The Black Backdrop

A young man walked into a jewelry store to shop for an engagement ring. Standing nervously at the counter, he peered through the glass top at a tray of beautiful gems. The salesman brought out some of his finer diamonds and held each precious jewel up to the light. The diamonds were quality stones, but the young man wasn’t impressed. None of them caught his eye. Realizing he needed a new approach, the salesman pulled a black velvet pad out of the drawer and placed it on the counter. Using his tweezers, he delicately picked up one of his choicest stones and laid it on the black backdrop. As he did so, all the light in the room seemed to pour through the stone causing it to shine as it had never shone before. The man was dazzled. He had seen this very diamond moments earlier, but not like this. All the beauty of this precious stone was now dramatically enhanced and clearly showcased for him to behold. Noting his approval to the salesman the man said that this was the diamond he wanted to purchase.

What changed the man’s view of the diamond? Why did the costly gem, which only moments before had appeared so unimpressive, now sparkle like the stars above on a moonless night? In the jewelry business, the dark background makes all the difference. When placed on a glass counter, the black velvet causes the light overhead to radiate brilliantly through the stone, revealing its true beauty and causing it to sparkle and shine more brightly. Remove the black backdrop, and it’s difficult to see the diamond’s splendor. It’s the darkness that causes the stone to burst forth with dazzling light. The same principle can be applied to the spiritual realm. In order to fully appreciate God’s love, we must examine it against the black backdrop of His wrath. The blackness of God’s wrath showcases the flawless gem of His great love toward us. But remove the black backdrop of His wrath, and our appreciation of the brilliance of His amazing love fades.

The gem of Romans is the gospel—the good news. However, before we can fully understand and appreciate the good news we must understand the bad news that Paul presents in 1:18-3:20. The theme of this section is that everybody everywhere is condemned before God. Therefore, Paul makes his greatest attempt to get us lost in our sin so that we can then be found. He wants us to emerge from this section with a feeling of utter desperation. Not a little guilt, but absolute desperation! Have you ever heard the expression, “Hunger is the best cook?” That’s a true statement, isn’t it? Well, my purpose in the next five sermons will be to get you famished—famished for God’s love. In 1:18-32, Paul uses a broad brush to paint the portrait of human wickedness. This text teaches: When we sin God says, “Have it your way.” Yes, that’s right; Burger King® plagiarized God in their slogan. In this section, Paul discloses two sobering realities.

 

  1. We Have Willfully And Foolishly Rejected God (1:18-23)

Paul demonstrates that when we reject God as Creator we turn to idolatry and are ultimately without excuse. In 1:18, Paul issues a summary statement for 1:18-32, and perhaps for all of 1:18-3:20: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Paul begins his discussion with “the wrath of God.” Obviously, this is not a popular concept. Yet, since the Bible doesn’t shy away from this topic neither must we. Simply put, God’s wrath is His holy hatred of sin. But God’s wrath is very different from our wrath. God doesn’t fly off the handle and “go off” on people. He simply reacts to sin. Have you ever been allergic?

 

Similarly, the Bible teaches that God is so holy that He naturally and violently reacts to sin. He can’t help Himself; He’s just plain allergic to sin! Hence, one of the greatest truths we can come to grips with is how much God hates sin. When you and I understand the utter wickedness of sin, we will appreciate God’s wrath.

 

Paul states that God’s wrath is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness. This is particularly evident in those who continually “suppress [or hold down the truth.” Please note the phrase “the truth.” God believes in absolute truth; He objects to relative truth. He states that people suppress what they know to be true. In this context, the truth is that there is a God. The German philosopher Frederick Nichtze (1844-1900) wrote, “If you could prove God to me, I’d believe Him all the less.” This is what it means to suppress the truth. We must pray for our unsaved loved ones to have soft hearts that are responsive to spiritual truth. We must also pray that we don’t harden our hearts and suppress God’s truth in our lives.

In 1:19-20 Paul now explains the reason that God’s wrath is revealed: “… because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” One way God reveals Himself is through His creation.

 

Unfortunately, Paul emphasizes that even though all people know God as Creator, they reject Him. The term “known” (gnostos) means “capable of being known, intelligible.” Paul uses the noun “evident” (phaneros) and the verb “to make evident” (phaneroo) to emphasize that God has revealed Himself. These words mean “evident so as to be readily known.” So basically God says, “They know. I know they know, and they know they know.” Paul even states that this knowledge has been evident “since the creation of the world” (1:20a). The invisible God is visible through His creation. God’s “eternal power” is evidenced by the fact of His creation. God’s “divine nature” is evidenced by the fact that His creation is a created order, and not random chaos. This implies that God has a character, which gives order and purpose to creation. Please notice that Paul states that the truth of God in nature has been “clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (1:20b).

 

The two verbs in this verse are very important. “Clearly seen” (kathorao) means that everyone has seen something of God’s handiwork in the world. “Understood” (noeo) is even stronger. It means that the revelation of God in nature strikes the heart of every man. Understand that Paul isn’t suggesting that nature contains a revelation about God which every man may see. That’s not strong enough. Paul is saying that every man actually sees the revelation and every man actually understands it to some degree. This is why Paul can say in 1:20b that man is “without excuse.”

 

Have you ever been to Mount Rushmore near Keystone, South Dakota? Mount Rushmore is a huge sculpture of the heads of four Presidents (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt). Each head is sixty feet high! Now suppose you visited this mountain for the very first time and no one told you anything about how the heads were formed. What would you think?

(A) You would think that the heads were formed by chance. The sculpture somehow just happened.

(B) You would think that all the forces of nature (wind, rain, sleet, snow, etc.) had their effect upon this mountain for thousands and thousands of years until finally the rocks were accidentally shaped in just the right way.

(C) You would realize that intelligent men must have formed and carved out such a massive sculpture. By simply looking at Mount Rushmore you could learn certain things about the men who formed and carved it (even though you had never seen or met these men).

(1) These men must have had intelligence to be able to plan and design such a monument.

(2) These men must have had wisdom to be able to carry out such a great project. Indeed, it took more than six years to complete.

(3) These men must have had power to be able to carve into hard granite (using dynamite, etc.).

(4) These men must have had skill to be able to transform a rugged cliff into an artistic masterpiece. In the same way, by simply looking at creation, we can learn many things about the Creator. He is a God of power, wisdom, order, and beauty. Moreover, we are able to conclude that this Supreme Being deserves our worship and obedience. These facts explain why in every culture there is some belief in a Supreme Being. It is obvious that there is a God.

 

No matter how you ponder creation, God is knowable and evident. When I was growing up I was a big sports fan. I collected the autographs of famous athletes. These autographs represented the value of the athletes. Likewise, all of creation bears God’s autograph. When God wants to show off His glory and power, He points to creation. The design of creation points to the Master Designer—God.

If time permitted, I’d love to share with you about the complexity of the human cell, the intricacies of the human eye, and the immensity of the sun. I could spend hours talking about God’s creative genius.

Tragically, when we reject God we inevitably worship a substitute. This is called idolatry. In 1:21-23, Paul testifies: “For even though they knew God, they did not honor [glorify] Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.” Paul asserts that humankind does know God (1:21). His power and glory are apparent and irrefutable. How do we respond to this revelation? With a failure to honor God and give Him thanks. Failing to glorify God is the root sin. We were created to glorify God. It is our ultimate mission in life. Thanksgiving is also central to the worship of God. Martin Luther (1483-1546) claimed that ingratitude is the root of all evil. How true! Even as a believer, I am guilty of ingratitude. You are too. How often have we refused to acknowledge God for the great God He is? How many times have we failed to give thanks? Who are some people in your life that you can be thankful for? What are some possessions in your life that you can be grateful for? Have you expressed thanks to God. When we refuse to give God thanks there are mental and moral consequences.

