Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Church of the Living Dead

…but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.
(John 12:24)

There has always been a lot of talk by people about leaving, visiting, or experiencing a so-called “dead” church. To most, I suppose what they mean by “dead church” would be that it was cold and formal. When people say it’s a dead church they mean that it feels dead. This could be true, and as the venerable Jonathan Edwards said, you have to have both heat and light.

However, lets consider the other side, because I have seen just as many churches that are just as dead and yet have a whole lot of buzz about them. You know, they even have a buzz conference these days. They may have a lot of hype but no holiness, a lot of passion, but no power. So to me a dead church can look like a really lively one, for sure.

Today we have the church of the upwardly mobile, the church where everybody is somebody, the church where you can become the best you that you can be, and we even have a laughing church or two out there. We have the liberated church, the empowered church, the militant church, and the dead churches. I would put all of the above in the last category.

Today what we need is for people to be on fire for the gospel, but what we see are just more and more programs, promotions, politics, and purpose. We may have passion, but we don’t have any real power, because we lack purity (fuel): where there is no fuel the fire dies out. Flash fires, flash paper, and the flash in the pan all fade. Soon enough a fire that doesn't have real fuel dies out, and often gets replaced by a false fire built on feelings, fellowship, or flurry. People try and live off the fumes of a faded fire, and that, friends, is a dead church. Too many preachers in the pulpit and people in the pews are confusing anointing with adrenaline, and the busyness of man with the business of God.

A pastor in Illinois said something like this. “The modern day church looks exactly like a community service organization, like the YMCA. I love the Y, but I would not say I love the ministry of the Y. It is a health club, a safe place for families, and a place to go to have fun. The YMCA boasts having introduced millions of people to sports. One of their themes, “It’s more than a gym, it’s a community,” sounds a bit like the theme of the modern day church. Go to www.YMCA.net and view their website and compare it with most church websites. They are almost identical. Sadly, the modern day church has a lot in common with the YMCA.”

“Pastors who want to build churches by attracting people through programs and that sort of community, the YMCA could use your help. No one would say the YMCA functions like a church, but we can say many churches function like they are a YMCA.”

You see, church today has become little more than a socialistic country club atmosphere of fun seekers – not God seekers! Psalm 127:1 – Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain.

The question remains: what do you want to be a part of?

It’s good to be active, and organized, and lively, but it’s a must to be alive!

Do you want to know what an alive church is?

A church that is alive is a church where people are dying!

Dying to self that is…

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Saturday Sermon: All Roads Lead to God

Romans 3:19-20

Now here we are at the end point of what Paul has been saying and what he has shown us about human nature, about mankind and our lack of purity, as a race and as individuals, and he has shown us that the Old Testament scriptures back him up. Creation, conscience, and the example of God’s called out people all show us our guilt. No one is exempt: the failures of the greatest men and the greatest peoples who ever lived should point out the need for a savior.

The Law was written to a specific people, the Jews, but their failure in that points something out to the whole world. We are not God, we are guilty, and we are all accountable to Him. No one can perfectly keep the Law, that is the point, the fact that the Law points out our deep depravity, our terminal heart condition. That is what we need to understand before we can understand the gospel. We need the Law to see that we need grace. In our churches and in our witnessing today we preach life enhancement instead of Law and grace. Parachute example.

19Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.

The Jews were the “test case”, the object lesson about man and his ability to truly worship, serve, and love God, as He requires. They failed, miserably. People think they could do it, they think they wouldn’t have eaten the forbidden fruit, that they would obey if they had those miracles and so forth, but that is pure nonsense. Plenty of people would say they aren’t guilty but compared to what? That is why we have the Law and that is why Jesus gave the spirit of the Law. Looking at the Law we can see that we have not kept it either, and besides, Jesus shows us the spirit of the Law (Matthew 5) and there is no way we are doing that. We see that there is no way we compare to Him and He says we must be perfect. We must be like the Father and like Jesus; we must be perfect.

No one is doing good enough anyway, read the paper, look at TV, the Internet, or you can walk outside, or just look in the mirror and know that the world is a sinful place. Why do we have suffering, because of sin, and suffering doesn’t prove there is no God it proves that we all need God; the problem isn’t God the problem is you. See how we have distorted it all now? The Jews had the rules and they couldn’t do them either. After all Paul has shown us and seeing all we see around us, what will it take before you realize that you are sinful?

The test case failed showing representatively that no one can get the job done. Even the privileged people couldn’t make it. Their priesthood became tarnished with the very first high priest and these people kept on rebelling even though they saw many mighty miracles. From start to finish the flaws of man were obvious, and so they, and by extension we, have nothing to say.

Every mouth everywhere is present tense. Just because you are not under the Law doesn’t mean you are above the Law. We are guilty and we are responsible before God for that guilt. Your works cannot justify you. Paul has already stopped the mouths of the Jews as we saw repeatedly and especially in our last two sermons, and he has shown us all that we are guilty. Paul has said that there are no excuses before God.

Still we hear the excuses being made. “This preacher one time did this and that or that church did so and so”. Well that just means they are like everyone else on the planet, a flawed sinful human being. They aren’t good enough. Besides we aren’t asking you to trust religious people or a religious system we are asking you to trust the one priest on this earth who never strayed and the only one who can say anything to God on your behalf (1 Timothy 2:5). There is no hope in anyone or anything else. Why would you stand before God and claim your own righteousness?

The mouths that raise objections against God now will one day be silenced. Every mouth will be stopped. O how self-assured are the declarations of defiant men these days. "Where is God?" they say. Where is yours, I say? How is he doing, how is humanity doing, where is the power, where is the purity? Your man made god has no righteousness; your man made god cannot save you. Man can never climb his way out of his own heart. "Where is God?" they may say, but only for a short season. Then they die, and then they meet Him (Hebrews 9:27), and their mouth is stopped. All boasting will be silenced (Isaiah 2:17). People can trash talk now but really when they look at the Law what have they got to say? Nothing except to explain it away or dumb it down, which we will look at now.

20aFor by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight

The Jews tried to keep it but they couldn’t and so they tried to reinterpret the standard so that it could be met. But the righteous requirements of the Law only awaken resistance not responsiveness, it doesn’t bring justification, it brings condemnation (Galatians 2:16, 21). The Law keeps us in chains so that we may be set free in Christ (Galatians 3:21-22).

Now people want to say they are more good than bad, but no one will be justified by their own good works, their works are not enough (Isaiah 64:6). For those that would try and say that they have followed the Law, Jesus showed up and shows us the true standard and interpreted the spirit of the Law as He did for the rich young ruler. Jesus said unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees, and be ye perfect. The question is not are you as good as the next guy but are you as good as Jesus? You have got to keep it all (Galatians 3:10 / James 2:10).

The Ten Commandments are not some ten-step stairway to heaven they are proof positive that no one could climb up to God even if it were only one step. The Ten Commandments are just the preamble to the Law and no one can even do them and Jesus gave us the true sense of the Law which upped the spiritual ante so high that no one dare lay claim to a perfect righteousness.

But no one else seems to think you have to be perfect. All the other religions of the world say you can do it if you do this or that but God says no matter what you do it isn’t good enough because you aren’t Me. Romans 3:23 – the question is are you God, not are you good. Most of us realize we aren’t good compared to someone else we know, we are not the best person we have ever known. What then is the median point between good and bad? Who determines this, who decides this? If you are hoping your good outweighs your bad and that this will justify you, how do you know you are better than half or whatever standard you set for yourself?

God doesn’t leave us to guess He gives us His Law and then He gave us Jesus and we all realize that none of us are good compared to God, and we are not even close to being the kind of person Jesus Christ was in morality, in character, and in power. We cannot be justified by our own deeds they will never be enough.

We must be justified to God not justified by men, not justified by your parents or your wife or your husband or your family or your peers or your priest or your guru or your whoever else. God is the one to whom we are responsible, it is God to whom we have to answer to, and it is God whom justifies us, and here through the Apostle Paul and throughout scripture God tells us that no man can be justified in His sight by things that they can do.

