Saturday, May 30, 2015

What we forgot (a sermon on 1 Corinthians 13)

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends. 

Have WE forgotten WHY we exist... WHAT church is about??? I have often wondered, what the Lord thinks about the modern church? If He paid us a visit on any given Sunday, and sat down in one of our services… would He be pleased? If HE addressed US, like He did those 7 churches in the Book of Revelation, what would He say? Would He chastise us like He did the Church at Ephesus… who forgot the love they had at the first?

Tennessee Williams wrote a story of someone who forgot his first love... one Jacob Brodzky – a shy Russian Jew whose father owned a bookstore. His father wanted Jacob to go to college. But Jacob wanted nothing more than to marry his childhood sweetheart, Lila – a lovely girl filled with life and personality that balanced his seriousness.

A couple of months after young Jacob went to college, his father fell ill and died. So Jacob returned home to bury his father and marry his one true love.

The young newlyweds moved into the apartment above the bookstore and Jacob took over its management.

The life of books fit him perfectly – but it cramped Lila. She longed for adventure – and she found it when she met an agent who praised her beautiful singing voice and encouraged her to tour Europe with his vaudeville company.

Jacob was devastated. At their parting, he reached into his pocket and handed her the key to the bookstore. “You better keep this,” he told her, “because one day you will want to come home. Your love is not so much less than mine that you can get away from it. You will come back and I will be waiting for you.” She kissed him and left.

To escape his pain, Jacob withdrew to his books and took to reading as someone else might have taken to alcohol. He spoke little, DID little, and could most times be found at the large desk near the rear of the shop, immersed in his books - waiting for true love's return.

15 years passed. It was Christmastime – and Lila remembered her love for Jacob – longing for the quiet of their little lives in the bookstore. She mustered the courage to return home, remembering Jacob’s promise that he would “always be waiting for her.”

But when she walked through door, Jacob didn’t recognize her. He rose from his desk as if she was any other customer and asked, “Do you want a book?”

That he didn’t recognize her – startled her. But she gained composure of herself and said, “Yes… yes I want a book, but I’ve forgotten the name of it.” THEN she told him the story of childhood sweethearts… of a newly married couple who lived in an apartment above a bookstore… of a young ambitious wife who left in search of fame – but could never relinquish the key her husband gave her when they parted. She told him the story SHE THOUGHT would bring him to himself.

But his face showed NO recognition. Gradually she realized that he had lost touch with his heart’s desire, that he had forgotten the purpose of his waiting.

“You remember it! You MUST remember it - - the story of Lila and Jacob???”

After a long, bewildered pause he said, “There is something vaguely familiar about that story…but I’m not sure I have it.” Stunned and heartbroken, she dropped the key and ran out of the shop. Jacob returned to his desk, completely unaware that the love he had waited for all this time – had come and gone.

Jacob reminds me of the Church. When the Lord Jesus left this earth, He promised He would come again… and that during His absence, we must be about His business and until He returns.

During the wait, however, it seems we have forgotten WHAT that business IS. We have made it about buildings, programs, money, and entertainment – all the while forgetting the one thing that makes us different from all other human organizations – we have forgotten the LOVE we had when we FIRST gave our hearts to Jesus – our love for God … for each other… for lost people.

The Church at Corinth had forgotten too. Their focus, over time, turned inward – and whenever a group of people, no matter how well intentioned, loses their FIRST love – they become petty and weak.

Think back over our study. How many different things divided the church at Corinth? Remember how they fought about which preacher they loved the most? The fought about their rights to participate in questionable activities that might hurt the consciences of those who are weak. In chapter 11 they fought about the Lord’s supper and the role of women in the church. And NOW they are fighting over spiritual gifts – something intended by God to bring unity and strength - had only brought faction and friction.

THEIR problem was a LOVE problem. They, like many Christians today, had forgotten the love they had at the first.

Now let’s think about US for a moment. Think of all the difficulties this church has encountered in its relatively BRIEF history. Some of those problems have been minor – little things that are a part of working with people. Other times the issues seemed so large that it brought strife and separation. Of ALL the conflicts that you have faced as a church, how many of those came from outside sources and how many were caused internally? Hands down, our greatest conflicts are INTERNAL. WHY?? Because without the love we had at the first, we are destined to pettiness.

It was true of Corinth, and it is true of Stonebridge. When a church forgets their first love – their unity and purpose are lost. So Paul takes the Church at Corinth back to the subject of love and shows them three things.

1. Last week - he showed them the Excellency of Love in vv. 1-3. In everything we do - from our message, to our ministry, even to our gifts of money, love must be the THING that drives all we do. If we would serve the Lord Jesus and enjoy the power of God in this place, we must ... have ... love.

But after the Excellency of Love, Paul moves to…

2. The Essence of love in vv. 4-8 – what love IS. He shares 15 different qualities of love in those verses. Each one dependent upon the other. These are not merely adjectives – describing what love IS – no, they are VERBS showing us what love DOES. There are 7 positives and 8 negatives – describing in vivid fashion what love DOES and DOES NOT do.

Love IS – “patient.” People who love are patient people. They stay under control - they are NOT easily riled. In Corinthian society, much like our own, patience was seen as a sign of weakness. To THEM, a noble person had every RIGHT to be demanding. It was a virtue – a sign of strength – to retaliate when injured. But the love God requires the opposite. Those who would be like Christ do not seek vengeance when abused or insulted. As Paul said in Romans 12:17, we do not “repay evil for evil,” but as Jesus said, when slapped on the cheek we should offer them the other. Love is patient.

Love IS – Kind. While patience is willing to take from others what they give to us – kindness is what we give to others whether they deserve it or not. To be kind means to be gracious. It is a life that not only desires good for others – it labors for it.

Love rejoices with the truth. Those who say ‘love is blind' are wrong. Love always rejoices in truth – never in falsehood, it never condones wrong or compromises holiness.

Love BEARS all things – it protects. If you share something with me in confidence, I should protect that trust because I love you. When others attempt to malign you or criticize, I am to protect your reputation – I am to be YOUR defender - because that’s what love does.

Love believes all things – this is not suggesting that love is gullible – no, love chooses to believe the best about people. I shouldn’t be cynical or suspicious – accepting every bit of gossip as though it is fact. Too many Christians are quick to jump to wrong conclusions about people because they’ve lost the love they had at the first.

