? Possessions? Positions? Pleasure?

Call it what it is – It is Idolatry, plain and simple.

Clarify what it is – It is inconsistent with who you claim to be and no matter how innocent it seems, it is competing for first place in your life.

And Condemn what it is – “Lord, I understand that you will not share the throne of my heart with anyone. Forgive me for thinking I was the exception to the rule. I lay these things down, willingly, because I want nothing in my life challenging my love and devotion to You.”

Is THAT your prayer today?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Why I believe Pastoral Visitation is STILL important

Thankfully I was taught the importance of in-home visitation from my Pastor 28 years ago. I'll never forget how he trained me to approach virtual strangers with the timeless appeal of the gospel, or to share time with a shut-in, or pursue a straying member.  While our culture no longer views pastoral visitation kindly, I still believe it should be a priority for most Free Will Baptist preachers.  Why?

1.  Because visitation allows you to build relationships - and relationship building is key to successful ministry. You will have an opportunity to lead people to Jesus through relationship.  You will be able to minister to hurting, lonely people through relationship.  You will be able to offer that timely piece of advice or counsel that might be life-changing because you took the time to build relationship.

2.  Because so few participate in visitation these days.  Many outside the South are not accustomed to preachers dropping by.  Some don't appreciate it and it would be good to be sensitive to their concern. I'll never forget one home I dropped by that had a sign next to the doorbell that read, "I shoot every 7th preacher who comes by, and the 6th just left!" However, most people treasure thoughtfulness and consider it an act of love that you take the time. If I attempted to provide a number for the times I've heard people say, "Our former pastor didn't visit," or "Preachers today don't visit like they once did," the number would be so high you would think I was exaggerating.

3.  Because the need for visitation is great.  Cultivate the habit of calling, texting, emailing, AND visiting your people.  They will appreciate your heart.  And besides, when they know you love them, they will allow you to broach the sensitive subjects.

4.  Because it is very difficult (and likely unfair) for you to expect your people to do something you don't do.  While the pastor shouldn't be expected to do ALL the visiting, he SHOULD DO his share.

Here are a couple of keys to good visitation ministry:

... Have a goal.  "This year I want to make _____ visits."  Break that number into weekly and daily goals.
... Have a plan.  Form a list of shut-ins who need visiting monthly.  Keep watch over your rolls to see who has  been missing service.  Utilize visitor-cards in worship as a pool to draw from. Find out where your people live and get to know their schedules. Drop by your young-peoples sporting events.
... Have a purpose.  While the art of communication requires us to engage people where they live, our conversations should always point people to Jesus.  Pray with them before you leave.  Tell them you love them.  Tell them you hope to see them again soon.
... Never go out without a card, brochure, or bulletin to leave in their door if they are not home.  Jot a little note with the time and date on it because some people don't ever use their front doors.

Enough of my rambling... time to go visiting!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

3 Common mistakes - Sermon for 4/19/15

Sermon is based on 1 Corinthians 10:1-14

3 Common mistakes that lead to Spiritual Failure

Overconfidence can destroy you. If you want to fail at something, wrongly assume you can’t.

Have you ever wondered why so few sports teams are able to string together successive championships? It’s NOT because they don’t have the experience, talent, or coaching to accomplish it. It’s because people are prone to think so highly of their achievements that they lose the hunger for improvement. They grow lazy and forget what it took to BECOME successful.

The same can be said of MARRIAGE. Good marriages take work. There is never a time when you can be satisfied … where you no longer see the need for change …where you falsely assume that your marriage is too strong to fail. When you begin to take your marriage for granted, you unwittingly sabotage what it has taken years to build.

Overconfidence has destroyed many good men and women spiritually too. The Christian life is hard. Like all relationships, walking with the Lord requires discipline and faithfulness. You can’t ever take a day off as a Christian. To grow in your relationship with the Lord requires you to be proactive – studying the word, praying for strength and wisdom, asking God for discernment to see through the deceitfulness of sin.

Don’t think you are too strong to fail. Don’t assume you have arrived at a place where you can coast. The Christian life requires 100% every day. And those who don’t give their all often wonder where their joy went or why they are crying over ruined testimonies.

