Responding to the Presence of Jesus – Week 7

The Unavoidable Consequence of the Presence of God

I love science – creation is so COOL! And the universe that God created contains some very strange and wonderful surprises. One of those surprises is holography.

 

Any Star Wars fans here? Remember the scene from the first (or fourth) movie – A New Hope? “Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi! You’re my only hope.” That was a holographic movie, which exists in the science fiction world of Hollywood, but not quite yet in real life – however, they’re getting closer. What we do have today is holograms – holographic still images.

 

A photograph is a two-dimensional representation of real life, and a hologram is a three-dimensional representation of real life. The photograph looks the same no matter what angle you look at it. The image in a hologram actually appears to rotate three-dimensionally as you change the angle that you look at it.

 

When a photograph is cut in half you only see half of the picture. The cool thing is that when you cut a hologram in half, the whole scene can still be seen in each piece – you just see less of it at one time.

 

In a similar way, the Word of God is like a hologram. The Bible as a whole presents an overarching storyline from Genesis to Revelation. When you look at scripture in smaller chunks, and explore it from different angles, you get a glimpse of the whole story. And whether you know it or not, we’ve been doing that for the last six weeks as we talked about “Responding to the Presence of Jesus!”

 

Let’s do a quick recap …

 

Responding to the Presence of Jesus Series

 
Week 1. The Manifest Presence of God – Matthew 18:20
Matthew 18:15, 20 – “If your brother sins, goI am there with you.”

Exodus 33:12, 14 – “You say to me, ‘Bring up this people!’ But you yourself have not let me know whom you will send with me … ‘My presence will go with you.’”

Isaiah 6:1, 8 – “I saw the Lord … and the train of his robe filled the temple … and the Lord said, ‘Who shall I send?’”

 

Week 2. Truly Follow – Faithfully Obeying the Lord by Loving Others Well – If/Then – Philippians 2:1-5

John 13:34-35 – “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

 

Week 3. The Rule of God’s Peace – Colossians 3:15-17; Philippians 4:7-9

Philippians 4:8-9 – “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

 

Week 4. A Temple of God’s Presence – Living Stones – Royal Priesthood, Chosen Race, Holy Nation, Precious Possession – 1 Peter 2:4-12; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

1 Peter 2:9 – “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

 

Week 5. Love is the Source, the Way, and the Motive – 1 Corinthians 12:31

1 John 4:9-12 – “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”

 

Week 6. Dressed for God’s Glory – Holiness – Colossians 3:12-17

1 Peter 2:9-10 – “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

 

As we look back, we see that every week, when we talked about the presence of God from different perspectives, it always resulted in God sending people to do or say something. Why was that? What is it about the presence of God that results in people going somewhere and doing something?

 

We‘ve touched on one image several times – that God calls us to be a royal priesthood – people who represent God in the world and intercede on the world’s behalf. What might surprise you is that this image – people who represent God in the world – is a thread that runs throughout scripture.

 

Pastor Jerry mentioned last week about the rebellion in Genesis 11 at the Tower of Babel. God divided the nations (Deuteronomy 32:8-9), but He didn’t give up on them (Acts 17:26-27). He immediately chose Abram (Abraham) and supernaturally created a nation of God’s own possession (Genesis 12).

 

Genesis 12:1-3 – Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

 

God promises Abraham that all the nations, the nations He had just divided, will be blessed because of his family. God was going to bless the rest of humanity through Abraham and his descendants. Fast forward to the Exodus, and how God delivered Abraham’s descendants (now called Israel) from Egypt. Three months after God parted the sea and defeated the armies of Egypt they were now at the foot of Mt. Sinai.

 

Exodus 19:3-6 – … The LORD called to [Moses] out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”

 

God recommissions Israel to go into the chaos and emptiness of the rest of the fallen world and be His representatives to the nations – a kingdom of priests – to bring order and fullness.

 

Unfortunately, this effort (to be a kingdom of priests) stumbles along in fits and starts and, eventually, ends with Israel (now a divided nation) in exile. Now fast-forward to the New Testament. Jesus is beginning his ministry and in Luke chapter 4 we see Jesus standing in the synagogue reading from the book of Isaiah, chapter 61:
 

 

Isaiah 61:1-6 (Luke 4:16-22- Also quoting from Isaiah 42:7; 49:(6) 8, 58:6) –

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,

because the LORD has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor;

he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives,

and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,

 

 

(But if you read further down in v.6 what do we see?)

 

6 but you shall be called the priests of the LORD;

they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God;

 

Here at the beginning of His ministry, Jesus signals that by the end of His ministry on Earth, there will be a group of people who will be called priests of the Lord – Ministers of our God – accomplishing the will of God “on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

 

Then at his ascension into Heaven three years later he says …Matthew 28:18-20
 
“…All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

You might remember in Week 1, Pastor Jerry used this verse to highlight that we “gather to scatter.” Jesus recommissions His people, now identified as the church, to go into the chaos and emptiness of the rest of the fallen world and be His representatives to the nations – a Kingdom of Priests.

 

And ten days later, on the day of Pentecost, Peter quotes from the book of Joel to explain what’s going on.

 

Joel 2:28-29 (Acts 2:17-22) –
 
“And it shall come to pass afterward,

that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;

your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

your old men shall dream dreams,

and your young men shall see visions.

29 Even on the male and female servants

in those days I will pour out my Spirit.

 

The Holy Spirit now empowers the people of God so that they can truly be a Kingdom of Priests – representing God in the world – bringing wholeness where there is chaos and fruitfulness where there is barrenness. Look at Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

 

Galatians 3:23-29 – Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

 

We are heirs of Abraham according to the promise. What was the promise? That all of the nations of the world would be blessed through his descendants. God wants to bless the world through us! And this thread goes all the way through the rest of scripture into Revelation.

 

Revelation 1:4-6 – John to the seven churches that are in Asia:

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

 

Revelation 5:8-10 – And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals,

for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God

from every tribe and language and people and nation,

10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,

and they shall reign on the earth.

 

But we still have a question. Why is this such a big deal to God? Why Is having a Kingdom of Priests so important to God? Let’s go back to the beginning … like “In the beginning …” Genesis chapter 1

 

God’s Original Commission and Creation

v.2 The Earth was, in Hebrew, “tohu wa vohu” – Without Form and Void – wild and waste – unformed and uninhabited – Dark Waters – chaos and emptiness.

 

  1. Day 1 – Light and darkness – Order
  2. Day 2 – Sky – Waters above from Waters below – Order
  3. Day 3 – Land – Waters from Dry Land – Order
  4. Day 4 – Sun, Moon, Stars – Filling
  5. Day 5 – Birds, Fish – Filling
  6. Day 6 – Land Animals – Humans – Filling
  7. Day 7 – Rest – Sabbath

 

The Spirit of God hovers over the chaos of a wild and waste world and brings order and fullness.

 

The Commission

Gen 1:26-28
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.

 

God commissions humans to go into the rest of the world and have dominion. This is a word that I’ve struggled with as a Christian, but recently I discovered my struggle was with how I defined dominion. Dominion is a Biblical word that means to bring order and fullness to a world of chaos and emptiness – to be God’s representatives and continue to do what He had done in creation.

 

But there was the fall – a rebellion. But notice, the commission for humanity never changed.

 

There was actually a second rebellion at the beginning of Genesis 6 that we don’t have time to get into this morning, but that brought about the flood. And after the flood …

Gen 9:1, 7And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.

7 And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.”

 

God recommissions humans (Noah and his family) to go into the chaos and emptiness of this “newly washed” world and have dominion – bring order and fullness. To be His representatives and continue to do what He had done in creation.

 

It is in God’s response to these two rebellion accounts that we see the Passion of God. What does He want?

 

He Wants To Partner With Us In Accomplishing His Will On Earth

 

When God thought about creating humans, His plan, His perfect will, was to create us to be Stewards of God’s Creation, Bringing Order and Fullness, and Accomplishing God’s Will “On Earth As It Is In Heaven”

 

Even after Sin, even after Rebellion (both in Heaven and on Earth) God’s plan never changed. But to accomplish His initial plan, He now needed a rescue plan.

 

How was God going to accomplish this rescue plan? Here again we can see it in fractals all throughout scripture, but I think it is best seen in this passionate response that God gives in Ezekiel 34:11-12 –

“For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold (LOOK!), I …, I MYSELF will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.”

 

The Rescue Mission of God is to search for His lost sheep – To seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).

 

And this is where we discover the Two Calls of God that he issues to every individual:

Call #1 – Come & Repent – Why? So that He can Reconcile Us To Himself and Restore Us to the Family – Reconciled and Restored by Grace alone!

 

Call #2 – Go & Represent – Why? So that we can fulfill God’s initial plan, to bring order where there is chaos, and to bring fullness where there is barrenness, AND to partner with God to accomplish His rescue plan, by Recognizing and Living Out Our Identity.