Man cannot even keep one law, Adam and Eve proved that even without a sinful nature, and the Law magnifies that. It is like seeing a “do not open” sign. It isn’t that the words are evil but that they reveal what is in our hearts. If the sign weren’t there we wouldn’t have seen our desire to do what we ought not to do. The Law is a signpost folks, a signpost to sin, not a signpost to salvation, and you can replace the Law with any man made religious system that tries to earn its way to heaven or merit the mercy of whatever god it might serve.

20b since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Romans 7:7-8 – The law brings the knowledge of sin – mailbox letter example. It reveals the rebellion and it stirs up resistance. It doesn’t show how to be righteous it shows that we haven’t been righteous and we cannot in our own power be righteous. The Law stirs up resistance wherever the Holy Spirit is not ruling the heart.

Now here are some incredibly important things to consider. As Paul said earlier in our study of Romans, we know instinctively that we aren’t justified that is why we have such a guilty conscience, and so some try everything they can in the religious world to appease it, and then since they can’t they say that sincerity is enough, and that all roads lead to God. Well sincerity is no substitute for truth, and the truth is, all roads do lead to God, but only one road will lead to God justifying us, all the other roads lead to God condemning us.

People are trying to justify themselves any way they can. “Be all you can be and God will accept you based on that.” No way. People try and justify themselves in their own eyes or the eyes of their parents or their peers and the eyes of the world, as if that were enough, the praise of others quiets their fears. That is why they chase fame, fortune, and even faithfulness to some cause. But they are looking to be justified by the wrong person. They may achieve their dreams but they won’t achieve justification, and they know it. Now many don’t even achieve their dreams, and so they sear their conscience by medicating it with their favorite drug of choice be it sex, drugs, rock and roll, or whatever.

Hearing the truth reminds us that we are guilty that is why before you were saved you didn’t want to hear bible preaching. You didn’t want to hear the good news because it meant that you had to come face to face with the bad news. The Law points out your sin and everyone knows it is ugly, they just want to avoid it and say “not me”, but then they look at all that is in the world and talk about how bad it all is. Well friends it is all of us, and it is obvious.

Acts 13:38-39 – no religious system will make you righteous before God
Hebrews 9:9 – the law and the priesthood was a symbol of righteousness not the substance
Hebrews 10:1 – no sacrifice you can do make will make you perfect
Hebrews 12:23 – God does it He justifies you He makes you perfect in His sight
Romans 10:3-4 – Jesus is the end of man made religion
Hebrews 7:24-26 – A shadow to show our sinfulness we could stay religiously busy our entire lives and it would not be enough but Christ is a perfect high priest for us
Hebrews 10:10 – once for all. What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus
1 Timothy 2:5 – there is only one thing that God will accept

People don’t want to believe that man cannot save himself. They want to believe that men can warrant eternal life, that they can come to deserve the kingdom of heaven, but they question is why, why would that be so, why should God justify you? Personal righteousness is not enough. Practicing religion cannot offer you a full free pardon from sin. How are you going to justify yourself before God, the bible just told you that your works cannot do it. Who are you following, who is leading you, Oprah; is she going to save you? It is time to stop trying to justify yourself and time to just-deny yourself, and follow Christ. Get on that gospel road.

Yes, all the other roads lead to God too. However, the road Jesus is on leads to justification by God and a place in heaven. All other roads lead to damnation from God and a place in hell. When you can say that you aren’t good enough and that Jesus is, that is how you get on Redemption Road. I am not good enough so I can’t trust me but Jesus is and so I’ll trust Him. Everyone is trusting in something; what are you trusting in, your sacrifice or God’s sacrifice? Your road will get you to God, but what road are you on, the road to heaven or the road to hell?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Go Green, Get Rich

…for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
(2 Corinthians 8:9 – ESV)

Recently (1/28/07), CNN Money had an article online with this title, “Go Green, Get Rich”. It revealed 9 companies that were aiming at tackling humanity's supposedly biggest problems. The headline read, “Meet the companies tackling nine of humanity's biggest problems – and making millions saving us from ourselves.” I’d like to take a look at what they say are our biggest problems, and relate these to the church world, and see why we think we are rich, but we are not.

Problem #1: Global Warming – the problem in the church is that we are warming up to the world, we are on fire for the wrong things, and instead we are getting cold.

Problem #2: Oil Dependency – the problem is a limited supply, and so we rely on foreign oil, which is worldly oil, fleshly oil, because there is not enough oil of the Spirit.

Problem #3: Hunger and Malnutrition – Amos 8:11 – churches are starving for the Word of God.

Problem #4: Dirty Air – the problem in the church is that we won’t clear the air of bitterness, envy, strife, and vanity (Ephesians 4:29 – 5:6)

Problem #5: Dirty Water – James 3:11 – corroded pipeline / Jeremiah 2:13 – no water

Problem #6: Overfishing – the problem in the church is underfishing.

Problem #7: Epidemics – the problem in the church is crisis Christianity.

Problem #8: Drug-Resistant Infections – the problem in the church is we don’t use God’s prescriptions. The Word of God will pierce through any poison (Hebrews 4:12).

Problem #9: Waste Disposal – the problem in the church is we just hang on to all our old garbage

Oh, they missed #10, and it is kind of a big one, it is #1 really: SIN. That is humanity’s biggest problem.

The world thinks it knows what the problems really are, and it thinks we can educate ourselves into a solution. They are wrong, of course, as we could “solve” all these problems but the heart of man would still be beating after its own master, itself. A new host of hellish problems is just waiting to be born in the heart of man. No amount of “going green” is going to change that. Companies may get rich, and people may get wealthy in the world’s eyes, but their money will fade away and their problems are only the latest fashion of the foolish heart. Instead, if you tend to God’s greenhouse, you will be indeed rich, with a harvest of the fruit of the Spirit.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Yes it IS About a Building

…when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
(Ephesians 4:16 – ESV)

We so often hear, “church isn’t about a building”. Well let this old preacher man tell you something. They are all wrong. Yes it is about a building, a building up of one another in love, and you cannot do that sitting at home as well as you can sitting in a pew, let alone getting involved beyond that. You are better off to sit idle in church than sit isolated at home.

The Apostle Paul says we have been given teachers as a gift from Jesus Himself for the building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12). The text doesn’t say building up your body as Christ but THE body, the whole body, and if you are missing you aren’t being built up together you are missing out altogether. How can each part be working properly when you aren’t working with the rest of the Body at all?

Now you can say, “no that isn’t what we mean by building” and I would say I know. What you mean is that you won’t commit to a local group of people who want to worship, fellowship, and be in discipleship with one another like the New Testament teaches. You might say back, “Well how do you know what I’m thinking you’re just a stupid little old preacher man?” Well you are right, I am just a stupid little old preacher man, but that is the point now, isn’t it? Your nonsense can’t even fool me, a stupid little old preacher man, what makes you think you can fool Jesus?

Now about that building: if the true marks of the church exist, the people could meet in any facility, even outside, that is certainly true. I think we should heed God’s words in Isaiah 66:1-2. Indeed some buildings may be impressive but they aren’t holding a real church, the people in the pews and the pulpit are as pagan as can be. They are compromised and apostate. Whole denominations are like this.

However, it is the same for individuals. We must also understand that although some think of themselves as a living temple of the Holy Spirit, their heart condition tells the real story. They are dead. If you aren’t being built up along with others, you aren’t a temple you are a vacated building.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Extra, Extra! Read All About It!

Pastor Brad Williams, the Sojourner, has written a powerful post relevant to our continuing series, "Why you HAVE to go to church"....

This post really drives the point home...check it out!