Love HOPES all things – we should never give up on people. When people fail, love doesn’t allow us to wash our hands of them. We should be hopeful… believing they can RISE ABOVE their failures.

AND Love endures all things – ‘endure’ is a military expression that literally means ‘doesn’t break rank.’ When the enemy assails… love never retreats, it never bails out or runs away from difficulty. RELATIONSHIPS can get messy sometimes - BUT love doesn’t disappear when life gets hard.

THOSE are the seven positive actions of love.

BUT, there are 8 things love DOESN’T do:

Love is not jealous. There are two types of jealousy – one where I want something you have – another where I don’t want you to have something you have. Sometimes it is something that is material like a house or a car. Other times it is something immaterial, like a relationship or the respect you might have. If I am loving, I should never want to take from you something that is yours.

Love does not brag – it does not parade its accomplishments. It is not conceited. While jealousy is wanting something someone ELSE has, bragging is an attempt to make someone jealous of what WE have. Jealousy pulls others down. Bragging builds up self. The two often go hand in hand with each other.

Love is not arrogant. The Corinthians were puffed up – they were arrogant – having no regard for how their actions and attitudes affected others.

Love is not rude. RUDE people only think of themselves. You show me a rude Christian – whether it is in church or in a restaurant - and I will show you a person whose heart isn’t right with God.

Love is not selfish – when people are self-centered - demanding - hard to please – they aren’t showing love.

Love is not easily angered or hot-headed – If the slightest thing sets you off… you’ve got a love problem.

Love ‘does not keep record of wrongs.’ Logizomai, a bookkeeping term that means to record a transaction in a ledger as permanent record. While it is important in business to keep good books, it is wrong when we file away every little cross word or grievance we have with others – locking it away in our memory to use it against them in the future. Love practices forgiveness.

And finally, love does not rejoice at wrongdoing. We must never celebrate evil. We must never rejoice when someone’s sin leads to their ruin. We must never be glad when our adversary is shamed.

Basically, Paul is showing us how trivial the things that divide us really are when compared to the power of love. If we would commit ourselves to loving people, the issues that seem so important to us now would fade into obscurity and we would be more concerned with unity than with our personal rights.

This is the Essence of love.

3. And then finally, after mentioning the Excellency and the Essence of love, Paul shows us the Eternality of love when he says, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

So many of the things that we get excited over are temporary. But the things that last are those things done in love.

I want you to think back over your life. Remember the stuff that really matters to you. The people who had a positive impact on you - those gestures that made you the person you are. If you could reduce them all to one quality, you’d see it was love that made that thing so special, that memory so precious, that act so life-shaping. The people in your life that really matter are the ones who love you. The people you really look up to – yep – it was an investment they made in you because they loved you.

When people think of you – how will YOU be remembered? Will your kids talk about your love long after you’ve gone? Will your neighbors, co-workers and church family recall your love? In the end, how much stuff you have, all the successes you achieved, the respect you command – means nothing. At the end of the day, how you loved is what people will remember.

Paul says - love is the GREATEST - because your love will outlive you - it will continue impacting lives LONG after you are gone.

Several years ago, I had a right-hand-man. A man old enough to be my father. We would go out on Tuesday nights and invite people to church. We were a team.

Fred became terribly ill.

As he laid on his deathbed, heavily medicated to mask his pain, I found his son standing by his bedside when I came for a visit. The son LOVED his dad. He cried as I shared what his dad meant to me. Then I looked him in the eye and said - “You want to bless your dad? You want to honor his memory? Get into church… get your heart right with God. Because it is the ONE THING your dad prayed for every day!”

Guess what??? He rededicated himself to God and got back into church!

Love did that.

Maybe it’s time we got back to the important things. Maybe it’s time we asked God to help us love people. Do you need to do that right now?

Saturday, May 23, 2015

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 - When the Church FAILS (a sermon)

When does a church fail? When its numbers begin to dip? When its leaders fall into immorality? When it teaches false doctrine or becomes worldly??? According to the Word of God, a church begins its slide into irrelevance, when it fails to love. It doesn’t matter how RIGHT a church might be in matters of doctrinal truth – it doesn’t matter how ACTIVE it might be with all its fellowship groups – or how WEALTHY it is ... the nice things it can afford … the number of missionaries it can support – without love – biblical, self-sacrificing love, the church has failed.

In a selfish society - we often need to be reminded that real love sacrifices itself for the good of another… a hard lesson to learn. It crosses our grain to put others ahead of ourselves. It is not natural to sacrifice – but that is exactly what the Lord called us to do. In the gospel of John, chapter 13, He said, “A New commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another as I have loved you – by THIS shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.”

Years later, John offered “Love” as THE primary attribute of the born-again believer – going so far as to say that if we don’t love each other, we are not… truly… saved.

In the first section of the Book of Revelation, Jesus gave His assessment of the 7 churches of Asia Minor and told the church at Ephesus – one of the strongest, most active churches of its day – that they were on the verge of losing the blessing of God because they had forgotten the love they had at the FIRST.

While we tend to be impressed by a church’s size, facilities, programs, and budgets, Paul shows us that without love – none of that stuff matters!

The kind of love we find in this text cannot be found outside the church. WHY? Because it comes from God. When we are saved, not only are our sins forgiven, we are re-born – and the Spirit of God takes up residence IN us and fills us with God’s love. The Greek word for this kind of love is AGAPE.

When the natural man thinks of love, he thinks of romance or emotion. But the love of God is so much MORE than that – it is action – sacrificial action. As was so wonderfully displayed by our heavenly Father, of Whom it is said, “SO loved the world that He GAVE His only begotten Son…” It is only through a personal relationship with God that we can experience AND SHOW that kind of love.

Though very successful in worldly terms, the Church at Corinth had a LOVE problem. You can see it on every page of the book. Though they were gifted, though they had been successful in winning people from all walks of life, they were failing to love each other. They had found that it is a whole lot easier being religious than loving. It’s a lot easier to be active in attendance than it is to actively sacrifice self for another. But THAT is what God demands. That’s why Paul, takes a break from his discussion on Spiritual gifts - to teach them of the importance of love as they use those gifts.