And What Is Our Identity? – Priests in the Kingdom of God Representing Him to the World

 

1 Peter 2:9-10 – “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

 

We have seen all throughout this series that The Presence of God in our lives will ALWAYS propel us to be on Mission for God. Why? Because that is His passion.

 

The Holy Spirit was not given to the church just so we could feel good. The Holy Spirit was given to the church to equip us to function as priests in the Kingdom of God Representing Him to the World.

 

Jesus didn’t die to save us so that we could simply sit around and wait to go to Heaven. That was never in the mind or heart of God. That’s a false, self-centered image.

 

Jesus died to save us so that we could join Him in the rescue mission for lost image bearers. Jesus died to save us so that we could partner with Him in bringing order to the chaos we find in the world. Jesus died so that we could partner with Him in bringing fullness where there is barrenness in the world.

 

Remember the quote from C.S. Lewis’ the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? Mr. Beaver whispers to the children, “They say Aslan is on the move – perhaps has already landed.” Scripture is clear, we serve a God who is continually on the move.

 

Unavoidable Consequence of the Presence of God

 

The Unavoidable Consequence of the Presence of God is that when you attach yourself to God, you attach yourself to someone on the move.

 

The Presence of God is not static . The Presence of God does not just stand still and wait for us to find Him. The God of the universe is in pursuit of you and me and when we finally see that, and embrace Him, we also embrace His ongoing mission.

 

A Christian who does not see themselves as a priest in the Kingdom of God, who is not fully committed to the Passion and Mission of God, is a Christian with spiritual Alzheimer’s. That person has forgotten who she, and who God created her to be. And God is moving on – with or without us – His Passion will not allow Him to stay and coddle us. There are more image bearers that need rescued! The AMAZING thing is that God’s passion is to partner with us in that mission!

The call on your life and my life is the same now as it has always been.

 

Come & Repent, AND then Go & Represent.

 

Our difficulty is that we’ve focused so much on the first part of the call – Come & Repent – that we’ve either forgotten the call to Go & Represent or we were never taught how to do it – And THAT’s a discipleship problem.

 

So, what does Go & Represent look like?
 
Let’s go back to the beginning …

 

A world without the rule of God is “tohu wa vohu” – wild and waste – without form and void – chaos and emptiness. God wants us to see it, and then work to accomplish God’s will “on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

 

Look at your family. Is there wild and waste – chaos and emptiness? What can you do to bring the rule of Christ to your family? What can you do to reduce the chaos and fill the emptiness? Not in a heavy-handed way, but with the Spirit of Christ, operating out of His loving-kindness.

 

Look at your neighborhood. Is it “tohu wa vohu”? You are the temple of the Holy Spirit – where Heaven meets Earth. What can you do to make your neighborhood more like Heaven and less like the chaos we find in the world?

 

In your work responsibilities, have you allowed God to help you establish your priorities in how you accomplish your work? Can you imitate what God did in creation and make a difference, in your workplace or in your coworkers, and step back and say, “This is good!”?

 

Can you look at your world, and find ways to make disciples, teaching them to live and act the way Christ taught us to live and act? Isn’t that the Great Commission?

 

There is a lot wrong with the world – and you are NOT responsible for fixing EVERYTHING. But what are the things you ARE responsible for? Where do YOU have authority? What have YOU been given to steward?

 

If you have already responded to the “Come & Repent call” then you represent God in the world. What does God see when He looks through your eyes? What would God do if He could work through your hands? Where would God go if He could walk in your shoes? How would Jesus pray if He heard what you heard?

 

You are image bearers of the Creator King. You carry the only name that can rescue people from darkness and bring them into His glorious light. You are the temple of God. The Holy Spirit dwells inside you. The Unavoidable Consequence of the Presence of God is that He is on the move. His passion has not changed or diminished from the beginning of creation. God so loved the world that He sent His Son to deliver us from the chaos and emptiness that imprisons us.

 

And the Presence of God in us impels us to Go. To do anything else is to tarnish His image and to bring shame to His name. To refuse to Go, is to desecrate His temple and to quench the Holy Spirit.

 

Come & Repent. Go & Represent. This is the passion and mission of God.

 

If you have not responded to that FIRST call on your life, now is the time to do it – Come & Repent. Be reconciled to God. Be grafted back into the Family. God’s passion is for you to be restored to the position that He designed you to hold – as a priest in the Kingdom of God.

 

If you have responded to the first call, have you heard and responded to the SECOND call? Go & Represent. You are a priest in the Kingdom of God. God’s passion, from the beginning of creation, is to partner with you in transforming the world. He’s given you His Holy Spirit. He has gifted you with Spiritual Gifts. You are the Temple of the Holy Spirit and every place you set your foot is a place where Heaven meets Earth.

 

God is on the move, and He has called you to be part of that adventure! Answer His call this morning.

 

 
 
 

You can listen to the message here.

 

You can watch the message HERE.

 

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Responding to the Presence of Jesus – Week 6

“Dressed for God’s Glory!”

Key Verses:  Colossians 3:12-17  (NAS95)

 

Two weeks ago, I focused on an important teaching from 1 Peter 2. Today, I am going to leap off of one specific identity marker from this amazing teaching from Peter. Listen to 1 Peter 2:4-5,
“And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
 
And 1 Peter 2:9-10,
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

 

The identity marker we are going to focus on today is that we are called to be a holy and royal priesthood. First, we will look at the big picture of what this means and then we will look at two applications of being a holy and royal priest.

 

Remember, this teaching fits under the larger teaching that we are the Temple of the Holy Spirit—the restored Image Bearers of God’s Presence to the World. Our overarching purpose is always the glory of God—making His Presence known! As Peter stated in verse 1 Peter 2:9, royal priests “proclaim the excellencies of Him who has you out of darkness and into His marvelous light.”

 

Let’s examine our identity as a holy and royal priesthood:

 

Furthermore, of all the Israelites, God specifically chose the Levites to be the priests to a holy nation of priests. Listen to Deuteronomy 10:8-9,
“At that time the Lord set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the Lord, to stand before the Lord to serve Him and to bless in His name until this day. Therefore, Levi does not have a portion or inheritance with his brothers; the Lord is his inheritance, just as the Lord your God spoke to him.”

 

Just as the specific family of the Levites was chosen to specifically function as the priests of Israel (intercessors between God and the Israelites), so the people of God in general (in this case the Israelites, but later also including the Church) were to function as priests to all of creation (intercessors between God and the “nations” (Gentiles; the rest of humanity). This has been God’s game plan since Genesis 11 and the separation of the nations. And we see this story thread from Genesis all the way through Revelation. This is why Israel was chosen, why the Law and the systems of worship and sacrifice were given, and why Jesus came as Messiah.

 

From the beginning, priests served as a set-apart family line of people who administered the people’s responsibilities in the covenant between God and man. In other words, they brought the people to God through the established systems of worship and sacrifice. They dressed in distinctive ways, worked to maintain the Temple and the systems of sacrifice and intercession, and had a close relationship with the administration of the society. All to preserve God’s prescribed way to experience the presence of God and live in His covenant love.

 

When you understand the theocratic nature of Israel, then you will see there is a symbiotic relationship between the work of the religious system (right worship and right sacrifices) done by the priests and the administrating systems of the kings (right justice and right living). This explains why an evil king could so easily lead the priests into false worship practices, and vice versa. The relationship was not meant to be dualistic or parasitic, but completely integrated and mutualistic—the right functioning of the priests brings thriving to the community as a whole and as the community as a whole thrives that brings greater glory to God in worship and sacrifice!

 

Briefly, an example of how the priests functioned within the larger community thriving was Deuteronomy 21:5
“Then the priests, the sons of Levi, shall come near, for the Lord your God has chosen them to serve Him and to bless in the name of the Lord; and every dispute and every assault shall be settled by them.”

 

With that simple understanding of priests being holy (set apart by God’s choosing) and royal (authorized through family lineage and in partnership with the King), let’s examine two applications for our everyday lives. Priests must do two things: (1) Dress the part and (2) Make right sacrifices for the glory God.

When you combine these two applications, you get today’s sermon title: “Dressed for God’s Glory!”

 

Priests dress the part in order to fit in!  That woke someone up… LOL! Please know that I’m not talking about women having to wear dresses and long hair and men having to wear suits with short hair.

 

Just as priests were “holy” (set apart for God’s purposes) by their distinctive dress and behavior, we are called to be “holy” (set apart for God’s purposes) which will result in us being different because of God’s presence.

 

If we are each a living stone, that means we have been quarried from death and brought to a new life through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. As new creations in Christ, we each must be dressed so that we can be fit together with other living stones to build the Temple of God’s Living Presence in the world.

