Grace. How good it is.

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“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5).

There are many things that can be said about these verses, but I want to point out one area that we sometimes overlook. These verses, in a roundabout way, speak to the reality of God’s grace sinners receive when they come to Christ. We are not to stand in judgment of others lest we forget that we too are sinners who are guilty of sin. To not judge others does not mean we suspend our powers of spiritual discernment or ignore sin, but it does mean we recognize we are no better than others. Only a hypocrite can pass judgment on another without realizing how much he/she has received by way of God’s grace.

Grace is the overwhelming force of love, forgiveness, and acceptance that floods our life with God’s presence, peace, and joy. We sometimes forget that only Christ was without sin. We cannot make such a boast. It is through Christ that the floodgates of grace are opened to us. What if God did not give grace to sinners, and instead gave sinners exactly what they have earned through their sin?  Banish the thought! But, we don’t have to look far. Jesus spoke about hell more than anyone in scripture, and He took no delight in knowing people were going there. Indeed, He said, “The Son of Man came to seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Though judgment is real, God seeks to save sinners from eternal judgment. This is the point of the gospel, and it is why it is called “Good News.” It is good news because through Christ, and because of the cross of Christ, God saves sinners from the eternal doom of hell.

Yet, there are people (whom Jesus is speaking to in this text) who do not want to give away God’s grace through the gospel. Instead, they seek to stand over and above sinners as though they were, themselves, without sin. The absurdity is self-evident.

God’s people are called to make known God’s grace through the gospel. That is why Paul confidently proclaimed that, “I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16). Those who are recipients of God’s grace know how good it is to stand under the shower of God’s love and feel the warmth of His forgiveness wash over their needy souls. As recipients of God’s grace, we are called to flood each other’s lives with the same love and forgiveness we have received. But, tragically we often don’t give God’s grace away as freely as we have received it. We want it for ourselves but find it hard to freely give it away. So, Jesus was warning that God’s people should not hoard God’s grace.

Jesus was teaching that those who have received the matchless grace of God should not be quick to pass judgment on others (as in sentencing them). To do so is to negligently overlook the sin and failures of their own lives before God. How can needy beggars pass judgment on other beggars? Or, how does a beggar become greedy thinking his crumb is a symbol of his great wealth? No, freely we have received (of God’s bountiful grace) and freely we are to give away (Matthew 10:8). When one beggar receives bread, he would do well to tell others how to get that same bread – and he would do well to generously share the bread he has freely received with others.

God’s grace cannot be exhausted. God’s people should rejoice in that truth and seek to give as much away as possible.

Look Up

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“They turn, but not to what is above” (Hosea 7:16).

Trying times came upon the children of Israel. They were threatened by foreign nations. They were facing a very real existential crisis. But, they did not know that turning away from God led to their problems – and the further they walked away from the Lord, the greater their problems became. Yet, when all seemed lost, they refused to come back to God. They refused to call upon Him. Instead they turned to false god’s. They turned to Ba’al, Marduk, Molech, and Ashtoreth, amongst others. They turned everywhere but to the one true God who was calling to them (Hosea 7:7, 10, 14). As they called to Ba’al they cut and mutilated themselves. As they called to Molech, they sacrificed their children. But, despite the intensity of their actions and the sincerity of their misguided beliefs, there would be no answer. They called, but silence is all they received. Yet, during all this, God was there watching them; and through His prophets calling them. The message was simple, “Seek me with all your hearts, and you will be found by me” (Jeremiah 29:12-13). God longed to save them, but they would not “cry to Him from their hearts.” Even in all their sin He was ready to save and protect them. How much sorrow do people bring upon themselves because they don’t “turn to what is above?” God never turns from people. People turn from God. God loves with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3) and will gladly receive anyone unto Himself. There is no sin that can carry one too far away from His reach. No one is too far gone for the Lord’s help. He comes – He always comes – to those who look to Him and cry out to Him from their heart. When we turn to Him, even in the depths of our sin, we will be met with compassion, kindness, love, and hope. All we have to do is, “Look to what is above.” When we do, we will discover that God is already looking at us.

Agonizing Joy

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“And what communion has light with darkness? God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (2 Corinthians 6:14, 1 John 1:5).