 

The mental consequence is that men “became futile in their speculations.” The moral consequence was that their hearts were “darkened.” Paul also tells us that the appearance of intellectualism is in reality a sham (1:22-23). The supposed wisdom is, in reality, foolishness. This reflects the wisdom of Psalm 14:1a: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Tragically, God has been “exchanged.” We’ve taken Him back like a Christmas present that doesn’t fit and we’ve said, “We want our money back.” This is the great insanity of idolatry.

 

It’s possible that you, too, are guilty of idolatry and you don’t even realize it.

(1) Is there an object, person, or activity in your life that’s a substitute for God?

(2) Are your affections centered on something God has created rather than God the Creator?

(3) Does this activity prevent or replace your love for God?

(4) Is there something you worship more than God? If you respond honestly to these questions, you may have recognized the idolatry that exists within you. Commit yourself right now to forsake idolatry. Begin this process by exposing your idol to another person. Request prayer and press on in the worship of God.

[When humankind rejects God’s revelation, God responds in a very surprising way.]

 

  1. God Deliberately Gives Us What We Want (1:24-32)

 

When we refuse to glorify God and give Him thanks, God gives us over to our sin. In other words, the penalty for sin is more sin. The first result of idolatry is found in 1:24-27: God gives us over to sexual sin. Paul writes, “Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.” Please notice that it was God who gave us over (see 1:24, 26, 28). When we reject God, He gives us over to sexual immorality. Although many folks think this is a dream come true—this dream leads to death (cf. Jas 1:14-15).

 

Once the “passing pleasures of sin” (Heb 11:25) are over there is loneliness, emptiness, guilt, and many other potential emotional, mental, and physical consequences. If you’re committing sexual immorality, stop in your tracks. Repent of your sin and return to a lifestyle of purity. While God is a God of grace, He’s also a God of wrath. Consequently, He will exercise His present tense wrath (cf. 1:18) in an attempt to get us sick of ourselves. Even this is an expression of His love.

 

Unfortunately, the tendency of humankind is to ignore God’s love and to play once again by their rules. Verse 25 serves as a parenthetical statement to tie 1:24 and 26-27 back to the idolatry of 1:21-23.

In 1:25, the response of humankind is to exalt the creature over God. Paul writes, “For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” This verse states that man “exchanged the truth of God for a lie.” If you have a center column or side column reference Bible, you can see that the phrase “a lie” is literally translated “the lie.”

 

This begs the question: “What lie is Paul referring to?” I believe the lie that Paul has in mind is the first lie—the mother of all lies that began in the garden. The lie is godship, that we are the masters of our fate, the captain of our souls. This is a satanic deception straight out of hell. I believe that the worst time in our history was the period of “Higher Criticism of the Bible” (1800s to the present) where man stood over the Scriptures and decided what parts were true and what parts were false. People slowly lost confidence that you could trust God’s Word. Consequently, the creature became exalted over the Creator. There was role reversal of the most demonic sort. When this happened it can be legitimately said that man “worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” Once God is brought down to creature level, the creature is then worshipped above God. Yet, even in the midst of penning this atrocious account, Paul bursts out into praise over God the Creator: “who is blessed forever. Amen.” What an example for you and me! When we read the Word there should be occasions when we break out into praise.

 

In 1:26-27 we come to the hot topic of homosexuality. Honestly, I’m not interested in what various denominations, pastors, and scholars say about homosexuality. I’m also not interested in how particular politicians view homosexuality. My chief concern is: What does the Bible say about homosexuality? Let’s read these verses carefully. “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.”

 

Paul’s view of homosexuality seems rather clear. He refers to the practice of homosexuality as “degrading,” “unnatural,” and “indecent,” and “error.” Whether our country likes it or not, whether we like it or not, the Bible considers homosexuality sin. It’s not an alternative lifestyle. God calls it sin throughout the Bible, and so must we. It’s not a hate crime to say so; it would be a biblical crime to not say so. If we’re to be Christ followers we must tow this line. But we must do so with compassion and sensitivity. We must be careful to not suggest that the sin of homosexuality is worse than any other sin. Homosexuality is only one of many unclean or dishonoring sexual practices. Many Christians can be downright brutal. We go off on this sin because it’s one that many of us don’t struggle with.

 

However, in 1 Corinthians 6, Paul lumps the homosexual and the coveter together. Have you ever wanted something that doesn’t belong to you? If so, then you are covetous, and so am I. In God’s sight, we’re no worse or better than the homosexual. We must avoid being judgmental (see Rom 2:1-11). Instead, we ought to spend more time striving against our own sin rather than pointing the finger at someone else’s sin. We must seek to share Christ with homosexuals and lesbians and let the Holy Spirit work His change in their lives.

 

Additionally, fathers, don’t ever shy away from expressing your love to your boys. Lavish love on your boys both physically and verbally. Don’t be afraid to hug and kiss them. Always tell them how wonderful they are and how much you love them. This is one of the greatest ways that I know to ensure that your boys have healthy, God-honoring relationships with other men. Obviously, this principle applies to mothers and daughters as well. But it’s especially critical between fathers and sons because statistically, men are three times more prone to adopt a homosexual lifestyle than women.

 

As we wrap up these verses, it is worth noting that Paul does not specify what the “penalty” received is. Though many Christians like to infer from this that the current AIDS epidemic (or more recent outbreak of deadly staph infections among homosexual men), this is uncertain. Paul merely notes that the penalty of their delusion is received “in their own persons” (en heautois). I believe he is referring to the gnawing, unsatisfied lust itself, along with the dreadful physical and moral consequences of sexual promiscuity.

 

In either case, the consequences are severe. When we sin God says, “Have it your way.” Beware!

 

The second result of idolatry is found in 1:28-32: God gives us over to every manner of sin. In 1:28, Paul writes, “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper.” Previously, Paul has said that God is “known,” “evident,” “clearly seen,” and “understood” (1:19-20). Yet, humankind refuses to even “acknowledge” (echo: “to have, hold”) God any longer. Their response is to dismiss God altogether. The result is dreadful: utter mental and moral darkness. This leads to a vice list of twenty-one different sins in 1:29-31. This is the most comprehensive list of sins in the entire New Testament. As you look through this vice list, please notice that many of these sins are fairly acceptable in the Christian community. Sins like greed, envy, strife, gossip, slander, arrogance, and my personal favorite—disobedience to parents— are common traits of many Christians and are found in every church. Yet Paul says that these behaviors are sin, and he cleverly links these acts with homosexuality, murder, idolatry, and every form of wickedness. This should change the way that we view sin. We are without excuse. Paul has leveled the playing field. This should humble us all and motivate us to achieve a new standard of holiness. We are to be holy as He is holy (cf. 1 Pet 1:15-16).

 

Paul concludes this passage by hitting way too close to home. In 1:32 he writes, “Although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.” Paul concludes by echoing a form of the verb “know” (epiginosko) from 1:19 and 21. Our tendency to rebel against the knowledge of God has been evident throughout this passage (1:18, 19, 20, 21, 25, 28).

