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Love: It’s who I AM (Week 4)

The Modeling Love of Christ

1 John 4:19

Kevin King, Youth Director

We all need models of Christ’s love around us so we see demonstrations of how we are to love others.  As we learn to love like Christ did, we become models to others in our network of friends and family.  They in turn become models of Christ’s love to others.  Let’s look at examples of this process from God’s Word and then talk about Why, To Whom and How to model Christ’s love…

Ephesians 5:12, 1 Timothy 4:12, 1 Timothy 5:1-2

We see this process in the lives of Paul and Timothy.

Timothy saw this model in his grandmother and mother. (2 Timothy 1:5)

1 Corinthians 1:11, 1 Corinthians 4:16-17

We need to be this kind of interconnected group:

  • Fellow believers Modeling His love to us
  • We go out and are sharing this love with others

This leads us to ask three questions:

  1. Why do we model Christ’s love?
  2. To whom should we model Christ’s love?
  3. How do we model Christ’s love?

 

Question 1:  Why do we model Christ’s love?

 

1 John 4:19          He first loved us!

 

Switchfoot sings, “we become what we believe in” in the song Who We Are and in The World You Want:

 

You start to look like what you believe…
What you say is your religion
How you say it’s your religion
Who you love is your religion
How you love is your religion
All your science, your religion
All your hatred, your religion
All your wars are your religion
Every breath is your religion…

 

We are the “diorama” of Christ to this community…

 

Question 2:  To whom should we model Christ’s love?

 
Our brothers and sisters in Christ  (John 13:34)

Our neighbor – that is everyone else who is not a believer.  (Matthew 22:37-40)

Our enemies!  The unworthy…  Even those who have deeply hurt us.  (Matthew 5:43-48)

An act of love changes us.  And God can use it to change them, too.

 

Romans 5:6-8    He died for us while we were yet sinners.

 

Example:  Mike dressed in black and had a blue mohawk haircut.  He went from judged and rejected to youth pastor because someone modeled Christ’s love to him.
 
Question 3:  How do we model Christ’s love?
 

We love others by our actions.  (1 John 3:18)

We love others by serving them.  (John 13:12-17)
Jesus, the creator, washed filth from his disciples’ feet.
Jesus got dirty as he served others in this broken world.    We will get dirty as we serve others!
 

Example:  Kevin’s story about falling into a mucky pond and the love his grandfather showed to help Kevin get cleaned up.

“Loving others is a dirty job, but someone has to do it.”
We are called to lay down our lives for others that God cares about.   (John 15:12-13)
We lose so they can win… we are to die to ourselves so that others can live!
Jesus died for us.  (1 John 3:16, Mark 8:34-35)
 
We die to our desires so we can love others.  So others can experience God’s love.  (Philippians 2:3-5)
 
Do you have a reputation for loving others, for putting them first?

 

“Love one another as I have loved you.”   (John 15:12-13)
There is no greater love than to lay down your life for another.
 
 
Listen to it here.

 


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Love: It’s Who I Am! (Week 3)

“The Boundless Love of Jesus!”

(Luke 1:26-38 & John 19:25-30)

 

Today we are talking about how Jesus redefined love through His life, starting with His very unique birth. Throughout this sermon I am going to attempt to describe the “boundless love of Jesus.” The image I hope to invoke in you is of a love that tears down the boundaries of who is in and who is out. Politically, this would be like us discussing whether or not our nation should have a wall on our southern borders that keeps the ins in and the outs out. But we are not talking about a nation-state and its immigration policies, more importantly we are talking about our human hearts and our willingness to love without boundaries like Jesus first loved us!

 

Read Luke 1:26-38. Jesus’ birth is the beginning of a new way of God relating to His people and how His people were to relate to one another. While I am calling it new, in many ways it is only new in that it is novel to our life experiences. To God it is not new at all, but a return to the beginning of how He designed us to interact with Him and with one another—as Image Bearers who are members of God’s household.

 

Jesus came to reestablish the household of God by tearing down the boundaries between us caused by sin. God tore down the boundary between heaven and earth by taking on flesh and becoming one of us. That is a love that will do anything—the boundless love of Jesus Christ!

 

What was God’s vehicle for this great rescue mission? Family through a teenage mother named Mary! And God continues to use willing vessels of His boundless love to continue the work of this rescue mission!

 

God may have started with Mary, but through her He birthed Jesus whose family is to transform the world by giving the same love God first gave to them. Jesus’ family are not those who can find a genetic connection to Abraham or Moses or King David or Mary or one of the original Apostles. Jesus’ family is founded in FAITH, but made visible by LOVE!

 

Listen to Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:46-50,

 

While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.” But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”[1]

 

Our family loyalty is to Jesus, but the outflow of our loyalty to Jesus is to how we love one another. As Jesus says of this new family system in Matthew 23:9-12, “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”[2]

 

We are BOUND to Jesus, but our love must ABOUND to one another to show it. Mary, the mother of Jesus, made herself available to God as a willing vessel of God’s boundless love in Jesus Christ. But she then made herself available to God’s boundless love while Jesus was dying on the cross. How? Watch what happened in John 19:25-30,

 

Therefore the soldiers did these things. But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household. After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.[3] (emphasis mine)

 

Just like Jesus’ death on the Cross tore the veil between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, Jesus’ resurrection tore down all the boundaries of human love so that He could reestablish that which sin had destroyed: the household of God. I want to emphasize in John 19:27 the use of the word ‘household’. The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible explains of this important concept: “Biblically, the term ‘family’ is interchangeable with ‘house,’ and ‘founding a house’ can refer to setting up a separate dwelling as well as establishing a family. In his preaching Jesus used the family as a symbol for the relationship of God to his people (Mt 19:14; 23:9; Lk 8:21). From the cross he handed over responsibility for the care of his mother to his disciple John (Jn 19:27).”[4]

 

By receiving John as her new son, Mary’s needs would now be cared for by her new family. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection has made the way for a new human family with Jesus as the head, made possible by a love that does not come from ourselves, but from God in Jesus!

 

Are you willing to take on a new son or a new mother? Are you willing to practically live out the call to be family with others who are of the household of God?

 

What are some practical implications for your daily life if you were to love like Jesus?

 

As disciples of Jesus we are transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ into members of God’s household and as members of God’s family we are to “love others as God first loved us.” That is why we have given everyone a red wrist band, children and adults alike. To remind us to love when we don’t feel like. Love is not an emotion; it is a choice based on our identity in Christ!

 

John, the beloved of Jesus, teaches in 1 John 4:19-21, “We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.”[5] The very disciple that Jesus gave to His mother as a son, to care for her and provide for her, is now saying to us that we are to love one another in that same way. We are to love one another so that the world will know that we are His disciples. We are following the Way of Jesus, not the ways of the world!

 

Who are you following? This is where our “7:1 Initiative” hits home. It’s a practical application to following Jesus! Are we loving well in relationships –who are your 7 people that you are investing in as family? Are we serving others well in our communities—where is your 1 place of service that you are giving yourself to others in the name of Jesus?

 

We are to give one another the love that Christ first gave us. Give to others as He has already given to you. That’s why Jesus said of the coming judgment in Matthew 25:40, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”[6] When we love one another, we are loving God!

 

God is establishing His household and ultimately we are to love one another with God’s boundless love because that is the way people will see Jesus’ love for them. It is our love for one another and our willingness to welcome others into our faith family that puts on display God’s boundless love. If you create boundaries, your life becomes a wall of God’s love!

 

How are you loving? Are you willing to carry within you the love of God in Jesus Christ?

 

Remember, we are heading towards the greatest family reunion ever. There is a party we are on the way to and our job is to invite others to the party by the way we love them.

 

Who can you invite to into your life, into your home or out for a meal, to an event or activity that you care about, into your small group or class, to church with you?

 

We have a whole community that needs to know the doors have been opened and they are invited. They will feel invited and welcomed into our church family if they already have been welcomed and invited into your family.
 
Listen to it here.
 
 

FOOTNOTES:

 

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 12:46–50.

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 23:9–12. Bruce Malina writes, “I might point out here, incidentally, that Paul’s solution to the problem posed by such dyadism, much like the solution envisioned in Matt. 23:8-10, is to point out that obligations owed to Jesus have to paid back not to Jesus, but to others in dyadic relation with Jesus, that is, one’s fellow post-Jesus group members. The result is a sort of polyadic relationship (“poly-” means many): a number of people in equivalent social statuses organized around a single interest and mutually obligated in terms of this single interest, much like a guild or Roman burial association” (Bruce J. Malina, The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology. Third Edition, Revised and Expanded [Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001], 97).
 

[3] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 19:25–30.

[4] Hazel W. Perkin, “Family Life and Relations,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 768.