Light and darkness are incompatible. Where the one is the other must flee. When I was a non-believer I detested the things of God. God was offensive to me. Of course, I couched my contempt for God in a different language. I cloaked my disdain in the language of righteous indignation. I piously proclaimed my own righteousness while heaping disdain on those who might dare to point out my deception. Then one day the light itself came. Uninvited, it entered my sphere of consciousness and began as a dim glow. Even when the light was barely visible it was enough to cleave the darkness that clung to my soul. It was through the light of the gospel that I began to see how the darkness obscured what was real. It not only clung to me, it enveloped me. It had entered my soul and was forming it, shaping it, sculpting it to become something entirely foreign to what God had created it to be. Of course, at the time I did not know that God had created my soul with a purpose – until the light came. Absent this understanding I let the dark shape me, believing that’s what I wanted.

At first it was painful. Upon entering one’s life the light hurts. There is an agonizing power in the light. First, it reveals what really is there. Part of the pain is in seeing this reality. All pretense to self-righteousness evaporates in its presence. It showed me who I really was. It showed me that my identity was far removed from the fantasies the darkness whispered to me in the night. It revealed to me what I desperately did not want to see. Looking into the mirror with the light on is not the same as Continue reading

If?

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“If you are the Son of man, come down from the cross” (Matthew 27:40).

After all the people experienced and saw Jesus do, they yelled, “If you are the son of God….” Jesus gave sight to the blind. He healed all sicknesses, cast out demons, and even raised the dead. How short the people’s memory was when it came to remembering all he did for them. So they yelled, “Come down from the cross” as though that would be the definitive proof he was the son of God. Raising the dead did not lead them to consider the truth, but coming down from the cross would? This verse demonstrates how blind the human heart is when overcome by sin. The people were blind to Jesus’ true identity, despite his teachings and miracles. They were blind to the true ways of God, not knowing who God really is. They were also blind to the Word of God, not understanding the Scriptures foretold that the Messiah must suffer and die. And they were blind to the love of God, not realizing he was dying for them. No, the Son of Man did not come down from the cross precisely because he was the son of God.

 

God Knows

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“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:33-34).

God is the Lord of history. It has been said that history is His-Story. In Daniel chapter eight (verses 1-8), God gave Daniel a vision of things that would take place in the future. This vision came to pass two centuries later. It is an amazing thought that God can reveal in detail things that will not occur for centuries. No wonder Jesus told us not to be anxious. The gentiles, He said, are worried about the daily affairs of life. But, our Father not only knows our needs, He knows the events of the day long before the day arrives. Because He is our God, we can leave the worry to Him. He said, “Seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness” and all our needs will be provided for. In Christ we are free to let God be God – which releases us from all worry, anxiety, and fear. If God can direct the affairs of nations centuries before they occur, He is capable of meeting my meager needs. My eyes can only see to the horizon. But, my faith anchors me in the One who sees through the centuries and directs all of time.

God Sees

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“…For the dark places of the land are full of violence” (Psalm 74:20).

The psalmist retells how the enemy of God’s people destroyed the sanctuary “Where God met with us.” There was great violence in the land. The invaders had no regard for the sacred things of God. But, what is not told is why the enemy came in first place. God’s people had deep darkness in their hearts long before the enemy destroyed the sanctuary. And in the place where they met God, they themselves had no regard for the things of God. Through their idolatry and sin, they brought spiritual darkness into Gods house. In response, God sent the enemy, so they could see just how dark their darkness was. The violence they experienced at the hand of their enemy was proportional to the violence they brought into God’s house through their idolatry. And when the darkness came to light, they felt the violence of it and longed for the light of God’s presence.

Going to the house of God does not mean we are walking in the light of Gods countenance, nor that we are truly seeking Him. God sees what is in our heart and responds to what is truly there. And, for our own sake He will expose what is in our heart. God wants to meet with His people. And, He wants to bless His people. But He cannot respond to what is not there. If what is in our heart is different than what is on our lips, then God’s response will be to jar us into seeing our real spiritual condition – even if He must hand us over to what we truly long for (see Romans 1:18-32). The people didn’t know that the idolatry they practiced, and loved, was the same sin that drove their enemy to so great a violence against them. Their sin was one and the same. The outward violence of their enemy was proportional to the inward darkness in their own heart. So, the Psalmist gives the warning: “For the dark places of the land are full of violence.” When we allow the darkness in, violence is all that is left for us. So, Jesus said, “If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:23).

However, Jesus came so that we may be delivered from the darkness. And He will deliver us, even when we call from its depths.

 

Preaching 101

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“Preacher, your long winded! I’ve got lunch plans and your preaching is interfering!” So said the anxious church member who thought a twenty minute sermon once a week was all the church needs, because, “No one remembers what you say anyhow!” I hope his chicken and dumplings were memorable. Church life has some interesting twists and turns. But, such encounters raise the question, “What is the real purpose of preaching?” Every preacher knows that the closer they get to the 12 o’clock hour, the more fidgety the people become. Pass that sacred time threshold and worship becomes something else altogether.