This was Paul’s message to the Church at Corinth. As he brought chapter 9 to a close, he said of himself, “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

Though an Apostle - though a preacher of the Gospel - Paul knew the path to spiritual failure is paved with overconfidence. No matter how old you are or well-versed in the Bible you may be – the Christian life demands diligence!

Have you gotten to a place in your spiritual experience where YOU are coasting? Going through the motions? Content with former achievements, have you gotten to a place where you no longer feel the need to improve or change? Maybe you have been at a place of prolonged spiritual drought… where you no longer have that burning desire to serve ? YOU may not know it - but you are in danger of being, what Paul calls “disqualified.”

What does that mean – to be “disqualified?” It means “rejected.” It means, “to fail to meet the righteous standard set by God.”

All of us have bought products and found a label inside the packaging that says “Inspected by” and then it will give a number. The person assigned that number is putting his job on the line, saying that he or she has examined the product with a trained eye and found that it meets or exceeds company standards.

You may not know it - but God has a standard for US too. And there is coming a day of inspection. Some, tragically, will not meet His standard… they will be “disqualified.”

Jesus talked about it in Matthew 7, when He said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven... On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me.

How does a person get to that place? What happens in the lives of people who were once the picture of faithfulness – but end up far from the Lord? According to our text, the person who is headed for disqualification makes three common mistakes:

1. First, he takes the blessings of God for granted. vv 10:1-5. Israel had suffered YEARS of brutal slavery in Egypt. And God heard their cries. He was touched by their need and reached out to them and delivered them by His strong and mighty arm.

God did this many times for His people, because He had promised to be their protector and provider. The only thing He required of them was to trust and obey. If they remained faithful - He would meet their every need. Paul mentions specific ways in which God intervened on their behalf:

As they were being pursued by the chariots of Egypt and came full stop at the Red Sea, when it seemed they had nowhere else to go and would surely die, God made a way for them when there was no way - He allowed them to cross over on dry land.

When they were out in the desert, having to look into the eyes of their starving children and soothe their fears – God made a way where there was no way - He provided Manna and Quail and gave them water from a rock.

When they were “under the cloud” – under the Shekinah glory of God – He was theirs and they were His… the apple of His eye… the object of His affection. Time and time again, God … blessed … His people.

But many of them had a short memory. They forgot the faithfulness of God. They failed to reflect on His blessings, to be thankful, because they had developed a sense of entitlement. They were stubborn and rebellious. They complained against Him at the slightest sign of adversity.

So verse 5 says “...with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.” “God was NOT pleased.” They did not meet His approval. God had inspected His people, and found them guilty of taking His blessings for granted.

I wonder - are we guilty of taking the blessings of God for granted?

Consider your life for just a moment. Think of ALL the things God has done for you, in you, and through you. How He, in spite of your spiritual condition, reached out to you and saved your soul. It was on account of His goodness and NOT your own – that He did this. He has met your needs these many years. When you couldn’t help yourself, God helped you.

Think about all the times He has encouraged you – how, when you were on the verge of giving up - God ministered to you and lifted you up…

Think of all the prayers He has answered – when money was an issue, when a conflict threatened your family, when sick or needing wisdom, when you didn’t know where you would turn or what you would do – God heard YOUR cry. THINK of ALL the suffering He has spared you from… His great faithfulness in times of trouble. ALL of us… ALL OF US have been so richly blessed!

Have you taken His blessings for granted?

In the beginning you were amazed by it all – you couldn’t praise Him enough. But lately things have become ordinary. You don’t pray like you should. You aren’t as faithful as you once were. How often you think of yourself without giving one single thought to your Savior. How quick you are to complain… to act in the flesh… to be demanding.

TAKE NOTE: The surest way to being disqualified is to allow yourself to get to a place where you take the blessings of God for granted.

2. Secondly, believe that you can sin without consequence. The person in danger of rejection by God is the person who thinks he can live in sin and still experience God’s blessings.  vv. 6-12

In spite of all the good things God had done for them, He was not pleased with most of them. So, for 40 years they wandered until literally thousands of Jewish carcasses littered the desert. God destroyed an entire generation of people, people He loved, people He had blessed, because they were unfaithful.

Many of those people were respected leaders. Many of them had great potential. But they were rejected by God - because of their sin.