[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, 1 Jn 4:19-21.

 

[6] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 25:40.

 


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Love: It’s Who I Am! (Week 2)

“The Reflective Love”

I John 4:19-21; Acts 8:1-3, 9:1-6; Romans 8:35-37; John 13:34-35

 

Just a little over 14 years ago, on Easter Sunday, the first dramatic musical that we presented to this community was called “What Love Is.”, written by Christy Ragle and using the secular song from the group Foreigner “I Want to Know What Love Is”. It seems only fitting that we are covering this topic once again when our community, our church, our nation, our world is in need of this message of hope.

 

 Take a look at these images:

            1) The Durham Boys

            2) The Kalisch Clan

            3) The Clark Boys

 

Do you see the similarities in each of these families? They reflect the image of their parents because of DNA. I hope you can also see the love that they have for one another. Sure , there might be some sibling rivalry at times, but their love for each other wins over all.

 

 In Genesis 1:26, it is written:

“ Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

From the very beginning, it was God’ desire for us to reflect him. But sin separated us from Him, so He made a way for us to come back into relationship with Him.

 

We find written in 1 John 4:9-10,19-21:

.”God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our

We love each other because he loved us first.  If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?  And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers.”

 

A recent article on Reflecting God’s Love, stated: ”Love for God compels love for others; love for others reflects love for God. The two ideas can neither be separated nor compartmentalized.” We cannot say that we are in relationship with God if we cannot show love to those around us.

 

God’s Word gives a prime example of someone who thought he was doing what he was suppose to in order to get people to honor God’s law. He was enforcing law and not love. The guy’s name was Saul of Tarsus.

 

 Acts:8:1-3 

“Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria.  (Some devout men came and buried Stephen with great mourning.)  But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison.”

 

Saul was a Roman citizen and a Pharisee who took it upon himself to show his zeal for God in making sure that the followers of Jesus were silenced since they were not following the Jewish laws and customs…all 613! Saul had been raised and taught that it was in following the laws that kept you in relationship with God. He could not have been more wrong. So Jesus got his attention…

 

Acts 9:1-6

“Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest.  He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.

As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him.  He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting!  Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

 

He had a personal encounter with Jesus! He knocked him off his donkey, he fell to the ground and the Lord talked to him. It wasn’t a long talk, but he was struck blind and had three days to think about it!  Even Ananias, the guy God spoke to about bringing the message of healing and hope to Saul, was fearful to go see him. But in those three days of fasting and prayer, God changed Saul’s heart! He was baptized and began preaching in the synagogue, which did not make the Jewish leaders happy. So they plotted to kill him (does this story sound familiar?) So some of the believers snuck him out of the city in a basket through an opening in the city wall.  Saul returned to Tarsus and spent 3 years in Arabia (See Galatians 1:15-18) During that time, he spent time with the Lord and sharing the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles. His name change from Saul to Paul was not part of the protective services plan, but rather Saul was his Roman citizenship name, and Paul was his Greek name, and the Gentiles would have been more familiar with it. I find it interesting that the name PAUL mean “small or humble”, and the Apostle Paul was not one to build himself up, but rather humble himself and make himself small so that God would be shown as his strength and power.  (2 Cor. 12:10)

 

All throughout Paul’s life, he reflected the love of Christ, even to those who persecuted him, stoned him, flogged him, threw him in jail, and he went places with this message, knowing that it would cost him his life.  Like Jesus, it was in Jerusalem that he was arrested. Like Jesus, he was taken before the Roman authorities. And like Jesus, he had false witnesses tell lies about him, but he never stopped sharing the message of love that God had given him to share.

 

In his message to the Romans, we find words of hope and encouragement for us when it comes to God’s love:

Romans 8:35-37

“Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?  (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”)  No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.”

 

This past Easter, almost 300 of our brothers and sisters in Christ were killed in Sri Lanka. This past Sunday, an Assembly of God pastor, his two sons and three others in the church were killed in Burkina Faso. Does it mean they were not loved by God because this happened? NO! Then what does it mean? It means the devil is going all out to silence the voices of those who are proclaiming God’s love in areas that are in desperate need of this message. Does this that the devil is victorious here? NO! The news showed interviews of some of the surviving members praying for those who were behind the attacks. Could you do that? We are called to pray for those who spitefully use us…to pray for our enemies! We challenge you each week to pray for the names in our prayer guide, but we also need to add to that the names of those who have hurt you, used you, or have treated you wrongly. For love covers a multitude of sin (1Peter 4:8)! This is where we will find the victory, even if it is not on this side of glory!

 

Therefore, we are to have an outward reflection of an inward reality. If we are to truly reflect the love of Christ in our lives, we have to live it out, demonstrated in EVERYTHING we do. Are we going to always get it right? No…but through God’s grace, we will get better and better at it. Then we will fulfill the words of Jesus that John the beloved wrote in John 13:34-35:

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.  Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” 

 

Let’s go out and show to the world that we love not only each other, but those who are lost and dying in our neighborhoods, our community, our nation, our world…. wherever the Lord calls you…so that they can find that hope, grace, mercy and love that we have received in our lives.
 
Listen to it here.
 

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Love: It’s who I AM! (Week 1)

“The Life-Transforming Love of Jesus!”

1 John 4:19 & John 13:34-35

In preparation for my sabbatical (that is only 4 months away) I want to share with you some of my heart-felt desires for us. I have been praying for the church and three big foci keep standing out to me for now and into our future. Let me introduce them by asking three questions:

 

1) Are we a church focused on yoking with Jesus by studying the Bible to learn all that Jesus commanded us?

2) Are we a church focused on praying (communicating with God) as Jesus taught us and modeled for us?

3) Are we a church focused on loving others as God first loved us?

 

Today, right now, if we had a reputation in our community, I would want it to be found in one word: LOVE! To hear from our community, “We may not agree with them on some things or understand their faith in Jesus, but those Christians from FBC sure do love us well.” LOVE!

 

What the community sees is the tip of the iceberg of who we are! How we love others is a visible part of who we are as Jesus’ people. Invisible to most, including to one another, is our time with Jesus—our personal Bible study and prayer times. The good fruit of all that is invisible to our community is love! The Bible calls love a part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and the collective fruit shows our maturity in Jesus. It’s what we get when we connect with Jesus. Allow me to share a short illustration: Once upon a time, I was an athlete. No one saw how fast I sprinted in practice or how much I lifted in the weight room or how well I rested or practiced or kept my diet. In fact, if someone came bragging to me about how much they benched or squatted, but didn’t compete well, I was far from impressed! What matters to people are game day results, but every successful athlete will tell you it is what happens that is not visible that determines those results! For us, that is LOVE! If you tell people how much you read your Bible and how hard you pray, but you don’t love, they will not be moved![1]

 

We are called as disciples of Jesus, members of God’s household, to “love others as God first loved us.” In fact, the Apostle John, who is called the beloved of Jesus, teaches in 1 John 4:19, “We love, because He first loved us.”[2]

 

We just celebrated Easter and we saw God’s eternal love exemplified for us in Jesus Christ. The night before His death, Jesus gave a new commandment to the Church, in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love [ἀγαπάω] one another, even as I have loved [ἀγαπάω] you, that you also love [ἀγαπάω] one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love [ἀγάπη] for one another.”[3]

 

The Greek word agape is a key focus of this text because we are to love one another with God’s heart, His eternal love, an unconditional love that we cannot produce on our own. We are to give to others that which we first received. Listen to one commentator reflect on John 13:34-35,

 

The point is surely clear: The mutually lived-out heart love of Christians for one another will be the single greatest missionary force in the world. It is important to notice that the power for disciples’ love for one another does not come from the disciples themselves; it comes from the preceding love of Christ for them, a love they already know and experience. So disciples are not being asked to “work up” a love they do not already have at work in them by Jesus’ presence with them and by his prior and continuing love for them. They are more simply asked to let this love (that they already have and are experiencing) enjoy its source (Jesus) and its goal (other people). In teaching settings, in order to catch the full force of the Greek, I have sometimes translated our verse this way: “Keep on loving one another out of the well of my love for you! Come on, keep on loving one another!”[4] (emphasis original)

 

Today, you are being given a wrist band that we want you to wear. If you brought some kids with you today and they are in children’s church they are getting a wrist band too. The kids’ wrist bands simply say “love” and our wrist bands say, “loving others as God first loves us”. We want you to make God’s love visible to our communities. You may have received your wrist band on the way in, if not you will receive it on the way out. Please put it on and wear it for the next 6 weeks as we go through this series. Please memorize it, then remember who you are!

 

While the Bible says that “God is love” (1 John 4:7-21), it never says “love is God”. There is a big difference and one that begins and ends with Jesus. You don’t become loving focusing on love, but by focusing on the God who is love. Love is the outflow of your relationship with God.