 

All quarried stones must be “dressed” in order to fulfill their purpose in being chosen. Listen to an excerpt from an article on how to dress a quarried stone (https://civilseek.com/dressing-of-stones/):

 

Stone found in nature, have to be quarried from their thick beds. After quarrying large pieces of rocks, it is essential to break them into smaller sizes so that they can be used in buildings. A place where exposed surfaces of good quality natural rocks are abundantly available is known as “quarry,” and the process of taking out stones from the natural bed is known as “quarrying.” This is done with the help of hand tools like a pickaxe, chisels, etc., or with the help of machines. … The dressing of stones is important so that they are dressed in suitable shapes and polished to give a smooth surface if desired. The stones are used in different types of masonry; therefore, it has to be cut and shaped to fit in the type of work needed.

 

According to this article on dressing stones, there are 3 purposes for doing so and each can be highlighted by Paul’s words in Colossians 3:12-17:

 

For the first purpose listen to verses 12-13,
“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.”

 

The first purpose of dressing a stone is: “to reduce the size.” We must decrease so that Christ can increase in and through us. The Holy Spirit dresses our heart character; we are transformed by the renewing of our minds so that our conduct is representative of being a new creation in Christ. The old must chipped off layer by layer!   

 

Secondly, listen to Colossians 3:14-15,
“Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.”

 

The second purpose of dressing a stone is: “to give a proper shape.” We do not fit together in our old ways of thinking and living. The perfect bond of unity, our fitting together, is dependent on our absolute submission to the Head and our mutual submission to one another as fellow members of His body. What binds us together is not ourselves, but the love and peace of Christ that we must be dressed in. Once again, the old ways of selfishness and anxious living must be chipped off layer by layer.

 

For the third and final purpose, listen to Colossians 3:16-17,
“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”

 

The third purpose of dressing a stone is: “to give an appealing finish.” Our lives are about the glory of God through us! And this leads us directly into our primary function as a holy and royal priesthood: Priests offer right sacrifices for the glory of God! We are to lead the nations into right worship to the one true God!

 

With all this mind, I now want you to listen to Paul teach us very practically in Romans 12:

 

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. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove [by testing you may discern] what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect [mature]. 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. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

 

We are to offer right service to God and that is called worship!  Worship is more than a Sunday service and much more than a music style. Right worship bring God glory and that is what priests offer to a community. If we are to bring glory to God through right worship, it must start with each of us offering ourselves as living sacrifices, what Paul calls a “spiritual service of worship.” This is God’s reasonable expectation of His priests.

 

That is our identity and purpose as a holy and royal priesthood. This is how we are to respond to the presence of God. We are to be dressed for God’s glory and lead others into His presence by the way we live our lives for Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 
 
 
 

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Responding to the Presence of Jesus – Week 5

“Love is the Source, the Way, and the Motive!”

Key Verse:  1 Corinthians 12:31  (NASB)

 

Last week, in the sermon, I mentioned as an aside what the Lord would have me unpack in more detail today: Love is the source, the way, and the motive of all that we do as the Church of Jesus Christ!

 

Paul concludes 1 Corinthians 12 with verse 31,
“But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.”

 

Paul is teaching the new believers in Corinth how to be the Church of Jesus Christ. In chapter 11 he discusses communion and orderly worship, in chapter 12 he begins his discussion on spiritual gifts and the body imagery of the church that he then completes in chapter 14. Very often, and to our own demise, chapters 11, 12, and 14 are discussed divorced from chapter 13—the love chapter. What does chapter 13 have to do with taking communion, orderly worship services, healthy church life, or the ministry of the spiritual gifts after all?

 

Well, I’ll tell you what—when you divorce love from practical and spiritual conversations you get tens of thousands of church denominations characterized by church splits. You get a lot of broken people, broken families, and broken churches. In short, you get what we have! Why? Because we put Chapter 13 up on the wall as a poem, instead of in our hearts as the heartbeat of our lives!

 

Today, we are going to return Chapter 13 to its rightful place—not as an interlude of flowery poetry, but the very heartbeat and schematic of the church and the Christian life!  

 

Chapter 13 describes the “more excellent way,” that Paul states in 1 Corinthians 12:31! Paul starts it off in verses 1-3 with a shocking teaching,
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 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 the Source, the Way, and the Motive of the spiritual life—for both the gathered church and the individual Christian as a member of the body of Christ! Let’s take each of these one at a time:

 

Love is the Source: Love, according to Paul is the “more excellent way”! Love is greater than tongues, prophecy, knowledge, miracles, sacrifice, and even martyrdom. How is that possible? I’ll tell you why! Because God cares about the what flows out of your heart—in your own life, in relationships, in ministry, in church work, in all things!

 

Remember what King Solomon taught us in Proverbs 4:23,
“Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.”
 
Who is the source of the springs of your life? Here is the answer:
God’s presence is supposed to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).

 

The Beloved Disciple, John, explains to us what is looks like for God to be our Source. Listen to 1 John 4:7-21

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. 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.

 

We must always ensure that Love is the Source and that means that God is the Source.

 

James teaches us in James 1:17,
“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

 

Love is not only the Source, Love is the Way: In 1 Corinthians 12:31, Paul calls love the most excellent way!

 

It is important to note that Jesus Christ, who is the fullness of God dwelling amongst us, said of Himself,
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

 

Examining the context of Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 12—14, Jesus does not call us to a life of promoting the spiritual gifts or even the church, but a life of utilizing the spiritual gifts to promote (“lift up” or “exalt”) the name of Jesus Christ through the proclamation of His Gospel. That is the purpose of the Church, remembering our lesson from last week,
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
 
When you know your identity in Christ, then your attitudes and actions will flow from that central place of His Lordship.

 

Paul focuses us on the way with two key passages: 1 Corinthians 14:12 states,
“So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.”
 
And in verse 26,
“When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.”

 

These are key verses in understanding the purpose of spiritual gifts—to build up and strengthen His Church. We are living stones that make up the Temple of God’s presence in the world and we are members of His body so that the world may see His presence. Spiritual gifts and how we gather and conduct ourselves are all for this same reason—to make Him known! To draw people to Him!

 

Spiritual Gifts are given by the Source of love to live in the way of Jesus!

 

The best examples of the way of love are found in the major events of the Christian faith:
(1) Christmas (the incarnation);
(2) Good Friday (the atonement);
(3) Easter (the resurrection); and
(4) Pentecost (the birth of the Church).
 
These are all signs of God’s love poured out for us and poured into us. Because of God’s faithfulness in the past, we await the completion of His love with the New Heaven and New Earth. We are still awaiting the completion of love, but we know that the Day is coming.

 

Until that Day, we gather as the Church and use His spiritual gifts as witnesses to the Way of Jesus Christ. We are to put on display the character of Jesus Christ, called the “Fruit of the Spirit” by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23. Not surprising, first out of the block on the character of Jesus Christ is: “love” followed by “joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”

 

This is what it means to follow Jesus!

 

We must expand this teaching! I do so because the “Fruit of the Spirit” is grammatically a collective whole and not 9 individual fruits: If we do anything, no matter how spectacular for Jesus or how accurate to the Word we think it is… If we do anything without love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control, then that work or sermon or debate is “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1).

 

It’s empty! Because the source must be love and the way must be love and the motive must be love.

 

Love is the Motive of all that we do as the Church of Jesus Christ: The building up the Church is our motive because the Church is the Body of Christ—it is built up and held together only by love. The Body of Christ requires each member to live a life of love mutually submission to one another and complete dependence upon Christ who is the head of the Church.

 

Love is our Source, Love is the Way, and Love is our Motivation!

 

As Paul says in Colossians 3:23-24,
“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”

 

Check your motives…

 

Check your ways… your attitudes and actions…

 

Check your heart… Who is sitting on the throne of your life—your identity and your decision making?

 

Holy Spirit, search me and know me… we invite you to refine us with Your fire Heavenly Father…
 
 
 
 
 

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Responding to the Presence of Jesus – Week 4

“A Temple of God’s Presence”

Key Verses:  1 Peter 2:4-12 & 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NASB)

 

Peter teaches us from 1 Peter 2:4-12,

And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For this is contained in Scripture: “Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, “The stone which the builders rejected, This became the very corner stone,” and, “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense”; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.

 
 

Every believer in Christ is a living stone shaped to fit into God’s temple in a way that uniquely contributes to the spiritual vitality of others, the witness of the Church, and ultimately the glory of God.

 

God uses each of us uniquely to make the Temple of His Presence on the earth!

 

Peter, uses a term near and dear to his heart, when he calls us “living stones” for Peter himself was called “the rock” by Jesus Christ. Listen to Matthew 16:18, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build by My church.”

 

Upon the confession of the first followers, Jesus is building His Temple on earth—to be a Tabernacle of Praise unto God the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:16,
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”
 
Listen again to 1 Corinthians 6:19-20,
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”

 

You and I are in the midst of the greatest and oldest construction project in all of human history. Christ is taking dead stones that are being quarried from the pit of sin, brought to life as “living stones,” and fitted into His glorious structure. 

