Transcript of 3 Gifts of the Savior Series: Hope

[Video available on my Sermon Video page here.]

The Gathering, Chattanooga

December 6, 2015

~The doctor slowly walked in and sat down with the look on his face that said it all.  Before he could say a word, tears began to stream down her face as she leaned onto her husband’s shoulder.  He tightly wrapped his arms around her and quietly wept, determined to take care of her for as long as he could.  

~It’s been 2 years since he actually held a steady job.  Never a day goes by that he doesn’t think of his ex-wife and two beautiful young girls, wondering what they’re doing today.  Every passing day on the street is one step further from any chance for a normal life again.

~Hearing the verdict was like a swift punch in her gut.  The color drained from her face as the reality that every tomorrow for the rest of her life would look exactly the same…and it was almost too much to deal with, wishing she could go back in time and change what rage-filled moment in time.


What happens when all options are eliminated and any belief that things can get better begins to fade; when the last bit of good news doesn’t come and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it?  

What happens when hope runs out?  

Everybody has reason to hope so long as there is some possibility that things actually can turn around.  That’s the very way the dictionary defines hope:  the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.  Sometimes, though, things don’t turn out for the best and there is no rational basis to think they will.  What do you do?

The answer to that depends on your starting point.

Many people start from a position that believes that all you get is what you see.  The philosophical term is “Naturalism.”  Someone who holds to Naturalism believes that the material, physical world is all there is; that everything that exists is nothing more than the product of chance.  There is nothing beyond what we can see and there is nothing beyond this life.  There is no God; no higher power, no after-life…and no real hope. 

Some people seem to have no problem with this.  They simply make the most of this life, realizing that this is all there is and they will someday simply cease to exist.

I think there is a problem with this, though.  As long as everything is going well, I can see how people can pretty easily hold to that position, but when we’re faced with no hope that things will get better, it might be different story. When you’re faced with the reality that the cancer IS going to kill you, that the world is falling apart, the harshness of reality can be overwhelming.  

Further, I think the vast major of humans want to exist.  The idea of nonexistence doesn’t set well with most people, especially the closer they get to the point of that non-existence and they can’t live within the worldview they claim to believe.  After all, we pay a lot of money to stay alive.  We seem to want to continue existing and I think the thought of non-existence is a repelling thought.

There is an alternative to having to think this way (at least in the short term).  To avoid the consequences of meaninglessness, many people embrace what is known as Existentialism.  They have no basis for believing there is any meaning in life—with naturalism, there can be no real meaning in life—but they can’t live that way.  They can’t practically live according to the system of belief they’ve embraced.  There is no basis nor reason for things like love,  rational thought, truth or hope. So, they invent meaning and purpose for their lives.   They pursue careers that can give meaning.  They have families so they can build a legacy after they cease to exist.  See, Existentialism separates the harsh reality that there really is no meaning in the world from the desire for meaning; the desire to have meaningful thought, to truly love and to have significance, even when it is known that there is no reason for them; no basis for believing in them.

So they create meaning for themselves; they make themselves who they are.

The problem for existentialists is that they are always faced with the reality of the objective world.  Death is always present; always threatening to destroy their meaning and purpose; always demonstrating the objective truth that what we have created is nothing more than an illusion.  Nothing we have can last, so the happiness and satisfaction we live is a fantasy we have dreamed up to keep us from the truth. They may act as though there is hope, but it’s just a sham.

For that person who is honest with himself and follows his worldview to its logical conclusion (which rarely actually happens), a new reality becomes evident.  They understand that the meaning in their lives is something of their own invention, but in reality, there is no meaning.  All of life is an absurdity and of no value.  We see this most clearly in those who kill for no purpose at all, simply because life has no value, no purpose, with no ultimate meaning.  To live or die is equally worthless.  Those who cannot find meaning and can no longer create meaning find themselves living according to another thought-system:  Nihilism.  

Nihilism is the reality for an honest naturalist.  It is the denial of everything that is real.  It is the end of the line; the natural conclusion for anyone who lives honestly as a naturalist.  It realizes that nothing matters.  Nothing is ultimately right or wrong, good or bad.  There is no such thing as love and commitment because it all ends in the same place—nothingness.  Nothing is worth investing in because it cannot last and means nothing. 

There is only one place for a true Nihilist to go:  Despair.

Few can actually survive living a life in which there is no trace of hope and, as a result, and end up either committing suicide or madness.  They lose it…sometimes taking out as many people as they can in the process.

If this is the case, there is really only one other possibility…one other hope.  That lies in Theism (and I would get more specific to Christian Theism):  The belief that there really is a God who has created everything that exists and moves freely within His creation.  