 

How then do we become more loving if not by trying to be loving? Within this question is the key. You can’t become more loving by focusing on being loving. It doesn’t work. You have to set your eyes on becoming more like Jesus, who is love!

 

Disciples of Jesus are to be…

1) Jesus-yoked: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me for I am gentle and humble in heart…” (Matthew 11:29).We are committed to applying the Bible in relationship with Jesus and people, not as rules, but as people who are “full of grace and truth” like Jesus. Remember, we can be right and wrong at the same time! Right in what we believe and wrong in how we live it and communicate it. The great proof of our relationship with Jesus is how we are like Him!

 

2) Prayer-connected and Spirit-empowered: We are in an ongoing conversation with God, as a way of life. Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Without connection to God, we are powerless to love as Jesus loved us! We are walking in the power of the Holy Spirit. With 1 & 2 in place, we can then do #3 truly and from the inside-out.

 

3) Loving others like Jesus: We are living out the Father’s Heart that we just spent 8 weeks focusing on in our “Belong” series based on the Parable of the Prodigal Son. This is where our “7:1 Initiative” hits home. Are we loving well in relationships –who are your 7 people that you are investing in? Are we serving others well in our communities—where is your 1 place of service that you are giving yourself to others in the name of Jesus?

 

Is your love real love (from the Source) or “fish love” (for yourself)? Watch this video to understand the difference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMcHtSjtNBY

 

Counterfeit loves doesn’t work and it doesn’t last! We need the real thing and that can only happen through a relationship with Jesus Christ! How do we learn to be like Jesus?

 

Listen to this book excerpt that illustrates the answer to this question:

 

Many [people] are trapped in brokenness that may not have to do with moral failure, but they really need help in putting their relationship back together. What’s their hope? Their hope, like ours, is the gospel. If the gospel can’t heal the worst situations when people yield, repent and open themselves to the disciplining, restoring grace of God, then the gospel isn’t worth much. But we know the gospel is worth everything because Christ provided it through His death and resurrection. People can sincerely seek healing for brokenness; however, they’ll never find it if the Christian community around them isn’t committed to healing. And that’s one of the tragedies occurring in places where men and women have failed—the Christian community doesn’t have the will to offer healthy healing. Only when the Church commits itself to restorative ministry will men and women stop acting in self-righteousness and, with the tenderness of Galatians 6:1, start being committed to getting every broken player back on the field again to serve in the Kingdom. Then I think we’ll see a revival spirit break out as we begin to act as if we believe restoration is possible and desirable.[5]

 

In response to this quote, one of our elders wrote me, “That’s awesome. And radical love, like the one demonstrated by Jesus, is all that will work. Not the pseudo-love that we often show, which often has as much self-interest and reciprocity baked in as any semblance of real love. No sacrifice, really very little discomfort.”

 

What the elder was talking about is the difference between real love (that comes from God first and is on display for the world to see through Jesus) and the fish love you heard the rabbi speak about earlier. When we love others with a desire for them to love us more or to reciprocate the love, then we are not loving them, we are loving ourselves through them.

 

This sermon is just the beginning of a 6-week series called, “Love: It’s who I AM” and this is not just a 6-Sunday focus on love. To love as God first loved us as Jesus said in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”[6]

 

What flows in and through you and out of you throughout you days, your circumstances? If there is bad fruit, then get to the root of it—confess, repent, and ask Jesus to transform you from the inside out! You can’t change yourself and you can’t make yourself a loving person and your relationships will suffer if you are peddling a counterfeit version of love. In fact, the testimony of Jesus suffers when His Church deals in counterfeit love!

 

The only way we will become people who love others as God first loved us is to receive the love of the Father by grace, as a gift! Paul said in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”[7] God’s love is a love you don’t clean up to receive and you can’t work to earn it. It’s grace and once received it will fundamentally change who you are! God’s love is a life-transforming love! We have been placed in this area and in this time to be a part of Jesus’ mission to seek and to save the lost. The gospel transforms stories and we have the privilege to make that our focus.

 

How is our love for God and for one another in the church family attracting others to want to belong to the family of God? This is not a task to do. This is not an evangelistic strategy. This is not a church growth campaign. This is not a new class or method. This is who you are when you are in Christ.

 

Love: It’s who I AM! It’s who I AM in Christ Jesus. I am a new creation with a new nature. Behold the old has gone and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). Thank you Jesus!

 

If I asked those closest to you to describe you in one word, what would that word be? Would it be ‘love’?  
 
 
Listen to it here.
 

FOOTNOTES:

 

[1] “The formidable Augustine of Hippo believed that all Christian reading of Scripture should be governed by the pursuit of virtue. In his case, he emphasized love (charity) above all else. As far as Augustine was concerned, reading Scripture should encourage the reader’s love for God and for his or her neighbor. ‘So anyone who thinks that he has understood the divine scriptures or any part of them, but cannot by his understanding build up this double love of God and neighbor, has not yet succeeded in understanding them’” (E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012], 189–190). In an article on evangelizing Muslims, after great effort to discuss theology and approaches, the Patrick O. Cate writes, “However, no matter what we do or how we look at it, the sine quo non of introducing Muslims to our Savior and Lord is love and prayer” (Patrick O. Cate, “Gospel Communication from Within” (International Journal of Frontier Missions, Vol 11:2 April 1994), 97.

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, 1 Jn 4:19.

[3] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 13:34–35. Emily Hurst, one of our church’s worship leaders, commented on this passage and provided an excellent resource to understand the depth of its language, “This being Jesus’ final command gives it great weight, and the Greek here makes it even more powerful. “Agapate allelous”, Love, here, is the agape love. The unconditional love, the soul-level love with which God loves us. It’s fairly obviously Jesus didn’t command us to “eros” love here; but I believe many have interpreted this verse to be referencing “phileo” love or “storge” love. Especially the latter, which is defined as natural affection or obligation. Instead, Jesus called us to value one another highly, as precious and to place the well-being of others above ourselves. I found this resource that broke down the four kinds well: https://www.mcleanbible.org/sites/default/files/Multiply-Resources/Chap3/GreekWordsforLoveWS_Chapter3.pdf.”

[4] Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Eerdmans, 2012), 796.

[5] H. B. London Jr., Neil B. Wiseman, and J. F. Dobson, Pastors at Greater Risk (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), Chapter 4.

[6] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 3:16.

[7] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Ro 5:8.
 

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Belong: We are God’s Family! (Week 8)

“Jesus, the True Elder Son!”

(Luke 15:11-32)

 

In this parable, the Father didn’t just welcome the older son back into relationship with Him personally, but wanted him to celebrate with the whole household (with his younger brother and all the rest who were already inside). In fact, the parable ends with the Father outside the party Himself, dealing with His older son who was obstinately refusing to join in the party because of who the Father had allowed into the party. He refused to go in with the Father because the Father’s grace for the wild child who had come home broken and repentant was too much for him. Maybe the older son thought the younger son didn’t suffer enough or long enough, didn’t eat enough of the pig feed to suit him, or maybe the older son thought the younger son had to come apologize to him personally before a family gathering was agreeable. Worse off, maybe the older son thought that only death was good enough for this former brother of his. The older son thought there could be no payment for the shame his brother brought to his family name!

 

The older son’s failure to fulfill his Father’s heart for the Family smacks us in the face. He did not fulfill his responsibility as his “brother’s keeper” by going after him when he was lost in a faraway country; He was supposed to go looking. He was supposed to be the hero of the greatest rescue mission of his time, but instead he stayed home. Jesus even set up these three parables in rapid succession so that you would expect him to go searching for that which was lost! First, the lost sheep, then the lost coin, and now, the lost son. But unlike the first two parables, no one goes searching for the lost son. All you see, is the Father desiring to have Him back Home! No hero!

 

Why? Exactly, that’s the primary point of the whole parable! Jesus is a master teacher!

 

This parable ends with the character of the older son left in tension on purpose. It’s a plot twist that was targeted to hit Jesus’s intended audience right where it counted—in their hearts, in their racism and classism, and in all their religious, self-righteous pride![1] According to Luke 15:1-2, we know that Jesus is telling these 3 parables to a group of grumbling religious leaders. They were mad at Jesus because He had the audacity to show compassion and mercy to tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners. Jesus was letting those people come into the party and because they were welcomed, the religious leaders (older sons) would have nothing to do with Jesus! They were very upset, so much so that their bitterness would crucify Jesus because He brought so much shame on them. Like the older son, the way for them to restore the honor to their family name was through Jesus’ death.