 

Listen to the Apostle Paul also teach this in Ephesians 2:17-22,
“And [Christ] came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

 

To emphasize the deep importance of who you are as individual members of the Church, both Paul and Peter anchors this major New Testament teaching in the Old Testament—Psalm 118:22; Isaiah 8:13-15 & 28:16; Deuteronomy 7:6-9; and Exodus 19:5-6. In doing so, both Paul and Peter are saying that the Church is carrying on the work of the Chosen People of God and each stone (Jew or Gentile, old or new) is now a part of the divine building project with a new cornerstone—Jesus Christ, the new Moses who is the embodiment of Torah. 

 

Please understand that becoming a stone in a building of countless stones doesn’t detract from your significance. In fact, it enhances it! You are a key piece in the plan of God… without you, the building loses its structural integrity—the structure would be weaker without you! With Jesus as the Cornerstone, you are fitted exactly where you are supposed to be—you are the Temple of His Presence! 

 

To illustrate, there is a famous story from Sparta. A Spartan king boasted to a visiting monarch about the walls of Sparta. The visiting king looked around and he could see no walls. He said to the Spartan king, “Where are these walls about which you speak and boast so much?”  The Spartan king pointed at his bodyguard of magnificent Spartan troops. “These,” he said, “are the walls of Sparta, and every man of them is a brick.”[1]

 

You have been quarried, chosen, and shaped. You are being fitted together into the Temple of God’s Presence and only in this process of being built up together does each individual brick realize its function and reason for its existence.

 

Knowing our identity as the Temple of His Presence gives us the strength, courage, and purpose to stand out from the world and shine for God’s glory. As Peter says of us in verse 9: “proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

 
Truly, when Peter wrote this letter, he was reflecting not just on how Jesus changed his name to Rock, but on Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:14-16,
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

 

This is our purpose as the new people, but verse 9 also clearly communicates 4 identities we have as the chosen people of God to give meaning to our purposes of being the Light of the world: We are the

(1) chosen race;

(2) royal priesthood;

(3) holy nation; and

(4) people for God’s own possession. 

 

Now, as living stones of the Temple of His Presence we know our identity in Christ and our larger purpose: “proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

 

Verses 11-12 gives us 4 practical applications to how we should live:
“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
 
1. God’s royal priesthood must live exemplary lives.
 
Jesus calls us to be different in dramatic ways.  Listen to His famous teaching on the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:43-48,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” 
 
2. God’s chosen race leaves no room for slander.

 

When Plato was told that a certain man had been making certain slanderous charges against him, his answer was, “I will live in such a way that no one will believe what he says.” That was Peter’s solution as well, and the Apostles exhorted the early church to make this primary defense against a corrupt & slanderous world.

 

Paul states in Philippians 2:14-16,
“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.”

 

3. God’s holy nation must make God visible to an unbelieving world.

 

A famous quote that I have used before and made popular by DC Talk, “The single greatest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyles. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

 

Jesus gives a divine purpose to living a life of good works in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:16,
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

 

4. God’s own possession should never forget to Whom they belong.
 
 Think about how much the value of something ordinary increases if it has been owned by someone extraordinary. An old dictionary becomes more valuable if it was Abraham Lincoln’s dictionary. A desk suddenly becomes more expensive and interesting if Winston Churchill wrote his famous speeches hunched over its worn surfaces. A pair of smelly basketball shoes become valuable beyond imagination when they were Michael Jordan’s game shoes. And yes, we, you and me, take on a different kind of significance because we are the personal possession of God Almighty! 
 
You are the Temple of God’s Presence to the world and knowing who you are and to whom you belong will determine your attitudes and behaviors. May your life shine God’s light as you proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.
 
 
 

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FOOTNOTES:

 

[1] William Barclay Commentary, 230.

 
 

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Responding to the Presence of Jesus – Week 3

“The Rule of God’s Peace!”

Colossians 3:15-17 & Philippians 4:7-9 (NASB)

 
 
I have two guiding images for today’s sermon. Let’s start with the first: What is the job of an umpire in any sport? To make sure the game is being played by the rules… The umpires must make hard calls, some popular and some not so popular. But what would baseball be without an umpire calling a strike or ball, telling you that you are safe or out. What would football be without an umpire throwing up a yellow flag or putting his arms up in the air.
 

 

Umpires are important for any game to be worth playing… You ever watch a bunch of kids play pick up sports without an umpire. It gets dirty quick and rarely ends well… I hate to say it, but we all know that high school, college, amateur or professional athletes would try to get away with it if they knew they could. Why? Because we all fall short of the glory of God!

 

The umpire keeps the players playing by the rules of the game. The very presence of the umpire brings a civilizing effect to people who are trying to knock one another’s heads off on the football field.

 

I believe there is even greater freedom on the field for the players to play the game because of the presence of the umpires. Their presence alone is a game changer! Without the umpires, the players could not be free to become their very best…

 

In the same way, we need an umpire in our everyday lives; One who will bring freedom to our lives so that we can become our very best to the glory of God. Paul knew this and was very clear on what should rule our lives.

 

Listen to Colossians 3:15-17,
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”

 

The umpire of our lives is to be the peace of Christ, which is to rule our hearts—the center of who we are and why we do what we do.

 

Colossians 3:15-17 is a summary statement of Paul’s “rule of life.” If that is new to you, then please know that it is not new to Christianity. It’s an ancient concept that brings order to our lives. Paul said that for the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts we must remember that we are called to be a thankful, worshiping, unified people. How? By setting up rhythms of life that cause the word of Christ to richly dwell in us and to let the teaching of God’s wisdom and the thankful singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs admonish (umpire) our liv

es together. We are to speak to one another, work with one another, and serve one another as if we were doing it for Jesus Himself to the glory of God.

This is Paul’s practical teaching on how the peace of Christ umpires our lives.
 

Let’s transition to the second image: Just like an umpire rules the game, so a guard protects a person or place of value. Paul says that we are to let peace umpire our lives and now listen to what else God’s peace can do.

 

Listen to Philippians 4:7-9,
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

 

Again, Paul is teaching us how to follow Jesus—to become like Him from the inside out. We are to focus our minds on the right things—dwell on these things! We are to imitate Christ and to live our lives according to His word and example and here it is, then God will manifest His presence with you.

 

Please remember there is a distinction between the omnipresence of God and the manifest presence of God.

 

What does an umpire and guard have in common? They are actual people—present to the situation. An umpire is the manifestation of the “spirit of fair play” because He stands behind the catcher or is out on the playing field. In the same way, a guard must be in the location of the person or place the guard is protecting. Just their presence takes intangible concepts (i.e. fair play and safety) and makes them concrete.  

 

What does that tell us about Paul’s promises for the peace of Jesus Christ to rule and guard our hearts and minds?

 

The promises of the peace of God are the promises of the presence of God because God is the peace! The peace of God is not a cease fire from hostilities, but the very presence of God in our life’s battles. God’s peace is not a removal of pain and suffering, poverty and injustice, disease and death, but the reality that God will be with us in the midst of these very real issues of life and death.

 

Jesus said in John 14:27,
“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”

 

Jesus promises to be with us, like an umpire on the fields of friendly strife or a guard in a war zone. The more you respond to His presence as umpire of your heart and as guard to your heart and mind, the more you will experience His peace. This is a promise that comes with a praxis, like every other promise in the Bible.

 

Paul has very practical things in mind with both of these verses and the church has understood this for a very long time. Enter the discipleship tool called a “rule of life.”

 

Developing a rule of life is first of all a biblical endeavor. “Paul’s overarching rule of life is that every word and every deed be done in the name of Jesus (see Col 3:17). Following such a rule affects our outlook on life. We begin to wake each morning with the sense that we are serving Jesus himself.”[1]

 

Pastor Scazzero encourages the use of a “rule of life” in a recent Barna Group report on pastoral well-being, as well as in both of his influential works, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and Emotionally Healthy Leader:

 

Don’t be intimidated by the word rule. The word comes from the Greek for “trellis.” A trellis is a tool that enables a grapevine to get off the ground and grow upward, becoming more fruitful and productive. In the same way, a Rule of Life is a trellis that helps us abide in Christ and become more fruitful spiritually. A Rule of Life, very simply, is an intentional, conscious plan to keep God at the center of everything we do. It provides guidelines to help us continually remember God as the Source of our lives. … The starting point and foundation of any Rule is a desire to be with God and to love him.[2]

 

Ruth Haley Barton explains a “rule of life” in her excellent work Sacred Rhythms:

 

In Christian tradition, this structured arrangement of spiritual practices is referred to as a “rule of life.” A rule of life is a way of ordering our life around the values, practices, and relationships that keep us open and available to God for the work of spiritual transformation that only God can bring about. Simply put, a rule of life provides structure and space for growing.[3]

 

Even more specifically, Marjorie Thompson explains the details of a rule of life in Soul Feast:

 

A rule of life is a pattern of spiritual disciplines that provides structure and direction for growth in holiness. When we speak of patterns in our life, we mean attitudes, behaviors, or elements that are routine, repeated, regular. Indeed, the Latin term for “rule” is regula, from which our words regular and regulate derive. A rule of life, like a trellis, curbs our tendency to wander and supports our frail efforts to grow spiritually. … We choose particular disciplines to help us reframe the whole of our lives around God, the true center of all… spiritual disciplines are simply ways we position ourselves to see divine beauty and grace more clearly, so we might respond fullheartedly [sic].[4] 

 

When we pray for peace we are actually praying for God to be in our midst and His will be done. When God’s peace comes, He rules, He guards, He structures our lives for His will to be done in us and through us.