 

Even though we know the truth, we tend to rebel against it. This is where we are at as a nation right now. As a result, God’s wrath is being revealed all over the place. We have idols everywhere we look. We’re trying to legalize homosexual marriage. Our TV talk show hosts are trotting out the most perverted guests they can find and the audience claps and roars at what they’re doing. The New English Bible captures the forcefulness of Paul’s idea when it translates the phrase as “they actually applaud such practices.” This is the wrath of God. God has backed off and has allowed the world to go stark raving mad! George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), the famous playwright and theater critic, said it well, “Earth is the place other planets send their insane.” Of course, when God gives people over and puts into motion His wrath, it doesn’t matter who’s in the White House or who’s on the city council or who’s on the school board. It’s irrelevant because when the wrath of God is your problem, the goodness of God is your only solution.

 

As we close, I want to take us back to 1:18. Please notice the first word of this passage. The word “for” (gar) is important because it links 1:18 and following to 1:16-17 and gives a reason for it. The gospel is necessary because there is such a thing as the wrath of God and only the gospel brings deliverance from His wrath. I also would like to draw your attention back to the word translated “gave over” (paradidomi). As I stated earlier, the verb “gave over” is used three times (1:24, 26, 28). As I studied this word, I found something interesting. This word isn’t found again until 4:25 where Jesus Christ is “given over” or “delivered” for our sins. That’s good news! We have a future hope. Why? Because as Martin Luther said, “God is not hostile to sinners, but only to unbelievers.” Will you believe the gospel? Will you receive Jesus Christ’s provision for your sin today?

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WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE TV DAD?  WHY?

Who are your favorite TV dads? Here are those TV dads that bring me fond memories (not ranked in any order):

  1. Jim Anderson, “Father Knows Best” (Robert Young):Jim always had a solution for things when his wife and kids needed him. Everything got solved in 30 minutes! This show started on network radio on NBC and when television started growing, Young and his partner Gene Rodney took it to Columbia Pictures’ TV division and the show ran from 1953 to 1963, first on CBS and later NBC. Also ran in reruns in daytime on ABC.
  2. Ward Cleaver, “Leave It To Beaver” (Hugh Beaumont):Ward was a great father to Wally and The Beaver but you sure didn’t want to cross him! Beaumont in real life was a Methodist minister and a movie actor in the 1940s playing the role of Detective Michael Shayne. The Beaver show started on CBS in 1957 but moved to ABC and stayed there until 1963. Has been in syndication since!
  3. Cliff Huxtable, “The Cosby Show” (Bill Cosby): Nothing more needs to be said… remains one of the most successful shows in television history. Big hit when it ran on NBC and later in syndication.
  4. Ben Cartwright, “Bonanza” (Lorne Greene): Ben would do anything for Hoss, Little Joe, and Adam…. all born with different mothers that were married to Ben… ostensibly the women died giving childbirth. Airing on TV since 1959.
  5. Tim Taylor, “Home Improvement” (Tim Allen): In the 1990s, it was one of the most watched sitcoms in the American market, winning many awards. The series launched Tim Allen’s acting career and also was the start of the television career ofPamela Anderson, who was part of the recurring cast for the first two seasons.
  6. Charles Ingalls, “Little House On The Prairie” (Michael Landon):Father to four daughters, three adopted kids, and husband to Caroline, making a living during the 1800s. Based on books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Ran on NBC from 1974-1983.
  7. Andy Taylor, “The Andy Griffith Show” (Andy Griffith):This show was a spin off from “Make Room For Daddy” starring Danny Thomas. Thomas and Sheldon Leonard who were the producers created the Griffith show and as we all know this show became iconic with millions of Americans. After 50 years, the show still can be seen and in some areas of the country it is scheduled around local TV newcasts. Ran on CBS from 1961-1968.
  8. Mike Brady, “The Brady Bunch” (Robert Reed):Great TV father and husband. In real life, Reed clashed with the show’s producer Sherwood Schwartz over creative issues. Reed was a Shakespearean trained actor and thought that some of the stuff on “The Brady Bunch” was hokey, but Schwartz would have nothing to do with it. Ran on ABC from 1969-1974 and still airing today.
  9. Jed Clampett, “The Beverly Hillbillies” (Buddy Ebsen):Ebsen was a dancer by training and appeared in movies during the 1930s and 1940s. Television revived his career when producer Paul Henning cast him as the head of the Clampett family who strikes oil in the Ozarks and goes from rags to riches while trying to fit in Beverly Hills, California.
  10. Steve Douglas, “My Three Sons” (Fred MacMurray):MacMurray was a Hollywood movie actor starting in the 1930s, usually cast as a tough guy (“Double Indemnity”) but later was cast in movies produced by Disney in softer, comedic roles. MacMurray was one of the richest actors in Hollywood in his day, known around town as a tightwad! He was a great TV father on “My Three Sons,” but on the set he would come and do his part and leave, not very personable with the kids. Show ran on CBS from 1960-1972.

 

Everyone’s perception of God is colored to some degree by their attitude and relationship with their father.  Even those who never knew their father might see God as an absentee God or they will paint God as the type of father they wish they had.  Throughout the Bible, God is referred to as our Father.  Jesus used an illustration of a father to help us grasp the depth of God the Father’s love for us.

READ Luke 15:11-12

During this time, the religious leaders criticized Jesus, not because the tax collectors and sinners were coming to Him, but because he was welcoming them.  Jesus told three parables to illustrate lostness and the importance God places on recovering those who are lost.  The third one, His parable about the prodigal son, illustrates how a loving father welcomes any sinner who comes to Him. It increased the percentage loss from 1 out of 100 sheep to 1 out of 10 coins to 1 out of 2 sons.  However, the loss of a son rather than sheep or silver ramps up the devastation.  So the third parable clarified and complemented Jesus’ instruction concerning the rescue of a sinner through the gospel.  Each of the three stories shows the sinner’s repentance and return to God.

The Pharisees repeatedly failed to realize what brings God contentment, satisfaction and joy.  The Pharisees and scribes grumbled about Jesus’ welcoming tax collectors and sinners in the first two verses of this chapter.  Dining with the crowd gave a silent affirmation and approval to them as persons, outraging the Pharisees and scribes who would never have socialized with such people.

WHO WAS THIS PARABLE REALLY ABOUT?  The father – not the prodigal son

Jesus began the parable with, “A man had two sons”.  The father symbolized God the Father.  The younger son typified a repentant sinner and the older son represented the self-righteous Pharisees.  The younger son demanded his share of the estate from his father to try to find a happy life in a distant country.  Judaism advised against granting such a request, but it could happen.  A son asking for his share of the estate showed disrespect by suggesting he could not wait for his father to die.  The demand communicated that his father no longer fit into his plans.  By demanding his inheritance, the son sowed seeds of discord in the family.

By the way, this (sowing discord) is one of the things God hates:

READ Proverbs 6:16-19

#1 – He had the freedom to choose

His actions harmed the father’s reputation, jeopardized his family’s financial security and fractured the family. The father, who did not refuse the son’s outrageous request, distributed the assets (to both sons).

DID THIS COST THE FATHER?  WHY DID HE DO IT?

READ Luke 15:13-19

After cashing in his share of the estate to bankroll his rebellion, the younger son headed off to a distant country.  Jesus reported ever so briefly that the son wasted all he had through poor choices.  All the money he could have could not provide what he was really looking for.  Having tried everything he could do on his own, he then chose to return to where he had all he needed to start with.

DOES THIS SOUND LIKE DOROTHY AFTER SHE WAKES UP IN THE WIZARD OF OZ?