The Lone Ranger in Danger

…that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith…
(Romans 1:12 – ESV)

In the verses surrounding our text here, Paul defines a main purpose of his prayers for the Christians at Rome, that he might see them personally. Face to face time is most always better than letters or anything else: communication is good, but companionship is better. Discipleship happens best person to person, not person to program. Paul wanted to see them and live as a light before them (Philippians 2:15). Is it better to learn from the manual or learn from the man? The Bible is more than the Owner’s manual; it is how we meet with God himself (John 5:39). It is about more than principles; it is about a Person.

Paul is determined to see them that he might be able to help strengthen their faith, but it is not only that Paul will give, but also receive from them.

Our faith is strengthened within the company of other saints. You may live as a virtual outsider from God’s people and wonder why you keep falling down, or wonder why the Bible seems so dry, or wonder why your faith just doesn’t seem as real anymore, or wonder why all you see is hypocrisy; you need fellowship to see that the plank in your eye makes you see everything as having a plank in it. We see our problems in the context of our community; then we can change.

(2 Corinthians 1:4) You need the comfort of others and you need to give comfort to others. The lone ranger’s are wrong; you do need church, but even if you didn’t, the church needs you.

Take the time to invest in someone others miss (James 2:8-9). Ephesians 5:21 – you should be able to learn from every Christian (1 Corinthians 6:17).

The poorest of the poor in God’s kingdom have something of value for you to receive; it is our pride that hinders us – when Paul says “for you all” he means even sandpaper people have value.

Paul is praying that God will allow him to see the Roman Christians in person so that he could give and receive from their mutual faith (2 Peter 1:1). He was passionate to be with others who have a growing and showing faith. Are you? God wants to guide, guard, and gift you, but you have to be in the lunch line to get fed. Do you want to be escorted, established, and encouraged?

Are we as Paul praying for God to guide us into fellowship with others so that we may be strengthened and comforted by our mutual faith? Do you pray that you will find one reason (person) to go to church, not one reason to stay home? Do you pray for those who don’t make it to church? Do you pray for others to come so that they may be blessed? What is your faith known for?

Sandpaper People

…and the rough places shall become level ways
(Luke 3:5 – ESV)

Sandpaper people. You know, those folks that seem to always rub you the wrong way. We may not understand, but they are there for a reason. And guess what; you are a sandpaper person for someone else. We are all sandpaper people. We are all rough around the edges. So why do we need or have so much scraping going on? Lets try and shed some light on this subject.

Consider first how an oyster makes a pearl. The formation of a pearl begins when a foreign substance slips into the oyster between the mantle and the shell, which irritates the mantle. It's kind of like the oyster getting a splinter. Something gets under its skin, as it were. The mantle covers the irritant with layers of the same nacre substance that is used to create its own shell. This eventually forms a pearl. So a pearl is a foreign substance covered with layers of nacre.

Spiritually speaking, we can relate the nacre to our love for one another. When someone is an irritation, when someone gets under your skin, cover them with the mantle of love. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8 – ESV).

Some people may seem like nothing but a thorn in your side. Remember what Paul said about his thorn, For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:10 – ESV). Sandpaper people help you develop the pearl of patience.

Now think about diamonds. The transformation of a lump of coal into a diamond also involves a mantle. Diamonds are formed deep in the Earth, most likely in the upper mantle, and far below the level at which coal is found. Coal is never turned directly into diamonds. Diamonds are found only when brought up through volcanic action.

You see it takes some fiery trials to turn your lumps of coal into multifaceted, sparkling diamonds. We may believe that some people have nothing to offer us but heartache, headache, and bellyache. However, the poorest of the poor (even in attitude) have something of value for you to receive; it is our pride that hinders us. In his epistles, when Paul says he is praying “for you all” he means even sandpaper people have value.

Spiritually speaking, the mantle that fires those lumps of coal, the mantle that covers those irritants, and turns them into diamonds and pearls is the mantle of God’s love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Galatians 5:14).

The environment of believers will always be imperfect, but their rough edges will help to smooth out your wrinkles. As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend (Proverbs 27:17). People are like “mirrors” in which we can see ourselves as we really are. Through others we can see attitudes and characteristics of our own immaturity – weaknesses in us that need to be perfected. If there is bitterness or a lack of love, it will become exposed. This is why some people run from church to church – because it exposes their bad side. But when you hide from church, you are exposed.

Sandpaper people are there to help us shine up, and for us to see our own rough spots. If a person remains an “island” to themselves they will never have to face up to the spiritual immaturity within them. But exposing themselves to the sandpaper people will cause them to face conflicts that must be overcome in order to grow up. A sign of a spiritually mature person is that they can be loving and patient with anyone (1 John 2:10 / Galatians 5:22-23). Sandpaper people may not even realize it, but God has them doing you a favor.

Yes You Have To

...not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near
(Hebrews 10:25 – ESV)

Do you have to go to church to be a Christian? The answer to this is simple, but the reality of what this question is trying to point out isn’t as simple as it may seem, because many are not focusing on what is really meant by this question. To simply answer the question, then, do you have to go to church to be a Christian? The answer is no.

However, lets now propose a different, more pointed question that actually gets to the heart of the matter. Do you have to go to church when you are a Christian? The answer is yes. Lets state them together, so that you may think about this, and begin to realize where we are going next. Do you have to go to church to BE a Christian? No. Do you have to go to church WHEN you’re a Christian? Yes.

Now people can get all up in arms about this statement, but what they are doing is focusing on the legal aspect of it, not the spiritual aspect of it, and they fail to recognize that their spiritual lives will indeed suffer if they are not in church. Period. God knows it, everyone else knows it, and you know it.

What many people fail to realize is the benefit of just being there. It is very much like when I counsel couples; I always get them to commit to praying together at night before they go to bed. I am sure many of them wonder why this is so important. They probably feel like this exercise, as they might call it, has little chance of actually helping them.

However, what they are doing in their fleshly minds is trying to reason out why this is valuable inherently, and come to believe that the prayers won’t solve anything. They are looking at the prayers as some sort of vehicle that will magically deliver a message or some innate power that will get them to the next level. The answer isn’t always in the prayer by itself, it is that we honor God by doing it, and then He begins to line up the events and situations that will help us overcome the obstacles.

People are looking at the prayer itself, and wondering, what can that possibly do, I need money right now, or I need this or that to stop happening, or I need a job. It isn’t that He will give you a message right then and there, that this and this is what you should do, though He may, it is that this and this will start happening, all in response to your obedience to worship God and honor Him with prayer. You are leaving it on Him, in a way. You are coming in to His presence, as a couple, and the mere fact that you do this, becoming more intimately involved with God together, is why God becomes more intimately involved in your situation.

Church is the same way. The message may not have all that jazz for you in your mind, and the music may not move you as much as what is in your CD player right now, but that is only part of the plan God has for church. If you will just submit to God and commit, really now, to the local church, God will commit to your local lives. When you miss church you are not simply missing the message, you are missing the method.

The leading God gives is not only through the probing eye of the pastor, and not only through the community of believers assembled there, it is also just by attending yourself, in that God will then attend to your wants as you have attended to what He wants. Participating in church precipitates the providence and provision of God. When you open the doors of your will, then God will open the doors of your opportunity.

Common Clothing

in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.
(Ephesians 2:21 – ESV)

We have previously discussed the fact that God helps those who know they are weak. While we are all indeed weak, it does not mean that we don’t act. While we must be giving thanks to God for all things, and we must cling to the promises of God, we must also realize our part in the promises. As we have seen in our discussions about the compatibility between the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man, we have seen the need to act in accordance with God’s decrees, in salvation and in sanctification. Now we turn to a matter and manner of giving thanks to God though Jesus Christ in our solidarity.

Solidarity is defined as common interest and active loyalty within a group. They go together: not just doing activity, and not just being within. Not on the outside and not stationary, inside and involved. Not simply showing up once in a while and perhaps participating when we want to, but staying within the group and in an active way. To both be present and to participate regularly. You can’t do that on TV, folks. Tuned in to TV doesn’t mean turned on to God.