 

Amazingly, this parable explains why Jesus had to die. Tim Keller explains, “Jesus’s parable of the lost sons ends in a party-feast that represents the great festival of God at the end of history. Why does [Jesus] speak this way? He does so because there is no better way to convey vividly what it means to live out a life based on his saving work. Jesus’s salvation is a feast [and] feasting is communal by nature.”[2]

 

Jesus died on the cross because He came to earth as the true elder son to do what the older son in this parable would not do, be His brothers’ keeper and bring him Home to the Father. The Apostle Paul explained it best in what is called the Christ Hymn of Philippians 2:5-11,

 

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.[3]

 

Jesus simply said of Himself when He was sitting in the house of a notorious sinner, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”[4] This really upset the religious people because eating with someone in their culture was an offer of friendship. Jesus came to not only rescue us, but to invite us into a loving family relationship.

 

Again Jesus would say to the religious people about why He came, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”[5]

 

Jesus was inviting the Pharisees and the scribes as well as the tax collectors and the sinners of His day. Jesus is inviting the religious and irreligious alike, the moralists (good boys and good girls) and the rebellious (wild ones) of our culture today. Jesus did not make distinctions in His invitation based on anything we can see or know about another person. Jesus, our true elder brother, came with an invitation to the greatest family reunion in human history!

 

Jesus came on a rescue mission, to seek and to save that which was lost, to rescue people so that they can be with God the Father. Have you ever read a book or seen a movie where someone is being held by enemy forces and needs to be rescued? Don’t you feel like cheering when the person is rescued and is able to go home, safe and secure. Maybe it’s “The Princess Bride” and you experience the great romance of the rescue. Or more soberly, it’s “Saving Private Ryan” where they are safeguarding the only son back to his family. Maybe it’s “Unbroken” when Louis Zamperini is first liberated from a POW camp and then later rescued from his PTSD, hatred, and alcoholism. Maybe it’s “Schindler’s List” where the Jewish people are yearning for freedom and release from the sheer horror of the Holocaust. They are waiting to be rescued. Have you been rescued? Do you even feel the need to be rescued? What do you need to be rescued from?

 

Jesus came to set us free, to heal us, to deliver and rescue us, to restore us back to the Father and be with His Family. And then Jesus passed the baton on to us—to carry on the rescue mission of seeking and saving the lost! His job is now the job of His Church, the body of Christ! We are to follow Jesus’s example and invite all people to come Home and belong to the Father’s Family through the true elder son’s efforts to pursue them and make a way for each of us through His atoning death on the Cross and His victorious defeat over death. We participate in God’s great romance for His children, by being coopted into His rescue mission!

 

Jesus is inviting you! He is inviting at the heart level for each of us to come and party with Him. As we see in the last book of the Bible, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.”[6] Remember, the invitation to dine with someone in Jewish culture is an invitation to friendship. This is what we are each to have, a growing friendship-type relationship with Jesus.

 

Jesus wants you to join Him in the party and not just any party—the greatest family reunion in human history. And you can be a part of it. It’s going to be awesome!

 

In 1 John 3:1, we experience the depth of what Jesus has done for us, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.”[7] Through the true elder son’s sacrifice on the Cross, victory over death, and open invitation to dine with Him, we each are invited to experience what it means to belong to the Family of God, to be Home with the Father. As Jesus Christ said of Himself, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”[8]

 

Christians are simply people who have been rescued by Jesus and are on our way to the greatest party in human history. We are not there yet, but every day brings us closer. On the journey to the Family Reunion we are to practice how to party Heaven’s way while we are still on the earth.

 

We didn’t deserve it the day we were invited and we still don’t deserve being a part of the greatest family reunion ever. Our purpose is to invite everyone to join us at the party. It’s not our place to make distinctions on who should be invited. Our faith is made visible in our words and deeds to invite others to belong to God’s Family and to treat them in such a way that they want to BELONG.

 

Church, let’s be on mission with Jesus by showing people the way to the greatest family reunion in history. Let’s help them know that they BELONG here because God loves them and sent His Son Jesus for them to BELONG to His Family! You have a place where you BELONG!
 
 
Listen to it here.

 

FOOTNOTES:

 
[1] Otherwise the parable could have ended with verse 24 and the homecoming and restoration of the younger son. Instead, Jesus reveals the real purpose of His parable by continuing on in verses 25-32.
 

[2] Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2008), 119, 121, 139.

 

[3] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Php 2:5–11.

 

[4] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 19:9–10.

 

[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 9:12–13.

[6] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Re 3:20.

 

[7] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, 1 Jn 3:1.

[8] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 14:6.


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Belong: We are God’s Family (Week 7)

“The Father’s Invitation!”

(Luke 15:11-32)

For today’s message called “The Father’s Invitation”, I want to briefly direct your attention to 2 parts of the Parable of the Prodigal Son that we have been studying so diligently the last 6 weeks.

 

The first is Luke 15:22-24 which records the response and words of the Father when his younger son came home to Him with a broken and contrite heart, “ ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.”[1]

 

No matter what you have done or who you have done it with, God, our Heavenly Father, is waiting for us to return to Him with a humble and repentant heart. If this applies to you, if there is a sin you have not yet come to God with and repented of, do not be afraid to come to the Father this morning and receive the grace of God.

 

The second is Luke 15:31-32 which records the response and words of the Father when his older son refused to come home to Him because of the Father’s grace for his younger brother: “Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.”[2]

 

The brother who we all would naturally assume deserved to be in the party was missing it because he felt slighted by the Father because he had been faithful and his brother had not, yet here was his brother being honored. He missed the point because of his sense of entitlement, as so many churched people struggle: All that we have is a gift from God! All life is grace! It is not earned, we can’t work for it, we simply receive it and live in gratitude to God for it.[3]

 

The key is to remain humble in God’s grace and to keep our heart in a place of thanksgiving to God for His amazing grace. Listen to the last half of a powerful parable taught in Matthew 20:1-16 that illustrates the major tenant of our faith: God does not give us what we deserve (a wage, for the wages of sin in death), but God gives us grace! In this parable many people came to the vineyard to work by the invitation of the foreman, and they came throughout the day…

 

When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.’ When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.’ But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’[4]

 

One of our elders humbly explained about this parable, “Inevitably, most people (myself included) might be tempted to identify with the workers who have been there the longest, got there the earliest, did the most work, etc., which is certainly shades of the older brother. Both stories (wages and prodigal) can serve as a Rorschach test to help us diagnose ourselves. Do you see the old lady or the young lady? Do you see yourselves as the early in the day workers who earned their keep or the late in the day workers who rely on the Master’s grace?”[5]

 
How we see ourselves in Jesus’ parables is very important as it exposes our heart conditions before God and our absolute need for God’s grace everyday of our lives. Let me illustrate for you the opportunity you have today through the true Elder Son, Jesus Christ, who came to make a way back to the Father through His death on the Cross of Calvary. Luke 23:39-43 records for us that on that Friday, there were two criminals also being crucified…
 
 
 

One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”[6]

 

Two thieves like two brothers. One came home to the Father through a broken and contrite heart and the other simply felt entitled to the Father’s blessing… How are we to come Home to the Father? By putting our faith in Jesus Christ who put on display for the world to see God’s amazing grace. Do you see your own personal need for God’s amazing grace?
 
Listen to it here.
 

FOOTNOTES:

 

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 15:22–24.

 

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 15:31–32.

 

[3] As one reader responded, “This point cannot be made too loudly, too clearly, or too often. It comes up regularly and we’re still missing it! Christians seem to become more frustrated with their lot in life more quickly than non-Christians, because we believe we don’t deserve to struggle or suffer since we follow Christ. We forget that we are expected to sacrifice ourselves (our security, our control, our career, our dreams, the list goes on) to follow Christ and we should EXPECT to face these trials.”

[4] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 20:8–15.

 

[5] Picture used from http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/5639/2020/1600/chica_o_vieja.jpg (last accessed 4/10/2019).

[6] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 23:39–43.


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Belong: We are God’s Family (Week 6)

Finding ‘The Way’ Home to God’s Family!”

(Luke 15:11-32)

Have you ever been lost? Maybe you were driving around or out in the woods or in a store? Have you ever lost a child in a store? How did that make you feel? Wasn’t that the longest minute or hour of your life? In that moment, wouldn’t you do anything to find what was lost?

 

Remember back to time when a child did get lost in the store. An employee or security guard would find him and reunite the lost child with his family. Their role was to safeguard the child and return them to the parent. That’s why Jesus came; that was His mission—to reunite the lost sons and daughters with the Father. It’s our job to carry on that mission Jesus came to do.