Coming to his senses (you might too if you couldn’t even get the leftovers from pig’s food) and remembering how his father’s servants lived, he had to go back home.  His actions, more important than any emotional feelings of remorse, show the appropriate changes in thinking and behavior.  He accepted full responsibility for destroying the relationship with his father and sought reconciliation. BUT…

No respectable father in that time would have greeted a rebellious son if he would return.  It would break all Middle Eastern protocol.  The son’s outrageous and rebellious actions had brought dishonor upon his father and tarnished his family’s name.  The Pharisees and scribes would have expected the father to have refused to meet him, or to have forced him to sit outside the family gate in public view so the whole town could browbeat him with shame.  Furthermore, the son could expect to wait out certain period of time thoroughly humbling himself before his father.  Only then, would the father tell him with a measure of indifference how long the son would have to work to restore what had been squandered.  Only after the son had squared everything through the penances dictated by his father could he possibly hope to find some measure of favor again with his father.

OH, HOW IT IS WITH US – THIS IS OUR REACTION, NOT THAT OF OUR FATHER.

#2 God has the love that embraces

IT IS POSSIBLE TO GO HOME AGAIN?  IS IT YOU, SOMEONE YOU LOVE, OR KNOW? God yearns for us to return to Him, even if we have not rebelled like this.  How do I know this?  Check out the father’s response to seeing his son:

READ Luke 15:20-21

Jesus’ story blindsided His audience.  While the son was still a long way off, his father saw him.  At best, he could hope for a half-hearted welcome and perhaps some menial job working for his father.  Oh, but consider this father!  He must have waited daily; yearning to see his son return.  Finally, he caught a glimpse of his dejected and emaciated boy – and it melted his heart in compassion.  Throwing aside conventions of dignity, the father RAN with exuberance.  He went beyond normal forgiveness and cascaded his son with incredible love!

Even before the disgraced son could butter up his father with his well-rehearsed confession, his father threw his arms around the boy’s neck and kissed him.  Everything he did signaled his absolute affection and complete reconciliation.

The father’s demonstration of love and acceptance without the son paying for his transgressions shocked the scribes and the Pharisees.  Even today, many people have adopted a similar view of spiritual economy – making works the means of salvation rather than God’s free gift of grace through faith.

#3 God has the grace that restores

This picture reveals God’s attitude and activity toward sinners:

READ Luke 15:7

While He longs to embrace and keep close those who rebel, just like the father in this parable, God will not force anyone to stay home.  The father, like our Heavenly Father, had a love that remained constant despite the hurt caused by the son’s departure.  His love did not stop at an embrace:

Read Luke 15:22-24

Despite the son’s actions, the father lavished on him the best gifts imaginable (still boggling the minds of the audience).

Bring out the best robe – either the master’s or the son’s to denote his place of love and honor in the family.

Put a ring on his finger – confirming the son’s return to a place of authority in the household

Put sandals on his feet – only the sons and the master wore shoes – full sonship

To completely restore a son who had shamed his father and blown through a third of the family’s assets (the older son was due a double portion according to the Jewish tradition) did not line up with their theology.  They would have demanded at least a waiting period or reentry time with limitations on family privileges.  NO – that is not the way our Heavenly Father works.  He waits – even searches – for us to come home to Him.

READ Luke 19:10 – Jesus came to SEEK and save the lost

When we repent from our sinfulness and turn to Him, like the father in the parable, He absorbs the hurt and the loss and He lavishes us with the blessing of a full relationship with Him.

By linking the three parables in this chapter – the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son – Jesus gave a higher profile to the celebratory nature of the son’s return.  The shepherd and the woman invited their friends to rejoice with them, but when the father did it – it was the biggest deal anyone could imagine.

Did the son earn it? No!  Do WE deserve it? No! How great the love of our Father!

READ 1 John 3:1

We don’t have to hit rock bottom to decide to go home to our Father or to someone else.  Instead we can make the decision now.

What now?

  1. We can go home – if you have been keeping your distance from God, return to Him. Begin praying daily and reading your Bible.  God will show you the way back and looking for you to return.
  2. We can forgive generously – when was the last time you ran to forgive someone? Forgive even if it seems strange and shocking to everyone else around.  Forgive as God as forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32).  Let that someone know you’ve forgiven them. Don’t be like the older son (remember he was the picture of the Pharisees) – vs. 25-32.
  3. We can invite someone home – engage in honest, but loving, conversation with a “prodigal” in your life. Patiently walk with the person as he or she finds the way to the Father.