The promises of God are yea and amen, and God wants us to possess them all in abundance. Now, while some promises are things God will bring to pass no matter what, others are like a garment waiting to be worn; they are for those who meet the conditions of them. When we meet those conditions, and we continue to pray, to give thanks, and believe in God the possibilities turn into probabilities as we put on the promises of God like a prophecy.

Of course, some only want to pick and choose what “outfits” they will wear. They excuse themselves from going to church by “doing church” on television or the Internet. Those media can be a great resource, but they are only the jewelry, the gloves, the socks, or such things, if you will. But lone rangers want to see these things as their daily garment, instead of their accessories. What they end up doing is dressing for summer all the time and suffering the bitterness of winter all by themselves. Or they dress for winter and burn up in the summer heat.

There are promises of God that have been given to the Church, but many in these last days have come to believe that these promises are simply for individuals in the Church, which to them means simply saved individuals. This is not so, however; these promises are for the universal Church, yes, but they are appropriated by the individuals who are resident and active within the universal, invisible Church’s visible expression, which is the local church. If you are missing from the local church, you will be missing some of the blessings.

Saying that you can be a believer without going to church is like saying you can be a tennis player without stepping on the court, or that you are a pro, but you don’t own a racket. People say that they have a problem, that is why they couldn’t make it to church, but in truth they wouldn’t make it church, and that is why they have a problem. God knows your heart, and God knows if you are looking for an excuse. If that problem weren’t there, would you have gone then? Then why didn’t you come that one particular week you didn’t have to work, or when you didn’t have that problem? You had better go when you can or God will make sure you can’t.

Instead of looking for one reason not to go to church we should be looking for one reason to go to church. If you are watching church programs on television or the Internet, that’s great, but it isn’t commitment. Realize that this does not resolve you of the responsibility to be in a local church, with real, live, flesh and blood, flawed but blood bought believers. Start wearing the clothes of commitment; they are common to true Christians.

Electronic Exposure

And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
(Hebrews 4:13 – ESV)

One reason we have to go to church is that we cannot do self-evaluation properly. When you pray like David in Psalm 19:12-14 or Psalm 139:23-24 for the Lord to reveal sins to you, God often answers you through other people. For David it was the prophets like Gad or Nathan. For us it will be through the loving, caring, covenant community of the local church.

We can complain all we want about that certain local church not being a “loving, caring community”, but consider this. In Matthew 7:3-5, Jesus talks about having a beam in our eye. Now consider how having a beam makes us see everything as having a beam in it. Sometimes we don’t notice a certain type of car all over the road until you own one yourself. You see a problem because you ARE a problem, we all are, but God uses the means of each other to help us all out. If you think that you don’t need church you are wrong, but even if you didn’t, even if you did have it all together well then you should come help the rest of us.

If you think you’re spiritual, just get close to your brethren, and you’ll find out what’s really inside you. It doesn’t matter how agitating, rude or unspiritual your brethren might be. This does not justify your intolerance or impatience with them. These attitudes are characteristics of your own immaturity – a weakness in YOU that needs to be perfected. This is why some people run from church to church – because it exposes their bad side. They see their own sins and blemishes revealed in their relationship with the brethren, or they become outraged when their self-willed desires or sins are challenged through convicting preaching or correction.

If a person remains an “island” to themselves they will never have to face up to the spiritual immaturity within them. But exposing themselves to the environment of the church will cause them to face conflicts that must be overcome in order to grow up. A sign of a spiritually mature person is that they can be loving and patient with anyone (1 John 2:10 / Galatians 5:22-23), and they can humbly submit themselves to truth and the correction of authority (Hebrews 13:17).

Hiding away in an electronic church world, where the entire ministry you receive is by radio, television, and the Internet will simply not do. You need more, you need the local body, and without that, those other things can be a curse instead of a blessing. These things can become a form of rejection, not release. Apart from a local assembly, there is no scriptural justification for them. I'm not saying these very things are damning you to hell, but I am saying for those that will not attend a local church, they are manifesting a rejection of discipleship, of personal responsibility before the Lord, of an internal witness on the soul and of scriptural warning.

Television may bring you under conviction but the congregation will help with correction and will bring out your sin in bold relief. You can hide and watch TV but you can’t hide from God. Even if you think you are with God you must expose yourself to the others whom God would choose to mold you. If there’s bitterness or a lack of love, it will become exposed. When you hide from church, you are exposed.

Empty Head

and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
(Colossians 2:19 – ESV)

In Romans 1:7, Paul wrote his letter “to all that be in Rome”, which means all the believers. Now lets examine that for a moment. Who and exactly where were all the believers in Rome? How could Paul make sure that the letter would be read to every believer in Rome? How did Paul know where to address this letter?

The answer is simple. Paul addressed the letters he wrote to CHURCHES, because there was no thought of believers acting like lone rangers outside the fellowship of other believers. We give thanks to God through Jesus Christ by attending and serving the institution that He founded, the Church, and we serve the universal church body by serving its visible expression, the local church body. God has a covenant with the Church.

Is the church essential to the gospel? If so, why? The Church is the Body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23) and Christ is the Head of this Body (Colossians 1:18). Furthermore, He is the Savior of this Body (Ephesians 5:23) because He died for the Church (Ephesians 5:25). The church is an essential part of the gospel!

When you are saved you are made part of the Body of Christ: another way of saying the same thing is that one cannot be saved without becoming a part of the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 27). Therefore, the church is an essential part of the gospel. We cannot become a part of a Body and then separate ourselves from the rest of it, and expect to live.

You may think that all you need to do is stay connected to the Head and you are all right, but when you are separating from the rest of the Body, you are also separating from the Head. You cannot be nourished by the Head while at the same time un-sewing yourself from that which you are knit together (Colossians 2:19). We only increase with the increase of God as we are holding the Head and we stay knit together with all the joints and ligaments. You may think that you can continue to be a part of the invisible Body while at the same time declining to participate in the visible Body, but you are only fooling yourself. Christ is the Head of the church, and He rules over the local assembly. Your notion of no church is only an empty headed idea.

Instead of looking for one reason not to go to church we should be looking for one reason to go to church. No more selfish excuses – GET IN CHURCH, AND STAY IN CHURCH.

Sanctification Station

In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
(Ephesians 2:22 – ESV)

Church is about fellowship, yes, and it is also about worship, yes, and worship in the context of fellowship is good and right. However, church is also about discipleship, and this takes leadership. All of this is necessary for the proper stewardship of a church through its members. There is no Internet site for all of this. There is no radio program that can get all that done. There is only one place that this all happens, the local church. The TV may have different channels on a religious dial, but for live action, it has no sanctification station.

Let’s look at some negative and positive reasons for attending a local church. To those who say they don't need to or have to go to church, or ask the question, "Why do I have to go to church?"

Going to church honors God, does your absence?

Preaching helps build the building (edifice - edification - preaching) and it is essential for the exhortation and comfort of believers, in addition to their regular feeding on the Word. Also, most that I have observed who give the excuse that they don't need to go to church to be fed and led aren't actually feeding on Christ at all, or very little at best.

When you avoid church, you are avoiding the community of believers that need your gifting, 1 Corinthians (12-14) speaks plainly to this. Romans 15:14 / Colossians 3:16 – you cannot admonish and edify others without fellowship! In other words, you are being selfish, and you are ripping me off personally! He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit; that is, one with Christ, AND ALSO, one with each other. Are you really part of the Body of Christ?

It is the fellowship of the church where we find Jesus Christ. Jesus is active in His Church. Yes, He is active in individual lives, but those lives find more power in the context of the local church.

It is the fellowship of the church where we find protection from the demonic forces of evil and sin in this world. We call it a sanctuary for a reason, folks.

It is the fellowship of the church where we find encouragement in life. We can't keep on the path with Christ without the help and support of other Christians.

It is the fellowship of the church where we become Jesus Christ to the world.