 

I heard a true story this week that happened before cell phones. A family was traveling and pulled over late at night to stop at a rest stop. They asked their son, Tim, if he wanted to go in to the rest stop. Sleeping in the darkened back seat, Tim said, “no.” After the parents went into the rest stop, they returned to the car and got on their way. Pretty soon, the parents saw police cars everywhere. “Man, they are really looking for somebody,” the dad said. Pretty soon, they got pulled over by the police and the dad was asked about his son, who had assumed he was sleeping peacefully in the back. He wasn’t – he had gotten out of the car to go into the rest stop without anyone knowing, and his parents had left him. The troopers had mobilized all their forces to return a lost son to his family. That’s Jesus’ job—that’s why He came. And now, we, the Church, are the forces that He mobilizes to reunite lost sons and daughters! We gather every week to remind ourselves of that because we so quickly make it about us and forget the BIG STORY!

 

This is the big story of the Bible! Because of God’s great love God chose to create the heavens and the earth. In God’s climatic act of creativity, the Father breathed His breath of life into us.

 

Out of nothing God created and out of the dust of the ground arose humanity. God created you and me from His love and for love, to love God with all of our living being and to love one another, for we were created to be His Family. God first created the Garden of Eden to be His dwelling place with us, but because of our selfishness and sin, we were removed from His presence and death overtook us. That is the effect of sin on humanity, from the beginning. We always think of the Bible story from our view point, the effect sin had on us, but…

 

Can you imagine how this must have made God feel? As hard of a question as that is, Jesus is intentionally telling this story. He wants us to see the love of God as our Father. So that we could see His Heart and how much He yearns to have all of His children securely Home with Him.

 

Jesus tells three parables back-to-back in Luke 15. They all focus on the something being lost—a sheep, a coin, a child. Losing something important is a terrible feeling. We panic when we lose our phones or wallets or keys or a password to one of our accounts, so we keep passwords saved in accessible locations, tracking devices on our phones, keys go on the hook next to the door every time (or we lose them), and wallets with all of our IDs and credit cards, they usually stay on us or somewhere we know. Why? Because we all have strong emotions about losing things!

 

It is one thing to lose something you love but it is another thing to lose someone you love!

In our family, we do a head count to make sure we have all three children in the car before we drive away. We keep our eyes on our children in the park instead of playing with our phones because the thought of having one of our children walk off, or worse yet being taken is absolutely horrifying. I have a visceral response just thinking about losing one of my children.

 

Can you imagine how the Father in Jesus’ story must have felt to have lost his younger son in such a painful and personal way? Can you imagine how the Father felt to have that son come back home, but only to learn from his homecoming that his other son had been lost in a completely different way all that time? What would it take to have all the children come home to the family, not just physically be home, but be home in their hearts, minds, and souls?

 

This is why Jesus came, the true elder Son, the One who understood His responsibility as His “brother’s keeper” (Genesis 4:9; the Cain and Abel story). Jesus testifies honestly and lovingly in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.[1] (emphasis mine)

 

Jesus came on a rescue mission, sent by the Father, to seek and to save that which was lost because of the damning effects of sin on all of humanity—we were unable to rescue ourselves! God’s Family was torn apart by our selfishness, our sin, our betrayal of the Father. So when confronted with His own anger (“wrath of God”) for our sin, God the Father responded in love to satisfy His own wrath by sending Jesus Christ (“propitiation”). Christ came to earth to take our place—He lived the sinless life, He died a substitutionary death on the Cross to pay for the wages for our sin (“atonement”), He defeated death with His victorious resurrection. So that the lost sons and daughters could be found and restored to the Father (“reconciliation”). This is all God’s grace; this is the Gospel—the good news of God! We read in Galatians 4:3-7,

 

So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.[2]

 

That is why we call it the Gospel—it is the Good News of God’s Grace! Jesus came from Heaven to earth to restore us back to the Father. Sin had not only broken our relationship with God, but sin has also damaged our abilities to think right, respond to situations correctly, do relationships God’s way. God’s heart is to restore us to His original intent for our lives, and not only us but all of creation. This is why being a member of the church is so important: Jesus Christ died on the Cross, gave His life, so that we could be brought to life by being restored to the Family of God as adopted sons and daughters of God. Listen to Michael Heiser explain,

 

The language of divine inheritance advances the Old Testament idea that humans were meant to be in the family of God. The New Testament writers thought in terms of “adoption,” “heir,” and “inheritance” to describe what the Church really is—the reestablished human family of God. They also used these terms to describe what the Church will be in the final form of the kingdom on the new earth when believers are glorified. The believer’s destiny is to become what Adam and Eve originally were in Eden in God’s presence before the Fall: immortal, glorified imagers of God (see 2 Pet 1:2–4).[3]

 

Can you begin to imagine how much God must love us, His created family, that He would come from Heaven to earth for us? Can you imagine how much you would use everything at your disposal to go after your loved ones to rescue them and bring them home? How far would you go, would you even give your life to rescue your child or grandchild, or your little sister?  

 

Losing a loved one, especially a child, is an unbearable thought for so many of us. And for those of us who have lost a child, whether through the grief of a miscarriage or tragic loss of a baby or adult child, this message could be eliciting emotions that are extremely deep, painful, and possibly raw. I acknowledge that and deeply care for you and your loss. Please know that in your suffering for your lost child, you are touching the heart of God. Allow me to pray for you…

 

This parable that Jesus teaches points to the very heart of God as our Father and the primary purpose for the gospel of Jesus Christ—to seek and to save that which was lost and to restore God’s Family. Listen to an ancient witness make this very point:

 

Who is this if not the God who created all people and loves them with a fatherly affection, the God who preferred to be loved as a father rather than feared as a lord, even though he was Lord by nature? On this account, at the beginning of the commandments of the law, he did not say, “You shall fear the Lord with all your heart” but “you shall love the Lord with all your heart.” To elicit love is not characteristic of a lord but of a father.[4] (emphasis mine)

 

The church are those who belong to God, not because we deserve it, but because of God’s grace. Jesus is the way for lost sinners to return Home, to the Father. Once being safe at home we join with Jesus in His rescue mission to bring other lost sons and daughters Home, to the Father.

 

Your life and how you relate to God and others is how others will come to know the way Home to God’s Family. Your living faith is made visible in your words and deeds to invite others to belong to God’s Family and to treat them in such a way that they want to belong. As one of my friends wrote me in response to this statement, “This is so important. The self-righteous, superior approach Christians can tend to take toward people who are lost is such a hindrance to the mission of Christ.”

 

And may I add, we do this to each other too, we judge one another, and it is such a hindrance to people seeing Jesus in and through His church! Let us truly be humble because none of us deserve any of this—neither our salvation nor being a member of His church! It’s all God, His grace, so let’s start acting that way—with humility, thankfulness, compassion, and mercy.

 

Church, God will bring all things back to His original plan to have His family with Him for eternity, including the heavens and the earth that He created for this very reason. Listen to God’s plan for His family and for all of His creation in Revelation 21:1-5.

 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”[5]

 

We don’t want anyone to miss out on the greatest family reunion ever! Do we have a family, here at FBC, that is on mission to help our lost brothers and sisters to find their way home to God’s family? Will the world see us, His church, as a picture of what is coming or do they just find more of the same in here as what they can find out there in the world?

 

If you were out shopping with a friend who brought along a child and that child got lost somewhere in the store, what would you do? I know what you would do: You would join with your friend in crying out that child’s name and start looking everywhere. And you would get other people to help. And you would find an employee to make an announcement and to secure the facility, just in case. I’ll tell what you wouldn’t do, you wouldn’t keep on shopping like all is fine with the world and you wouldn’t go looking through the magazine rack for some entertainment or the snack aisle to please your taste buds. Nor would you be disappointed and upset when the child was found. No! You would look for that which was lost! We all would; of course we would. That’s what Jesus did, our true elder brother! Let us do the same. Let us search for that which was lost and in doing so, we will become more and more like Jesus.

 

Have you ever been lost? How did it make you feel? Did you hope someone was looking for you?

 

Church, let’s be on mission with Jesus by showing people the way to the greatest family reunion in history. Let’s help them know that they BELONG here because God loves them and sent His Son Jesus for them to BELONG to His Family! YOU BELONG! You are safe and your inheritance is secure, now go out there and be on mission with Jesus…
 
Listen to it here.
 

Footnotes:

 

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Jn 14:6.

 

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Ga 4:3–7.

[3] Michael S. Heiser, The Bible Unfiltered: Approaching Scripture on Its Own Terms (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017), 187.

 

[4] Thomas C. Oden and Cindy Crosby, eds., Ancient Christian Devotional: A Year of Weekly Readings: Lectionary Cycle A (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2007), 222.

[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Re 21:1–5.


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Belong: We are God’s Family (Week 5)

The Father’s Heart!