Though he makes three primary points about love in this chapter, today we we only have time to consider his first point:

1. Notice, then, the Excellency of Love. Without love, our talents and gifts, all that we do in the name of Christ and the Gospel, is meaningless. Listen to the passage once again, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have ALL faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away ALL I HAVE, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

Too many times, we pull this chapter out of context and use it as wedding material or the sticky sentiment of Valentine’s Cards or love songs. But THIS CHAPTER has NOTHING to do with romance and EVERYTHING to do with how Christians should treat each other. As we serve the Lord and His Church, everything we do must be motivated by love - love for God… love for each other. While gifts ARE important to the life of a church, it is God’s will for love to be the guiding principle behind all we do in church-life.

Notice 3 different types of service that takes place in church and WHY love is so important to them:

First, he refers to our Messages in verse 1, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”

A man may be a great speaker – a talented preacher – he might have tremendous charisma and have his audience eating from the palm of his hand – but without LOVE, his speech is worthless - nothing but irritating noise. The great message of the cross – of forgiveness of sins – of grace and mercy – of heaven and future reward – loses its ability to touch hearts if those who claim to believe it are self-centered and abrasive. All that God LONGS to do in the hearts of people is impotent when those who claim to know the Lord are anything less than loving.

As a church, we can be right on all matters of doctrinal significance – and we may hold in our possession a message that changes lives and eternal destinies – but if we aren’t loving - people won’t hear what we have to say.

The gospel was born from the love of God – so when we fail to love, the message of the cross is lost.

I have a preacher friend whom I have known for 28 years. I’ve always been amazed by his abilities. I have always viewed him as one of the most talented preachers I know. A few years ago he called me and asked me to pray for him because there was a church that needed a pastor and they had invited him to interview with the leaders and to preach a couple of messages. They were excited to have him try out. But after the sermon, the church didn’t hire him, because, and I quote one of their leaders, “He didn’t like us very much.”

I know this is hard to understand, but sometimes we can say the right thing in such a way that people cannot hear us. We have a mandate… not only to speak the truth – but to speak it in love. People NEED the Gospel. This country needs Jesus. But sometimes, our unloving ways make it impossible for the message to get through.

Put this in the crock-pot and let it simmer for a while - we never have the right to be unloving as Christians. Age doesn’t give you that right. Church membership or the fact that someone has mistreated you does not give you that right. Sadly, some of the ugliest things I have ever heard said have come out the mouths of Christian-folk.

Take that bunch out in Kansas as a perfect example. You know the ones – they show up at the funerals of our military and hold their signs of hatred. They are very sincere people I’m sure. They are only doing what they are convinced is right – standing up for their convictions – calling people to repent. But their message is lost because they are hateful.

They aren’t the only ones. They ARE wrong, but no more wrong than us when we leave here saying hurtful things about each other. When we talk behind peoples backs… claiming we are only stating the TRUTH… as if the accuracy of the statement is the ONLY THING that matters.

I have been around the block a time or two. And when I hear people in leadership positions saying hurtful things to or about people, I have to fight back feelings of distrust. And if I feel that way – then certainly we can understand how LOST people feel.

Our message, as great as it is, is lost, when our love isn’t right.

Not only does he talk about our Message – he also mentions our Ministry when he says in verse 2, “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” The ability to teach the great principles of God, having knowledge and a faith that can move mountains - serving others with the gifts of God - ALL so desperately needed in the church. We need people who will stand before us and unashamedly declare “Thus saith the Lord!” I want to go to a church where I will hear the truth and will be challenged to believe God for big things. I don’t want the preacher to make me feel good… I want him to have the courage to tell me what I need to know and to challenge me to be more faithful. BUT he must do it in love. If I know a person loves me, he can say the hard things because I know he cares about me and wants what is best for me.

I need Sunday School teachers who will study the Word of God and FROM their studies show me how to apply it to my life – to challenge me to greater faith and faithfulness. But they need to do it in love or what they teach will be lifeless and petty.

As important as spiritual gifts ARE, they are useless IF our love isn’t right.

And after our messages and ministries, he then talks about our Monies in verse 3, “ If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” One of the most personal things you can do – giving financially to the work of the Lord – can be done in a way that fails to honor Him. Whether we are giving for SHOW, in order to RECEIVE, or out of a BEGRUDGING spirit - if our gifts are motivated by anything other than love – we are missing God’s blessing.

SO, in all that we do in this place – from the offerings that are given, to the specials that are sung; from the classes that are taught, to the sermons that we preach, LOVE for God and for one another must motivate all that we do. Without it, we are wasting everyone’s time. But WITH it we will see life-changing results.

For an example of the power of love - consider the story of Ted Stallard. As a young boy in 5th grade, Ted hated school. He was sloppy in appearance. Expressionless. Unattractive. Even his teacher, Miss Thompson, enjoyed bearing down her red pen as she placed Xs beside his many wrong answers.

If only she had studied his progress reports more carefully, she would have been more compassionate.

They read:

1st grade – Ted shows promise with his work and attitude, but has a poor home situation.

2nd grade - Ted COULD do better. Mother seriously ill. Receives little help from home.

3rd grade – Ted is a good boy, but too serious. He is a slow learner. His mother died this year.

4th grade – Ted is very slow, but well-behaved. His father shows no interest in him whatsoever.

His was a sad, sad situation.

Christmas came. The children piled elaborately wrapped gifts on their teacher’s desk. Ted brought one too – it was wrapped in a brown paper sack - held together with duct tape. Miss Thompson opened each gift, as the children crowded around to watch what each gave. .. they were most interested in how Mrs. Thompson reacted to what they gave.

Out of Ted’s package fell a gaudy rhinestone bracelet with half of the stones missing and a bottle of half-used perfume. The children began to laugh at him until she splashed a little on her wrist and let them all smell it. She put the bracelet on too and bragged on its beauty.

At the end of the day, after the other children had left, Ted came by his teacher’s desk and said, “Miss Thompson, you smell just like my Mama. And her bracelet sure looks pretty on you too. I’m so glad you like my presents.” Then he left. Miss Thompson got down on her knees and asked God to forgive her and to change her attitude.

After the holidays the children were greeted by a transformed teacher – one committed to loving each of them… especially the slow ones. Especially Ted.

Surprisingly, or maybe NOT so surprisingly, Ted began to show remarkable improvement. He actually caught up with most of the students and even passed a few.

Time came and went. Miss Thompson heard nothing from Ted for a long time. Then one day, she received a note:

“Dear Miss Thompson, I wanted you to be the first to know… I will be graduating high school next week, 2nd in my class! Love Ted.”

