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

“The 5 Steps to Effective Serving!”

(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!
 
 

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).


Read more...

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?

Read more…


Read more...

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!

Read more…


Read more...

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?
 
 
 
Listen to it here
 
 
 
 
 

Read more...

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.
 

Read more...

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.
 

Read more...

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.


Read more...

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.


Read more...

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.


Read more...

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).


Read more...
^