Sunday, January 29, 2012

Be Perfect?!

be_perfectIn our continuing sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount, we have worked our way through Jesus’ discourse on the law of Moses, and concluded Sunday’s message with the closing words posed by Jesus in Matthew 5:48 --

“But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. “

After a lengthy discourse in which Jesus addressed not only the outward letter of the law, but also the evil intents and inclinations of our hearts, the reader finally arrives at verse 48 with a self-condemning heart, understanding that perfect righteousness is far beyond the flesh’s own doing.  If His prior words set the bar out of our immediate reach, then the summation command, “Be perfect,” places the bar completely out of  the bounds of the universe itself.

Impossible to attain.  Yet, there it is.

So, how does one become perfect?  Let’s look at two means by which perfection is NOT attained:

  • Human effort does not make one perfect.

    Galatians 3:3 - "How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?"

    (for the best commentary on this verse, read the entire book of Galatians; Paul articulates the futility of human effort)
  • The law does not make one perfect.

    Hebrews 10:1  - “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.”

    Hebrews 7:19
    - "For the law never made anything perfect."

    (again, for the best commentary, nothing beats the Bible itself; the book of Hebrews speaks to this subject at length)

'Perfection' comes from God alone.

  • Romans 12:2 - "Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect."
  • Colossians 4:12 - "Epaphras, a member of your own fellowship and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends you his greetings. He always prays earnestly for you, asking God to make you strong and perfect, fully confident that you are following the whole will of God."
  • Hebrews 10:14 - "For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy."
  • James 1:2-4 - "Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing."
  • James 1:21-25 - "So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls. 22 But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23 For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. 25 But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it."

Perfection is a process.  We will never be perfect in this life time, yet He works perfection in us as we yield to Him; just as we can never become righteous by our own efforts, yet “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).”

By God’s standards, nobody could ever achieve perfection, or even be qualified to receive salvation.  It is impossible.

Jesus’ disciples increasingly understood this truth, culminating in the question, “Then who in the world can be saved?

Humanly speaking, it is impossible,” Jesus responded.  “But with God everything is possible (Matthew 19:26).”

Want to be perfect?  Then don’t hide your weaknesses, but boast in them, for God says, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9a).”

Love In Christ,
Pastor Joe

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Stress! Crisis!

lifepreserverDid I get your attention?  I titled this post as such because I am currently working my way through week three of my final term of college before I graduate in June with my Bachelor’s Degree in Behavioral Science.  Having long since completed my core requirements, as well as the courses for my major, I’ve been able to finish out my last two terms with electives.

Last term, I chose “Dynamics of Family Relationships” and “Managing Conflict.”  This time, I’m taking “Stress: Its Effect on the Family” and “Crisis Intervention.”  While these four certainly lend value to my overall major, they’ve proven to be very relevant to my life over the past five months.  I love how God repeatedly has led me to take classes that He knew would have direct application to the circumstances I’d be in when I took them.

My extended family is currently walking through some challenging medical/aging issues which I will refrain from going into here.  Having said that, each one of us within our family system has been faced with extended stressors and a looming feeling of borderline crisis.

This is where our walk with Jesus comes in to stark clarity.  It’s easy to profess faith, hope, peace, and joy in Him when all is going well; yet, when the storms of life come raging, we tend to lose our bearings, and default to ‘crisis mode.’

I’m reminded of a story in Luke 8:

One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and started out.  As they sailed across, Jesus settled down for a nap. But soon a fierce storm came down on the lake. The boat was filling with water, and they were in real danger.

The disciples went and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”

When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and the raging waves. Suddenly the storm stopped and all was calm.  Then he asked them, “Where is your faith?”

The disciples were terrified and amazed. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “When he gives a command, even the wind and waves obey him!”

It’s an inescapable fact of life that storms will arise.  In the middle of life’s crises, though, remember…

He’s in the boat with us.

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27)

“For God has said, ‘I will never fail you.  I will never abandon you.’” (Hebrews 13:5b)

“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b)

“Jesus said ‘In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’ (John 16:33) – (Thanks, Kevin!)

