SERVE: It’s the Way of Jesus! (Week 3)

“The 5 Steps to Effective Serving!” (Part 1)

(Romans 12:1-8 & Luke 10:25-37)

In the first week of this series we looked at the heart of ministry by looking at the heart of Jesus Christ, who did not come to be served, but to serve. We saw this truth most clearly displayed through His sacrificial death (Philippians 2:3-11), but also through how He washed the feet of His disciples on the night he was betrayed before going to the cross (John 13:5-20). Last week we dove into the heart of what keeps us from serving. We took time to ask God to check our hearts and minds so that we could hear from Him what He would have us do. The concept of being uniquely designed for service was introduced to you—you were created with good works in mind (Ephesians 2:10).

 

In fact, we each have a unique S.H.A.P.E. (Spiritual Gifts, Heart passions, Abilities and talents, Personalities, and Experiences) for service because God created us and saved us to serve. Your form follows your function—to serve according to God’s design! Are you serving effectively?

 

Over the next 2 Sundays, we are going to walk through Romans 12:1-8, where Paul lays out for us the 5 steps for how we are to serve like Jesus served. We are going to learn how to walk in the good works that God prepared in advance for us to do—we are God’s workmanship (Ephesians 2:10), that is who we are!

 

Today, we will cover the first 3 steps and next Sunday we will cover the last 2 of how we each can know we are serving effectively, as according to God’s design and purposes for us.

 

Step 1: Dedicate Your Everyday Life to Jesus!
Romans 12:1 is an invitation to each of us every day, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.”

 

Paul is not talking about your initial conversion to faith in Jesus Christ. He is talking to church people, people who have already made a decision to be disciples. The first step every day for disciples of Jesus Christ is to present themselves to God as living and holy sacrifices, by getting into the yoke of Jesus (Matthew 11:28-30).

 

Jesus gives us this promise from Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

 

This is not only a promise; it is a way of life (a daily praxis). Every promise of God is ours to believe, but also ours to live as a praxis of life (as a lifestyle). I get in the yoke of Jesus each morning with my early morning quiet time (a.k.a. “coffee time with Jesus”) because I know that if I am not in the yoke, then one of my 3 A’s—anxiety, ambition, or ambivalence—will take over and lead my day. It has become such an ingrained habit that a majority of the time I am awake before my 5:30 alarm ready to get in the yoke with Jesus. Before, I used to wake up distracted, filled with anxiety for the work that needs to get done or driven by the impulses of my body, but now I wake up desiring to be with Jesus and once again submit and find rest in His yoke.[1]

 

This is the first and most important step: submit to God, dedicate your day to God’s glory! Just like in spiritual warfare, before you have authority to rebuke the devil, you have to first submit to God (James 4:7). It is in submitting to God that Jesus’ authority and power flow through us.

 

Step 2: Eliminate Competing Distractions!
Romans 12:2 is a daily promise to each of us, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

 

But this promise of God—to know the will of God for your life—like all the promises of God, comes with daily challenges! I am an easily distracted person and I have triggers from my past that must be safe-guarded against. For example, TV for me is like one of those old school bug zappers that was on the back porch when I was growing up. ZAP! If the TV is on, then I am glued to it and being sucked in. ZAP! To stay alive, I have to stay away from it! For me that is eliminating a competing distraction. I don’t know what it is for you, but that is part of what it looks like for me to follow Jesus well. You may have better time management skills or more brain space than me, but I don’t have minutes, nevertheless hours, to invest in someone else’s program for my life. It also saves a lot of money which allows us to be even more generous with both time and money! I realize that not everyone will have the same issues that I have, so I don’t command this. I just ask you, “what are you doing to eliminate those things that are after your brain space, your heart space, your calendar and your checkbook?”

 

Remember Jesus’ words from Matthew 6:19-21, 33a, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.” Friends, we do not serve what we love, we love what we serve!

 

So often, I will tell people that spending minutes a day in Jesus’ program for your life is not enough if you are spending hours in the world’s program for your life. Jesus does not want to be one of your priorities, He wants to be “The Priority”. He doesn’t want to be on the top of your checklist of things to get done today, He wants everything on your checklist to be for Him and through Him. Jesus is a jealous God and will not tolerate idols in His people! Why? Because He loves us and knows that those very idols we serve are killing us from the inside out.

 

Your heart will follow that which you treasure—guard it well! Whatever you feed your mind and heart with will influence you the most. Who are you listening to? Where is your treasure?