Luke 15:11-32

In this series called “Belong”, we have been confronted with the heart conditions of the younger and the older sons of the Father. I and many others have found aspects of each one’s condition in ourselves. I, too, can be selfish and rebellious like the younger son, self-righteous and entitled like the older son. But the real choice comes down to not whether we see these things in us, but what we do about it when we are confronted! When confronted with the Father’s heart we will either experience brokenness over our sin or become hardened in our sin. This parable has taught us that both the older son’s heart condition of religious legalism and self-righteousness is just as big of an issue as the younger son’s worldly licentiousness and selfishness. Both are sin!

 

Here’s the main difference and in this difference, the true point of Jesus’ parable: The younger son ended in brokenness and repented for his sins against the Father. On the other hand, the older son ended hardened toward his Father and neither repented nor forgave his younger brother. The older on was too good (moralistic) for that and wouldn’t be scandalized by His Father’s grace. He, who represents the Pharisees that Jesus is addressing with His parable (ref. Luke 15:1-2), is far from the Father’s heart even though he was serving the Father and by his own testimony had never done anything but keep all his Father’s commands. But his moralistic, self-righteous superior attitude kept him far from having or exhibiting his Father’s heart.

 

What is the Father’s heart and how can knowing it help us respond to God and others properly?

 

The Father’s heart is like a diamond and there are many aspects to understanding it, so please allow me to illuminate just a few characteristics of the Father’s heart.

 

The Father is “gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29)! We often miss this detail in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but it is the first thing in the parable that would have caused Jesus’ intended audience to step back in confusion or shock. The Father actually gave the younger son what he asked for. This is found in Luke 15:12, “So he divided his wealth between them.”[1]

 

The Pharisees and the scribes would have thought that the Father in Jesus’ parable was a fool to give the younger son what he requested. They would not have accepted the premise of the story, nevertheless the conclusion. This story is a scandal to religious people from beginning to end.

 

What was the Father thinking? Well, since the Father in this story represents God we can only imagine that He knew something we do not. We just need to be gentle and humble in heart ourselves to believe God to be doing something true and right, good and just, especially when we don’t understand it or Him. As the Prophet Isaiah quotes God in 55:8, “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’”[2]

 

When you don’t understand God or His ways, don’t harden your heart in response, choose to worship Him instead! That is a much better decision for peace to guard your heart and mind, and to find rest for your soul. When in doubt, take on yourself the yoke of Jesus and learn from Him, who is “gentle and humble in heart.”

 

We see that the Father is “gentle and humble in heart” when He breaks all cultural norms of his time and runs out to receive the younger son and welcomes him back in Luke 15:20-24,

 

So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.[3]

 

The Father knew His younger son’s broken heart and saw His willingness and yearning to repent of His sin that had broken their relationship. This parable reminds me of a real-life scandal in the life of Jesus. Listen to John 8:1-11 and it’s the same cast of characters with religious leaders (older sons) on one side and a woman caught in adultery (younger son) on the other:

 

But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”[4] (emphasis mine)

 

Turn with me to Psalm 51 and let’s do some heart-work together. Time of prayer in Psalm 51…

 

The sacrifice that God desires from you is a living one, your who life (Romans 12:1)—a life that is sincerely marked by “broken and contrite heart”  (Psalm 51:17) or as Jesus said, a “gentle and humble heart” (Matthew 11:29).

 

 

Jesus tells this parable to describe the Father’s heart for lost sinners (both the older and the younger), just like Jesus put on display His Father’s heart for three years of earthly ministry. There is one more way I would like to describe the Father’s Heart to you this morning…

 

The Father is “grace and truth” (John 1:14)! This is found at the end of the story when the Father is pleading with the older son to come in and celebrate his younger brother’s salvation. In 15:31-32, “And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’”[5]

 

All are welcome home, but the Father’s heart is not just grace, it is grace and truth. The Father does not hesitate to speak the truth to His older son’s heart condition. The parable ends right here on purpose, because Jesus was posing an invitation to the Pharisees and scribes to stop grumbling about tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners being saved by coming back to God through faith and repentance. He is not only inviting the Pharisees and the scribes to celebrate the grace of God through the gospel, but He is also inviting them to a righteousness that exceeds their own. As Jesus said in Matthew 5:20, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”[6] The only way to Heaven is through the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. We must receive an imputed righteousness from Jesus that allows us into the Great Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

 

Allow Jesus to illustrate this point with another parable from Matthew 22:1-14:

 

Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. “And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come. “Again he sent out other slaves saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast.” ’ “But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them. “But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire. “Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. ‘Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.’ “Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests. “But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And the man was speechless. “Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ “For many are called, but few are chosen.”[7]

 

Jesus Himself very clearly declares the message of the gospel as both a message of grace and truth. Jesus Himself was a person full of grace and truth. The Father’s heart calls for all to come into His family, but to belong you must have the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ covering your sin (the wedding clothes) as your justification. Your good works, your faithfulness, your track record on earth can only earn you death, but faith in the completed work of Jesus Christ for you gives eternal life (Romans 6:23).

 

What will you boast in? Your works or God’s grace? Who will you boast in? Yourself or Jesus?

 

Listen to his powerful quote from Pastor Kevin DeYoung,

 

We desperately need grace in our lives.  We need to hear from Jesus “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28)  We need to know that God doesn’t expect us to clean up our act before we come to him.  He implores us to come, now, today, just as we are–in brokenness, in pain, in humility, in repentance, and in faith.  We need to hear that wayward children, who have squandered their inheritance and lived an immoral, rebellious life, can come home into the arms of their heavenly Father (Luke 15:20). And we desperately need truth in our lives.  We need to hear from Jesus “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).  And we need to hear from Jesus what this saying really means: “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin…But if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).  We need someone as gracious as Jesus to tell us the truth: you are not okay.  You do not need to push away those feelings of guilt that weigh you down.  You are guilty.  And anyone who tells you otherwise, is not telling you the truth.  And because they won’t tell you the truth, you won’t experience the grace you need. We need truth. We need grace. We need Jesus.[8]

Jesus put the Father’s heart on display for all the world to see it and respond…

 

Older sons and younger sons alike, from every culture and tribe, are invited to respond…

 

Your life and how you relate to God and others is your response to the truth and grace of the One who is humble and gentle in heart.
 
Listen to it here.
 

Footnotes:

 

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Lk 15:12.

 

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Is 55:8.

[3] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 15:20–24.

 

[4] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 8:1–11.

[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 15:31–32.

 

[6] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 5:20.

 

[7] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 22:1–14.

[8] Kevin DeYoung, “Full of Grace and Truth” (June 3, 2014). The Gospel Coalition. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/full-of-grace-and-truth/ (last accessed March 25, 2019).


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Belong: We are God’s Family (Week 4)

“The Heart Condition of the Older Son”

Luke 15:11-32

 
In Jesus’ parable, neither son, younger or older, is submitting to the Father in his heart nor is either fulfilling his responsibilities as a member of the Father’s Household. How could they?

 

They are distracted—too busy focusing on their entitlements and their inheritance, on what they could get from the Father. They both are doing their own thing while claiming the status and rewards of being a member of the Household of the Father, but not desiring to be with the Father or with one another. If each son represented a church, we would say they are both off mission!

 

The Older Son is so busy being good, that he is distancing himself from God with his self-righteous moralism. Jesus used the older son to describe the Pharisees who were more in love with their ideas and traditions about God than with God Himself! This is a very dangerous place to be as it is easy to get off God’s mission when your ideas and traditions about God start defining your focus more than God Himself prioritizes your focus.

 

The Younger Son is so busy being free to do what he wants to do that he is distancing himself from the Father with his free-for-all “no one can tell me what to do” lifestyle. Jesus used the younger son to describe the Tax Collectors and sinners who wanted nothing to do with the Household of God and all of the older brothers who thought they were better than everyone else. This is also a very dangerous license that many people take, even doing so in the name of Christ. Christ did not die on the Cross so that you can be free to do anything you want, but so that you can be free from sin to live for righteousness in His easy yoke of discipleship.

 

Both groups—the tax collectors and Pharisees—are being selfish because neither is focused on being with the Father or desiring His will for their lives. Both were off mission on what it meant to be a member of the Household. Both heart conditions kept them far from God, but by the end of the story, one is in right relationship with the Father and the other is hardened against God and His grace given to the other. By the end of this story, we know what it means to be on mission as the Family of God and we know what it takes to get on mission.

 

Why is it that people who claim to be followers of Christ so often end up unsympathetic to people who are in need of finding Christ?

 

Until you have had an experience of the Father’s grace that has saved you from being lost (and that only happens when you realize your true brokenness) you will remain distracted by your need to make your life work out for you the way you want your life to work out for you. It is especially sad when your religion and traditions become a way of finding self-satisfaction and self-justification for what is opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

Let’s examine the heart condition of the Older Son and see how this applies to us today?