Four years later, another note arrived: “Dear Miss Thompson, they just told me I will be graduating FIRST in my class! I wanted you to be first to know. College was hard, but I liked it. Love Ted.”

6 more years passed and another note came: “Dear Miss Thompson, As of today I am known as Theodore Stallard, MD. How about THAT? I wanted you to be the first to know. I am getting married next month and I wanted to see if you would sit where my mother would sit if she was still alive. You are the only family I have now. Love Ted.”

Miss Thompson attended that wedding – and sat right where Ted’s mother would have sat. Looking back over all those years, who would have ever realized the incredible impact her love would have on a troubled boy’s life?

That’s what love does, folks. It will open the hardest of hearts and make them receptive to the Gospel that changes lives. May we all do what that teacher did: step back, evaluate our attitudes and repent before God, asking Him to use us to be a blessing to someone in need…to help us… love.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Truth about Spiritual Gifts - a sermon

1 Corinthians 12 

"Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed… (skip to v. 4)

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit."

In 1972, NASA launched exploratory space probe – Pioneer 10. According to officials, this satellite’s primary mission was to reach Jupiter, photograph the planet and beam data back to earth about Jupiter’s magnetic fields, radiation belts, and atmosphere.

Scientists called it “a Bold Plan,” for at the time, no satellite had ever gone beyond Mars – and it was feared that asteroids would destroy it before it could even reach its intended target.

BUT, Pioneer 10 didn’t just accomplish its mission – it did so much more!

Swinging past Jupiter in November 1973, the giant planet’s incredible gravity hurled the little satellite even faster toward the edge of the solar system.

At one billion miles from the sun, Pioneer passed Saturn. At some 2 billion miles, it sailed by Uranus. Neptune was next at 3 billion miles… and little Pluto at almost 4 billion miles. By 1997, 25 years after its initial launch, Pioneer 10 was more than 6 billion miles from the Sun!

Most incredible, is the fact that, despite this VAST distance, Pioneer 10 continued to beam information to scientists here on Earth. These radio signals emanated from a small, 8-watt transmitter. A transmitter that uses the energy of a household nightlight was able to beam signals across several BILLION miles back to earth.

Amazing, don’t you think? That satellite was not qualified to do what it did. Engineers designed it to last 3 years tops. But it kept going more than 12 times longer – and that tiny 8 watt transmitter accomplished more than anyone ever dreamed possible.


But no more incredible than what God can do through those who offer themselves in service of the Lord. With the help of the Holy Spirit – in us and through us – God can accomplish surprising things through people with 8-watt abilities. Amen?

As a child of God, I want you to grasp, if you can, the significance of God’s work in you. When you received Christ as Savior and Lord of your life, not only did you receive the PEACE of God – you received His power and purpose. God has called and equipped us to serve His church – giving each one of us super-natural gifts and abilities for the Glory of God and the Good of His people!

Praise the Lord! Each person HERE has a purpose! Each of us - regardless our past experiences… our education levels… the size of our bank-accounts or the color of our skin - ALL OF US matter - all have a role to fill in HIS church. And it is ALL BECAUSE the Holy Spirit works in us.

BUT, what the Lord intended for the good of His church, is often perverted and exploited by men. In some cases through ignorance, in others through outright abuse, instead of blessing, spiritual gifts become a blight to the Church.

Such was the case in Corinth. Though saved and called to serve one another – many had used their spiritual gifts to promote selfish agendas – to get honor for themselves - for power – so, what was intended to bless had become a curse. Instead of serving the Lord and their fellow man, they had made Spiritual Gifts about getting honor for themselves. So chapters 12 through 14 were written to clear up any misconceptions about spiritual gifts so their church might be fruitful and healthy once again.

God knew this tragedy at Corinth would oft be repeated in churches just like ours thousands of years later – so He, in His sovereignty, included this message in the Bible for us. Sadly, spiritual gifts often becomes a tool used by wicked men to enrich themselves at the Gospel’s expense.

What’s more - few subjects have caused MORE confusion, more DIVISION in the modern church - than Spiritual Gifts.

Where did we go wrong and HOW can we get back to a place of blessing and fruitfulness once again???

Paul provides clarity in this passage:

1. First, he shares the Inherent Danger found in Counterfeits in vv. 1-3. It shouldn’t surprise us that – satan would attempt to counterfeit something so valuable. Given the fact that he HATES the church, he plants counterfeits among us to hinder the work of God.

A “counterfeit” is a cheap, faulty reproduction of the genuine. It may look like the real thing – but after careful inspection, it is found FAKE. For example: in just about every major city, you will find people selling cheap knock-offs out of the trunk of their car. Purses, watches, jewelry…you name it, they’ve got it. People buy these items because they want to have the image of importance on a McDonald’s budget. And in a world where appearance is everything – we can understand the success of counterfeits.

Sadly, the church is not exempt from cheap-knock-offs. From the very being, Satan has brought his counterfeits into the church to hinder the success of the church. Leaders - more interested in image than integrity - power over service. They may have incredible talent and say many of the right things … but tragically have no real walk with God. From a distance they move us with their impressive facades. But behind closed doors, they are as lifeless as any corpse in the cemetery.

So Paul offers a three-fold warning:

First, don’t be ignorant about it. Paul wants the Church to be informed – wise. And with good reason: we tend to be gullible… we exercise little discernment. We see someone on TV with a big crowd, and we automatically assume they are genuine and that everything they say is trustworthy.

We buy books and other products marketed to Christians and we hold those materials up on the same level as the Bible. If a little trinket claims some spiritual significance, we run out and buy it because it makes us FEEL “Christian.” The Corinthians were gullible – so Paul reminds them that not everything that glitters … is gold.

THEN he offers insight about it in verse 2. He talks about how the people of that day blindly followed idols, and then reminds the Corinthians that they ALSO followed right along with everyone else. So Paul reminds them - The popularity of the belief doesn’t make it true.

And third, he calls them to investigate it in verse 3. Some of the things they saw going on in their church could easily be dismissed as cheap imitation IF they would search the scriptures. Those who teach and preach, those in leadership, should WELCOME people to measure what is said and done by the BIBLE. Dig! Don’t take everything at face value simply because it claims to be “Christian.” Search the WORD of GOD to see if it is true.

It’s easy to be deceived by appearances. Satan hates the church. He hates the Lord. He hates you. He wants to blind men’s hearts and minds to the truth and power of the Gospel. AND, he works in the church, convincing us to be more concerned with image than integrity. He can hinder the work of God IF he can plant his counterfeits among us!