 

Step 3: Remain Humble in God’s Grace!
Romans 12:3 teaches us, “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.”

 

Pride comes before the fall. Pride is the ruin of the great servants of God. I have hit the wall of pride and performance in my own life, and I am here to tell you that step #3 is essential to serving in the way of Jesus—be humble in God’s grace! While this is an everyday process, I exhort you to not think more highly of yourself, but as Paul commands us in Philippians 2:3-8,

 

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 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.

 

Having a servant’s heart is critical to serving like Jesus! In fact Jesus said in Matthew 18:3-4, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

 

What does this look like? I will need a whole bunch of children to help me illustrate what this humility looks like. We are going to have some fun to help us all remember today’s lesson.

 

With the children acting out parts, tell the story of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10:25-37.

Being available every day to serve like Jesus is not self-service! We each need to STOP self-serving! The clearest sign of a humble person is not that they think less of themselves, but that they think of themselves less.[2] We need to start being humble servants! It is our willingness to love our neighbor as we love ourselves—by God’s grace! Jesus is our motivation. Grace is our empowerment! Jesus gave you grace so that you can give grace to others! We are blessed to be a blessing! We are saved to serve!
 
Serve Week 3: Listen to it here
 
 
 
 

Footnotes:

 

[1] Do you think you can get to be on time so that you can get up earlier than necessary to start your day by getting in the yoke of Jesus? The following quote reflects the positive ripple effects that come from the spiritual fruit of self-control (Gal. 5:22-23) that can lead to such a morning routine. This is not legalism or an evangelical check list. This is God’s grace to empower the abundant life: “One way in which the self is resourced is through self-discipline. Though it is an unpopular concept in a materialist world propelled by consumerism and expectant of instant gratification, self-control or self-discipline is critical in resilience and can be learnt by practice. Self-control is defined as the self’s ability to alter its states and responses. Since self-control is central to most forms of virtuous behaviour [sic] it can be regarded as the primary or master virtue. It seems to operate like a muscle which is weaker after exertion and replenishes with rest, slowly becoming stronger with repeated exercise and also strengthened by social support. For those in adversity, self-discipline during times of trauma can enable physical escape or psychological protection. After trauma self-discipline helps to deal with anger and hurt, setting boundaries in relationships and the rebuilding of life, as when survivors of childhood trauma make an ongoing, deliberate choice to manage their anger and hurt” (Justine Allain-Chapman, Resilient Pastors: The Role of Adversity in Healing and Growth, New Library of Pastoral Care [London: SPCK, 2012], 28–29).

[2] “The concept of humility is enriched rather than diminished by religious understandings, she argues, because the religious perspective describes one’s place in the world in relation to God, so that one can be smart, but not all-knowing, and have personal power, but not omnipotence. There is a connection between humility and compassion which resonates with the observations already make about empathy. Humility, viewed positively, leads to compassion because of self-forgetfulness, rather than a self-focus that can come with false humility. Thus humility is not a devaluation of oneself but an increase in the valuation of others” (Justine Allain-Chapman, Resilient Pastors: The Role of Adversity in Healing and Growth, New Library of Pastoral Care [London: SPCK, 2012], 32–33).


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SERVE: It’s the Way of Jesus! (Week 2)

“Designed with Service in Mind!”

(Ephesians 2:10)

What is your response to the starving child in Africa commercial? What comes to your mind when you see a person with a card board sign outside of Walmart? What happened inside of your head and heart a month ago when I asked for people to open their homes to a young couple and their 2 children? How do you respond for a request to commit your Saturday morning to help someone move or to bring a dinner to someone in need or go help clean someone’s house? What feelings come up when you are asked to hold babies in the nursery or work with teens one night?

 

Let’s just sit in that for a minute. What happens in your heart when you are asked to do something for someone else that is inconvenient, costly, or uncomfortable?

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SERVE: It’s the Way of Jesus! (Week 1)

“The Example of Jesus!”

John 13:5-17

Parents want what is best for their children so they attempt to give them the very best. I am no different. As a parent, I want my children to grow up to be humble followers of Jesus who love God and express their love to Jesus through their love and service to a local church, their family and community, starting with their spouses and their own kids. I can’t just teach my three children about service; I have to serve them so that they can learn to serve others. I get to model it for them because children learn best through watching someone else do it. We all do!

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Love: It’s who I AM (Week 6)

“The Revealing Love of Jesus!”