Preparing for tomorrow, today

3 Tomorrow’s World (1 Thessalonians 2:13-20)
It’s been said, “Only two things in this world are eternal—the Bible and people.” If this is true (and it is), it only makes sense to build your life around those things that will last forever. Think about it: God’s Word will last forever…people last forever…everything else disappears. In light of this sobering reality, how should we live? We should live our life backwards from the judgment seat of Christ and ask, “What difference will my life make in 10,000 years?” Most of the things we work for or worry about won’t matter in three weeks, let alone three months or three years. We focus on the trivial and forget to pursue the eternal. But 10,000 times 10,000 years from now, you’ll still be glad you invested your life for Jesus Christ. In 1 Thess 2:13-20 Paul says, “You can shape tomorrow by starting today.” In these eight verses, we are challenged to give thanks for two of God’s blessings.
1. Thank God for the work of His Word (2:13-16).
1 Thess 2:13-16 serves a transitional role in this letter. In 2:12, Paul’s focus shifted from the behavior of the missionaries (the primary subject of 2:1-12) to that of the Thessalonians. Now, still focusing on the Thessalonians, he picks up and develops further a point touched on in 1:6: the Thessalonians’ acceptance of the gospel in spite of severe suffering (2:13-14). This reference to suffering in turn sets up what he will say in 2:17-20 (where his focus again shifts from the Thessalonians back to the missionaries).
In this first section, Paul thanks God for the response of the church to Scripture. In 2:13, Paul pens a lengthy but potent verse: “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.” Paul states that he and his coworkers “constantly” thank God for the way the Thessalonians responded after they preached the gospel to them. The word “constantly” (adialeipto) is an adverb which means “without interruption, continually, regularly.” It is used in 1 Thess 1:5; 2:13; 5:17; and Rom 1:9. In each passage it has to do with some aspect of prayer. He thanks God that they “received” God’s Word. The word “received” is an objective external response that refers to “the hearing of the ear.” It’s like signing a receipt at the post office so you can accept a package. Paul means that the Thessalonians listened intently to the message he preached because they knew it came from God. The word translated “accepted” is a subjective internal response that refers to “the hearing of the heart.” This word is used of welcoming a guest into your home. It is a picture of warm hospitality. The point is: it’s very possible to listen to preaching and not be changed by it. It’s something else to welcome God’s message into your heart and let it transform your life. “Performs its work” is energeo from which we get our word energy or energize.
How frequently do you thank God for people who have received and accepted the gospel? During this past week, I have been reminded to thank God for how He is constantly touching people and reaching people with His Word. Do you need to express thanks for some people you know who have trusted in Jesus? Why not write down several names on a 3×5 card or a Post-it-Note and then daily thank the Lord for these individuals and pray that they continue to grow?
Before we move on to 2:14, we need to further apply 2:13. As a church family, how can we grow in our response to God’s Word?
o Pray for a deeper appreciation for the Word. Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) once said, “The Bible is God’s best gift to man.” It is easy to nod our head at this statement, but it is harder to live out its truth. It’s been said, “There is little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference.” The little difference is attitude. If you’re not really excited about the Word, pray that God will deepen your appreciation. Specifically, pray that you will treasure God’s Word like Job who said it was worth more than his daily food, or David who said it was more valuable than fine gold, or even the Psalmist who said it was more valuable than sleep. If the preaching of the Word bores you and you can’t seem to stay awake and engaged, don’t just keep sleeping through sermons and devotional times. Pray that the Lord will give you an insatiable hunger and zeal for His Word.
o Work hard in your study of the Word. James 1:21 tells us that the Word is implanted in us the moment we believe in Christ. Yet, we still bear a responsibility to read and study God’s Word. We can’t pawn this responsibility off on busyness or any other excuse. Have you ever played chess? If I really wanted to learn how to play chess, I could ask a pro to teach me. I could also check out Chess for Dummies at the local library. Easier still, I could go online and study various websites on how to be a chess champion. So why don’t I? I haven’t made the decision to do so. Perhaps you have never chosen to read and study the Word. If so, you are without excuse. (I say this with love and compassion.) We have every opportunity in this day and age to learn the Bible for ourselves. Today, ask a fellow believer to study the Bible with you. Plug into a Sunday class or small group where the Bible is taught. Visit a website that will teach you more about the Bible. I recommend http://www.biblegateway.com. But do something today! You can shape tomorrow by starting today.
o Apply what you hear and learn in the Word. It is not enough to appreciate the teaching of God’s Word; we must apply it in our experience to make it fully effective in our lives. After all, what makes the Bible unique from all other books is its inherent ability to transform lives. Those who read and apply the Bible will see their lives transformed like a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. Think of it this way: What if you took food into your mouth, chewed it up, and never swallowed it? The food would be of no benefit to you. It might taste good, but its nutrients would not be absorbed into your system. If you do not digest your recommended daily intake of food you will eventually die.
This principle is also true in the spiritual realm. Are you on spiritual life support? Do you have a head full of Bible knowledge and feet empty of Bible obedience? If so, get your feet in gear and obey what you read. One of your goals ought to be to consistently model Christ in everything you say and do. Personally, I find that one of my most challenging ambitions is that my wife, Karen, would be able to honestly say that I am the godliest man that she knows. If the one who knows me best can say that, I know I am making progress in applying the Scriptures and modeling Christ to others.
In 2:14, Paul further explains that he is thankful for the Thessalonians because they willingly accepted persecution for the sake of Christ. He writes, “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews.” The Christian life is no manicured bed of perfumed roses. It’s not all plain sailing into an orange sunset. The church at Thessalonica became “imitators” of other churches by undergoing suffering. The exact nature of the persecution is not stated. It may have been persecution by the local government. Perhaps it consisted largely of persecution from former friends, discrimination in the marketplace, and even violence that went unnoticed by the magistrates. Regardless, belief in Christ and God’s Word attracts persecution. The term “countrymen” refers to fellow Thessalonian Gentiles.
In our context, it could mean the people closest to you. If you decide to believe the Bible is the Word of God, many people who are close to you will not share your faith. If your spouse, your siblings, your parents, your children, or your friends reject your faith, how will you respond? Will you boldly carry on even though you may not please them? It is very difficult to live a dynamic Christian life when we are constantly trying to please people. Bill Cosby once said, “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” If those closest to you criticize you, will you take it on the chin like a spiritual man or woman? People constantly hurt by what others say about them are usually distracted and ineffective. It is very difficult to live a dynamic Christian life when wearing a thin skin.
If you struggle with being a people pleaser and having thin skin, I have two suggestions for you.
(1) Seek to hang out with bold believers. When you observe a brother or sister that is fearless, you will become emboldened. It is nearly impossible to spend time with a bold believer and not have some of their courage rub off on you. If you don’t know any bold believers, get to know some bold unbelievers and learn how they share their message with others.
(2) Study the persecuted church. When you read about our brothers and sisters in Christ who are being tortured and killed for their faith in Christ, you will find yourself challenged and inspired to be bold for Christ. I would encourage you to get on the mailing list of Voice of the Martyrs. They have a very helpful weekly e-mail called “VOM—USA News & Prayer Update.”. These tools will help you to be bold for Christ. You can shape tomorrow by starting today.
In 2:15-16, Paul pens two very controversial verses directed toward Jews. Although the purpose of these words is illustrative, these verses have caused some to insist that Paul is anti-Semitic. However, before arriving at a decision, read Paul’s words for yourself: “[The unbelieving Jews who persecuted the churches in Judea] who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost.” Paul says that some first-century Jews were responsible for instigating the death of Jesus. Furthermore, the nation of Israel has a long history of rejecting the prophets God sent to them. Finally, it was the Jewish religious leaders in Thessalonica who instigated the riot that led to Paul, Silas, and Timothy being run out of town. It was also the Jewish religious leaders who resisted Paul’s efforts to share God’s good news about Jesus with the non-Jewish people.
So in these verses Paul is not talking about all Jewish people of all time, or even all Jewish people of his time. This passage is a condemnation of some of the Jewish people of a particular time in a particular place, specifically the religious leaders who rejected Jesus and opposed the early church in the first century. What Paul is saying here is that those Jewish people who were engaged in the activities he lists here are under God’s judgment. He’s not talking about all Jewish people everywhere, because Paul himself is Jewish, and the Christians living in Judea who were suffering were also Jewish.