The Inherent DANGER found in counterfeits!

2. THEN, in effort to clear up their confusion about spiritual gifts, he shows them the Incredible Diversity found in Christ in vv. 4-11.

One of the hot topics in Corinth was the belief that if a person really possessed the Holy Spirit, he would be empowered to do the more dynamic SIGN gifts, like speaking in tongues, performing miracles, or healing the sick. In their minds – the PROOF a person possessed the Spirit was seen in their ability to do these GREAT things. This error caused people to look down on those LESSER gifts - making Spiritual gifts about receiving honor rather than serving each other – and thus, missing the whole purpose OF them.

The Bible teaches that EVERY born again believer possesses the Holy Spirit. And WITH the Holy Spirit comes an amazing diversity of gifts. He lists several of the gifts in this passage. God knew His church would have many needs. So He distributes His gifts among us so that all of those needs will be met. God’s gifts enable us to serve one another – they enable us to work as one for the good of all. BUT, when we focus on one or two gifts and neglect the others, we create an unhealthy environment that weakens the church.

But not only are these gifts unique, Spiritual Gifts promote Unity. When we all work together – great things happen.

I have been a sports fan all my life. Even as a boy playing with other children, we would pretend to be our favorite sports star. In our immaturity we would highlight the skills of our favorite athlete on the team, and credit THEM with the win – the QB, the Pitcher, the 3 pt. shooter. But when you get older you realize it takes the whole team working together to win championships. Your team might have the very best QB in the league, but without his teammates, he can’t win.

In Church life, we often make the mistake of over-valuing the star, the guy in front… we mistakenly give one person the credit for the SUCCESS of the church. But the healthy church is the one where all of the parts work together. In GOD’S ECONOMY, the greatest leaders are the greatest servants.

It’s sad how fleshly the church often becomes. We want recognition. We want people to appreciate us. But Pride destroys the church. When man takes the glory that only God should receive, God stops blessing.

And third, not only are spiritual gifts unique and promote unity, third, they are universal. In other words - EVERY born again believer has received at least one spiritual gift for the purpose of serving the Lord in the local church according to vv. 7 and 11. Every child of God has a ministry to perform. All of us have received at least ONE gift that we can use for the good of others and the glory of God. And ultimately, our sense of belonging, growth, and contentment hinges upon discovering what it is that God has called us to do. And besides that, other members of the church are blessed by our gifts. The church functions efficiently and effectively when we discover what it is that God has designed us to do.

The incredible diversity found in Christ.

3. And then, after showing us the inherent danger found in counterfeits and the incredible diversity found in Christ, Paul shows us the inter-dependence found in Church in verses 12-27. WE NEED EACH OTHER. And to illustrate his point, he compares the church to the human body.

The human-body is a wonderful thing in how all of its different parts work together for the good of the whole. Unless ravaged by disease or deformity, each part works in concert with the other for the good of the whole. Each part is important. And the whole body suffers when one of those parts doesn’t function as it should.

A PERFECT analogy for spiritual gifts in the church.

Is it important to have a preacher? You better believe it! But no more important than having nursery workers, musicians, an encourager who calls at just the right time and says “I’m praying for you today.”

That man who mows the lawn is important. That woman who keeps the Sunday School records, that deacon, that trustee, that worship leader, that prayer warrior, that person who cooks a meal for someone recovering from surgery, that Greeter who warmly speaks to you when you first walk in - ALL important! If you don’t think so, just go without them for a while. Stonebridge would not be healthy and strong without all of its members working together to serve each other and honor the Lord Jesus.

That’s how God intended it to be – that’s why He blessed us with gifts. But that blessing is wasted when we are only interested in serving for personal benefit, OR, we are preoccupied with getting credit OR we are unwilling to give our time OR when we are jealous of others gifts OR think what God has given us is insignificant.

BUT, when we yield our all to God and ask Him to empower us and use us, there is no limit to what His church can accomplish!

How about you? Are you serving the Lord? Do you know what God has gifted you to do and ARE YOU using those gifts for the good of others and the glory of God? Like the human body or the pieces of a puzzle, every Christian has a part to play, a role to fulfill. What is yours? Have you asked the Lord to show you… to use you?

The beauty of it all is that ALL OF US - from children all the way to senior citizens, all of us are equally important and have a part in God’s work.

Maybe you have not yet discovered what God would have YOU to do. It isn’t likely that you will receive a Post Card from God about it. You have to seek it. You have to give yourself to the Lord, praying, searching, volunteering to serve. You can take the first step for discovering yours right now. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day Sermon

2 Timothy 1:1-5 – “Faith of our Mothers”

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus, to Timothy, my beloved child:

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.

As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt FIRST in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.

Second Timothy was the last letter Paul ever wrote. He had already written 9 letters to specific churches - 3 notes to friends – and NOW – from death row, he picks up his quill one last time to convey a parting challenge to a young man who answered the call to preach under his ministry – words that would prod his conscience long after his mentor’s martyrdom. Just weeks before his ministry would be cut short by the executioner’s axe, Paul writes Timothy.

These are not, however, words of fear or dread we might expect from one so near the end. Far from it - Paul is never more hopeful than he is here. His mind raced through years of memories, like flipping through pages of a photo album. I’m sure he lingered over the lives that had been touched, the churches founded, and the many men who had answered the call of God under him. It is not pride that brought these thoughts – but humble gratitude for the opportunities God had given him to shape lives. The reality that HIS LIFE, his work MATTERED

A bit Introspective? Who WOULDN’T be? ‘Had he been effective?’ ‘If he could go back, would he do things differently?’ – These are the musings of a preacher at the end of his ministry.

Alone with his thoughts, his mind settled on Timothy. He knew this young man would be devastated to learn of his death. Paul recalled their last meeting - how Timothy had wept over the knowledge that his friend and mentor was being transferred to a Roman prison where he would make his final appeal before Caesar.

All these years, Paul had been such a “presence” in Timothy’s life – a Father he could turn to for counsel in confusing times. With Paul gone, Timothy would be forced into the role of mentor… THIS LETTER (Paul hoped) would stiffen his resolve.

Timothy was special. In fact, over in Philippians chapter 2, Paul confessed with remarkable frankness, “I have no man likeminded…” no one who shares my passion for the work “…like Timothy.”