 

So often, the answer to our prayers is found in our response to the presence of God! How will you order your daily life to respond to the presence of God?

 

A rule of life umpires our life decisions… by focusing us on the presence of God and His will for our lives through intentional times of Bible study, prayer, personal and corporate worship, and church gatherings!

 

A rule of life protects that which is most central and sensitive of who we are… our hearts! It allows us to remain focused on our life purpose and guiding principles as we work unto the Lord and not for man.

 

One ancient wrote, “Let your truth teach me. Let it guard me, and keep me safe to the end. Let it free me from all evil affection and badly ordered love, and I shall walk with You in great freedom of heart.”[5]

This is the work of a practical rule of  life: it is a conduit of God’s grace for growth in Christlikeness… for our holiness… for us to experience the promised peace of Jesus Christ in very real and practical ways.

 

Do you want the peace of Christ to rule your heart? Or do you want to continue to feed the fear and anxiety our culture seeks to pour into you throughout the day? Then pay attention to your rule of life. We all have one! The question is whether your’s is “the rule of God’s peace” as commanded by Scripture.

 

Build your life on the promises of God… don’t just claim them, live them, let them be the trellis of your life, the umpire of your heart, the guard of your well-being.

 

Remember, Jesus is not promising you an absence of tribulation, but an abundance of His presence—peace in the midst of the tribulations!

 

As Jesus said in John 16:33,
“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
 
 

You can listen to the message here.

 

You can watch the message HERE.

 
 

FOOTNOTES:

 

[1] NIV Stewardship Study Bible, 1566.

 

[2] Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, 190.

[3] Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms, 14.

 

[4] Marjorie J. Thompson, Soul Harvest, 150.

 

[5] Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, 101.

 
 
 

 

 
 

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Responding to the Presence of Jesus – Week 2

Truly Follow!

Philippians 2:1-5

 

“Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate?  Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.  Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.  Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.                   

Philippians 2:1-5

 

Last week, as Jerry was preaching on knowing the difference between the Omnipresence of God and the manifest presence of God and why we need to gather, the Lord spoke this scripture to me. I knew that I would be sharing today, focusing on responding to the presence of God by following Jesus. As I was reading through the passage, I did not see the word ‘follow’ appear even once, no matter what translation I read (NIV, ESV, NLT, KJV, NASB). So, I was like, “Okay, God…how does this show us how to follow?” I prayed over it , thought about it, even talked with Jerry about it, and then it hit me during the closing prayer of our Elder’s meeting…it could be an acrostic…a group of words who’s first letters make up the word you want to remember. And this is what I felt the Holy Spirit give to me:

            F – Faithfully

            O – Obeying the

            L – Lord by

            L – Loving

            O – Others

            W – Well

 

Faithfully (meaning full of faith, being consistent or resolute, in a manner that is true to the facts or the original) Obeying (submitting to the authority of) the Lord (Jesus Christ, whom you invited into your life to be your Savior), which means your follow His commands by Loving Others Well.

 

If you look back at today’s scriptures, Paul was telling the Philippians there are conditional clauses in being a true follower of Christ. Let’s examine those together!

 

I. The IF Clauses…  if these things are present in our life

 
A. If there is any encouragement
 
~Testimonies of God’s provisions

Imagine how much that would change Facebook and Instagram if we flooded it with testimonies, rather than rants and raves of how we were done wrong that day.

Testimony of God whispering to us and getting us up early in the morning to spend time with Him (a quiet time on the porch, a walk in the woods, a drive down a country road)

~A scripture that has spoken to you

This is why it is important to start the day in God’s Word

Later in the day you find God brings that scripture back to your remembrance and you are either able to share it with someone or it encourages you in that moment.

~Finding a renewed joy in Jesus.
 

      “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon. Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done.”                                                                                                          

Philippians 4:4-9

 

B. If there is any comfort from His love
 

~Finding peace in the storm

Recognizing that He is the Rock and has us hidden in the cleft of the Rock!

~Feeling the presence of the Holy Spirit wrapping His arms around you, assuring you of God’s presence with His peace and mercy

During a loved one’s surgery

C. If there is any fellowship
 

~Realizing His presence in your day to day situations.

ILLUS:  Sitting on the front porch this past Tuesday after date night and watching the sunset.

~Finding encouragement in gathering together with other believers. There is joy in the gathering, being together with the family, whether it is blood relationship, or through the blood of Jesus relationship
 
D. If your hearts are tender and compassionate

 

~Being moved by the Holy Spirit to do something for someone

Send a card, make a phone call, drop something off on their porch, give them a ‘Pentecostal handshake’

~Giving of your time, treasures or talents without the expectations of getting something in return.

Seeing a need and meeting that need by helping them move, or clean up their yard, or helping put in a hot water heater or buying the food of the person behind you in the drive thru.

 
 

II. THEN prove it…let others and the world see the evidence.

 
A. Agree with each other wholeheartedly
 
~Are we expected to always agree on everything?
 
No! Christians can have differing opinions and disagree with each other about some things. To be like-minded is not suggesting for us to be marching in lockstep. But rather, to be good listeners and hear the heart of the one we are working with so that God will be glorified in all we do! We should not focus on the differences, but instead, find the common ground to see God’s plan fulfilled.

 

“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.”      

Romans 15:13

 

It is God’s desire to see us not only restored in relationship with Him, but also with one another, bringing healing over past hurts.

 

B. Love one another
 
~Meme from FB:
 
“Some of y’all need to stop running around with a mouth full of scripture and a heart full of hate.” Just like oil and water, these two do not mix!  Love has to be our first response! Yes, the Word of God is a sword, but we need to know who the true enemy is and how we are to use it.

 

“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”                                                         

John 13:35 (NLT)

 

C. Work together in unity
 

~Henry County 500 met on 8/30/2020. 440 people in person, many more met virtually, for a time of prayer, worship and reconciliation. From this, a group has formed and are planning to continually meet to help bring about peace and unity, not only across racial boundaries, but denominational and non-church groups, agreeing that it not for a political agenda, but for the glory of God.

 

~Opportunity to serve a fellow pastor and his church. Two Sundays of filling the pulpit at First Assembly of God.

 

Charles Stanley wrote:

“The joyful unity of believers in Christ offers a powerful testimony to the world that the gospel of love we preach is real, unique, powerful, and welcoming to whomever will believe in the Lord Jesus. It is only through the gospel that people from every nation, race, language group, and socioeconomic level find forgiveness and peace and can join together in harmony.”

 

III. How are we to do this?

 
A. Don’t be selfish and try to impress

 

“If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.  But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying.  For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.  For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.”                                                                                                                                            

 James 3:13-16

 
B. Don’t think of only what you want

 

“But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.”     

 James 3:17

 
C. Don’t forget to consider others ahead of yourself.

 

“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”  

Romans 12:10

 

“But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble… So, if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble.”  

1 Cor. 8:9,13

 

“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.”  

Ephesians 4:2

 

 

Conclusion:

 

Why? Because of verse 5: “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”  This is a call to have attitudes like Christ—loving and accepting one another despite our differences. In fact, God delights in our diversity; he made every person unique. But we should all be like-minded in our obedience to Christ and in our care for others. Our attitude demonstrates the position of our heart. Jesus did not use His position to bully someone into submitting. He did not use His rightful power and authority as a trump card.

 

“But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them.  But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 

Matthew 20:25-28

 

So we are called to truly follow Jesus by faithfully obeying the Lord by loving others well.

 

 
 
 
 

You can listen to the message here.

 

You can watch the message HERE.

 


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Responding to the Presence of Jesus – Week 1

“The Manifest Presence of God!”

Key Verse:  Matthew 18:20

 

Jesus makes a promise that is so profound, but has it become common place to our modern church-going ears?

 

It’s the promise of His presence! This sermon series asks us, how are we, each of us, responding to the presence of Jesus?

 

Listen to Jesus’s promise in Matthew 18:20,
 
“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”
 
You can hear something similar and just as familiar at the end of Matthew 28:20,
 
“I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

 

Jesus has promised us His presence, when we gather as His people and when we go on mission in His name—He is with us! What exactly has Jesus promised us?