What should THAT TEACH US??? In this day of “cheap grace” – where we are taught that God loves us too much to judge - too much to punish our sin - you need to know that the same God Who destroyed an entire generation of people in the wilderness - still sits on the throne today.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can sin without consequence. Don’t think you can be unfaithful and still experience His blessings. It is FOLLY to assume you are the exception to the rule… or to measure yourself with faulty comparisons in an attempt to justify your sin. Remember what Paul said? “Don’t be deceived. God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows, THAT he will reap!

3. But not only did they fall because they took the goodness of God for granted, and believed they could sin without consequence, THIRD, they fell because they didn’t take temptation seriously. Notice verses 13 and 14, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, FLEE from idolatry.

Flee! – run away – get as far away as fast as you can. When will we ever learn that we are weak and prone to sin. When will we learn that we don’t overcome sin by constantly putting ourselves in a position of compromise. You are sabotaging your success if you keep hanging around people who challenge God’s best for you. FLEE!

How seriously should we take temptation? I would remind you that Jesus said in Matthew 18, “…if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire...

Do you think Jesus takes temptation seriously??? AB-SO-LUTELY! He is teaching us that we should be so concerned about our spiritual well-being and our testimonies before others that we take drastic measures to AVOID temptation.

And lest you think, “I’m not doing anything THAT BAD…” “In comparison to so-in-so my sins are SMALL.” In the Song of Solomon we find this wise proverb: “Little foxes spoil the vines.” It’s not the big, shocking things that lead to ruin – Satan doesn’t often tempt us to take drastic leaps into sin. It is the little sins… that wrong thought here, that half-truth there, that lingering look, baiting us like bread crumbs, luring us, ever so gradually away from the Lord. It’s the things that don’t offend us, that don’t shock us - the things we THINK are hidden from view - - that ultimately destroy us.

David would never have thought that he, a man after God’s own heart, would have murdered a man in an attempt to cover his adultery. But it all started when he walked out on his balcony and lusted for a women who belonged to another man.

I am sure that no one would have ever believed Job, the most righteous man on earth, would have cursed the day of his birth… but it was a series of unfortunate circumstances that led this man to hate his life that had been so richly blessed by God.

No one would have ever suspected Peter, our Lord’s best friend, of cursing God and denying he knew the Lord.

No one would have ever imagined Samson, the strongest man to ever live, would have become as weak as yesterday’s dishwater, or that Judas would have become a betrayer, and on and on we can go.

It’s “the little foxes,” the little sins, the secrets, the indulgences of our minds, those indiscretions and half-truths – and because nothing happens immediately, we are lulled into a false sense of security – and before you know it BOOM! You are ruined and filled with brokenness.

If you want to know how people experience spiritual ruin, it’s really quite simple: they take God’s blessings for granted… they believe they can sin without consequence… and they refuse to take temptation seriously, and for that, they were rejected. If Paul was concerned that it could even happen to HIM of all people, surely WE aren’t so arrogant as to believe it can’t happen to US.

How ARE things? Right now, might the Spirit of God be speaking to YOU, showing you that you are the verge of heart-break in the very least, and something catastrophic at its worst? Are you concerned about it? In the honesty of this moment, would you admit that you have made some decisions that are leading you to ruin? And right now you realize that where you are and what you are doing is offensive to God. Do you want God to forgive and restore you today?

Ask God to forgive you right now... to fan those dying embers into full flame… and revive you again. Won’t you???

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Practical Love (sermon)

1 Corinthians 9:16-27 - Practical Love

How far will you go to show the love of Christ?

"For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do NOT preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.  To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? SO RUN that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. THEY do it to receive a perishable wreath, but WE an imperishable.  So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified."

Have you ever felt USED when you did something kind for someone else? Taken for granted when you gave money - misunderstood when you tried to help a friend?? When that happened, did you start telling yourself, “Now SEE, THAT’S what you get when you try to help people!” Did you promise yourself you wouldn’t do it again?

But THEN you were reminded of the love of Christ and how WE are supposed to be LIKE Him, and a sense of conviction hit you like a 2X4???

You probably repented of your attitude, but somehow, you just can’t shake that feeling --- of being used. And just about every time you give of yourself, you have to fight against that suspicious feeling.

Why is it so hard to love people? And HOW far should we go to show the love of Christ???

If anybody knew what it was to feel used and misunderstood, it was Paul. Though criticized by the very ones he served, his love for God and his concern for people caused him to sacrifice himself again and again.