(Acts 9:1-19; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13)

The love of Jesus reveals who we are! It is impossible to know the motives of a person’s life, to know what is in a person’s heart, and we must be warned against guessing or presuming to know the mind of another person. Yet, we make evaluations of one another based on words, body language, dispositions, actions, especially when you walk in relationship with a person over time. Our lifestyles reveal who we are and people are always watching.

 

The reality is that we all have bad days and not a single one of us wants to be defined by our worst day. I have bad days at home and I know that Kimberly has 20 years of marriage to measure me by, not just one day. That does not give me permission to give myself over to a bad attitude which leads to me having a bad day, but I know that she will not measure me by that one day. But when I have a bad day at church, especially if it is a Sunday morning service or a leadership meeting, there is nothing scarier because most people don’t know me personally so one day or one conversation or one divergent thought is how I am measured (or at least that is the fear I live with, whether real or not). We all want to be given the benefit of the doubt. We all want people to think the best of us even when we are not at our best. Are we giving others the benefit of the doubt? Are we thinking the best of others, especially when they are having a bad moment?

 

We would be doing what the world can do, on its best day, by giving one another the benefit of the doubt, and trust me, I’ll take that if I can get it from most people on most days. But we are called to do more than give the benefit of the doubt, we are commanded to extend grace – grace that must be extended, not because of a person’s behavior, but despite their behavior. As the church, God intends for us to be a conduit [pull out the garden hose] of His grace to one another (first) and to the world (next). We are to practice and perfect in here who we are called to be out there—love!

 

As one of my friends told me in response to this message, “I can run out of giving ‘the benefit of the doubt’, usually after one or two times, if I base my decisions on other’s performance. The world says, ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.’ We have to be committed to being made foolish time and time again, 70 x 7, in our pursuit of extending grace.”

 

Sound scandalous? It is, because this is how Christ first loved us! It is scandalous because the stakes are high! Our love for one another, for our neighbors, and for our enemies is an essential part of how God is revealing His Kingdom plans to the world! Our theme verse for this sermon series has been 1 John 4:19, “We love, because He first loved us.” This is why for the last 6 weeks we have asked you to wear a red bracelet that proclaims, “Loving others as God first loved us.” Keep wearing this, remember it, memorize it, and most importantly, live it! This is what God is working in you. Through the Holy Spirit, God is working through you to reveal to others the love of Jesus Christ. And as you do this, you will be transformed from the inside out with each act of His love.

 

Our “7:1 Initiative” is an invitation to reveal the love of Jesus in practical ways. It’s a practical application to following Jesus and revealing His love to others! Are we loving well in relationships –who are your 7 people that you are learning to love with a sincere love? 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?

 

[Display the mud-caked sculpture] We have a whole community that needs to know the doors have been opened to God’s love through the church and that they are safe to come be family with us. People who live in our communities will feel invited and welcomed into the church if they already have been welcomed and invited into your family by you revealing the love of Jesus to them in tangible ways. These people, just like you and me, are invited to come to us just the way they are. You don’t need to clean up to come to Jesus, but in order to become a part of Jesus’ plans to transform the world through He love, you must allow His love to change you!

 

We must be transformed by the love of Jesus! Allow me to share a story with you from the Bible that is one of the most famous illustrations of a life transformed by the love of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ: the conversion of Saul, the Jewish Pharisee and persecutor of the church, who became the Apostle Paul, the author of 13 of the books in the New Testament and the great missionary whose missionary work is recorded in the second half of the Book of Acts. Before Paul could reveal the love of Jesus to others, he first had to have his eyes opened by the revealing love of Jesus.

 

Read Acts 9:1-19.

 

[Start water going over sculpture] In this story, who are the 2 primary change agents in Paul’s conversion: 1) Jesus (obviously and very supernaturally!) and 2) Ananias (not so obviously, but instrumental to Paul’s experience). To reinforce what I taught you last week, had Ananias not been obedient to Jesus, especially when it didn’t make sense, we may not have had Paul who played such an essential role in the growth and expansion of the work of Jesus.

 

Your love for another person will reveal to them the truth of who God is and the truth of who they are in God and what God would have them do with their life.

 

Ananias didn’t want to look foolish! He had solid historical reasons to not like Paul because he only knew him as Saul. He didn’t trust him or his intentions and didn’t want to go help him. But when confronted by the revealing love of Jesus, Ananias obeyed Jesus by loving Paul. Ananias is the one who laid hands on Paul to restore his sight. Paul had a power encounter with Jesus that forever opened his eyes (a truth encounter) because Ananias loved Jesus by obeying Him! Ananias was willing to be used as the person who revealed the love of Jesus to Paul. That is both a sincere love and a revealing love!