Tragically, horrible evils have been justified toward Jews from a misinterpretation of this passage. This is not God’s heart, for God loves the Jewish people—they are His chosen people. Nevertheless, we can’t exonerate those who reject Christ. Paul makes it clear that the Jews who are hostile to Jesus are heaping judgment on themselves and their hostility will one day be answered by God. It is important to understand that God’s wrath isn’t referring to God losing His temper and flying off the handle in anger. Paul is talking about God’s justice to those who oppose His work in the world. Paul’s anger is the anger of a man with his own nation, his own people. He is very much part of them, and he sorrows at their faith. He is not gleefully invoking dire disasters on them, but grieving over the effects of their misdeeds. We must thank God for the work of His Word. Why? Because God’s Word changes lives!]
2. Thank God for the work of His followers (2:17-20).
In this second section, Paul specifically expresses his joy over the Thessalonians. In 2:17 he writes, “But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short while—in person, not in spirit—were all the more eager with great desire to see your face.” Paul fervently loved his Thessalonian converts, but persecution forced him to leave. The words “taken away” (orphanizo) means to make an orphan of someone. Paul viewed himself as an orphan separated from his family. Perhaps you have observed on film some of the horrible scenes from World War II when Jewish fathers and mothers were “torn away” from their children and sent off to different locations, sometimes never to see each other again. Imagine the inner pain! Paul’s pain is comparable to these families. Consequently, he is “eager” and possesses “great desire.” The term “desire” is the word used for lust in the New Testament. It almost always has a negative sense. The point being, this is a strong word to describe Paul’s love for this church.
Do you have this type of love for your church? It has been said, “If absence makes the heart grow fonder, some Christians must really love the church.” Seriously, do you love God’s people? When you are separated from this body, do you ache or do you breathe a sigh of relief? Are you attending church to merely fulfill your religious obligation or do you truly love God’s people? If this church family was taken away from you, what would you do? How would you feel? Would you even care? Pray that God increases your love and commitment to His church.
In 2:18, Paul shares a very intriguing verse. He writes, “For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, more than once—and yet Satan hindered us.” Exactly what did Paul mean and how did Satan stop him? It is likely that Paul is referring to some kind of ongoing problem that kept him from returning to Thessalonica. We can’t be sure of the precise details, but we know that Jewish opponents followed him from city to city openly opposing him and spreading lies about his ministry. This verse informs us that not all of Paul’s plans worked out.
One of the primary reasons for this is that Satan “hindered” him. The word “hindered” is a military term used for the destruction of roads and bridges in the face of the enemy’s advance. That’s right, Satan hindered Paul and he can hinder you and me. However, we must recognize that God permits satanic opposition. In fact, Satan can’t touch our lives or our ministries apart from God’s permission. Constable writes, “How can we tell if Satan is opposing us or if the Spirit is directing us? It seems to me that the New Testament writers viewed God’s sovereign control of all things on different levels at different times.
Sometimes, as in Acts, they spoke of the One who is in ultimate charge and focused on His direction. At other times, as here, they spoke of the instruments that God uses. God permitted Satan to oppose Paul’s return to Thessalonica, but this was all part of God’s sovereign will. In Acts the emphasis is on the One responsible for the expansion of the church, but here the emphasis is on the instrument God used in this situation. Satan can only oppose us as God gives him permission to do so (Job 1-2) If Satan cuts up one road, then God will create another. If the devil closes a door, God will open a window. We must always recognize that wherever God is at work, Satan and his demons are surely present.
Elsewhere, Paul says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers…powers…world forces of this darkness…spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12).Yet, instead of being frustrated by this, we need to be complemented because we are a threat to hell. If we aren’t doing much for the Lord, Satan will leave us alone. You may face opposition at work or from a critical colleague or from a classmate, a friend, a teacher, a neighbor, a relative, or even from your children or your spouse. Satan’s primary strategy against the church is to discourage us by stirring up opposition so that we will stop spreading the gospel. We must always recognize that our battle is not against flesh and blood but against satanic rulers, principalities, and powers (Eph 6:12).
Paul concludes in 2:19-20 by explaining (“for”) why he is so eager to see the Thessalonians: “For who [not “what”] is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.” Every new parent understands what Paul means. What happens when a baby is born? You can’t wait to tell the good news. You have pictures and statistics and stories about how he has his daddy’s chin and his mother’s eyes and how smart he is and how it doesn’t matter what the doctor says, you know he smiled at you. He’s the smartest, best-looking, cutest baby ever born. And you’ve got pictures to prove it!
Paul uses boasting or exultation to describe the Christian’s delight in being commended for faithful service by the Lord at his return.” The Thessalonians are the crown, and the result at the Bema will be rejoicing or exultation. But what did he mean by this? In view of Paul’s use of “crown” (stephanos, the victor’s crown) in other places, and the fact believers will cast their crowns before the Lord (Rev 4:10), Paul undoubtedly had in mind a personal crown or reward that believers will receive because of their presence at the return of the Lord for faithful ministry. Though, in this passage the apostle does not say he would receive a crown, this is suggested, if not here certainly in other passages.
In these two verses, Paul and his coworkers call the church at Thessalonica our “joy.” Paul concludes this passage the way he began, with thanksgiving. These new believers are Paul’s hope. He is confident in their faith and obedience. The Thessalonians are also a source of joy and spiritual delight, not only in the present time but in the future, at the return of the Lord. Paul also calls these believers his “crown of exultation.” Paul did not say that he would receive a crown, though this is suggested. He said that the saints themselves would be his crown when he met them at the judgment seat. To be sure, some of the believers in the church were not living as they should, and some were a burden to Paul. But when he looked ahead and saw them in glory, they brought joy to his heart.
In his letters, Paul often pictured these rewards as “crowns.” It is the word stephanos from which we get the names Stephen and Stephanie. The word refers to a wreath of leaves given to the winner of a race in the Isthmian Games. One of Paul’s rewards in heaven would be the pleasure of seeing all those new Christians standing with him.
In 2:20 Paul declares, “For you are our glory and joy.” The word “you” is emphatic in the Greek—“you and especially you are our glory and joy.” The word “glory” (doxa) means “fame” or “renown” that a person receives when honored by others. Paul is saying, “Whatever honor is ascribed to me has its source in you Thessalonians.” It is Paul’s honor to introduce his converts to the Lord Jesus Christ. When he sees the Lord, he will know that his team’s glory will be people in heaven because of their witness. This is legitimate pride because it is based on what God did through them. Our reputation in eternity will be based, in part, on winning people to Christ. “On that day, believers and holy angels alike will be glad to see those who have come to know the Lord Jesus, but those who have had a part in the spiritual birth of individuals will experience an even greater joy. A woman may be pleased that have a major of joy when her sister has her baby, but nothing rivals the joy that is hers when she becomes the mother of her own baby. There will be an incredible fullness of joy at the judgment seat for those who are spiritual parents.” Do you have a part in building up Christ’s Kingdom? Will people point to you that you had a part in bringing them into the Kingdom?
This leads to a very fascinating question: Does it make any difference what local church you attend? I would argue that it makes an eternal difference because of the biblical significance of team ministry and corporate rewards. In the West, we are consumed with individual performance, but in the Scriptures, God makes it clear that He cares about the church.
By way of analogy, the National Football League each year “crowns” a team the Super Bowl Champions.
All team members receive, among other things, a ring commemorating their participation on the championship team. Whether or not they actually played in the last game (or any game), all are rewarded. All that matters is that each player was on the team. Of course, it is hard to imagine a player who does not contribute in some way to a championship team, especially as the whole group embraces its quest together. Corporate rewards, as a possibility at the judgment seat of Christ, will mean that some of the believer’s rewards (or loss of rewards) will be based on the corporate faithfulness and works they all accomplished (or neglected) together. This in no way compromises individual responsibility. Indeed, a “most valuable player” exists in the Super Bowl analogy. Individuals can be rewarded for both his/her own efforts and the entire team’s results.
So both individual and corporate rewards are significant. We need to impact people individually and corporately with the gospel. You may be serving in a ministry next week. As an individual, you have served behind the scenes, invited your neighbors, prayed, and prepared for your responsibilities. Next week though, you will also be teaming up with the one of the greatest groups of people ever assembled. You will be a part of what God is going to do simply because you’re a part of the MBC family. And you will reap whatever rewards come from this next week because of your partnership with this church.
This principle is applicable for youth, college, and adult ministries as well. It matters what your church believes. It matters how faithful your pastors are. It matters how zealous your ministry partners are. It matters how unified your body. It matters in this life and it will matter for all eternity.
What difference will your life make in 10,000 years? How will you wish you had spent your few years on this earth? Live your life backwards from the judgment seat of Christ. You can shape tomorrow by starting today.