We see his love in our text in three ways.

1. First, we see his love in his Personal Beliefs in vv. 16-18. Paul was absolutely convinced that the ONLY attitude God will bless - the only times our acts of generosity MEAN anything, is when we do what we do AS IF UNTO THE LORD... without thought of personal gain or recognition.

If you read this chapter, Paul talks about how preachers should be paid by their churches. It was something Israel had been taught ever since the time of Moses - how God’s people are to materially provide for their spiritual leaders.

But in spite of all Paul did for the church, he never took a dime for it. WHY?? He didn’t want anyone to ever question his motives. He didn’t want people to accuse him of “only being in it for the money.” So he sacrificed himself for the good of the gospel. Though he had every right to draw a salary, he did WHAT he did out concern that NOTHING hinder or distract from the message of the cross.

His personal beliefs.

Do you share those beliefs?? I wonder how many people serve the church today with wrong motives?? How many preachers are in it only for the money? I wonder how many folks volunteer because they want the praise of men, or worse, power and control?? To be quite frank with you, there are far too many Christians whose primary concern is what they can GET out of it…

Those people aren’t fooling anybody. Even the LOST can see through the hypocrisy of TV preachers begging for “seed money” for their ministries... going out on a limb promising that God will make generous contributors rich – because they are concerned they won’t be able to make this month’s Mercedes payment or won’t be able to buy that 64 million dollar jet. (no, not kidding)

But Paul proved his love for God and the Gospel through his service according to vv. 15 and 16. Day in and day out, the man of God would be found faithfully at his post. Even when rejected and ridiculed, even when his motives were questioned by those he served, even when imprisoned and flogged for preaching the Gospel, Paul never thought of himself.

Not only that, but he didn’t keep reminding them of the great sacrifice he was making for Jesus so people might feel sorry for him. He kept giving of himself – because THAT’S what love does.

So if ANYONE has the right to lecture us on love - it’s Paul.

Think about YOUR acts of love. As a parent, you don’t sit around reminding your kids of all the great things you do for them. No, you see it as your responsibility as a mom or dad. Love is why you do it.

The same can be said for OTHER acts of kindness and generosity. You don’t do it to receive – you give of yourself because you care. Because you know that those who serve in order to get something – aren’t honoring the Lord. But when you love people, you will keep pressing on even when you aren’t being financially rewarded or recognized for it.

Not only did his love for God show itself in his service, but also his stewardship according to v. 17. He saw his labor as a fulfillment of a trust between him and God. He saw himself as a steward who will one day answer for the things he has done.

You too are a steward. There is something particularly liberating about seeing everything you have as belonging to God. When you see your time, talents, and treasure as gifts on loan from God, you won't cling to them or fret over them when asked to give them up.

And third, his love for God showed itself in his sacrifice according to verse 18. Though entitled to a salary, he gave up that right – counting it reward enough that the Gospel was being preached.

Love shows itself in sacrifice. YES, you will be put in situations where you are taken for granted. But friend, our motive isn’t to receive man's applause anyway. The only motive that is acceptable - is our love for Jesus… that was Paul’s Personal Belief.

2. After expressing his love through his personal beliefs, we see his love in his Public Behavior in verses 19-23.

As we look at Paul, we are immediately struck by two character traits:

First, we can’t help but notice his passion. More than anything else, Paul wanted to win people to Jesus. The thing that kept him going, that drove him to sacrifice day after day - was the thought that “someone under his ministry might give their heart to Christ.” Paul would do whatever it took – because his driving passion was to see souls saved.

Listen, when you love the Lord the way you should, you will love people the way He does. A love that motivates us to be concerned about our family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. A concern for their eternal destiny that moves us to risk rejection and ridicule.

It is love for souls that prompts us to give sacrificially to the Lord’s Work - making it a financial priority. When your heart is right you will long to see people saved. You will pray for it, labor for it, give for it, sacrifice yourself for it - whatever it takes.

Not only are we struck by Paul’s passion – we are also impressed by his patience. Paul was patient with people in order that he might win them.

He talks about his dealings with the Legalist – who thought they were saved by keeping a list of rules… who trusted works to save them… nit-picky, critical people. Though Paul knew the law couldn’t save, he was patient with them – willing to follow the law himself to avoid offending them.