 

Listen to both these promises in the fullness of their contexts: Matthew 18:15-20 states,
 
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.

 

What is our responsibility in this passage? When does Jesus promise to be in our midst?

 

Matthew 28:16-20 narrates,
 
“But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’”

 

What is our responsibility in this passage? When does Jesus promise to be in our midst?

 

Today, I am not tackling the majestic doctrine of God’s attribute of omnipresence, which teaches us that God is everywhere and that God has been, is currently, and will always be present. Rather, I am tackling the more mysterious doctrine of God’s activity of manifesting His presence—the experiential reality of when God’s makes His presence known to those He chooses to reveal Himself in this way.

 

We see this in the Old Testament: God’s presence was the life source and the testimony of Israel! God’s presence marked both their gathering and their going! Without God’s Presence, there was neither a community of God nor a mission of God! All that God’s people are to be and are called to do depends on Him.

 

Listen to Moses lay this out very clearly in his discussion with God in Exodus 33:12-16,

 

Then Moses said to the Lord, “See, You say to me, ‘Bring up this people!’ But You Yourself have not let me know whom You will send with me. Moreover, You have said, ‘I have known you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight.’ “Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight. Consider too, that this nation is Your people.” And He said, “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.” Then he said to Him, “If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?”

 

Literally, it was God’s presence with them that made them His people. Apart from His presence, His people were the same as all other people. His presence means the favor of God and the rest of God. It is more than His omnipresence to all the world, there is something special about His promised presence.

 

God promised that His presence would actually reside with His people. Interestingly, God had previously met with them more directly, but in Exodus 20:19 the Israelites asked Moses to speak to them on behalf of God so that God would not directly manifest Himself to them. They equated God’s presence with death. God honored that wish and a mediator has been necessary ever sense.

 

We see this with the building of the Tabernacle in Exodus 25:8-9, “Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it.”

 

Then the building of the Temple in 1 Kings 6:11-13,
 
“Now the word of the Lord came to Solomon saying, ‘Concerning this house which you are building, if you will walk in My statutes and execute My ordinances and keep all My commandments by walking in them, then I will carry out My word with you which I spoke to David your father. I will dwell among the sons of Israel, and will not forsake My people Israel.’”

 

God’s manifest presence is the heartbeat of all His promises. Listen to Zechariah 2:10-11,
 
“Sing for joy and be glad, O daughter of Zion; for behold I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,” declares the Lord. “Many nations will join themselves to the Lord in that day and will become My people. Then I will dwell in your midst, and you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent Me to you.”

 

The gathering of God’s people is connected to the mission of God, both of which are dependent on God’s presence. We can neither gather nor go without God first gathering with us or going with us. Both are for His glory! When you dwell upon this for a long time you come to this question: Are there any promises any more important than the promises of God to either give or take way His presence? What else could possibly matter?

 

In fact, our continual awareness of God’s manifest presence is the culmination of His promises. It is synonymous with seeing His glory! When you say you want to see His glory or experience His glory, then what you are praying for is essentially an Isaiah 6:1-3 moment:

 

In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.”

 

This is why the gospel of Jesus Christ is so very important! It was for this very reason that Jesus Christ came and revealed to us the glory of the Father. So that we may experience His manifest presence as the one final mediator between a holy God and a fallen humanity. As Jesus Christ said Himself in John 17:4-11,

 

I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them. I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are.

 

It is for the glory of God that God has made Himself known to us through the revelation of Jesus Christ.

 

John 1:14 reminds us of this, it is the heart of the incarnation, the mission of God:
 
“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

 

It’s why Jesus promised us the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in John 14:16-18,
 
“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”

 

The Holy Spirit dwelling in us is the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise, but it is not enough to know that God is with you—His manifest presence is meant to be just that: manifest! Tangible, visible, expressible… God’s presence changes everything! We are transformed by His presence! Our gatherings and our goings are transformed by His presence! That is why we invite the Holy Spirit in our worship and pray invocations at the beginning of services.

 

Just as our fellowship with God is dependent on God’s manifest presence in us, so is our fellowship with one another. Listen to 1 John 1:1-3,

 

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life— and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us— what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.

 

Our gathering and our going is 100% dependent on the promised presence of Jesus Christ manifesting in and through us. We have no life apart from His eternal life dwelling in us.

 

Are you struggling with the gathering or with the going? Is the gathering anything but alive? Is the going anything but joyful?

 

It is time to come alive in the Spirit and invite God’s presence to manifest in and through our church. Holy Spirit you are welcome here.
 
 
 

You can listen to the message here.

 

You can watch the message HERE.

 
 

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Responding to the Priorities of Jesus – Week 7

Jesus’ Priority is for your Faithfulness!”

Key Verses:  Matthew 25:14-30; John 17:4

September 6, 2020

 

Today, we are going to end our sermon series entitled “Responding to the Priorities of Jesus!” by looking at how we should respond to the priority of Jesus to be on mission with Him—to “Go!” as He commands us His disciples in Matthew 28:18-20 and empowers His Church in Acts 1:8. It is the heart of this message to call you to a faithful life as measured by the only true comparison of successful living: Jesus’ life. Truly, how we define success has great power over our daily lives and how we feel about the lives we are living.

 

Jesus prayed in John 17:4, “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.” We are to seek Him first (Matthew 6:33) and pray for with our whole hearts to be found faithful in Him! Faithfulness to the God who has chosen and called each of us to walk in the good works He has prepared us (Ephesians 2:10). This, ultimately, is the way to mission fulfillment—your and my faithful living is found through abiding in Him and bearing His fruit (John 15:1-17)!

 

Jesus was faithful with what God asked Him to do. Please remember that Jesus didn’t do everything He could have done, but He did everything that was asked of Him. He did not heal every person, feed every person, or respond to every human need or societal injustice of His time, but Jesus, without equivocation, did all that was asked of Him by His Father. This biblical reality of Jesus’ life is the heartbeat of this sermon. To emphasize that the call to “Go!” is first and foremost a call to be faithful to God, not successful in your own endeavors or goals.

 

How quickly and easily we make it all about us and our goals when faithfulness to the mission is all about Him!

 

Please turn with me to Matthew 25:14-30 and let us learn from Jesus’ Parable of the Talents.

 

Jesus’ words of praise for each disciple who stewarded his or her talents wisely was, “Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master [italics added]” (Matthew 25:21, 23).

 

It is critical to note that the word Jesus used was “faithful” and not successful. The Greek word translated “faithful” is πιστός; Jesus not only used it in the Parable of the Talents, but Paul also used it to describe his disciple Timothy in 1 Corinthians 4:17, “For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful [italics added] child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church.”

 

Both Jesus and Paul made it overt and clear that “faithful” is what is desired of God’s chosen servants.

 

Faithfulness is the covenant priority of Jesus Christ for each of His follower’s lives. This is where so much tension exists in the hearts and minds of Christians today: What does it mean to be faithful? One of the most dangerous questions that Christians and church leaders ask alike is What does a successful church look like?

 

People ask this question constantly, but not always consciously, when they are deciding to attend, or remain, at a church. We apply a rubric of success to determine if such and such a place is worthy of our presence and time and financial support. Forgetting, the entire time, that God is measuring us by the plumb line of His Son.

 

Christians and church leaders must return to the priority of faithfulness because for far too long the local church has reaped what it has sown by forgetting that what God is looking for, in word and deed, is our faithfulness to Him, not the multiplicity of definitions of success by the people of God.

 

Jesus’ last words to Peter in John 21:15-22 were neither “tend My Lambs,” “shepherd My sheep,” nor “tend My sheep,” but rather the very direct, “You Follow Me!” Jesus finished with Peter in the same exact place He started with Him: “Follow Me”. In order for Peter to accomplish all that God intended for him to accomplish, what mattered most was that he was in a discipleship relationship with Jesus Christ. The same is true for members and leaders of churches today. Many churches are struggling today because the leaders have lived out of the mistaken idea that Jesus’ desire for His church leaders is their successful accomplishment of a mission, rather than their faithful commitment to His clear invitation to relationship (“Follow Me!”).

 

I am not saying the church does not have a mission, but I am saying that the church can only accomplish the mission of God when it prioritizes union with the God of mission. Apart from Christ, I can do nothing! Apart from the presence of God, the church can accomplish nothing of missional value, no matter how much it grows in worldly success. The presence of God is everything to accomplish the mission; it always has been.

 

A heavy yoke has been passed down to twenty-first century church leaders who are striving to be accountable to the myriad of ideas of what a church should look like and what it should be doing in order to be successful. As a beloved pastor to pastors stated to his fellow American pastors in the late twentieth century:

 

American pastors are abandoning their posts, left and right, and at an alarming rate. They are not leaving their churches… But they are abandoning their posts, their calling. They have gone whoring after other gods. … The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeeper’s concerns… .[1]

 

When a pastor tries to make your church successful, that pastor is making a decision to have hundreds of opinions attempt to define his or her job description and the focus of that church’s energies and resources. That is slavery and a recipe for failure at every level.