If there is a God who created it, who is Lord over it, then He must be the Highest of all beings and He must be able to communicate with His creation if He chooses to and in any manner of His choosing. This is where we get into the Bible, a book that tells us there is a God who has created a people in His own image, which means that there is reason for things like love and rational thought and purpose.  

We’re talking about a God who tells us that everything that happens to us can work towards making us better people that will not be lost at the time of that great objective reality, death.  Instead, we can live beyond the grave because He is beyond the grave. He is outside of time and space and makes it possible for us to be, as well.

If true, this is the only basis for real hope and it is one of the greatest gifts we could ever imagine. 

Assuming, then, that what is written in Scripture is true, we have another problem:  Just because there is an almighty, sovereign and holy God, doesn’t automatically result in everyone rejoicing that we don’t have to live in total despair due to meaninglessness.

 To the contrary, because He is almighty, sovereign and holy leads us to a problem:  The Bible tells us that his holiness; his perfection can only allow perfection into His presence.  

Because of the Fall of Man, the perfect relationship God established at the beginning of creation was marred, making mankind unfit for a relationship with God and, even worse, left us liable for our sin, punishable not by annihilation, but eternally paying for the offense against an infinitely holy God in hell.  As a result, God gave Laws to demonstrate what it would take for man to be made right with God and escape the payment for sin:  the Law had to be followed perfectly.  So, now we’re back to despair because no one can do that.

What we come to find out, though, is that God had another purpose for the Law and a purpose for our despair which was to make understand that in our own power, we are hopeless.  We cannot save ourselves.  In the Old Testament, God had made a covenant with man through Abraham that said so long as you obey me, I will be your God and you will be my people.  After centuries of trying and failing, the Bible paints a picture of a people in despair, crying out to God for a savior.  

Then came hope!  God spoke through his prophet in the midst of the despair of the Israelites and gave them reason to believe that things could and would get better!

Jeremiah 31:31-34

 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

God promised that He would do what man could not do…He Himself would satisfy the requirement of holiness.  God would make a way for eternal life, providing hope where there was only despair.  This fulfillment would be through His Son, Jesus, the Christ (the Deliverer) and over 700 years before Christ was born, God said gave his people hope by telling them what was to come:

He would enter Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt (Zechariah 9:9).

He would be betrayed by a friend (Psalm 41:9).

The betrayal would be for 30 pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12).

The money would be used to purchase the potter’s field (Zechariah 11:13).

The Messiah would die a sacrificial death for us (Daniel 9:26; Isaiah 53:8).

He would die with criminals but His burial would be with the wealthy (Isaiah 53:9).

He would rise from the dead (Psalm 16:8–11; Isaiah 53:10).

He would speak specific words on the Cross, he would be mocked, and people would gamble for His clothes (Psalm 22:1, 8, 18).

Remember, the definition of hope, according to the dictionary, is “the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.”  God gave the world a reason to hope and he gave the word a new meaning.  

In Scripture, hope is no longer about something that we want to come about or even that we think it might turn out for the best.  Biblical hope is a confidence that was is said will happen because God has said it.  So, when we say that we have hope for the future, we believe that there is a certainty of what God WILL bring about based on what he has said he will bring about. 

OK, so it’s one thing to say that God has spoken and that He has brought about promises, but how do we know that God’s Word and promises are true that lead to our certain hope?  

Put simply, we believe.  Now, I’m not talking about a simple act of the will as in choosing to believe against all evidence.  When we think about what we believe, there are, as I can see it, three possibilities:

1.  You can choose to believe something you know isn’t true (such as, I believe I can fly.  I believe that unicorns exist)— that’s called delusion. 

2. You can choose to believe something to be true but is actually false—that is error. (as in, I believe that the Vols will win the National Championship next year…though that might better be categorized as “delusion”).

3. You can believe something because you’re overwhelmingly convinced by evidence of it’s truth and reality.  In this sense, You know in your heart that the external facts give evidence to what is true.  

In the case of belief in Christ’s death and resurrection, the evidence is solid, but evidence alone is not enough.  Salvation takes faith, and God’s word says that He gives us faith as a gift…an internal certainty that His promises are true.  The Spirit of God convinces us to know what is true even though we can’t see it all with our eyes.

Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

In Hebrews 11:1 we read, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation.”

John 3:16 is clear that the one who believes will not perish but have eternal life.  It is this faith that leads to justification before God and eternal life through Christ.  It also is the basis for our hope that things actually will get better; that even through bad circumstances, we can hope for the good.  Look at Romans 5:1-9:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.

So, when we trust in Christ, we are reconciled to God.  We are made right with Him, being declared righteous because Christ has exchanged our sins for His righteousness.

2 Corinthians 5:21

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

This righteousness makes possible for God to welcome us into his family, but also gives us hope in our lives here on earth.