He was also patient with the Liberal. People who felt absolutely no responsibility to the law at all – Paul wasn’t offended by them, nor did he try to make them do everything just like HE did. Instead, he became their friend in order to influence them with the gospel.

That’s what love does. Both groups, the legalist and the liberal can be demanding and argumentative… both require patience… and Paul would do whatever was necessary to win them to Christ.

Does that describe Us? Is OUR church patient? Or do we get so hung up on the externals that we can’t show love to those who are different? Are we petty and demanding – expecting people to act like mature Christians before we can love them??

There is something particularly repulsive about a church that cares more about externals than internals. There is something particularly disheartening about a Christian who is abrasive and critical. Our love for God will show itself in our public behavior.

3. But not only did his love for God and the Gospel show itself in his personal beliefs and his public behavior, third, it was seen in his private battles. Listen to verses 24-27, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only ONE receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. THEY do it to receive a perishable wreath, but WE an imperishable. So I DO NOT RUN aimlessly; I DO NOT BOX as one beating the air.  But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

Our example really DOES matter… our testimony, our actions have eternal consequences. The way we live - matters... not just to God and His church, but lost people are watching. And while I realize we can’t please everybody, if people detect hypocrisy in us, they won’t hear anything we’ve got to say!

To drive home his point, Paul appeals to their knowledge of the Isthmian Games. People were just as crazy about sports in Paul’s day as they are today. They would travel tremendous distances to catch a glimpse of their favorite athletes. The stands would be packed with cheering masses.

Paul mentions two athletes – the runner and the boxer. And he compares the training of the athlete to the discipline we must have as a Christian. Two demands were placed upon these athletes:

First, the best athletes are known for their Self-denial. They are “ALL-IN” – completely sold-out to their workout regimen and diet. When others are out partying, the BEST athletes stick to their plan – focused on the goal of winning the gold. They put nothing in their bodies that hinder success. They consider some things more important than self-indulgence.

After self-denial, they were known for self-discipline. Many of those athletes couldn’t afford personal trainers. They didn’t have someone watching over them 24/7 to be sure they followed the plan. It was self-discipline to lift that weight one more time, to run faster today than yesterday, to push through pain and injury, whatever is necessary to give them an edge over the competition.

The crowd was watching. The crown was waiting. Coming in second was NOT an option.

NOW - If people can be so committed to athletic competition - and push themselves to such terrific lengths in hopes of winning a temporary crown, then how much MORE ought WE strive for excellence in the Christian life - especially when we consider how much is at stake?? How great should be OUR sacrifice in light of the world’s great need for Jesus. Eternal destinies hang in the balance.

Will our Love enable us to push through unfair criticism and inconvenience? Will we sacrifice ourselves so others can see the Lord in us? When your love is right, it will show up in YOUR personal beliefs, public behaviors, and private battles.

Take a moment to reflect... to be transparent with God. Maybe you feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit for being selfish… for allowing little things to hinder you, for making excuses when God is challenging you… and today, you want to pray about it. Will you take it to the Lord right now? Will you ask the Lord to help you love others the way you should? To serve, with your whole heart… because you love Jesus and because so much is at stake??

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Easter Message 2015

John 21:15-17 - Fixing Failure: How the resurrection meant one man’s restoration

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know EVERYTHING; you KNOW that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

This was a critical moment in Peter’s life. We first find him in chapter 1, where his brother, Andrew, introduced him to Jesus. THERE, by the Sea of Galilee, his whole life changed – and for the next 3 and ½ years, Peter walked with the Lord.

Those were great times. He saw countless miracles… his faith grew immeasurably… and he eventually found himself a clear leader among the disciples and one of our Lord’s dearest friends. As you study the gospels, Peter stands head and shoulders above the others in boldness. The Lord even told him he would one day become a GREAT leader.

But THAT was THEN. Something tragic had happened that tarnished all those beautiful memories. Peter, on the night Jesus was betrayed by Judas, the night He was put on trial and sentenced to crucifixion, on THAT night Peter denied even knowing his Friend. He didn’t just “deny” Him, he PASSIONATELY denied Him - THREE times. He turned his back on the Lord at a time when He needed him the most.

So here he is, living in the shadow of immense failure... his confidence shattered… himself at a crossroads. What will he do? Quit? Will he throw that life away? OR will he recommit himself to the Lord?