The church is where we can find the best vehicle for our growth. We hear the Word preached and taught, and it stimulates us in our own private devotional and study times.

That, in the “spiritual bodybuilding” aspect, is like “taking your vitamins” The second part of “getting big” is to engage in resistance training. In accordance with this idea, the environment of the church provides two important features of growth producing conflict:

Authority who will challenge you with truth and correct you when you are wrong.

The environment of believers who are imperfect and whose rough edges will serve as sandpaper to smooth out your wrinkles. “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend” (Proverbs 27:17). Hurt feelings are probably the greatest reason why people leave churches, but deepening your roots in Christ and His Word can immunize you against such tenderness. “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Psalm 119:165).

If you think that all your need for ministry is being met by the television, you are wrong. The TV can never allow you to tune in to the sanctification station.

They Ought To Know

…pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom…
(Acts 6:3 – ESV)

This verse gives us the criterion that the Apostles had for the first deacons of the early church. The fact that they were to pick out men that were full of the Spirit meant by implication that some obviously were not filled. Although doctrine is obviously important, they didn’t ask them about doctrine, they saw devotion and demonstration. Those men that were filled were obvious. People who are full of the Spirit aren’t full of themselves; they are ready to serve. They are not full of cares they are full of Christ. They are not full of worry they are full of wisdom. It will show, and God’s people will know. You shouldn’t have to try and get the leadership of a church to notice you they ought to know if God is calling you to serve. If you are full of the Spirit, believe me, somebody will notice.

Of course, this means that you have to be plugged in to a local body of believers somewhere. People full of the Spirit and wisdom aren’t those who stay home from church. No one is going to “pick you out” if no one knows where you are. God isn’t in the habit of having people full of the Spirit and wisdom who are lone ranger Christians, and believe me, you aren’t the exception. Considering the fact that God fills people up so that they can flow out, how wise do you think it is to stay home from church and tell people you are doing God’s will?

When they went out looking for men full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, men of an honest and good report, do you think they had a list, a survey, or did they have to see something? Did they have to know something? They had an honest report, their lives were telling the truth. They were the same around everybody. When someone is like that, what you see is what you get. They had to know these men had a reputation not only for honesty but also for Spiritual things. Their honest report meant that they weren’t just religious showboats, they weren’t full of wisdom one minute and full of the world the next minute when no one else was looking. Believe me friend someone else is ALWAYS looking. When people see you do they know you like this? Jesus said by their fruits ye shall know them: tell me, what fruit is it that people see when they see you? What fruit is it that people who know you know that you have?

People ought to know you are a Christian, not because of the sticker on your car, not because of the slogan on your shirt, not because of the saying on your hat, but because of what comes out of your mouth, what happens with your hands, what things you do with those legs, what kind of look you have on your face, what kind of things you do with your time, and what kind of things are on your mind. Fellow believers ought to know you are full of the Spirit and of wisdom. We should be seeking God for these things to be flowing in our lives, so that we may serve the Lord and serve others. They ought to know and it ought to show and when you grow it ought to flow.

God is still looking for people full of the Spirit and wisdom to serve. You are full of something, the question is what? They ought to know.

Communing With Death

… anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.
(1 Corinthians 11:29 – ESV)

As Christians we are to be sharing in the fellowship of the Spirit (Philippians 2:1). We are to be communing with Christ, but also with one another. A major facet and the visible expression of this communion is manifest by taking the Lord’s Supper. Consider the fact that the Bible never mentions having the Lord’s Supper outside the context of the local church community. Communion is with Christ, the Head, but He is the Head of His Body, the Church.

Think about it. What are you going to do, take Communion by yourself? There are many who do and are taught just that. Unfortunately it is not just those who don’t attend a local church, but also those who think daily Communion outside of church is a good thing. It isn’t it is selfish. If that is what you think, that you can have communion with God and can take the Lord’s Supper without ever having to partake with other people, then listen up.

In 1 Corinthians 11:29 Paul tells us that those who take Communion unworthily are drinking damnation to themselves. Paul describes what unworthiness is. He says it is failing to discern the body of the Lord. Does this mean failing to recognize the elements as His Body? Reading the context of the passage, we can unequivocally state ABSOLUTELY NOT! Paul is saying that failing to discern the Body is failing to consider the members of that Body, all the members.

We cannot take Communion with all the believers across the world at the same time. But the local church is the expression of such a communion by which we respect the other members. To fail to discern this, to think we can have communion without fellowshipping with other local believers is to disrespect people that Christ died for. To take Communion outside the local assemble in that fashion is to drink unworthily. When we are taking Communion unworthily, it is because we are failing to discern His Body, and His Body is the Church! Again, think about the context here in this passage, it is about respect for the fellow members of the Body.

Verse 30 says that is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. We can take this and apply it to today by saying that because you have not discerned the Lord’s Body, that is why you are so spiritually weak, or worse, dead. Of course many who are habitually missing church or those who just simply won’t go at all are probably not thinking about taking Communion anyway. However, they certainly would be mistaken to take it by themselves all the time.

He that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:17), but how can you share in the communion of the Holy Ghost (2 Corinthians 13:14) sitting there at home? Now if you cannot go out, if you are a shut in because of age and/or health, then obviously this isn’t you. However, you could ask the local church to come to you, and any good church, any true church will. You may be at death’s door, but you can still be communing with the Life of the local church in that way.

Christian living is like spectator sports – it is better to be a player than just a fan. Doing electronic church without the real thing is like playing a video sport game. You could be the best player in the history of the world at that game, but you might not even be able to play the real thing. In that case, if you got in the real game, you would “get killed”. You have no game; your fantasyland won’t play in the real world. Your skills would be as good as dead on the real field of play. So it is with your notion of no church. You think you have Life, but you are communing with death.

Sermon Skirmish

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God…
(2 Corinthians 10:5 – ESV)

The church house is a war zone. It is a spiritual battleground. Now, when people talk of spiritual warfare, it conjures up all sorts of images, depending on what you have been taught about it or how you are used to practicing it. However, many have not considered the truth that preaching and listening to the preached word of God is not only one of God’s primary vehicles for growing us up, but that it is spiritual warfare. Preaching is spiritual warfare of the first order.

The sermon is a skirmish in the heavenly realm, which will play itself out in the physical world. The most intense place of spiritual warfare is in proclaiming God's Word. We as people in the pews are also involved in this warfare. When we are at church, listening prayerfully to the Word of God being expounded upon, we are in a battle the likes of which many never realize.

They ought to. The preacher is battling long held notions and wrong-headed thoughts. He is trying to exalt God and His Word and Christ and His authority in the lives of believers. He is trying to foster correct doctrine and put down incorrect doctrine and it is a battle for the listener as well. We are combating things, “for we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 – ESV).

Oh, how we need to pray that we may have ears that were as Jesus said, “he who has ears to hear, let him hear.” We need to pray that we won’t be distracted, that we won’t be apathetic, and that we won’t be thinking about what we are doing afterward. We pray that we might put into practice tomorrow some of the pursuits the preacher will be discussing today.

Even when we are listening, and we want to apply what we have heard, we have this “get it all done right now” attitude. The Enemy convinces us that all we have to do is make a decision, but it isn’t just your decision to start it is your determination to stay that counts. The warfare has just begun when we leave the church. It is as Jesus told us in Mark 4:15, the Enemy immediately tries to take away the Word that was sown. If you do not attach concrete action to your decision, and a decision is needed, but if you do not act in accordance with that decision it will only lead you into a boom and bust cycle of frustration. Again, in Mark 4:16-17, Jesus tells us of those who receive the Word with joy, but they have no root, so they fall away.

As well, get on your knees and pray for your pastor since he engages in spiritual warfare against the invisible forces of evil every time he steps into the pulpit and dares to faithfully wield the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18-20). Pray that his preparation is such that he does not set sail into the soil of his own imagination but he stays in touch with the text.