Love In Christ,
Pastor Joe

Saturday, January 21, 2012

I Obey the Law

Over the past couple of weeks at church, we have been making our way through the Sermon on the Mount.  We began with the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12), followed by a study on being ‘salt and light Law-of-Christ(Matthew 5:13-16).’  Just this evening, I finished preparing for tomorrow’s sermon on Matthew 5:17-20, Jesus’ mission statement regarding the law of Moses and the writings of the prophets.

This particular passage of the Sermon on the Mount is deeply personal to me, as it has been a subject that has been “in my face” for a long time.  The exact circumstances as to how and why I came to dive headfirst into the topic are unimportant; what is important is that I wanted to make sure that when the time came to touch upon this topic from the pulpit, that I did so with as much of an objective understanding of the Scriptures regarding law as possible.

One of the biggest misconceptions that people have about those of us who hold to the Gospel of grace as being superior to the law of Moses is that we are then ‘lawless.’  Such talk implies that, believing ourselves no longer bound to obedience to the law, we consider God’s grace as a ‘license to sin’.

This, of course, is foolishness.  As Paul wrote in Romans 6:15 - "Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not!"

I won’t go into a discourse on law here, other than to say that the tension between law and grace was significant even in the 1st century church.  One cannot read many passages of the New Testament without encountering the contentious topic again and again.  There are many books, articles, websites, commentaries, etc. written on the subject, but the Bible speaks best for itself.  If you’re interested in learning more what the law controversy is all about, I encourage you to start with Acts 15, Romans, and Galatians.

I’ll close with one short verse that speaks my heart so concise, yet so eloquently:

"But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ." – 1 Corinthians 9:21b

Love In Christ,
Pastor Joe

Monday, January 16, 2012

“Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus”

I recently watched this video that has been making the rounds on the Internet, and thought that I’d share it here.

“Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus”

“See because religion says do, Jesus says done
Religion says slave, Jesus says son
Religion puts you in bondage, while Jesus sets you free
Religion makes you blind, but Jesus makes you see
And that's why religion and Jesus are two different clans
Religion is man searching for God, Christianity is God searching for man
Which is why salvation is freely mine, and forgiveness is my own
Not based on my merits but Jesus's obedience alone
Because he took the crown of thorns, and the blood dripped down his face
He took what we all deserved, I guess that's why you call it grace
And while being murdered he yelled
"Father forgive them they know not what they do."
Because when he was dangling on that cross, he was thinking of you
And he absorbed all of your sin, and buried it in the tomb
Which is why I'm kneeling at the cross, saying come on there's room
So for religion, no I hate it, in fact I literally resent it
Because when Jesus said it is finished, I believe he meant it”
~ Jefferson Bethke,
”Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus”

What is true Biblical religion?

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." - James 1:27

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A Quote on Preaching

“Simplicity in expression is of utmost importance. The teacher should speak so that even children and people who cannot read may be able to understand him, as far as the natural mind can comprehend the things of God. Every congregation has people of various educational and social backgrounds. The expounder of the truth of God speaks for God and for eternity. It is unlikely that he will benefit the hearers unless he uses plain speech.” - George Muller

On Blessings

beatitudesI just finished working on tomorrow’s sermon, the start of a series of yet-to-be-determined length on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  Like other passages of scripture, I’ve read these words at least dozens of times before, yet, as always seems to be the case when I’m digging in, the words come alive again in a fresh and relevant way.

Working my way through the eight blessings that Jesus began his famous sermon with, I was encouraged to see just how ‘blessed’ and ‘persecution’ paint a beautiful picture of the work that He was yet to do on the cross.  Because of His finished work, we have been blessed with the privilege of sharing in the proclamation of the Good News, that He has made us right with God.

Right with God!  Not on our own merits, not by anything that we could ever say or do, but only by complete faith and trust in Jesus.  It is no wonder that this message is so offensive to others.  Our world system is, and has always been, merit-based.  So, to proclaim that the ultimate outcomes – justification, righteousness, peace with God – are not at all based upon our individual merits, but freely bestowed on us by our spiritual poverty, by our humility, by the mercy we show others, is an offense to those who maintain that we must work to gain God’s favor and love.  It is to say that all of their external works are for nothing.  The true work of godliness is internal.