 

[Reveal the sculpture] After Paul’s eyes are opened by the revealing love of Jesus, Paul goes on to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the known world (Acts 13 – 28). After Paul’s eyes are opened, he makes it his life mission to open the eyes of the world to the love of Jesus. We only have a sketch of his ministry through the books of Acts, and a glimpse of all that he said through the preservation of the 13 letters of Paul in the New Testament. But it is clear that Paul teaches us so many wonderful things about Jesus and how to live as disciples of Jesus. Very directly, one of Paul’s constant themes of being a disciple of Jesus is being a person of love. Because love is the power Jesus uses to transform lives! The love of Jesus in you and then through you will reveal to others who you are in Christ, but also who they can be in Christ. You never know how your consistent steady life of love can change another person’s life and outlook on life.

 

Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. Can you personalize this scripture to your own life? How is God’s Spirit working in you to love people more and more like Jesus first loved us? What are some areas in your life right now where you need God’s grace to give you a fresh opportunity?

 

Your actions, words, dispositions, attitudes, and life will always reveal something, you are always sending a message. What does your life reveal?
 
 
 
Love Week 6: Listen to it here
 
 
 
 

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Love: It’s who I AM (Week 5)

“The Sincere Love of Jesus!”

1 Peter 1:22-25; Luke 22:31-34 & John 21:15-17

From which of these cups would you prefer to drink a glass of water?
 
 
[With 2 cups on a stand (one clean and one visibly dirty) pour water from a newly opened water bottle into each.]

 

Why? Because one cup is clean and one is dirty—the delivery system matters! You could have the best product in the world, but if it’s not delivered properly, then the message is lost…

 

You could have the best of intentions in how you are going to demonstrate love to another person, but if you aren’t a clean vessel you could end up hurting someone or pushing someone away. Love is like preaching: Great content is not enough, delivery matters.

 

What dirties our cups when it comes to love? Children raised in a deeply dysfunctional family find it difficult to navigate conflict or to believe yelling (or physical hitting) are acceptable ways to deal with anger. People who have found success in life by stepping on others find it nearly impossible to empathize with other people’s needs. Flatterers flatter. Gossips gossip. Neither sees what they are doing is unloving and hurtful. A person who has been deeply betrayed by a parent, boss, coworker, pastor, friend, spouse, or family member finds it difficult to trust again and interpret other people’s actions through their own wounds. The deeper our hurts, the deeper our fears, the more difficult it is to be a clean vessel of love, even as Christians. We all know it is true: hurt people, hurt people!

 

We see what dirties our cup, so now let’s turn to how our cups are cleaned so that we can love with a sincere love. The Apostle Peter teaches,

 

Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All flesh is like grass, And all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, And the flower falls off, But the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word which was preached to you.[1] (italics added for emphasis; all caps are part of the formatting of NASB to show an OT quote)

 

While yes, this passage does say that we are to fervently love one another, in other words love one another from the heart with our whole being, the emphasis is not how passionately you love, but with what you are loving— a sincere love for the other! According to the BDAG Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament sincere means, “without pretense, genuine, literally ‘without play-acting.’”[2]  It’s got to be the real deal, pure as if from the Source!

We are to have an overflowing love that flows from the Source and out of a cleaned cup. A cup that is purified through “obedience to the truth.” A cleansed vessel comes first through the forgiveness of God in Jesus Christ and then through our forgiveness of others, firsts through the receiving of grace and then through the giving of grace to others. Apart from Jesus, out of His yoke and out of the Father’s will, none of us can love with a genuine love that comes from God. This is the ongoing work of His Holy Spirit in and through us to obey the teachings of Jesus.

 

You have heard me say: “Hurt people, hurt people. Forgiven people, forgive people!”

 

How do we love with a sincere love? How can we do any of this since we are all affected by the dirt of our families of origin, the brokenness of our own choices, the woundedness of other people’s choices, and the general hot mess that is our culture and world that we live in? 

 

Jesus gave us the answer to this by not only His example, but by His very commands to us: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”[3] A sincere love must be purified of all boasting, arrogance, vanity, and selfish gain by following Jesus’ example and putting aside yourself for the other. You cannot love others sincerely when self-interests dominate your life!