The church is ground zero in the war zone. Of course, those that don’t go to church are like troops that have gone AWOL. They aren’t helping anyone else in the war, and they certainly aren’t receiving any help either. Guns all around and no ammunition is a sad state of affairs for a soldier to be in. Won’t you take up arms and join in the sermon skirmish?

Cross Stitching

that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ,
(Colossians 2:2 – ESV)

Their hearts may be encouraged, reaching all the riches, full assurance, etc. This isn’t talking about material prosperity but spiritual prosperity. Spiritual well being, not physical well being. The more intimate our communion with other believers, the more spiritually rich we will be.

Look at the previous verse in Colossians 1:28 – warning everyone, teaching everyone, maturity for everyone. Now then you can clearly see the context here, warning and teaching for maturity in every person, struggling so that they all might be on the same page, strengthened (encouraged, confirmed) by being instructed in love (a good rendering of “knit together”), and coming to a more full understanding of just how marvelous Christ is.

Now being instructed in love doesn’t just mean instructed as to how to love, but also instructed as to what to love, or actually who to love. Of course this means Christ. Now they already had a love for Christ and for one another, but Paul knew that this must continue to be solidified, not just for individuals, but for the group as well. We need each other, and if one is struggling with their faith and doctrine, it serves to bring us down. Paul had been praying and persevering for their pressing on to maturity in the mystery of Christ. Everybody needs to grow up, and we need to help each other grow up, and we need to grow up together as a unit. In the battle against heresy, we need all the soldiers following the same battle plan.

You see, Paul is not speaking primarily of unity for the sake of peace but unity for the sake of the gospel, unity so as to ward off deception, knit together and encouraged as to the truth about Jesus. Building one another up in the truth. Division in doctrine causes division in the body. He is speaking, as he usually does, about being of one mind and in one accord. This is accomplished as to primary doctrine first, which would lead to correct practice and eventual understanding in secondary doctrines, a full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery. To have right practice without right doctrine is to love leaven, to court corruption, to suffer with sin, and this is what Paul was warning against. The Colossians had a right practice (1:4) and a right passion (1:8), and he wanted to make sure they had a right perspective on Christ. His strong desire is that they would have strong doctrine (1:9). As we have said before, what we need is unity with verity, togetherness with truth, and fellowship in the truth, and around the truth, not just fellowship for friendship’s sake.

The result of this being knit together is to be able to reach a full, or wealthy assurance. Again, this is not a worldly wealth, but a spiritual wealth, something far more to be desired by those who know. However, to reach these riches, to reach a full assurance you must be knit together, can’t you see that? As an individual, you can have an assurance of your salvation, of course, but it reaches its fullness in the context of community. Even John the Baptist lost his assurance of who Jesus was when he was isolated (Matthew 11 / Luke 7).

Some lack an assurance of God and His character. Is He really good and loving? The answer is in knowing God as He is revealed in His Word. Some lack an assurance of their salvation. Is my Christian life for real? The answer is in knowing that the bottom line is that our salvation rests in God, not in us. Being around the Body ought to give us an assurance of God’s character and of our salvation, and frankly, this is an assurance we simply cannot give to those who would stay away from church. How can we give it to those who won’t hear it? They aren’t here at church to hear it from us!

The church that is growing in Christ, and that is the key of course, a church like that provides a measure of protection against heresy. Now you might say that you cannot find a church like that and use that as an excuse to not go to church. Well, no church is perfect, and heresy is always at the door waiting to be let in; however, consider this fact. The fact that you are ignoring parts of the Bible that are so clear proves that you have already drifted into heresy. If you really know the riches of Christ in full assurance, in understanding and knowledge, you will want to share it with others; you will want to be knit together.

It cannot be otherwise. Believe me, and more importantly, believe the Bible, to think you can avoid being knit together and still be made whole is heresy. You’re coming apart at the seams.

Life and Death Preaching

But hath in due times manifested his word through preaching…
(Titus 1:3)

Preaching is a matter of life and death. We don’t take it seriously enough. All this therapeutic nonsense we call preaching these days is nothing more than glorified self help hype, psychological poisoning, and feel good motivational talks. Everybody is on the bandwagon: the secret of this, the seven steps to that, the keys to this, the formula for that, and so on, and so on.

Well, preacher man, I have got a message for you. There are basically only two types of preaching you need to do, and really it is just one type, with two facets. What are they, evangelistic, doctrinal you ask? First off, teaching is not preaching. We are talking about proclamation here. We tell them like it is, the indicative, and exhort them to believe it, the imperative. Of course, those that respond will be the ones whom the Holy Spirit empowers.

Now both types of preaching are essentially preaching to dead people. There are two types of dead people – those that are dead in sins or those that are dead to self. Either way what you are trying to do is getting them to realize that. There are those that are alive but dead, and those that are dead but alive. To the unconverted, you are preaching Christ as the Life to answer their death sentence. To Christians you preach Christ as having given them new life, as the source of their life. Whereas once we were alive to sin and self and dead to God now we are to be dead to sin and self and alive to God. (Ephesians 2:1, 4:18) (Romans 6:2, 4,7, 11)

Preaching Life / Preaching Death – You preach for God to make them alive in the spirit and then you preach for God to make them dead to self. Do you want to live? Yes, well then, do you want to die? Romans 10:17 / 1 Corinthians 2:18,21 / Titus 1:3 / James 1:18 / 1 Peter 1:23 / Romans 8:6,13 / Galatians 5:24 – You preach Jesus on the cross, and you on the cross – Hebrews 2:15 – The bottom line is that preaching is about life and death. Take it seriously, preacher man.

Jesus Doesn’t Cheat

…Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…
(Ephesians 5:26 – ESV)

Jesus loves, nourishes and cherishes all those who are a part of His Body, His Bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:29). He has no doubts about who is a part of the worldwide Body, what we would call the “invisible church”, because the Lord knows those who are his (2 Timothy 2:19 – ESV).

Now you might say, “I love the church, too” but can you see the invisible church? How can you possibly know all of the Christians on planet earth? It is true, you cannot love missionaries or those out of town close up but with your giving and prayers you can love them. However, you can also show your love for the whole Church by loving those nearby in a local church. “Oh I love them all in prayer”, you say. Prayer of that sort isn’t enough when you can do more by being there. You are required to be there in a local church. There is no way around it, unless you are physically unable to. That isn’t legalism; that is what the Bible teaches.

If you are physically unable to attend, I understand, and so does God. Even so, you should be plugged in to a local church somehow, and have some come to you to minister and be involved in that way. If you are in a nursing home, I feel for you. We have service every Sunday at a local home, and I pray that all who read this and are in that situation would be able to have the same blessing to be able to attend a service. It isn’t you I am talking to, except to tell you that I hope these messages bring you hope and encouragement. If you have a desire for fellowship, that is good, it is those that don’t that I am speaking about.

How can you say you love His Bride when you will not even love a local expression of it? Are there no Christians in the town you live in? If there are then you owe it to Jesus and to them to meet with them in worship, fellowship and discipleship. Imagine a man, moments after putting a ring on his new bride, then turning to her and saying, “well, honey I love you, but I’m going to go sleep at my girlfriend’s house tonight”. Ridiculous, isn’t it? That’s beyond cheating, that is just plain old hatred and disrespect.

Friends, Jesus doesn’t cheat. He loves the Church. He died for the Church. He’s coming again for His Bride, His Body, the Church. Stop cheating on your brothers and sisters in Christ; you are cheating on Jesus.

Slide Back, Backslider!

Why then has this people turned away in perpetual backsliding? They hold fast to deceit; they refuse to return.
(Jeremiah 8:5 – ESV)

The local church helps you grow, and in it you are to help others grow. Together you grow as individuals and you grow together as a unit. Another important aspect of the local church is that it is also there to help keep you and others from backsliding. You may say, “well I am not backslidden or backsliding” but if you aren’t involved in a local church you are already backslidden friend. You need to slide right back into church, pronto!