Jesus’ blessings conclude with “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.  Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.”

Be happy?!  Yes!  Consider the words of the apostle Paul:

"Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:35-39)

Yes, persecution will come, but blessed are you when it does, for God is working out something far greater than our momentary troubles would belie, something of eternal worth and value. 

Someone once wrote, “There is no oil, if olives are not squeezed. No wine, if grapes are not pressed.  No perfume, if flowers are not crushed.”  Although this is not scripture, but a quote from an unknown source, it bears an eternal truth.

As it is written, “our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!  So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

Friday, January 6, 2012

Perspectives on Creation

“He counts the stars and calls them all by name.”
~ Psalm 147:4

“The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word;
their voice is never heard.
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
and their words to all the world.”
~ Psalm 19:1-4

When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
   the moon and the stars you set in place—
what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
      human beings that you should care for them?”

~ Psalm 8:3-4

“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.”
~ Psalm 139:13-16

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Technology in the Pulpit?


Today, while catching up on some of the blogs and forums I follow, I read an interesting thread.

The initial post was titled “playbook in church” (‘playbook’ being the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet):

“spotted! my pastor at church uses his playbook as his bible during his sermon. im not sure if he is using notes or the bible app , either way playbook has made it to the pulpit. AMEN”

I had to smile, as I’ve been using my HP TouchPad religiously (pun intended) on Sunday mornings ever since I received it a few months ago.  I’ve even used it in a wedding ceremony.  I’ve found it to be a great ministerial help, so much so that I’m sure I’ll blog about it at some point.  As it stands, I can’t imagine going back to paper notes.

Having said that, I want to share one of the comments someone posted to that thread.  Bear in mind, virtually all of the replies (135 at last count) were overwhelmingly positive.

“Using a tablet in church seems a little over the top, even for pastors. Seriously, I doubt that God is amused...”

I’m wondering why the author of this comment feels this way.  Thoughts, anyone?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Shake Off the Dust

Here are a few scriptures that have spoken measures to me in recent weeks; verses that have been especially cathartic as I’ve been striving to put the past behind me, and to freely move into the next chapter of my life:

dusty"Remind everyone about these things, and command them in God’s presence to stop fighting over words. Such arguments are useless, and they can ruin those who hear them." - 2 Timothy 2:14

"Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights.  A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants." - 2 Timothy 2:23-26

"Do not get involved in foolish discussions about spiritual pedigrees or in quarrels and fights about obedience to Jewish laws. These things are useless and a waste of time. If people are causing divisions among you, give a first and second warning. After that, have nothing more to do with them. For people like that have turned away from the truth, and their own sins condemn them." - Titus 3:9-11

There are times when it is important to defend the faith (Jude 1:3), but there is also a time to shake off the dust and to move on (Matthew 10:14).

This is where I am in my journey, as I begin a new year.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit
be with you all,

Pastor Joe

Sunday, January 1, 2012

My Pastoral Resolutions

  • I resolve to be a man of constant joy, prayer, and thanksgiving (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
  • I resolve to love my wife as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25), and to manage my own family and household well (1 Timothy 3:4).
  • I resolve to know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).
  • I resolve to do my best to present myself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15-16).
  • I resolve to preach the word of God, to be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not, to patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage the people with good teaching (2 Timothy 4:2).
  • I resolve to guard myself and God’s people. I will feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed me as pastor (Acts 20:28).
  • I resolve to care for the flock that God has entrusted to me; to watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what I will get out of it, but because I am eager to serve God; to not lord it over the people assigned to my care, but lead you by my own good example (1 Peter 5:2-3).
  • I resolve to use the spiritual gifts that God has entrusted to me with to serve you (1 Peter 4:10), to do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility value others above myself, not looking to my own interests but to the interest of others (Philippians 2:3-4), and to be the servant of all (Mark 9:35).
  • I resolve to rejoice with those who rejoice, to mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15), and to share in your burdens (Galatians 6:2).
  • I resolve to strive to forget the past and to look forward to what lies ahead, to press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us (Philippians 3:13-14).