 

When you want to hold a grudge against someone, obey Jesus and forgive. When you want to make yourself look better by talking about another person, obey Jesus and keep your mouth shut. When you want to lie, steal, or cheat to get ahead, obey Jesus and be content. When you want to disrespect someone under your authority or disobey someone in authority over you, submit to Jesus! This is the only way for your love to become sincere! By obeying Jesus in every area of your life, you will be forced to die to self, to your own pride and reputation, you will be forced out of your comfort zone and into God’s care for you. This is where your cup is cleaned.

 

This kind of love doesn’t come naturally for any of Jesus’ original followers. Let’s look at the story of Peter who taught us this command. Peter was a proud and boastful man. Jesus said to Peter after one such episode in Luke 22:31-34, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” But he said to Him, “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!” And He said, “I say to you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me.”[4]

 

Peter had expressed a boastful love that we all know led him to betray Jesus when in the crucible of circumstances. Peter had to be broken before he could be used. He was chosen of God, personally trained by Jesus, but still not ready for the social responsibilities of leading the early church, We too, just like Peter and the original apostles and every disciple since to this day, must go through the crucible of circumstances to learn what a sincere love truly is. The world teaches us a political love, but Jesus must purify us to love not as the world does, but as He does!
 
Watch how Jesus cleans the cup of Peter for a life of ministry service. Listen to John 21:15-17,
 

So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.[5]

 

A sincere love is a purified love, one that has been stripped of our desire to use other people, to flatter people for our gain and not their good, to talk about people for our gain and not with their permission, to take from others instead of giving. Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 13:3-8a,

 

And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.[6]

 

God’s love is a cleansing power at work in us and God desires for it be a powerful force in the world through us. When we fall short of giving the kind of love that God first gave us, we then go to root of the issue so that He can cleanse our cup. We want to be clean vessels of God’s sincere love. Jesus Christ loves us with this kind of perfect love and though we fall short, it is God’s will that we love His way, to be like the great I AM, to love sincerely.

 

Throughout this sermon, I have been using the imagery of a clean versus dirty cup. I didn’t come up with the imagery on my own. I borrowed it from the master teacher. Jesus once said to a very religious and moral audience in Matthew 23:25-28,

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. 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.[7]

 

Jesus is asking us to be sincerely in love with Him and in turn sincerely love others! Do you know what Jesus Christ has done for you to show you love and forgiveness? Have you experienced the grace of God at the Cross? When you encounter this love, you are transformed!

Our theme verse for this sermon series is 1 John 4:19, “We love, because He first loved us.”[8] This is why for the last 5 weeks we have asked you to wear a red bracelet that proclaims, “Loving others as God first loved us.” Wear this, remember it, memorize it, and most importantly, live it! This is what God is working in you. Are your daily decisions working in agreement with God’s goal for you to be a clean cup of His sincere love?

 

We ask that you put this value into action through the “7:1 Initiative”. It’s a practical application to following Jesus! Are we loving well in relationships –who are your 7 people that you are learning to love with a sincere love? 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 have a whole community that needs to know the doors have been opened and they are safe to come be family with us. They will feel invited and welcomed into the church if they already have been welcomed and invited into your family by you loving them with a sincere love.
 
Love Week 5:  Listen to it here
 
 

FOOTNOTES:

 

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, 1 Pe 1:22–25.

[2] BDAG states, “ἀνυπόκριτος, ον (s. ὑποκρίτης; school. on Aristoph., Av. 798; Iambl., Vi. Pyth. §69, 188 αἰδώς; Ps.-Demetr., De Eloc. 194; Wsd 5:18; 18:15) pert. to being without pretense, genuine, sincere, lit. ‘without play-acting’ ἀγάπη (ApcSed 1:4) Ro 12:9; 2 Cor 6:6. φιλαδελφία 1 Pt 1:22. πίστις 1 Ti 1:5; 2 Ti 1:5. σοφία Js 3:17.—DELG s.v. κρίνω. M-M. TW. Spicq” (William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000], 91). The Apostle Paul about love states in Romans 12:9, “Let love be without hypocrisy”[2] and in 2 Corinthians 6:6 calls it “genuine love”; about faith in 1 Timothy 1:5, “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith”; and about wisdom by James in James 3:17, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.”

[3] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 14:15.

[4] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 22:31–34.

[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 21:15–17.

[6] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, 1 Co 13:3–8.

[7] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 23:25–28.

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


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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.
 
Love Week 3:  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 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’?  
 
 
Love Week 1:  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!
 
 
Belong Week 8:  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?
 
Belong Week 7:  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…
 
Belong Week 6:  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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