 

Purpose for the new year

Finding your purpose this year!
MBC, Small group lesson, January 5, 2014

Do you know your purpose in life? How would you define purpose?

Here is how you can find out – ask yourself:

Are you devoted to yourself or to God?

Are you a person who has direction, goals, and ambitions in life? If so, do they match up with God’s precepts? If not, why?

When have you been filled with purpose the most?

Purpose means knowing who we are in Christ and what He has done for us, then acting out our relationship and redemption by being obedient to God’s will. It is the pursuit of God so He becomes the driving force, inspiration, motivation, and reason for all we do in life. That is, we devote our life, character, virtue, Spiritual Gifts, abilities, and call so the best can be realized in all people and all situations. The meaning of life is not about career, money, or power; it is about relationships and developing character. These are the only real things you can take with you to Heaven.

Psalm 138:7-8;
Prov. 19:21;
John 15;
Romans 8;
Phil. 2:1-18

• Here are positive examples from Scripture:

Ex. 9:13-19;
2 Chron. 26: 3-5;
Eph. 6:21-22;

Apathy, Meaningless Pursuits, Idleness, and a Lack of Direction in Life are the opposites. Running from the call of our Lord will only leave us bankrupt and destitute spiritually as well as leaving us with no meaning in life. When we seek to fill our life with meaningless pursuits instead of seeking God, especially as Christians, it will cause major stress and trouble in every aspect of our relationships, career, and life in general. Judas was not willing to abide; thus when his time came, he failed. His purpose became self-focused rather than Christ-focused, causing him to betray his Lord. So, he fell away.

What happens to our relationship with God and with others when we are indecisive or idle with others, refusing to make goals or have a direction in life?

• Here are negative examples from Scripture:
2 Chron. 22:1-12;
Isa. 10:5-7;
Luke 7:29-30;
Acts 5:33-39.

In what situation did you fail to be Purposeful when you should have?

Purpose in Scripture is usually stated as seeking after God or after God’s heart. This is not about salvation, because in salvation, it is God who seeks us. Rather, Purpose is our determination to place Him first in our lives and allow Him to lead (2 Tim. 1:8-12). As you can see from the Scriptures, Paul was a man of purpose, a man on a mission from God. He knew who he was in Christ and he knew in what direction God was leading him. Without argument or fear, Paul ventured forward in the purpose God had for him. He is a prime example for us today (1 Tim. 2:1-7)! Examples of the opposite of this were the wicked kings in Israel who sought their own plans and ways. They sought idols, neglecting and even fighting against the God who saved and redeemed them. We can see a clear pattern in the books of First and Second Kings where the kings who sought God were blessed and the people prospered. When the kings sought themselves and idols, they became wicked and evil, and the people suffered. (Remember, the people also had the choice to serve God; their punishments came to them by their own will and hand.) There is never an excuse to negate our Lord!

A lot has been said about what the purpose or meaning of life is. Some say the purpose is up to each person to figure out, while others say it is what people do after they find out what their interests are. It is not enough just to live; we have to have something to live for, a hope and a direction that is imbedded in us as a prime purpose. But, Jesus gives us a clear picture of His purpose for us, which is to acknowledge Him as LORD and worship Him. He is our meaning; He is our purpose (Matt. 16:13-20; John 14-15). Having a purpose in life-a good one that is-gives us the key to make something of our lives beyond our own situation and dreams. Real Christian purpose is rooted in our faith by Christ’s work on the cross. He is our purpose and the meaning of our life, both here on earth and for the life to come. When we have received His confession and have made it our own, then we can confess His wonder to others and God will use His Spirit to empower that confession as a small part of His revelation. Our daily life at home, work, school, and as we are out and about will be more real and impacting, because we will have a life that is worthwhile and have something to do and say (Phil. 2:5-8).

How can I do this?

1. Focus on Christ as LORD. Set aside time each day to focus on the purpose for your growth and maturity (Psalm 119:130; John 4: 23-24; 15), and then make it a priority. In doing so, you will be able to “go for it” with passion and vigor. Make sure it lines up with His precepts and not your wishes! Let Christ transform you through His Word and prayer. Attitude is essential!

2. We must learn to yield to the Lordship of our God and not to the desires of our will. It means following His plans, not our own, obeying His will, not our own. When we do this, the discipleship process can begin. Our maturity and character development will commence and further develop. However, when we refuse, we will be the strife and conflict that gives Christianity a “black eye.” We will be the problem rather than the solution (John 3:30; Gal. 2:20-21).

3. Discipleship is a lifestyle. As we step into the lives of others, the purpose for loving them is simply because He first loved us; then, we become instruments of His grace. This can start by our realizing that Jesus “authors” our faith, and teaches us how to run the race according to God’s will, His glory, His worship, and His purpose. Thus, we gain a deeper intimacy with our Lord as our Commander and Friend, as our God and our King and the provider of Grace, as our Love, and our reason for being. In His purposes, we find real contentment, joy, and fulfillment! This is summed up in this adage: we cannot be doing the work of God unless we are the people of God. We have to be growing before we can have a direction and before we can be effective!

4. We must realize our circumstances are temporary. Our life here and now is not the ultimate purpose for our lives or God’s plan. We are in the process of learning and growing. Our situations and relationships will grow and change, while new opportunities will be brought to us; but, most importantly of all, our ultimate meaning of life will have eternal treasure and results. We will be able to take our eyes off our problems, place them on Christ, and follow His lead for more impact and meaning in life that will bring more hope and contentment (James 1).

5. Purpose will bring you a life that has a reason to it. God created you as special and unique; He gave you talents and abilities, and brings you opportunities to use them. Purpose will help you see these aspects, His call, and your prospects. Then you will be willing and able to put your faith into action for His glory. The side effects? A life that is more joyful and content! Yes, there will be ups and downs, but with the Creator on your side, any plans you may have had become insignificant; they would not bring you even close to a life that is meaningful!

Purpose has hope; it allows us to live with the perspective of eternity, so we are not bogged down in our dire circumstances. This moves us from the complacent Christian life to the purposeful Christian life, from just playing church to really being a church. It comes from understanding that God’s purpose and plan is to make us His children (1 John). He is the good Parent who guides His children and protects them. At the same time, He does not over-protect them so they lose out on life’s opportunities to please Him, to the ultimate good. Here, we are temporarily looking to the hope we have now and to come. Christ will see us through if we trust and obey to be in His way. Imagine the possibilities your life will bring to others and bring Him glory!

When we are growing, we will become contagious for the faith. We will then be able to witness because we will have something to say and something to model that people will want. When we are growing, we will become the Church that Christ designed, mobilized in Him to be welcoming and connecting to others for Him. This is the Church Triumphant! Let us, as the Church Triumphant, adhere to His call and eagerly follow. Let us apply our faith and watch the growth and successes that result, and of being contagious to others! It all comes down to the decision to either make our faith real and impacting and putting God’s fingerprints on others, relinquishing our pride so we can learn, grow, tell, and teach others, or else planting our rears in the pew, thus making our butt print in that pew our only impact, an impact of a life of apathy and meaninglessness! Let us make sure our impact comes from a life transformed and carried on to the people around us! Let us follow Him and be His fishers of men (Matt.4:18-19)!

Think through the steps you need to take to put Purpose into action in a specific instance.
How is God working to change your purpose to His? What needs to take place for this to happen?

Choosing God’s Will

Choosing God’s Will – Navigating God’s White Water
Sunday School, MBC October 20, 2013

Is there something in your life that poses a threat to your allegiance to Christ?

WHAT WAS HARD FOR YOU TO LET GO AS A CHILD: a blanket, a bottle, a fear, training wheels on a bike? Letting go of something secure is always difficult, not only for children, but for adults too! The real difficulty lies in letting go of our will and choosing to follow God’s will.

Letting go of our will is a choice. When we chose to follow after God, we chose to ride in His River. His river has a current that flows in one direction. When we come to a decision, we can choose to go with the river or fight and go “upstream”. How do we make easier choices? Choices are easier when we are committed from the beginning to do God’s will. Sometimes that river is like rafting in the white water of a rough stream. If you know anything about white water rafting, you should know to not fight the river during the rough times. Instead, you should steer and maneuver through the river, watching what the river does at each turn.

When we understand this analogy, our life becomes much easier. Jesus knew this and that is why we need to study His reactions and as He went through the rough parts. Knowing His reactions will help us to know how to steer through our rough times.