What was it that made Timothy so special to Paul??? Recalling his many sterling qualities, Paul singles out ONE in particular in verse 5 – his “sincere faith.” “Sincere” – without hypocrisy – a pure faith that had been poured with deliberateness into the heart of this young man by his mother and grandmother. To put it simply - Timothy was the man he WAS – because of these two godly women!

What a tremendous reminder of the impact of godly women on the lives of young people!

Let me ask you, are you making that kind of impact on YOUR children and grandchildren? When they think of YOU, are they challenged to live for the Lord? Does your memory bring them under the conviction of the Holy Spirit to be something MORE - something BETTER?

Every woman here - SHOULD aspire to this. And you CAN have this kind of impact – IF you will model your life after these 2 women. If you want to be the kind of woman whose example challenges the generation to come, you must do 3 important things with your faith:

1. First, you must OWN it. … EVERYDAY - long to know Jesus better - fill your spiritual cup - bask in HIS greatness and glory. Before it will EVER be real to THEM it must be real to you. As any child-psychologist would tell you - far more is CAUGHT by your children - than TAUGHT to your children.

If you were to study the verses that refer to Timothy’s upbringing, you would find that his Grandmother and Mother enjoyed a faith based solidly on the scriptures. According to what Paul says in chapter 3 of this book, his mother and grandmother knew the Word of God – they hid it in their hearts. It was their LOVE of the scriptures that had brought them to saving faith in the Lord Jesus.

That’s what the Bible does – for “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” David said, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” The Word of God has a cleansing effect, as Paul noted in Ephesians chapter 5, when he told the church that “GOD sanctifies and cleanses the church by the washing of water by the word, 27That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.”

The Bible doesn’t just save you - it transforms you… the priorities of your life… the strength you need for every challenge… the wisdom you long for in the hard decisions… ALL you need for this important task of parenting - is found in God’s Word.

Are you building your life on God’s Word? Are you hiding it in your heart? Do you turn to it daily for wisdom and encouragement. Do you allow it to shape your parenting?

OWN your faith. Take responsibility for feeding yourself spiritually. Cultivate a prayer time that is rich and real. Look for opportunities to worship and grow. Surround yourself with OTHER spiritual women who will encourage you in the things of God. Be in church every time the doors are open even when you feel there are so many OTHER things vying for your time.

Your faith won’t mean anything to your children, until it means something to you. Own it!

WHAT are YOU doing on a daily basis that proves God is your TOP priority? Does your family see YOU reading the Bible - do they hear you praying? Are they learning by your example to serve God OR to make excuses? If we want to see our children living for the Lord, if we want to see them resisting the pull of society and the pressure of peers, you must OWN your faith.

2. Secondly, You must SHARE it. Not only must you OWN it, you must SHARE it. Not only did Timothy’s mother and Grandmother learn the Bible themselves, they discussed spiritual things in Timothy’s presence - teaching him the ancient stories of God and His people. Repeating the principles from God’s Word that would lodge in that young boy’s heart and produce fruit later.

According to Acts chapter 16, Timothy’s mother and grandmother were brought to a saving knowledge of Christ through the preaching ministry of Paul. They already knew the OT scriptures – and that knowledge made their hearts ready for the preaching of Jesus. And the word of God had made Timothy’s heart ready for the Gospel as well – for Paul explains in chapter 3, “and that from a child you have known the holy scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ.”

More important than the ABC’s; more impactful than any principle found in Dr. Seuss or nursery rhymes, the word of God will transform a young life and make it sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit of God.

Don’t think you can leave this vital ministry to someone else. Don’t make the mistake of hoping they will find it on their own. Don’t assume Sunday School a sufficient surrogate for the calling of God upon Mothers. If moms want their children to grow up to love and serve the Lord, they need to know the two ways their faith is communicated:

First, your faith is communicated through Personal Education. YOU must take responsibility for teaching your children the ways of the Lord. It’s good to have your kids in church. I am so thankful for the role of Sunday School and Children’s Church and Youth Camp and that my kids were involved in all the activities of the youth group. PRAISE GOD for those things - But that must NEVER be a substitute for MY teaching. Supplement? Yes. Substitute? No! Again, according to chapter 3 and verse 14, from his earliest days, Timothy was taught the Bible at home.

This obligation is clearly communicated by God in Deuteronomy chapter 6. There, the Lord told His people, “thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. 6And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: 7And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.”

Far too many parents take a “hands off” approach to their children’s faith. We are afraid of it seeming like we are making their choices for them - I get it. BUT IT IS A MISTAKE to leave the faith of your children to chance. You cannot simply hope they will eventually catch on, or assume they will somehow find the truth on their own. Raising Godly children isn’t accomplished by accident. We must be intentional, deliberate if we would pass our faith on to our kids.

The Lord went on to say in Deuteronomy 6, “And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.” Why? So, whether their children were going or coming, they would be reminded that “their family lives by a DIFFERENT standard.” Personal education.

And second, our faith is communicated through Practical Demonstration. You can tell your children about God and the ways of God all day long – but if you aren’t living the life YOURSELF, if it isn’t changing YOU, you can forget about it changing them. Your example is much more powerful than words.

Timothy saw something extraordinary in his mother and grandmother. Their faith enveloped everything they were and all that they did. Their example made him the man he was.

Ask yourself, ladies, are you sending mixed signals? Do they see you serving, believing, praying, giving, forgiving… You must OWN your faith... you must SHARE your faith - and finally...

3. You must LIVE it. Paul says, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.”

Paul knew this family well. He had seen the lives of these two women up close and personal. He was impressed by their love for Jesus. He commends these two women for two reasons:

First, for the lasting influence of their faith – not only in Timothy’s life, who, by the way, grew up to become a great man of God – but for 2,000 years, their names have been listed on the sacred page as an example of godly parenting!

Has it ever occurred to you that the most priceless treasure a man or woman can leave his family - is faith? The world tells us MONEY is EVERYTHING. But the WORD tells us - only FAITH pleases God. Money might make you friends… but only FAITH will make you a HERO. Remember all those folks listed in Hebrews 11, the spiritual hall of fame… they are listed - because of their faith.

It is perfectly natural for us to want to leave our children and grandchildren a FINANCIAL inheritance. But, the MOST IMPORTANT thing you can leave them is faith! Money might buy a lot of things, but it can’t buy heaven! Only faith makes us acceptable to God. Only faith provides us a home in heaven. Money disappears - faith lasts forever.