 

Church researchers passionate about returning the church to its intended mission state that “most Christian churches today need to undertake a radical re-evaluation of what Christian ministry really is—what its aims and goals are, how it proceeds, and what part we all play in its exercise. This may require some radical, and possibly painful, changes of mindset.”[2]

 

What do we learn from the Parable of the Talents? We learn that in order to be found faithful by God we must take what He has entrusted to us and multiply it for His glory. To put it very succinctly, Jesus said in Matthew 5:14-16, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

 

The mission of God is about not hiding your light or burying your talent. It’s about believing God for what He has given you and investing it or shining it forth. If you pay attention closely, the only person in the parable who was worried about success was the one whose fear bound him up to hide his talent (Matthew 25:24-25). I extrapolate from this that when you know the character of God, you have no reason to worry about success!

 

Pastor Kent Hughes and his wife Barbara concluded, “we found no place where it says that God’s servants are called to be successful. Rather, we discovered our call is to be faithful.”[3]

 

Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy [italics added].” Not surprisingly, the same word πιστός is translated “trustworthy” in this passage. This is the calling of all Christians, above any model of church growth or job description of missional living: our entire lives are to be conduits and testimonies of God’s grace working in and through us. We invest our talents! We SHINE!

 

Sadly, faithfulness to God is not the twenty-first century American Church’s driving expectation for themselves, nor is it most church’s definition of success for their pastors or church leaders. Listen to Pastor Kent Hughes and what he learned from his pastoral “dark night of the soul,”

 

When success in the ministry becomes the same as success in the world, the servant of God evaluates his success like a businessman or an athlete or a politician. Subconsciously I was evaluating nearly everything from the perspective of how it would effect church growth. I realized that I had been subtly seduced by the secular thinking that places a number on everything. Instead of evaluating myself and the ministry from God’s point of view, I was using the world’s standards of quantitative analysis.[4]

 

When this ministry couple finally learned this lesson, there was tangible transformation in Kent as a person and pastor. His wife, Barbara, testifies,

 

The presence of the success syndrome has been lifted from [Kent], and it seemed he had eased back into freedom we all have in Christ. We had discovered that the miserable yoke of worldly success is so crushing, because it is a burden that God’s servants were never meant to bear.[5]

 

It is only in the easy yoke of Jesus that a pastor can be transformed from the inside out and start leading the church forward with a new mindset—faithfulness! There must be a return to the heart of Christian ministry:

 

The great message that we have to carry, as ministers of God’s Word and followers of Jesus, is that God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed us in love and has chosen us to proclaim that love as the true source of all human life.[6]

 

This is God’s mission! This is how we are to respond to Jesus’ invitation to participate in His mission.

 

The journey to faithfulness is a transformative one that must begin in the heart of each person. The Greek word μεταμορφόω, translated “transformed” in Romans 12:2, is where we get the English word metamorphosis. Metamorphosis is described as “the process by which a caterpillar enters into the darkness of the cocoon in order to emerge, eventually, changed almost beyond recognition.”[7] Jesus made it very clear that this was an impossibility apart from God, intentionally, because it is our stories being transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ that lifts up the name of Jesus Christ to a world that so desperately needs to see and experience God.

 

This is God’s way, in and through His Church—through you and me! We are the one body of Christ on display for the entire world to see God’s glory. The mission is dependent on every individual member of the body maturing to his or her proper working (Ephesians 4:16). We are each called to faithfulness; that is our mission!
 
 
 

You can listen to the message here.

 

You can watch the message HERE.

 
 

FOOTNOTES:

 

[1] Eugene H. Peterson, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), 1-2.

 

[2] Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift that Changes Everything (Youngstown, OH: Matthias Media, 2009), 17.

 

[3] Kent & Barbara Hughes, Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome, 35.

[4] Ibid., 29-20.

 

[5] Ibid., 106.

 

[6] Henri J. M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1989), 30.

 

[7] Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms, 12.

 


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Responding to the Priorities of Jesus – Week 6

e2020: A Year of Celebration!

“Jesus’ Priority for You is to Become Gentle and Humble in Heart!”

Matthew 11:29

 

If Christian discipleship is the work of the church, then the formative work of the Holy Spirit is the heartbeat of all that we do. We call this spiritual formation. When I use the word spiritual and formation together, I am talking about how the Holy Spirit is the acting agent in fulfilling Jesus’ promises in you and through you. You are incapable of doing them on your own. So, let me say it simply and directly: Spiritual Formation is the heart of the church because apart from the work of the Holy Spirit we can neither become like Jesus Christ nor live as Christians. Christian witness/mission/outreach is all about Image Bearing! It’s all God’s grace!

 

Christian Discipleship is the intentional journey of living your life like Jesus Christ. One of the greatest dangers in the church is conformity to outward observances of Christian discipleship with no heart transformation. The world calls that “fake it unto you make it”, but we all know what it really is—acting (“hypocrisy”). Discipleship must happen from the inside out, not the outside in. Christian spiritual formation can be defined this way:

 

The Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself. [It] is focused entirely on Jesus. Its goal is an obedience or conformity to Christ that arises out of an inner transformation accomplished through purposive interaction with the grace of God in Christ. “That Christ be formed within you,” is the eternal watchword of Christian spiritual formation (Galatians 4:19, PAR). This word is fortified by the deep moral and spiritual insight that, while “the letter of the law kills, the spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6, PAR). Christlikeness of the inner being is not a human attainment. It is, finally, a gift of grace.[1]

 

Jesus’ desire for your spiritual formation is to be the priority of your life. Listen again to his famous invitations of discipleship. From Mark 1:17 and Matthew 11:28-30:

 

  • “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17)
  • “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” (Matthew 11:28-30).

 

Jesus’ invitation into Christian discipleship comes with a goal: to become something that only Jesus, the Promise Giver can do in us through God’s grace! Next week, I’ll be focusing on the priority of mission (“the fisher of men”), but today I am focusing on what must happen within you for your mission work to have any eternal results (You must become like Jesus who is “gentle and humble in heart”).

 

I believe that if you miss this you will miss the abundant life, no matter how hard you work for Jesus because to do any work for God apart from God is to carry a heavy burden that will crush you. We can’t be like Jesus or do the work of Jesus apart from Jesus living in the center of our lives—our hearts! Spiritual formation is the inner renovation of the outward person—is it the becoming the new wine skins, the new tree, so that you can carry the new wine and bear the fruit of the Spirit.

 

To do any work for God apart from God, even if in the Name of God, is to fall short no matter the appearances of success or godliness because if there is one thing we learn over and over from the Bible: God looks to the heart, not the appearances (1 Samuel 16:7)!

 

And what is God looking for in the heart? He tells us over and over again in the Bible: humility (God-reliance!), not pride (self-reliance!).

 

What does it mean to that Jesus’ priority for every one of His disciples is that we become like Him, “gentle and humble in heart”?

 

Without a big long research discussion about it, Jesus’ priority for every one of us is our complete submission to the Father’s will. To be conformed to His image (Romans 8:29)—the image of God (Genesis 1:27). This has always been God’s plan for us—to be His Image Bearers!

 

Humility, at its core, humility, is a revolution over the central command of your life. Because all things flow from your heart—guard it (Proverbs 4:23). You or God will rule your known universe—salvation is found in the reality of that—look to the fruit of your thoughts and action and you will know if you are humble or proud.

 

Remember God’s words, stated repeatedly in Scripture. Listen to James 4:6,
 
“But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’”

 

This is not new…this was not something Jesus brought into the world. It was what Jesus and His Father and the Holy Spirit created into us from the very beginning. When we act in proud ways, we are screaming out in rebellion against the God who made us to be yoked to Him and to no other, including our own lives.

 

The origins of the word humility is the same as that of humility. Listen to a short Latin lesson:
 
Humus is the Latin word for earth (a rich and nutrient-filled soil) and is also the root word for human. Humility is derived from the same word, humilitas, one who is grounded or near to the earth.”[2] 

 

Listen closely to Genesis 2:7,
 
“Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”

 

Let’s agree to some basic, but highly controversial, biblical anthropology: man was first formed by God of the dust from the ground. Humans are designed to be humble by the very fact of how we were created—of the earth, but given life by the very God who made us! Apart from God’s grace we have no life, so to believe we have ever had life apart from Him is the root of pride. This is why the origin story is so controversial—it’s a battle for supremacy.

 

I have heard it said that the greatest deception is when a proud person considers himself or herself humble. The easiest way to explain this is to remind you that you are a container (“jar of clay”) for glory, not the glory itself (2 Corinthians 4:7-9). When we lose sight of this or forget it or deny it, pride sets in and humility is lost.