READ Philippians 2:1-5
READ Philippians 2:6-11

Have you ever been overwhelmed when dealing with the difficult questions of life? Jesus knew we would be overwhelmed at times. At one point, He addressed this with His disciples:

READ Matthew 10:19-20

He knew His disciples would encounter difficult times and that is why He encouraged them. He promised to never leave us or forget about us in the difficult times. He will give us the wisdom we need when we don’t have the words to speak.

A famous scientist was on his way to give another lecture when his chauffeur offered an idea. “Hey boss, I’ve heard your speech so many times, I bet I could deliver it and give you the night off.” “Sounds great!” the scientist said. When they got to the auditorium, the scientist put on the chauffeur’s hat and settled into the back row. The chauffeur walked to the lectern and delivered the speech. Afterward he asked if there any questions. “Yes”, said one of the professors. Then he launched into a high technical question. The chauffeur was panic-stricken for a moment, but quickly recovered. “That’s an easy one,” he replied. “So easy, I’m going to let my chauffeur answer it.”

There will be times that we do not have the words to say. It is then that we must choose to let God intervene.

There are also times when we face circumstances that leave us struggling with knowing how to pray. Paul gives us some encouraging words:

READ Romans 8:26

We can draw encouragement in knowing that God is eager to help us know what to SAY and what to PRAY. But, there is a condition to this: we must be willing and committed to following God’s will. If not, we will be like the man James talks about:

READ James1:6-8

It is awesome to realize that at the end of our lives we will be the sum total of our responses to God’s answers to our prayers, for God has chosen to be limited in His next action by our response to His previous answer. The final outcome of our lives is decided by a life-long series of responses of God’s answers to our prayers. The way we respond to God and then He, in turn, to us actually determines the direction our lives will take.
Evelyn Christenson in My Heart Sings. Christianity Today, Vol. 34, no. 17.

I mentioned to you that we need to model Jesus’ reactions to the river of life in order to learn and respond properly. Let me suggest to you three responses which will help us navigate through the river of tough times as well as the pool of calm water.

1. Jesus intended to do the will of God from the start.
Jesus was not incidental in obeying God’s will. He was intentional. No one just happens to do the will of God in their life. We must be intentional Christians by choosing to live in God’s will. Verse five tells us that we should have the same attitude as Jesus. That means to think and live like Jesus lived. Jesus did the Father’s will from the beginning. He didn’t complain or ask for another plan. He just did.

The receiving of the Word consist of two parts: attention of mind and intention of will.
— William Ames, Leadership, Vol. 8, no. 3.

A student received an appointment from a bishop, and the student did not feel the placement exactly suited his abilities. He was heard complaining about it to another student, and then the other student said, “You know, the world’s a better place because Michelangelo did not say, ‘I don’t do ceilings.’ ” .
If you and I are going to be faithful to the ministry God is calling us to, then we had better understand that. Consider the attitudes of key people throughout the Scriptures and the history of the church.
The world’s a better place because a German monk named Martin Luther did not say, “I don’t do doors.”
The world’s a better place because an Oxford don named John Wesley didn’t say, “I don’t do preaching in fields.”
The world’s a better place because Moses didn’t say, “I don’t do Pharaohs or mass migrations.”
The world’s a better place because Noah didn’t say, “I don’t do arks and animals.”
The world’s a better place because Rahab didn’t say, “I don’t do enemy spies.”
The world’s a better place because Ruth didn’t say, “I don’t do mothers-in-law.”
The world’s a better place because Samuel didn’t say, “I don’t do mornings.”
The world’s a better place because David didn’t say, “I don’t do giants.”
The world’s a better place because Peter didn’t say, “I don’t do Gentiles.”
The world’s a better place because John didn’t say, “I don’t do deserts.”
The world’s a better place because Mary didn’t say, “I don’t do virgin births.”
The world’s a better place because Paul didn’t say, “I don’t do correspondence.”
The world’s a better place because Mary Magdalene didn’t say, “I don’t do feet.”
The world’s a better place because Jesus didn’t say, “I don’t do crosses.”
And the world will be a better place only if you and I don’t say, “I don’t do …”
— Leonard Sweet, United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio. Leadership, Vol. 15, #2.

2. Jesus surrendered day by day.
The Bible tells us that Jesus “humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross”. Let me give you three examples:

a. Jesus had just fed 5000+ people with a small boy’s lunch. The people were so impressed that they wanted to make Jesus their earthly king! Knowing that, Jesus responded in John 6:15 by withdrawing and going off by Himself. He CHOSE TO RESIST this offer of power and continue with God’s plan for His life.
b. In Mark 8, we find one of Jesus’ closest friends rebuking Him at the thought of His going to the cross. Instead of agreeing with Peter, Jesus told him to “get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Jesus knew that CHOOSING THE THINGS OF GOD were more important.

Never try to explain God until you have obeyed Him. The only bit of God we understand is the bit we have obeyed.
— Oswald Chambers in Run Today’s Race. Christianity Today, Vol. 35, no. 11.

c. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was struggling with the thought of death. His choice in this situation is over AGONY OR PHYSICAL SAFETY & WELL BEING. He said in Matthew 26 that He would rather not drink from the cup of agony. I think we would have the same thought. Jesus, however, would rather do the will of God, than what is convenient. He would have us to do the same also.

If we refuse to take the risk of being vulnerable, we are already half-dead. If you are half-dead, you don’t have to starve with the people of Ethiopia. You don’t have to share the terrible living conditions of old people struggling to exist on dwindling, inadequate social-security payments in our overcrowded, hostile cities. You don’t have to smell the stench of filth and disease and hunger in the slums and barrios.
We are not all called to go to El Salvador, or Moscow, or Calcutta, or even the slums of New York. But none of us will escape the moment when we have to decide whether to withdraw, to play it safe, or to act on what we prayerfully believe to be right.
— Madeleine L’Engle in A Stone for a Pillow. Christianity Today, Vol. 31, no. 2.

3. Jesus knew what the true treasure was.
If we truly choose to follow God’s will, there are some risks. We can be misunderstood. We can miss out on some earthly pleasures and material gain.
DO YOU MEASURE YOURSELF BY WHAT YOU HAVE?

At the end of World War I, Herbert Hoover, later to become President of the United States, led the allied relief efforts in Europe. He kept hundreds of thousands from starving, and a new word entered the Finnish language. In Finland, to hoover means to be kind, to help. If someone coined a word from your name, what would it be? Would it signify character? Helpfulness? Cheerfulness? Or would it be some mean and ugly word? Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).

It is very difficult to live in the current of God’s will unless we live with the thought of eternity in all we do. We must realize that there is more to life than what we see. Jesus was always conscious of the heavenly prize before him.

READ Hebrews 12:2 – That’s FOCUS! Are you focused on the cross?

Jesus knew what He “lost” in terms of earth; He would gain in terms of heaven. When we decide from the start that our lives are committed to living in the will of God, great momentum is on our side for making wise decisions and gaining eternal rewards.

Making the right choices in life is much easier when you’ve settled in your spirit who has your allegiance. Let me suggest three steps to strengthen that allegiance:

1. Identify those things that pose a threat to your allegiance to Christ. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST THREAT OR OBSTACLE THAT YOU FACE? This will be different for each of us, but we all need to identify those obstacles Satan can use to hinder our relationship with God.
2. Write a mission statement. Every time you need to make a decision, go to that mission statement and determine to follow God’s plan in your life.
3. Pray that God would give you a discerning heart. As we navigate the rapids of life, we need to learn to respond to God’s current. That response is through a discerning heart. Allow Him to be the light of your path and the lamp to your way. The closer your relationship is with Him, the easier this will become. A discerning heart will act as your guide through the rapids.