But not only does Paul commend the Lasting Influence of their faith, but also the Living Relevance of their faith. Times may change, fashions come and go – but godly mothers are never out of date! Amen?

The other day in Baltimore, the news showed young people throwing bricks at police officers, when all the sudden one mamma, flashed like a blur, snatched up her son, beat him in the head, and cussed him all the way home! People all over the country called this woman “Mother of the year!” But I disagree. Only women who teach their kids in the ways of God, deserve THAT title.

Moms, like no one else, can shape the next generation for God. I know it helps to have BOTH parents working on it. It helps when your husband is preaching the same message, praying the same prayers. But we need Godly Mothers who will say, “with God’s help, I will raise my children to love and serve Jesus. No more excuses – I won’t wait on someone else to do it - I won’t wait for my circumstances to be ideal. If my children will be different than their peers – I have to do it.”

They ARE following you... the question IS, Where are you going?

It was a busy day in her home… but then again, with 10 children and another on the way, EVERYDAY was hectic. But on THIS particular day, Mrs. Dalton was having trouble doing even routine chores – all because of ONE little boy; Len… he was three and he kept following his mother everywhere she went. Whenever she stopped and turned, she would trip over him. Several times she tried to get him doing other things that would be more fun, but he refused. He would say, “Oh, that’s all right mommy, I’d rather be here with you.”

After stepping on his toes for the 5th time, she lost her patience and insisted that he go outside and play with his brothers and sisters. When he refused, she asked why. He looked up at her with sweet green eyes and said, “Mommy, in Sunday School my teacher told me to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Since I can’t see Him… I am walking in yours.”

They are walking in YOURS too, mom. Where are you leading them?

Maybe you want help with that this morning. Maybe you are beginning to see the need in your life to lead your children in the things of God. I know it’s hard. And I know you are going to need help. Won’t you come to this altar and ask the Lord to help you?

Friday, May 1, 2015

Freedom and Responsibility - a sermon from 1 Corinthians 10:23-33

23 “All things are lawful,” but NOT ALL things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but NOT ALL things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. 25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 26 For “the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof.” 27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 28 BUT … if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then DO NOT eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— 29 I do not mean YOUR conscience, but HIS. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else's conscience? 30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?

31 So, whether you eat or drink, or WHATEVER you do, do ALL to the glory of God.32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my OWN advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

Freedom ISN’T free. Think back over the history of this great nation – all the men and women who have died for our freedom. Thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands – most had no idea what they were getting into – but all loved freedom. Each left families and dreams, hoping to return – but didn’t. A few are well-known, leaving celebrity to serve – most had no notoriety – a sea of nameless faces just as important – their sacrifice just as great.

The next time you consider YOUR freedom, I want you to think of that broken mother clutching that folded-flag as her son’s body is lowered into the earth. Or that grieving widow forced to raise 3 children on her own because her husband died to secure OUR freedom.

ONE of those nameless faces belonged to Richard Stockton. Ever heard of him? I didn’t think so. Only the most ardent student of history would recognize the name. Stockton was one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence. A prominent lawyer and wealthy landowner. But - because he supported America’s fight for freedom, his home was sacked and burned by the British. Imprisoned for years and subjected to extreme torture, Stockton died a pauper at the age of 51. Yet few Americans remember this fallen hero who made the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of freedom.

Freedom isn’t free.

It costs… there are responsibilities that come with freedom. That’s why we punish those who abuse it. That’s why criminals are confined behind barbed wire, steel bars, and concrete barriers. They were irresponsible with their freedom – so their freedom must be taken away.

Or consider a campfire that is free to spread in a dry forest. How quickly it becomes a blazing inferno… how great the loss. You get the point - Uncontrolled freedom can wreak LASTING, CRIPPLING havoc.

And nowhere is this MORE evident than in the Christian life.

We who have benefited so greatly from the sacrifice of Christ – are called to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others. We are asked to love others so much that we willingly restrict our freedoms to prevent DAMAGING our testimony or disparaging the Church.

When we fail to be mindful of OTHERS, our freedom becomes… dangerous.

That is Paul's point in our text. The Corinthians were well aware of the great blessings of salvation through faith in Christ. They were free from sin – free from the LAW. No longer must they adhere to the errant belief that man-made tradition somehow made them right with God. Only CHRIST can make us right – only HIS Sacrifice is sufficient payment for sin – only HIS righteousness makes us acceptable to God. The Pharisees had created unbearable burdens for those who would follow God.

How sad… since Church should be a place where burdens are LIFTED – not CREATED!

This was not the problem at Corinth - those believers loved their Freedom in Christ. No they were guilty of the OTHER extreme - of becoming reckless with their liberty - having NO CONCERN for how their behavior reflected upon the gospel or their testimony for Christ.

Are YOU THERE, dear Christian? Have you imagined that grace somehow frees you to do whatever you like without regard to others? Have you developed an attitude where you feel entitled to indulge in questionable activities – or that no one has the right to require accountability or expect righteous conduct? Have you wrongly assumed that freedom in Christ exempts you from responsibility?

Paul will help us with this. Whenever contemplating an action that might be questionable, we should filter our decision through 3 questions according to Paul:

1. First “Is it permissible for me?” Is this thing that I want to do RIGHT or is it something God has deemed ‘off-limits’ for His children? Will it hinder my testimony? Notice his statement in verse 23, Paul says “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.”

Not everything in the Christian life is black or white. There are going to be decisions that have to be made that aren’t clearly spelled out in the Bible as sin – so in my quest to find if an action is PERMISSIBLE - I must ask myself a couple of questions.

Is it wrong for me to do this? As Christians, we are bound by covenant to obey the Lord. Jesus said, “If you love me – KEEP my commandments!” Our decision to follow the Lord is NOT merely a fire insurance policy that keeps us from going to hell - Christianity is a personal relationship with an ALL-HOLY God. And since HE is holy, the Bible says I must be holy - I should never find myself debating God about my right to do questionable things.

Don’t let this era of “cheap grace” convince you to live in disobedience. When you are contemplating an action that is questionable, ask, “Is it wrong for me to do this?” If it IS wrong - avoid it.

Sadly, that’s where most Christians STOP asking questions. Once they determine that what they want to do isn’t clearly forbidden, then they plunge head-first into the thing without giving it another thought. But that’s not ALL matters. The second question you should ask to determine if an action is permissible – IS, “Is it wise?”