This story draws us in, doesn’t it? No matter how many times we read it, there is something particularly agonizing about this story. Maybe it’s because it is a story MOST OF US can personally identify with – as we grapple with our OWN frailties – as we wonder how to move beyond our OWN failures.

Though this event is familiar to us, I want you to look at this text through the prism of your own experience. As you do, I want you to think about HOW YOU will respond the next time YOU fall. There are three principles we need to keep in mind here:

1. First, it is human nature, when we fail, to withdraw to the familiar… whatever your familiar place may be. It may be old friends… it may be some hobby or activity you gave up when you started living for Jesus… an immoral relationship perhaps … an addiction - whatever. For Peter, it was fishing. It’s what he knew. His life was in a shambles… his relationship with Jesus would never be the same… so he returned to the ONE THING he felt SURE he was good at – fishing.

He WAS, afterall, a professional fisherman when he MET Jesus. On THAT day, the Lord challenged him to forsake his nets and become a FISHER OF MEN. And for the last three and a half years, his life had been all about the Lord’s work.

But after such miserable failure, he wanted to return to his OLD life. He had sacrificed everything for Jesus and look what it got him – embarrassed, broken, and alone.

Maybe YOU’VE been there - YOU know those times of bitter disappointment - when you feel that serving the Lord isn’t all it is cracked up to be. Perhaps it was a PERSONAL failure - OR maybe you fell out with the church - and - disillusioned with it all, you withdrew to the familiar.

Funny thing about withdrawing though, according to verse 3, there was no fulfillment or joy in that old way of life for Peter. There was no success found in his decision to go back. Running away from it all hadn’t produced the meaning and purpose serving the LORD had given him. He went back to fishing - but that life was no longer fulfilling.

And what was true of Peter will also be true for you.

So maybe you have hit a rough patch. Maybe YOU are going through a period of disillusionment, thinking that living for the Lord ought to be different. Maybe YOU failed or God’s people failed YOU. And you have been kicking around in your mind the idea of quitting - thinking of putting yourself first, convinced that that is what you ought to do.

I’ve got news for you, just like for Peter – that decision won’t produce the results you are looking for. Nothing can give you the joy and peace you long for but a renewal of your commitment to Christ. No promotion… no immoral relationship… no amount of putting yourself FIRST will EVER be able to satisfy that longing in your heart for God.

King David knew this. That is why, after falling into sin, he cried out to the Lord in agony of soul, “restore unto me the joy of Your salvation!”

Some of the most UNhappy people on the face of the earth are those who have known what it is to be forgiven and free, those who have served the Lord faithfully, only to experience failure – but rather than bringing their brokenness to the Lord and finding forgiveness and restoration, they returned to a life of “ME.”

So FIRST we learn - It’s human nature, when we fail, to withdraw to the familiar.

2. Secondly, this story shows us how the Lord pursues us when we fail. You see it in verse 4. After a long and exhausting night of fishing, Jesus was waiting on the shore for His broken disciples, and called out “Hey guys!! Have you caught anything?” “Do you have anything to show for your time on the run?”

I love their answer – “No.” No grand stories of the “one that got away.’ No enthusiasm – just plain “No.” He told them to cast their net on the other side of the boat, as if one more cast would really matter. But they obeyed and caught so many fish that their nets nearly broke. And when they finally reached the shore, Jesus had already started preparing their breakfast.

Don’t miss the symbolism here:

There was another time when Jesus had told the professional fishermen how to fish and it produced the same results. Maybe He is reminding them that TRUE BLESSING can only be found when the Lord is directing our lives.

Then, the Bible says in verse 9 - “they saw a charcoal fire.” Interestingly, that exact same phrase in the Greek was used to describe the fire Peter warmed himself by the night he denied knowing Jesus. This phrase is only found here and there – nowhere else. Coincidence? With God there are NO coincidences. Maybe this word was specifically chosen to remind us of the truth, that, even in our LOWEST moments, HE will NEVER forsake US.

I also find it interesting that Jesus prepared the same meal for these men that He had provided for the 5,000. You remember that story? The meal where the disciples picked up 12 baskets of scraps and were in awe of His greatness? Maybe He was reminding them that He is STILL more than enough to meet the need of the hour no matter how impossible it seems. Maybe He was giving Peter another opportunity to reflect on His glory – on all the things he was missing while on the run.