“Are you saying that I am going to hell if I don’t go to church?” No, I am not, but what I am saying is this; if that is all you are concerned about then I am concerned about you. You need to think more clearly about why the Apostles worked so hard to establish local churches; it wasn’t so that no one would gather together. It wasn’t because we as believers didn’t need them. It certainly wasn’t because Christ didn’t want them to, or want us there. That means you and I both.

People speak of the terrible burden of church. Actually it is a terrible burden to have the whole load on your own back. There is no way you could handle that even if you did have the strength, remember, your back is already busy, you are using it to slide…

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Saturday Sermon: How About You?

Romans 3:9-18

Paul has just dispatched with the arguments that a Jew might make against his accusation that all are slaves to sin, and all under judgment, and all need God and His gospel. Now Paul will tie up the loose ends, finishing up what he started in chapter 1, verse 18, and prove the universality of sin. Considering this, all cultures agree on this in the abstract, they know that we are all under the guilt of our own selves, and we call that sin. It is just that most also believe in the dynamic power of mankind to overcome that sin, reaching itself up to its own heaven in its own innate power.

Now there are actually those that say there is no sin, and no evil, that this is all an illusion. That is self-refuting, we can’t think our way out of it. This isn’t an illusion, it is an illustration that indeed there is sin, there is evil, and that there is a God to whom we are all accountable. Now some say that there is sin, but there is no God. What unbelieving people are trying to say is that there is no Creator and so there is no accountability, no ultimate accountability, except accountability to man himself. Of course that means what man says is permissible changes over time as we “evolve” but no amount of evolution will make everyone “okay” no matter how low man’s standard goes. There is no moral evolution in the sense that man can never climb his way out of the depths of his own heart. Russian writer, philosopher and Christian Fyodor Dostoevsky: "If there is no God, then all things are permissible. ..." There is no humanistic salvation. There is no educational salvation, consider the recent astronaut murder plot situation.

A.W. Tozer: The world’s spirit is strong and it can play at religion with every appearance of sincerity. It can have fits of conscience. It will contribute to charitable causes and campaigns on behalf of the poor, but all with its own condition: “Let Christ keep His distance and never assert His Lordship.”

When people band together in humanistic efforts at self-improvement without God, unless God in His common grace restrains us, the end result is worse, not better. Remember our earlier discussion of Romans 1:18 and the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law. (Proverbs 29:18)

Now some say they believe in some sort of God, but also believe that God owes mankind forgiveness without penalty, or that men can tip the scales in their favor somehow, by being more good than bad and following a religious set of rules and ritualism and practice. In all of these scenarios the problem is that they don’t see sin as bad as it really is, and we don’t see how holy God is. The Christian believes that there is no hope without God intervening Himself, that there is no way out of sin and no way to be saved without God.

Vs. 9 – Paul is including himself in with his people the Jews. Perhaps we can understand “No not at all” by saying “not altogether”, because he just said they have some advantages. When Paul says not at all he means not in the saving sense. Yes they had more light but this just served to shed more light on their own guiltiness. Paul has already given the accusation; he has already charged everyone. He has given the scenarios and answered the claims against this charge. Now he turns to the Bible itself as the final proof of guilt. He shows the Jews that their own scriptures declare this very fact. He takes the OT like a mirror to show us the ubiquitous nature of sin.

Vs.10-18 – These quotations from the Psalms (Psalms 14:1-3, 5:9, 140:3, 10:7, 36:1) and from Isaiah 59:7-8 all support the opening statements in verse 9 and 10: both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, and none is righteous, no, not one.

This look at the human condition is depressing. What’s the point? The Apostle Paul wants us to understand our complete inability to save ourselves. This is actually a hopeful message, we are hurt to be healed, wounded to be made well, put to death to be made alive. If we see the depths of our sin we can appreciate the magnitude of our deliverance. We must believe that we have the sickness so that we will believe in and take the cure. We see the problem before the prescription.

In looking at each of these six Old Testament quotes Paul doesn't mean that every one has the whole indictment in it, but that taken all together they have the whole indictment. Psalm 14:1-3 (vs.10-12) refers to the Gentile world, while Isaiah 59:7-8 (vs.15-17) refers to the Jews.

The point is that the Old Testament declares that Jewish people are sinners and Gentile people are sinners. Even Adam before the fall was not righteous, he was innocent. Wherever you have someone called "righteous" in the Old Testament it is not because they were not sinners, but because God had mercifully intervened in their lives and given them the grace of faith and forgiveness to set them right with God. Paul knew that happened for the Old Testament saints. We know this because in Romans 4:3 he quotes Genesis 15:6, "(Abraham) believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness." So when Paul quotes the Old Testament that "none is righteous, no not one," he means that we, by nature, are unrighteous. He does not mean that there was no way to have a right standing with God in the Old Testament. They were circumcised in heart, as he explained in Romans 2:29.

no one seeks for God – What about all the religion and rituals and practices from the beginning of time? What about them? If man initiates the search then he doesn’t seek the true God, the God of the Bible. Instead he seeks an idol that he makes himself, as Paul explained in Romans 1. Again, he has already said all of this, now he is using the OT scripture to back it up conclusively. He finishes off with “There is no fear of God before their eyes”.

In all we have seen from Romans 1:18-3:18 we have seen ourselves, and our whole race. We have seen our lack of power and our lack of purity. I am not God, and I do not deserve His kingdom. Neither do you. I realize that I deserve nothing from God but His anger, and that I am lost without hope if I do not receive grace from Him. I know this to be true. How about you?

Now having seen what we all are, what about Jesus? That is the whole point isn’t it? Just look at Him here in all His beauty. Yes, against the backdrop of sinful humanity, we see the surpassing glory of Christ!

Look at the negative phrases in Romans 3:10-18 again and see Christ as opposed to them in magnificent splendor.

10 – Jesus was righteous; the Bible says yes, He is the only One.

11 – Jesus did understand God, the Bible says He is the only One to have seen the Father, and came from Him, and Jesus is His Son. The Bible says that Jesus did seek God. He only did what His Father wanted; He sought Him early in the morning and late at night in prayer, and followed the lead of the Holy Spirit His whole life, even if it meant death.

12 – The Bible describes Jesus as turning aside to do the work of the Father, turning aside to help others, not turning aside to His own, selfish way. Jesus started out in a manger, but became of more worth to the world than anyone else in history. The Bible says Jesus went about doing good, healing people, and setting them free from oppression.

13 – His throat wasn’t an open grave; He called people out from the grave. When He died people sprung forth from their graves, and when He returns we will all come out of our graves. His tongue spoke no deceit and His lips had no poison, His words were Spirit and Life.

14 – His mouth was full of praising His Father and His bitterness was sorrow for those that had caused curses upon themselves.

15 – His gave His own feet to be shed blood for those who didn’t even love Him.

16 – In His path are resurrection and joy.

17 – Jesus is the Prince of Peace.

18 – Jesus only had eyes for His Father’s will, and for your salvation He said to the Father, not my will but thine be done.

Jesus was like us in that He had human flesh, but He was not like us in that He had no sin. Against the backdrop of all we have seen here, we can surely see that Jesus is the most beautiful, wonderful, marvelous, awesome being in the universe, and He bids us to come to Him. If we receive Him, He will receive us into glory.

In this passage I see my own sin, and I see my only Savior.

It is Jesus that I want, it is Jesus that I must have, it is Jesus that will truly fulfill me, it is Jesus that will pay the penalty for me, it is Jesus who will be righteousness for me, it is Jesus to whom I owe my love and my life, it is Jesus who will set me free, it is Jesus who will bring me back from the dead, it is Jesus who will give me eternal life. Jesus is what I need, how about you?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Saturday Sermon: Playing Games With God

Romans 3:1-8

This is one of the hardest passages in the Bible to wrestle with and to follow, so stay with us and pray with us as we try and ascertain and explain the flow of Paul’s thoughts here.

Vs.1Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision?