Maybe an illustration would be helpful. Someone once asked me “Is it OK for a Christian to go to a bar or pool hall?” The reasoning was, “You don’t have to drink just because you go to a bar.” You might even plan to witness once you get there - your intent might be to build a relationship with a lost friend, and since you aren’t going to drink, maybe you think it would be ok.

But instead of asking “is it wrong?” the better question is – is it WISE? There may not be a specific scripture that forbids you going – but there are principles in God’s Word that would help you see it isn’t a good idea. The Bible cautions us about hurting our influence – about doing anything that would reflect negatively on the Gospel or the church... about putting yourself in a position of compromise. So Paul asks – ‘is it wise?’ “Will it help me or hinder me - will I be tempted to behave in a way that hurts my ability to share Christ with my lost friends?? Might this decision offend my brother - PARTICULARLY a brother who might honestly struggle with alcohol addiction?”

These are the questions the conscientious Christian must ask himself.

We shouldn’t stop with ‘is it wrong?’ We should ask, ‘is it wise?’ THAT is how you can know if the thing is permissible. It's not because we think that being hyper-sensitive to the judgments of others makes us more spiritual than the next guy – but we must be vigilant because we shouldn’t do anything that might hurt our ability to influence people for Christ!

Christian, I want you to look back over some of the decisions you’ve made recently – the things you’ve said, stuff you've done, posts you’ve made on Facebook - and ask yourself was it wise? Those actions we think are just innocent fun, blowing off steam, no big deal - MIGHT BE preventing another person from believing in Jesus.

How DEVASTATING would it be to reach the judgment and see friends who rejected Christ because of OUR example?

2. Secondly, whenever considering an action, not only should you ask ‘Is it Permissible for me?’ but also, ‘Is it Beneficial for Others?’ In verse 24, Paul says, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” In vv. 32 and 33 he adds, “Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but THAT of many, that THEY may be saved.”

When I am considering an action, I don’t simply need to think about how I feel or the benefit I might receive – I’ve got to think about the impact my decision is going to have on YOU. You see, I care about you. I love you. And because I love you, I never want to do anything that would hurt you.

Too many Christians have ‘I’ trouble – they are only concerned about self! While I can drive myself crazy worrying ONLY about what others think of me, I SHOULD ask, ‘Will my testimony be hurt if that lost man knows I do certain things?’ ‘Will my Christian friend, who is struggling to remain faithful, be strengthened or weakened if I do this thing?’ ‘If people knew that I was a member of Stonebridge, would their opinion of our church take a hit if they saw me doing this?’

Roland Hill used to say that he wouldn’t believe a person was a TRUE BELIEVER unless his wife, children and even his pets weren’t the better for it.

There comes a time when we must move beyond questions of right and wrong.

In the early stages of Christianity, that might be ALL that matters to some. But as I grow in the Lord, I need to be concerned about the consciences of those watching my life. Don’t make a decision based solely on the question ‘Is it sin?’ For, in your freedom, you may damage someone else spiritually.

I have known a lot of Christians in my lifetime – thousands. And without exception, they all fall into one of two categories. There are those who challenge me to greater love, devotion, and growth in my walk with God. AND, there are those who have the opposite effect and pull me down. There are Christians, that, by the way they live inspire me to be BETTER. And there are those who are HINDRANCES in my devotion to the Lord.

Paul teaches us to pattern our lives after those who challenge us to live BETTER and NOT those only focused on themselves.

3. But, not only should I ask myself “Is it permissible for me?” and “Is it beneficial for others?” if I do this thing, I must ALSO ask “Will it glorify God?” Notice verse 31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” As a Christian, the highest ambition of your life – your calling – your purpose for living – is to glorify God. The word “glorify” means – “to communicate the value of God above all others” – to worship Him and reflect His character in all I do. Literally - “to make heavy.” In other words, my life should demonstrate that ‘God is a BIG DEAL’ to me.

My children are a reflection of me. Though they are free moral agents, though they CAN and DO make mistakes, because they love me, they want to honor me. EVEN WHEN I’m NOT standing over them, watching them, it is their desire to honor me that motivates their choices, because they don’t want to disappoint me. Should they act selfishly and choose a life of sin, that decision reflects on me.

OUR behavior reflects on the Lord Jesus. Should I pursue a life of sin, should I only seek to please myself at the expense of others – I am casting a poor reflection on Him. Else WHY would lost people avoid Church because of “all the hypocrites there?” But if I center my life on Him and His will, if I obey Him, love Him, live for Him – THAT brings Him glory!

In my church life – I must bring Him glory. In my work life – I must bring Him glory. In my marriage, my finances, in my business and in all aspects of my dealings with others – I must ALWAYS be mindful of my reflection on God. You cannot live a spiritual dichotomy – separating what you do from what you believe! Our Sunday worship means nothing if our actions betray Him the rest of the week. My acts of sacrifice today are worthless if I focus on myself the REST of the time.

HOW can we bring God glory?? According to the Bible, I bring glory to the Lord when I confess my sin – Joshua 7:19…when I TRUST the Lord, Romans 4:20….when I bear spiritual fruit – John 15:8…when I am thankful Psalm 50:23 ….when I suffer for Him, He gets glory 1 Peter 4:14-16…

When I am content, Philippians 4:10-20, when I PRAY and when I witness of the gospel John 14:13 and 2 Thessalonians 3:1. When I give and when I forgive, when I am patient, when I am merciful, when I am positive, and encouraging, when I am accepting, and when I am faithful – in everything we do, the chief ambition of our lives should be to bring Him glory!

Think of your life for just a moment – the words you have said in the company of others, the thoughts that you allow to occupy your mind, the places you go - the things you do – have you brought Him glory? This week - have you? This is not a some suggestion Paul is making or one of those optional items on the 'spiritual buffet' that we can accept or reject – it is our calling.

Whenever I am faced with a question I don’t know how to answer – I must run it through those 3 questions – Is it permissible for me? Is it beneficial for others? And will it glorify God? Everything – from the most mundane to the most serious - MUST pass those tests if I am to please God.

How about it friend? Though free in Christ – freedom isn’t free. Not only did it cost Jesus His life, you have a responsibility to live in such a way that points people to Christ. Are you selfish and reckless, as though grace entitles you to do whatever you want? OR, are you striving to bring honor to the Lord in all you do? Today, why not make a commitment to live for God’s glory?