Hope that even bad circumstances are investments into our growth and development:

Romans 8:28

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Hope that God will intervene when we struggle or when we are in need:

Romans 8:26

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

Matthew 6:25-33

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?[g] 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Hope that God will guide us every step of this crazy journey called life.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

Isaiah 30:21

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

This hope is only found in Christ, but it is found in Him.  It is real.  It is comprehensive.  It is eternal.

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. ~Romans 15:13 

July 4th Freedom Run in Downtown Chattanooga

So, we’ve come up with an event for this summer that we believe will be a lot of fun for our church family (and really, anybody who would like to join us!). We’re going to host a July 4th 5k and 10k run that we’re calling The Gathering Freedom Run.  It’s obviously related to Independence Day, but we hope to be able to talk with people about our real focus which is true freedom in Christ. We’ll end at Coolidge Park for a picnic together, so if you don’t run, plan on coming to that anyway. 

We will officially announce this with all the details later this week, but I needed to tell you now because one of our accomplished resident distance runners, Meredith Zinke, has put together a couple of training plans that will get you in shape and ready to run the distance you choose by July 4th. She put this together last week, which is why it starts on the 10th, but you can jump in now and do fine. So pick the one you like and get moving, and watch for more details here or on The Gathering website and Facebook page. Hope you will join us!  I’m planning on the 10k, so come run with me!

We’ll have these as downloadable PDFs available in the next day or so. 

5k Plan:

  
  

10k Plan:

   

When Life Gets Tough

troubleLife is tough.  Everybody knows that.  There is no way for us to get away from the troubles and difficulties that we all have to face.  Sometimes, it’s little more than the inconveniences of traffic, dealing with an overbearing boss, or misplacing a wallet.  Other times, it’s infinitely worse.  Those are events in life that seem to define our lives from that point on:  financial ruin, discovery of a malignant tumor or the sudden death of a loved one.

How do we deal with these life-altering challenges in life?

Well, put simply, we can despair.  We can assume all is lost and crawl into the fetal position and give up…or we can hope.  We can find out what God says about the subject in His Word and determine to trust Him.  Obviously, some won’t and they will pursue their own coping techniques and they may experience some level of comfort, but for me, I trust in the God who is there; the God who brings life out of death. The God who I have seen give grace and strength in some of the most desperate of times.

Jesus’ half brother, James, who initially was not a believer in Christ but later became totally sold out to Him after He saw Jesus resurrected and eventually led the Church in Jerusalem, has some challenging instruction in the first chapter of his letter:

 Count it all joy, my brothers,when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

First of all, he’s talking about joy, not happiness.  Happiness is circumstantial whereas joy is not.  I can maintain joy, for example, at the death of a loved one who has trusted in Christ and gets to experience life beyond death, though I am not happy about their absence from my life.

So, James is basically saying (according to the new, international Price version!), “Look, if you have trusted in Christ, keep the big picture in mind here.  All sorts of difficulties are coming your way because of sin in the world.  You can’t get around it.  Yet, because of what my brother and Lord, Jesus, did on the cross, even the bad stuff is making you stronger and complete.  You don’t have to like it, but embrace the glorious truth and grow through it!”

That, I can embrace.  I can hold onto the truth that WHEN (not if) trials come.  I may weep.  I may struggle with the challenges.  I may need people to hold me and to comfort me.  However, I can know that God is good and He is in control.  I can know that He will provide grace and strength through it.  In short, I can stand!

What are some ways you have experienced God working through challenges to bring about good in your life?

Related passages: Romans 8:28, Joshua 1:9, 1 Peter 4:12-13, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, John 16:33, 1 Peter 1:3-7, Ephesians 6:10-11, Romans 5:1-11

If you would like to watch the related message from our current series, FaithWorks: Living the Letter of James, you can visit the video archive of The Gathering, Chattanooga.  Also, check to see if the video has been posted on this blog.

 

 

Video: Relentless, Part 5. David Price at The Gathering, Chattanooga

Relentless, Part 5: Torn from The Gathering on Vimeo.

This is the 5th installment of a series on the book of Hosea entitled “Relentless” at The Gathering in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In this message, Pastor David looks at Hosea, chapter 6 and discusses how God will tear us and break us for the purpose of ultimately healing us. To those who have trusted in Christ and have been adopted by the Father, God will bring anything He deems necessary to purge us of the false idols and sources of hope and joy that cannot deliver. What is our response to be? Listen as your are encouraged to commit yourself to knowing God more fully and building a steadfast love for Him through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Monday Morning Rewind: Relentless, Part 1 – Because

HoseacroppedLOGO

What is the rest of your life going to be like?