The point so far in Romans has been that Jews and Gentiles are both wicked and both need the gospel and God gives His own righteousness freely to those who trust His Son. Paul will now tackle the imaginary yet inevitable objections some would likely have to his teaching. This first one is a fair question, especially after the scathing rebuke Paul had just handed down.

If this is true, that some Jews aren’t really Jews, and that some Gentiles can become Jews, in the spiritual sense, and that this spiritual sense is what counts, a circumcision of the heart, even if they are not circumcised in the flesh, then what does this do to the Jew, why does it matter at all? Romans 2:11 – Isn’t Paul calling into question the entire Old Testament idea of the Jews as God’s chosen people? Is Paul saying that the Jew’s advantages weren’t really advantages? Doesn’t that call into question the whole Old Testament? If Paul's gospel does that, can it stand?

Vs.2Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.

So what is up with this? Paul gives an answer to question number one here in verse two. He stops short of a more full explanation, but he gives us more in Romans 9:4-5. Here he just tells us that the Jews had a real advantage in that they had the Word of God, which for them were the 39 books of the Old Testament. So Paul is saying that they did have advantages, and based on what he says later he does say that the Jews are a special people. However, he also has been saying that they are dying in unbelief, so again, what gives? This question, however, assumes that it is either one or the other, either security as covenant people or destruction. This points to a tension between God’s righteousness and our responsibility that Paul continues to highlight here.

Speaking of tension, here we are as Paul explains that having the Word of God is an advantage, and it is in a passage that is difficult to mine for food, in a sense, but we must. Amos 8:11 – we have the Word and we had better use it before we lose it. God has been faithful to give it to us, but we must receive it or it will do us no good. That is why we must wrestle with this text, and not skip or surface over it, as many might be doing, or twist it, as some do (2 Peter 3:16). There’s something here worth diligently striving for, and it isn’t cotton candy, but it will truly satisfy. Passages like this help us to understand why we need the Spirit to help us understand God’s revelation (1 Corinthians 2:14 – this doesn’t mean we don’t also think hard – 2 Timothy 2:7, 15).

Vs.3-4What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, "That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged."

Here Paul answers question number two. He quotes Psalm 51:4 – our sin is against God, and He is right to judge us. David knew that his being Jewish wouldn’t save him. Cosmic treason – every sin, as David said, is ultimately sin against God.

Paul’s point is that it is about individuals, and just because some are unfaithful does not mean that God is not faithful. Still, God is right and just in His actions, even if He was to condemn everyone, which He does (vs.9 / 11:22 / Galatians 3:22). 2 Timothy 2:13 – Our unrighteousness serves to further illustrate the righteousness of God. This leads to question number three.

Vs.5-6But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world?

Paul now answers the objection of those that would take the truths he is proclaiming and then say something like, “if we are just a pawn then how can God punish us?” “If my sin brings Him glory, and He uses my weakness to show His strength, why am I guilty?” “Doesn’t this make Him unjust?” This is definitely an argument you hear a lot today. That is why Paul says he speaks as a man, because he knows the depravity of the human heart in opposition to God.

The people Paul was addressing all conceded the fact that God was going to judge the world, and that some would make it and some wouldn’t. The Jews of Paul’s day figured that God would condemn the Gentile for his sin, but save the Jew despite his sin. Paul easily dismisses this objection by pointing out the fact that we know God is going to judge the world, and so obviously He cannot be unrighteous in doing so, so the objection is self-refuting. If what they said were true, God could judge no one. Lets further illustrate this using scripture.

Acts 2:23 – even though your sin magnifies His righteousness this doesn’t mean you weren’t or aren’t wrong for doing it. Today we scream for justice, and God will be just, but we just don’t want Him to judge us according to His standard. That is what the real problem is, and our word games won’t change that.

Some of this may seem like overkill to you. You may be thinking, “yeah Paul, or yeah preacher, I get it, we all are sinners and we need the gospel and no special privilege will get us out of our problem without His provision”. However, Paul continues on because guided along by the Holy Sprit he knows that people might say that but they don’t believe it. He knows that they will play word games with God, just like the Pharisees tried to twist Jesus’ words, and we try and twist the truth of God. He knows how far men will go in their attempts to derail the truth train to avoid being hit. When we are confronted we will just start using anything we can to try and get out of it. It’s like your kids making up some unbelievable story when they come home with one shoe and no shirt, or you find them up in a tree with binoculars and a slingshot. God isn’t na├»ve. He isn’t playing your game.

Haven’t you ever run across someone like that? When witnessing they have every excuse in the book, intellectual (ironically), practical (too hard), supposedly moral (that principle against homosexuality is wrong or the God of the OT was a bloodthirsty tyrant, etc.), sociological (the church hurt them or someone they know), or whatever. Well that is why you don’t go there first. Don’t play their game. What you explain to them and get them to see is their sin. Of course, that is what people don’t want to see, and what Paul is confronting here. Oh yeah, they can see it in the world and in everybody else, and cry for justice, but they are “basically a good person”. It is so out of hand that people will go as far as to blame God for their sin, as Paul anticipates here.

Vs.7-8But if through my lie God's truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come? --as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.

Paul restates the objection so as have this imaginary (but all too real) objector take the point to what they think is the obvious conclusion. But the real conclusion is that God is just, not them. “I just don’t understand, and well then, why not just do whatever we want?” People try and spin the sin and say it isn’t what it is. They try and play games with God’s Word twisting it like a pretzel. It is just like when Paul answers the questions about God sovereignty in later chapters. Liken this to the person who when told of God sovereignty they say, “well then why do anything?” All this does is show the wickedness in their hearts not the injustice of God, and as Paul says their condemnation is just. He has shown us how far it goes. Everybody has sin and everyone makes excuses, even the most patently ridiculous kinds like admitting there is a God while still putting Him on trial for His actions. Of course what some people are trying to do is justify in their own minds that there cannot be a God, because they like being blind (John 3:19).

They were slandering Paul’s message. How often do we begin to know some deep truth but on the surface it may seem like a contradictory thing? There is much in the world that reflects this idea. There are things that children just aren’t ready to deal with and yet they are perfectly suitable for those that can handle them like driving a car. Ever known someone who took a little bit of knowledge and it was like the proverbial monkey with a machine gun? It is like those that are educated beyond their intellect and wisdom, they have too much of a good thing. Your kids ever come home from school with some new fact and think they are smarter than you? Responsibility without maturity is disaster; power without respect is dangerous.

Some of God’s truths are necessarily hard and this is why we must study hard (2 Peter 3:16 / 2 Timothy 2:15 / Hebrews 5:13-14). There are those that would try and say “well then if we are justified by faith, if it is a free gift, if we are forgiven of every sin, well then lets live it up right?” Well that is just playing games with God. Yes, God accepts us as we are but He doesn’t leave us there. We haven’t arrived but we’ve left where we were. Sanctification is the fruit of the justification tree. Those that are saved will glorify His name, not give Him blame.

The problem with those that would try and twist God’s truth is that they fail to see the righteousness of God and the beauty of His plan. We need to just admit it, we are unrighteous compared to God, but He in His grace overflowing to us will give us the kingdom. Now even if we were good little boys and girls why would we deserve the power and the kingdom of God? We wouldn’t, and God makes it easy for us to differentiate between Him and us by this vast Creation, because we realize we could not create all this, and we can easily discern that we all stink compared to Him so that we can see we need Him. He illustrates His righteousness by our unrighteousness and His power by our lack of power. But people explain it away by saying that because there is sin that there must not be a God, or by saying He must not be just. Can you now see just how ridiculous that is? God is real and He loves you, so stop making excuses, they are lame. Paul will continue to unravel the mystery of God’s perfect plan to give us, who don’t deserve it, everything. Don’t you see your sin, and don’t you want more than this world has to offer? God is willing to give it all to you, but if you don’t want Him, you are not left with much of an alternative. Don’t play games with God.