 

There is another parable Jesus teaches before His crucifixion that I see is an important way to enter this conversation. It is called the Parable of the Two Sons from Matthew 21:28-32,

 

But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’ And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went. The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sir’; but he did not go. “Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.”[1]

 

Again, two sons. One seems to start off well saying the right things, but he doesn’t end well. The other, doesn’t start off well saying the wrong thing, but he does end well. Which is on mission?

Obviously, the one who did what His Father asked! The one who at first rebelled, but repented.

 

In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the older son is forever marked by his last words in this parable. Jesus’ character of the older son and his final words are targeted at the grumbling Pharisees and scribes of Luke 15:1-2. In 15:29-30, Jesus says that the older brother responded to the Father’s grace for the younger son with anger (28), saying very disrespectfully, “Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.”[2] Do you hear it? Here is the heart condition of the Older Son:

 

Moralistic! It is obvious that the younger son was selfish in his actions, but what has not been so obvious is that the older son was selfish too—self-righteous and superiority! In a powerful article called, “Why Moralism Is Not the Gospel — And Why So Many Christians Think It Is”, President of Southern Baptist Seminary, Dr. Albert Mohler clarifies the false gospel of moralism,

 

Most moralists would not claim to be without sin, but merely beyond scandal. That is considered sufficient. Just as parents rightly teach their children to obey moral instruction, the church also bears responsibility to teach its own the moral commands of God and to bear witness to the larger society of what God has declared to be right and good for His human creatures. But these impulses, right and necessary as they are, are not the Gospel. Indeed, one of the most insidious false gospels is a moralism that promises the favor of God and the satisfaction of God’s righteousness to sinners if they will only behave and commit themselves to moral improvement.[3] (emphasis mine)

 

The scandals of both sons are the same – both are sin!  One son is a public failure and the other son feels superior and judgmental. What you really have to worry about is the bitter root that is being created in the older son that causes him to think, feel, and act less and less like the Father. As Pastor Tim Keller said, “Elder brother self-righteousness not only creates racism and classism, but at the personal level creates an unforgiving, judgmental spirit. This elder brother cannot pardon his younger brother… Because he does not see himself as being part of a common community of sinners, he is trapped by his own bitterness. It is impossible to forgive someone if you feel superior to him or her.[4] (emphasis mine)

 

Jesus says to those in the older son condition in Matthew 23:27-28, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”[5]

 

Moralism is not just a false-gospel, it is fundamentally opposed to the Gospel of God’s grace! The Pharisees were more than off mission, they were actually acting in ways opposed to the mission of God, and Jesus was showing them this in His parable.[6]

 

The Condition of the Older Son was not only Moralistic, but also Entitled! What we see come out of the older son at the end of the parable is as sinful, as disrespectful, and as rebellious as the younger son. The venomous spirit of entitlement. Pastor Tripp wrote,

 

Entitlement always seems to follow pride. If you think you’ve earned _________, then you will think you deserve __________. Then, carrying around not only pride but also entitlement, you will tend to turn blessings into demands and gifts of grace into what is to be expected. We must never forget that we have earned neither our standing with the Lord nor our place in ministry. Each moment that he accepts us and each situation in which he uses us are the result of one thing and one thing alone: grace. We have no right before God or others to self-assuredly stand with our hands out. We are independently entitled to nothing but his anger; it is only grace that entitles us to his accepting love. The smug expectation of blessing will cause you to question not only the appreciation of the people around you but also the goodness of God.[7]

 

The Older Son wanted what he had coming to him and he wanted to share it with only the people he deemed worthy to be his “friends”, which would most likely not include his brother or his father. His self-righteousness and entitlement fueled exclusivity based on who measured up. It created heart barriers to be on mission—to seek and to save the lost!

 

The older son does not understand grace because he thinks that he is better than other people. He doesn’t remember a day when he wasn’t a good person obeying his father—“I have never neglected a command of yours”. Whereas the younger son is so rebellious that he wished his father dead, asked for his inheritance, ran away from home with it and lived a wild life until it all came crashing down. When he hit bottom, he realized what he had at home and he repented. Jesus told a parable in Luke 18:10-14 to contrast these heart conditions:

 

Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. ‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ [emphasis on the ‘I’ mine] But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.[8]

 

It wasn’t the older son’s efforts to please the Father that caused Him to be distant from the Father, it was his attitude that he somehow had already earned and was now entitled to what His Father has to give. Remember, God’s grace is not opposed to effort, but to earning! As soon as you feel entitled to receive something from God and you don’t get it, you have 1 of 2 choices: 1) in your brokenness you get angry at God and harden your heart at Him and towards others, or 2) you experience your brokenness and then you fall into the arms of God’s grace and become a herald of grace for others.

 

If you don’t experience brokenness, like the Younger Son, then you are only left with this option: a Hardened Heart! The younger son ended the story with a broken heart that led to a right relationship with the Father, whereas the older son ends up hardened and far away from God, judging the Father’s grace to receive back the younger son as evil because it violated his worldview of moralism and entitlement. A hardened person, no matter their church affiliation or religious zeal, is not on mission with Jesus Christ to seek and to save that which was lost. And if you are not about this, then you are not yet truly about Jesus or the work of His Father.[9]

 

The older son was supposed to be the hero of the story! He was supposed to go after his younger brother, but he was stuck in his own heart condition. That is the point of these three back-to-back parables in Luke 15: Jesus intends for you to start expecting someone to go searching for what was lost and when no one does, you are left wondering why.

 

To miss the point of this parable is to be distracted from the mission of Jesus Christ because our hearts are hardened against the very mission Jesus came for and created His Church to do—to seek and to save the lost sons and daughters who are designed to belong to God, but are caught up in either the older son or younger son heart conditions.[10] It’s God’s desire to have all of his children at home with Him, truly with Him at the heart level, so much so that all of his family represents His heart to all who are not yet home belonging as His Household!

 

Who is going to demonstrate the heart of the Father to the next generation?

 

At least the younger son had the decency to be honest about his rebellion—shockingly to our sensibilities and former understandings of this parable, the younger son was the more honorable of the two because he was honest with himself, God, and others. The older son hid behind the appearance of being a good person, an obedient and dutiful son, but the whole time wanting his own way, his rights, and what he felt was coming to him.[11] Religion and morality can become a control mechanism for making life work for you, just like rebellious living. Both are an abuse of God’s grace and both are willful-activities against the heart of the Father. Both are ways to be in control, but neither saves! Only through God’s grace can you be saved!

 

The person who will demonstrate the heart of the Father is the person who has been broken and truly knows it, who is daily and actively experiencing the forgiveness of God through a relationship with Jesus, and upon receiving God’s grace lives by grace and gives grace to others.

Whether you grew up in the church or not, we all have tendencies toward the heart condition of the older brother. We each must war against this tendency by remembering that at some point, we each had to have made a personal faith decision for Christ. You may not have as dramatic of an experience of hitting rock bottom like the younger son, but in order to be saved, you must come to place where you understand how desperately we each needed saving—whether you hit that point because you ran away from home or because you dutifully stayed home!

 

Salvation can neither be earned nor lost, it can only be received! The Gospel of Jesus Christ is always God’s good news of His work for salvation in Jesus Christ.

 

The person who is gladly receiving this good news as today’s (every day’s) top head line will be the one who is on mission! This is the person who belongs to the Family of God and invites others to belong and works hard to help all people know they can belong, too.

 

Pastor Tripp wrote, “God has chosen to build his church through the instrumentality of bent and broken tools. It is your delusions of strength that will get you in trouble and cause you to form a ministry that is less than Christ-centered and gospel-driven.”[12]

 

In order for FBC to be on mission to seek and to save the lost we must be broken first. We cannot be older sons, we must repent of any self-righteousness, superiority, moralism, or sense of entitlement. We must pray and ask God right now to soften any hard places in our hearts and break us of any pride caused by our church affiliation, backgrounds, or traditions. Any delusion of strength will only get us in trouble. Our church and community does not need modern day Pharisees or Tax Collectors, but people who demonstrate the Father’s heart for all of us family. We can only be this because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

 

What is your heart condition?

 

Let us be a Christ-centered and gospel-driven church where the broken are healed and the lost are found. You belong here and so do they. We are God’s Household!
 
Listen to it here.

 

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 21:28–32.

 

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 15:29–30.

[3] Albert Mohler, “Why Moralism Is Not the Gospel — And Why So Many Christians Think It Is” (September 3, 2009). https://albertmohler.com/2009/09/03/why-moralism-is-not-the-gospel-and-why-so-many-christians-think-it-is/ (accessed March 19, 2019).

 

[4] Tim Keller, The Prodigal Son: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (New York, NY: Riverhead Books), 63.