Over time it’s easy to forget why something was started. And what had a specific purpose becomes obscured as time passes. Church worship services sometimes fit into that category. Many people attend church every week, and if you were to ask them what the purpose is, they would most likely say, “To worship.” On the surface, that sounds good. But, then ask, “What is worship, and why do we do it?” At that point, the answers become thin and vague. The reality is that many people who attend church don’t really understand the purpose.

When Christ created his church, he was very specific in its purpose. Over time, his vision for the church has been obscured. Today, people think the purpose of church life is to attend church. It’s not uncommon to find people who believe attending church on Sunday morning is what God desires. Bring up the topic of church life and it’s not uncommon for people to say, Continue reading

The Pathway to Fruitfulness

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Introduction

It was during the greeting time in worship when he asked me the question, “What’s your plan to reach our community?” He was an evangelist who was visiting the church. He and his wife had attended church for several months. I had been to his house to visit them. We had some good conversations. My answer to him was brief: “In a word,” I said, “discipleship.” He turned away as I went to shake someone’s hand behind him. I never saw him in church again. That night as I was leaving for vacation with my family, I received a message on Facebook where he “rebuked” me. That was his word.

I was disappointed, but not surprised. Discipleship is a word that has come to mean different things to different people. But if there is one thing I have learned in ministry, it is that discipleship has lost its significance as being the foundational ministry of the church. There are many good things a church can do by way of ministry, but if the church is not focusing on discipleship as the focal point of everything it does, then it may very well not be fulfilling the very purpose for which Christ created and commissioned his church.[1] In this article I will argue that discipleship is the path to fruitfulness for the church. True, lasting transformational growth (both numerically and spiritually) will be most evident when discipleship is the leading vision that defines what the church does. Hence, church growth will be most fruitful when discipleship is the primary ministry of the church.[2]

Understanding the Mission

Any discussion of church growth and the spiritual factors that lead to such growth must begin by Continue reading

The Biblical Marks of Discipleship

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One of the current needs of the church today is to recover the biblical concept of discipleship. Over the past generation the understanding of discipleship as being foundational to the mission and life of the church has been watered down. During the same period of time one can find many resources devoted to the topic. However, instead of being the foundational principle upon which the church should operate, discipleship has been relegated to just one ministry amongst many within the church. During this time, the church has unofficially adopted the strategy of running programs as being the necessary approach to building a healthy church. Hence churches have children’s programs, youth programs, evangelism programs, discipleship programs, and music and worship programs – amongst many others. This partitioning of programs has led people to see discipleship as just another program within the larger church with the effect that people see it as an option or preference. One person joins the choir, another goes to the discipleship class, but both are “active” in ministry. And while that may be so, as a result of partitioning the church into programs, the church is not fulfilling the great commission.

Before Jesus ascended to the Father he made clear the purpose of the church. Every gospel account and the book of Acts communicates some version of the Great Commission. The most explicit enunciation of the Great Commission is found is Matthews’s gospel. Their Jesus said,

“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 of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen” (Matthew 28:18-20, NKJV).

From this text it is clear that the Great Commission is not limited to evangelism. And while the church has always understood that the Great Commission is a command to lead people to Christ, it has not always embraced Continue reading

Which Door?

This is chapter one of my book, “Man of the World, Battling Satan’s Infiltration of the Church.” Click on the link to the right to see more.

There seems to be a default mode that people lean towards in church life. While the invitation of the gospel is to enter into a unique and special relationship with God through Christ, many people seem content with a life of religion. The problem is that there is nothing in the gospel that even hints that that is God’s goal for a believer. Yet, there are many people who are active church members who are content with their religious routine and not even remotely concerned that the life of God is not a living reality for them. Yet, that is why Jesus came. He said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3, NKJV). And, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). The thief is Satan. He is the author of lifeless religion. But, Jesus came that we may know God and experience His life as a living reality on a daily basis. And notice, He said He came to bring an abundant life. This is not a normal, run of the mill common life that is content with sitting in pews and attending committee meetings. This is a supernatural, extraordinary, uncommon life that walks with the living God! This is the kind of life that is filled with a joy that is inexpressible and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8). This is a life that experiences a peace that transcends understanding (Philippians 4:7). This is a life that knows every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). In short, this is a life that knows God. Let that sink in. Knows. God.

So, before we look at the specifics of how Satan seeks to derail God’s will for the church, (something that he is quite skilled at) I have a question for you. Continue reading