 

Moses was considered the most humble man on the face of the earth (Numbers 12:3). Now consider this: Moses led the Israelites out of slavery to Egypt in the first exodus, but who led all humans in the second exodus out of slavery to sin? Who is considered the second Moses, with even greater authority and standing than the first Moses? Jesus, the new Moses! Yes, humility is essential! God trusts humble vessels with His works because “jars of clay” don’t seek to rob God of the glory that is only due to God alone. They simple shine forth!

 

Throughout church history, it has been said that humility is the queen of the virtues. Because, at its heart, humility is about seeking first God and His rule for our lives. Humility is about our rejoining in the effort for which we were designed—to be Image Bearers of God! To work the ground from which we came. To love one another as He first loved us. To build and expand a community of people that will live willingly and lovingly under the teachings of God, most clearly seen and experienced through Jesus Christ.

 

To be humble is to be completely submitted to the heart of God for your life. Listen to Jesus talk about this from the Gospel of John 5:19; 8:28–29; 12:49–50; 17:4, 7–8, 20–21:

 

Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. … When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me. And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him. … For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me. … I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. … Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. … I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.

 

I close with this practical example from Jesus and the great test of our humility. Turn with me to John 13:5-15,

 

Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, “Not all of you are clean.” So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.

 

We are to become gentle and humble in heart, like Jesus. How, by taking on His lifestyle and doing what He did. If this was the life and teaching of our Master and Teacher, then it must become our lifestyle, too. But I warn you, again as I did in the beginning of this teaching time, that to do this apart from spiritual formation is to attempt love, service, and forgiveness by your own power and strength. And if there is one thing that we need to be warned of, it is our pride to think that we can do anything apart from God.

 

The first step to true humility is a full surrender to Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. The renovation of your heart and life; the revolution for your soul, starts with His grace, His love, His service, His forgiveness. All else flows from His heart…

 

The second step is to do it again and again, every day, every moment of your life. To remember that you are a vessel to shine forth His glory… what a privilege!

 

[1] Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ (Carol Stream, IL: NavPress, 2012), 22-23.

 

[2] Brenna Davis, “Humus, Humiliy, and Human.” (February 26, 2020). Accessed August 30, 2020. https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/humus-humans-and-humility. I attribute my awareness of this idea to the Rev. Rex Espiritu who shared it with me for the first time nearly a decade ago in a private discussion.

 
 

You can listen to the message here.

 

You can watch the message HERE.


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Responding to the Priorities of Jesus – Week 5

Responding with Love

Colossians 3:12-15

 

We continue the series today with what most would say is the driving force of all the priorities of Jesus…LOVE. Think about it! For it was out of love for us that God sent his one and only Son to save us. It was out of love, that Jesus came to earth and walked among mankind, sharing the message of God’s love for them. Along the way, it was out of love that He healed the sick, the blind, the lame and brought the dead back to life. It was love, not nails, that held Him on the cross to die for our sins. When He rose again, He had a heart to heart talk with Simon Peter, and out of love for him, restored the call with “if you love me, feed my sheep.” He was not asking, giving him options to only care for the ones that loved him back. No, he was telling him to love, care for, protect all of the ones that Jesus was now placing in his care.

 

Even with Paul’s transformation, he moved from being a religious bully to a proclaimer of God’s amazing love, grace and mercy for all mankind, Jews and Gentiles alike! We are going to study today what Paul wrote to the church of Colossae, which in reality could be written to the church today!

 

Colossians 3:12-15

  “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.   Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.”                   

 

So, let me ask you…Do you believe God has chosen you by calling you out of darkness into His marvelous light and love? YES or NO. If so, then you are to do the following:

 

I.  Clothe Yourself with Tenderhearted Mercy, Kindness, Humility, Gentleness and Patience, and Forgive.

 

This is a six point sermon topic in itself! But if we look back at the beginning of this chapter, it helps us keep this in context and understand the directions that Paul was giving to the church members.

 

“Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. “                             Colossians 3:1-2

 

 

They are reminded that since they are raised to a new life in Christ, they cannot think or act the way they used to in their sinful nature. It is no longer “What about me and my rights?”, but rather “What is it that God wants me to do?”

 

This is a really tough one for me sometimes, especially when someone I care for is being affected by something that I feel is out and out wrong. My Papa Bear mode kicks in and I want to protect them and hurt the ones that are causing the pain. But then here comes God, using His Word to remind me that I am no longer of this world, and I have to react first and foremost as Jesus would react.

 

Zondervan’s Bible Commentary says: 

“As they have been chosen to be holy they must put on the garments of salvation, the new robe of character whose texture is sympathy, kindness, humility, meekness, patience…These are the qualities to prevent friction and will help to settle their quarrels if any exist, their forgiveness being prompted by Christ’s forgiveness to them, as is expected of them.”

 

I love the picture of these character qualities which are all part of the garment of salvation. It is woven together to create its own beautiful pattern and design that makes us unique, but also come together in a cohesive way that is like a mosaic picture made up of other pictures.
 

https://www.picturemosaics.com/photomosaics/id/180

 

All of those strands on their own are beautiful qualities, but when they are woven together, they not only have beauty, but also strength. For when you prevent friction, things move freely and you can accomplish more. If we would temper everything we do…comments of Facebook, texts or emails we send, or even controlling our tongue when we want to make snarky comments…we would find ourselves in a much happier place in our lives.  And here is the one thing that holds them all together…
 

II.  ABOVE ALL, Clothe Yourself with Love

 

 

This means TOP PRIORITY. But if it is supposed to be the first thing, then why does Paul put it after? I believe, and from all the commentaries I have read support this, that Paul was driving home the fact that you cannot have any of those things in your life without love! How can you be tenderhearted or sympathetic without love? How can you be kind without love? Or humble? Or gentle? Or patient? These are all manifested out of love! It is like the main thread that holds all the pieces together.

 

Have you ever had a new shirt on, and there was this random thread? (or you thought it was random) You pull it out, only to discover that it was a vital thread holding the seam together or a button on. Now I am fortunate enough to be married to someone who knows how to sew, but it still doesn’t mean that it wasn’t needed. It was a connective thread.

 

Love is vital. And if it these qualities are present in the community of believers, it will reduce or eliminate frictions of all kinds. Paul would not have reminded them of this command if it were automatic or was effortless for us to do. You have to work at loving each other, giving and receiving grace and forgiveness. The core of love is not emotion, but commitment. And not commitment to make the other person happy, but rather genuine concern for their well being and seeking to help them be more like Christ.

 

Also, it is not like they could just pull out the Bible and have a copy of the letter that Paul wrote to the Corinthians in their struggle with loving others. But we can!

 

 I Corinthians 13:4-8a

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
 
The world has taken the word love and twisted it to mean tolerance and acceptance and not being able to tell someone they are wrong. Are we really loving someone if we give them whatever they want when they want it? God doesn’t even do that. There are times He tells us ‘No’ when we ask and pray for it. Other times He tells us ‘Not now’. Does that mean He doesn’t love us? Of course not!!! And if we truly love Him, then we will say “okay, not what I want, but what You want for me.”
 

 

III.  Let the Peace of Christ Rule Your Heart and Be Thankful

 

 

This is not a peace that is only to be among the Christian community, nor is it just a peace to be in our lives no matter what we are facing or going through. It is the peace that comes and is given when we live in obedience to Christ. When we become a Christian, we surrender our lives to Christ and make Him our King, Lord and Savior. We say, like Paul in his writings to the Galatians,
 
“…it is no longer I that lives, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20).

 

Jesus comes into our lives, not to bully us or make us mindless puppets, but rather to help us experience life to its fullest. If we love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, then we will keep His commands and live in peace. And out of that love flows our love for one another, which leads to living in peace with Christ and each other. When everything is peaceful, then it is truly easy to be grateful and thankful.

 

And just like love, peace is something we have to work at by allowing grace to work in and through our lives. It is also important to remember to not only be thankful to God, but to be thankful to others around you. That will also help promote peace and harmony in a fellowship of believers.

 

CONCLUSION:

 

So, as a reminder, we have been told to:

 

I.   Clothe Yourself with Tenderhearted Mercy, Kindness, Humility, Gentleness and Patience, and Forgive.
II.  ABOVE ALL, Clothe Yourself with Love
III. Let the Peace of Christ Rule Your Heart and Be Thankful

 

If we as a body of believers would make this the norm, the standard by how we live each and every day, imagine the difference we could make for the Kingdom of God. We say that we are friends with Jesus, but too many are treating that friendship as an acquaintance. Get back to your first Love, that deep, genuine, personal love between you and the One who created you. When you put Him first, in your thoughts, in your plans, in your schedule, you will find that peace that passes all understanding.

 

 Benediction Blessing:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”                                                                              Colossians 2:16-17

 

 
 

You can listen to the message here. 

 
 

You can watch the service HERE.


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