[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 23:27–28.

 

[6] Tripp comments, “You see this dynamic in the Pharisees. Because they thought of themselves as righteous, perfect law givers, they had no problem laying unbearable law burdens on others. Their misuse of the law had its roots not only in bad theology but also in ugly human pride. They saw law keeping as possible, because they thought they were keeping it. And they thought that others should get up and keep it as well as they did. They were the religious leaders of their day, but they were arrogant, insensitive, uncompassionate, and judgmental. They were not part of what God was doing at the moment; no, they were in the way of it” (Paul David Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012], 153).

 

[7] Paul David Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 161–162.

[8] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 18:10–14.

[9] It is amazing how you can appear to be close to God and still be far from Him in your inner attitudes, thoughts, and actions. If you want to do a quick self-diagnostic, here are four gauges you can check.  If you are feeling insecurity, performance anxiety, shame, or are just weary and heavy-burdened, you may be off mission. Here are the four gauges: 1) Insecurity! Every time something goes wrong in your life or a prayer goes unanswered you wonder if it’s because you aren’t living right in a certain area. You have not yet experienced the assurance of your salvation that is 100% grace and 0% works. 2) Performance Anxiety! Criticism from others doesn’t just hurt your feelings, it crushes you. This is because your sense of God’s love is performance-based and you need the approval of others to help you see that you are doing right. You have a hard time experiencing the unconditional love of God for yourself. 3) Shame! You experience irresolvable guilt when you do something wrong. You have a struggle or inability to forgive yourself that comes with a vague sense of shame, if not a strong feeling of condemnation. You do not yet know the justification of Jesus. 4) Weary and Heavy-Burdened! You have a dry prayer life. Not that you don’t pray, you do so dutifully, but it is just that, a duty and not a joy to be in the presence of the Lord and in awe of Him. The yoke with Jesus is ill-fitted and His commandments feel burdensome. You’re not living in the power of the Holy Spirit in and through you. Ideas original to Tim Keller’s, The Prodigal God (72-73).

[10] One reader noted a potential discussion on this topic, posing a different perspective, “An interesting dynamic to explore might be the idea that we harden our hearts as a defense mechanism. Sometimes the vastness of the mission of Christ, the sheer number of people who are lost or unreached is so overwhelming that it feels hopeless. When we hear statistics about abortion, genocide, victims of trafficking, etc., the astronomical figures make us feel hopeless. So the only way to keep us from curling up in a ball on the floor, devastated at the evil, corruption, and despair in the world around us, is to harden our hearts as a defense mechanism.”

[11] In speaking of the Pharisees, “That although they met with so much care, they were worse than harlots and publicans, and by so much” (John Chrysostom, “Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople on the Gospel according to St. Matthew,” in Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. George Prevost and M. B. Riddle, vol. 10, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series [New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888], 415).

[12] Paul David Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 152.


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Belong: We are God’s Family! (Week 3)

Teaching the Next Generations

John 21:15-17

Guest Speaker:  Natalie Werking

These verses in John pick up after Jesus had been walking with His disciples on earth, died on the cross and then was resurrected and returned.  Peter had denied Jesus three times and here Jesus is bringing him back into fellowship.  Jesus asks Peter if he loves him three times.  You can tell it is hurting Peter that he kept asking…  Jesus doesn’t say “Feed my sheep” all three times.  The first time he tells Peter to “feed my lambs”, the young ones under 18.
 
Peter was not exactly youth leader material, right?  He has a hot temper and he denied Jesus three times!  What we have here is a picture of Jesus’ heart.  He asks Peter first to feed His young ones.
 
 
Today we are going to look at Generation Z.  Kids under the age of 20.  They are the majority generation today.  In fact they are the largest generation that has ever lived!  They are not the “next” generation, they are the current generation today!
 

Let’s look at some qualities that help to define Generation Z:

  • Tech Innate. They grew up in this age of technology.  (previously we were tech savvy, tech adept).  They don’t know a world without cell phones.  They can manage five screens at a time.  This is nothing for them.  They spend 5-8 hours a day on screens.  They are sometimes called “screenagers”.  They have access.  They can Google anything.  Their attention span is about 8 seconds (compared to a goldfish which is 9 seconds).  Technology is affecting all of us.  I used to go to Grandma’s house and make cookies and pies with her.  Nowadays she is checking Facebook.
  • Diverse.  They are the most diverse in history.   About half of Generation Z is non-white.
  • Women.  This is the age of women.  More females than ever are going to college.  Rates of females going to college soared last year.  We are seeing a resurgence of feminism.
  • Activists.  They are informed about what is going on in the world and they want to do something about it.  Millennials  before them were sometimes known as “slacktivists”.  They wanted to do something, they just really didn’t want to do something.   With Gen Z we are seeing incredible rates of volunteerism.  They are passionate about causes.
  • Success.  For the first time in history this generation says that their education and professional achievement are number one to them.  “Knowing who I” am is at the top.  Even hobbies and gender identity rank far above family, religion, race, money and politics.
  • DIY.  They want to do things themselves.
  • Morality Shift.  We see a shift in morality for the fist time in about 70 years.  Only about 34% would say that lying is morally wrong.   And they have enormously more choices than ever before.  If you sign up for Facebook you now have 58 gender options to choose from. By comparison, when Ellen came out in 1997 she lost her job and did not work for 6 years.  That wouldn’t happen today if a celebrity made an announcement like this.
  • 4%.   This is how many Gen Z kids claim to have a biblical worldview.  Remember that this generation is the largest in history.  So at a drop of 2% we are still talking about a very large number!
 
Generation Z is a blank slate.  They have no ideas about God.  30% are Nones.  When asked about their religious affiliation they say None.  They won’t grow up and come back to church because they were never there!  Knowing that going to church is the right things to do is becoming less and less – even in the “Bible Belt.”

In the 1960’s, there were 10 things listed as Biblical values.  The general population agreed with about 8 out of 10.  Now there has been a big shift and the distance from these values is much further.  Their questions are answered by Google and Alexa, not the Bible – not even their parents.

They are drawn to the supernatural.  And things are becoming darker.   They are looking for answers.  We are on the verge of a mental crisis.  They are losing their grip on skills for social interaction which makes them ripe for depression and all kinds of other problems.

The church can offer them hope and the answers to a lot of their questions.  We don’t want to be like the older brother in the Prodigal Son story and scorn them and say they don’t deserve better.  We want to reflect the Father’s heart.  We want to love them.
 

Matthew 18:10-14.    Where to Start?  The disciples have been arguing about who is the greatest amount them.  Jesus plops a child in front of them and tells them to be like the child.  He then tells the parable about the lost sheep and then he talks about kids again.  Is Jesus pointing us to kids?  Was anything Jesus said by accident?

He really cares about that one lost kid.  Leave the 99 and go out to find that lost kid.  There are lost out there.  Maybe it’s not about us.  Maybe it’s about them.

Barna’s Research tells us that most people (85%) make their commitment to Christ between the ages of 4 and 14.  From 15 – 30 only 10% and after 30 only 5%.   It’s almost as if Jesus read Barna’s research!

It’s not about us, but about the kids younger than 15.  Many Muslim countries forbid evangelizing kids under age 15.  They know that’s when it is most effective.  They allow adults to go to church – just not kids.  The fact is, if you want to change a country, you start with the kids.

 

 

John 21:3-6A New Reality.  After Jesus revealed himself the disciples were faced with a new reality.  Peter went right back to what his old ways.  He went out to fish.  It was what he knew best.  The other disciples joined him.  They didn’t catch anything that whole night.  Jesus showed up again the next morning and told experienced fishermen where to fish.  They caught more than they could handle.  Same boat.  Same guys.  Same strategy.  They just followed Jesus’ directions and changed location.

The end of John 21 is where I began today.  Jesus told Peter to feed His lambs.

We can stay here in our church and keep fishing, doing our thing.  What if all it takes is a slight location change.  An Easter egg hunt in the city park?  Dive at Parker School?  Where would Jesus have us cast our nets?

Cultural sociologists tell us we are on the verge of a major cultural shift like we haven’t seen since the 1940s.  Businesses are changing the way they reach this generation.  The army is changing the way they recruit this generation.  What will we, the church do to reach Generation Z?

We have a huge generation of young people that is globally connected, loves diversity, is passionate about activism and a good cause.  If we can reach them, I am convinced that they can complete the great commission in their lifetime!

 

Will we just go fishing?  Or will we obey Jesus and go fishing in a different location?  This generation is going to get fired up and change the world.  Will they do it for Jesus?  Don’t just go fishing.  Do whatever it takes to reach Generation Z.  Adjust a little bit for a miraculous catch!
 
Listen to it here.

 


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