THEN Jesus said, “Come and have breakfast.” Could they hear that invitation without being reminded of the time when Jesus called, “Come unto me all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”? How wonderful, that, Christ would invite those who are defeated and discouraged to come and fellowship with Him again… even those who had failed.

That’s the thing about the Lord, you know? He doesn’t throw us aside when we sin - He pursues us. We cannot escape Him. Maybe that’s why David wrote, “Where shall I GO from Your Spirit? Or where shall I FLEE from Your presence? If I ascend up into heaven, You are there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou You there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost part of the sea; EVEN THERE shall Your hand lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.”

Some of YOU are on the run. But it’s not bringing you joy. It’s not meeting your needs. Like the disciples, you’ve gone back to doing things YOUR way. Just like them, you have tried the self-centered approach. But over THERE, on the bank, stands Jesus, calling out, inviting you back, desiring to nourish you and show you His love DESPITE your failure.

Can you hear Him calling out to YOU? If so, then there is one more truth you need to see in this text:

3.  Our failure is NOT without remedy. Jesus wants to forgive and restore those who have fallen. Did you notice how Jesus wouldn’t let this occasion pass without dealing with Peter’s guilt? Notice our text again… v. 15 “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

There are a couple of things I want you to notice here:

First, I want you to see how the Lord Recalled Peter’s Failure. He called Peter by his old name – Simon. He referred to Peter by the name he went by BEFORE he met Jesus. For you see, on the night he betrayed the Lord, he reverted back to the language of his old nature and cursed, saying he didn’t know the Lord. Jesus calling him by THAT name must have stabbed his conscience.

We must understand, the Lord desires to forgive and restore us when we fail, but it is important for us to face what we have done, turn away from it, and accept His forgiveness. We can’t just pretend that nothing happened. We've got to confess it before we can be healed. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” In Proverbs 28, Solomon said, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”

The Lord didn’t want to embarrass him - but to EMBRACE him. Until he dealt with Peter’s sin, there would always be something between them ... they could not enjoy fellowship.

THEN, Jesus asked him “Do you love me me more than these?” “These” could mean a couple of things. Maybe Jesus was holding the net in His hand, asking Peter if he loved Jesus more than his old way of life.

That’s a good question, you know? One that He might be asking YOU this morning. Genuine repentance requires us to love the Savior more than our sin… to turn away from the old life and embrace the new.

OR, He could have been reminding Peter of the night of His betrayal. How that before Peter denied the Lord, he had said with his own lips that he loved Jesus more than all the other disciples. Did he truly love Jesus as much as he professed? There is great danger in our boasting and arrogance - maybe the Lord wanted to HUMBLE him???

Whatever Jesus meant, our Lord was probing Peter’s heart… stirring him to repentance and confession… because that’s what He does. God doesn’t IGNORE our sin. He doesn’t close His eyes and say, “Oh, it’s no big deal.” No… sin must be CLEANSED if we would enjoy the fellowship of God. Though He loves us INSPITE of our sin, He loves us too much to LEAVE US IN IT.

But after recalling Peter’s failure, Jesus Rekindled Peter’s Fervor. He questioned Peter’s love three times in order to show Peter that he had been forgiven for each time he had denied knowing the Lord. He is showing Peter that his forgiveness is complete – there is no need to walk around wondering if there is something between him and the Lord. Asking him of his love three times matched the three times he had denied knowing the Lord, so Peter could move ON from this failure to become something great – just like Jesus SAID he would.

What a beautiful ending to a tragic story.

But what makes this story even MORE beautiful is the fact that it can be YOURS too. I don’t know where you are this morning in your relationship with the Lord. Maybe YOU have experienced the shame of failure too. You’re on the run, but the Lord has caught up to you. Friend, He doesn’t want to humiliate you – but to heal you. He wants to completely forgive and restore you. He’s standing on the shore, asking if you are happy – knowing full well you aren’t. And just as He restored Peter, He wants to restore you.

Will you let Him? Will you come to the Lord this morning and receive His forgiveness and love? The choice is yours.

But if YOU, like Peter, want to be restored, if you need the Lord to heal YOUR hurts, then why not take that brokenness to Him right now?