Obviously, you can’t answer that, but you certainly have an idea of what you want it to be like, right? You have dreams and ambitions and are certain God shares those. For some of you, when I ask that question, you might say something like, “All I know is He has a plan for my life and has my best interest at heart.” If I ask you to defend that, you might go to a passage like Jeremiah, 29:11, where God says to Jeremiah, “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare[a] and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

In response to that, I would ask whether or not that was a blanket promised to all people everywhere?  I would argue that to be a specific message to the exiles of Israel about a coming deliverance and not, necessarily, a universal truth for all to claim.

If I’m wrong, wouldn’t that mean that terrible things won’t happen because God has plan for all people for welfare or riches and will protect them from all evil?

Obviously, that is not the case. That cannot be the case. Not everyone prospers. Not everyone is protected from evil. If that is what God intended to say, then He has clearly failed.

I need to press this a little further: Throughout the history of the church, individuals and entire groups have undergone intense persecutions and killed in some of the most brutal ways. Does Jeremiahs 29:11 apply to those situations, as well?

Hopefully, we realize that this passage ultimately deals with future hope in Christ for eternity. Through Christ, we see this fulfilled in the people of Israel as God does bring blessing and welfare and a future and a hope for all who trust in Christ so that even if bad things happen, and they will, there is the hope of a future blessing.

It’s easy to take passages like that out of context, isn’t it, especially when we really like them?

So, this brings us back to the initial question: What is your future going to be like? Do you assume that it’s going to be good and easy? Happy marriage, good job with good pay, 2.5 kids and die peacefully in your sleep at a ripe, old age?

What if it’s not? Do ever consider that? What if God’s plan for you involves giving up on your dreams, not having the good job, never marrying or getting married and only having .5 kids and dying a painful, agonizing death for your faith? Never consider that possibility, do you? Not here…this is America! Land of the free and home of the brave! We don’t deal with that here.

But we need to ask, “Could it happen?” That, of course, leads to even more fundamental questions like…

Does God always call us to the easy? Does He owe us that?

Is His greatest concern our comfort or happiness? If not, what is it?

Does He have a right to call us to the difficult, challenging, painful and even tragic?

Then we have to consider…

What is the proper response to His call, regardless?

What is to be our primary concern: our happiness or obedience to God?

Are there limits to that obedience?

Today, we’re going to try and answer some of these questions in light of the book we’re going to be spending some time in: Hosea

The Times of Hosea

The prophecy of Hosea comes at a time of great political turmoil in Israel’s history. In about a 30 year period, Israel had six kings. They couldn’t keep their jobs because they kept losing their lives: Zechariah (753 b.c.) was murdered after only six months in power. The usurper, Shallum, was assassinated a month later. The next king, Menahem (752–742 b.c.) survived for a decade by paying a tribute to Tiglath-pileser, the Assyrian king. Menahem’s son, Pekahiah (742–740 b.c.), was assassinated by an army officer, Pekah (740–732), after only two years’ reign, then co-reigned by his twin sons, Pikachu and peekaboo…(just seeing if you’re paying attention). Actually, Pekah was killed by Hoshea, whose defeat by the Assyrians led to the end of the Israel as a kingdom in 722 b.c.

An Idolatrous People

More problematic, though, than the political instability, was idolatry that had been introduced to the people. God had chosen Israel to be His special people, had established a covenant with Abraham and commanded that they serve the Lord only. Yet they broke that commandment and began worshiping false gods.

God is a very patient God, but the true and living God is also a very jealous, unwilling to share His glory with anyone, especially a god that is both false and non-living. In the word of the Lord, then to Israel through Hosea, we see God dealing with this faithless people. The remarkable thing, though, is that in spite of His anger, we get a picture of the God who is relentless in His love and pursuit, dealing with his people harshly regarding their sin, yet with a tough-love, cutting them off only to broaden the “house”, so to speak, and bring restoration in a way the Israelites could never have imagined, and of course, in a way some Jews could never accept.

The Calling of Hosea

The job God had for Hosea was a very difficult calling that God put on his life. The crazy thing is, God didn’t seem to ask Hosea if this was what He wanted to do.

That’s our big question: “Well, what do you want to do with your life?” I think that’s our problem. We are so self-centered, we want to make our own plans with little or no consideration for what God wants, but then expect Him to bless it!

We feel as though it’s our birthright to be happy. After all, does God really have a right to call me to a life of sacrifice and suffering? Well, in Romans 9:20-21, in the context of God’s sovereign rights, Paul argues,

“who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?”

God has absolute right to use His vessels any way He chooses. The only control you may have is whether or not He uses you as a tool or a son. Pharaoh was used as a tool/instrument. Moses was used like a son.

Getting it Right

The question we should be asking is not, “What do I want to do with my life,” but “Lord, what do you have for my life?” We’re scared of that one, though. We’re afraid of how He might answer. We feel much better assuming God didn’t call us to do THAT! Besides, God wants me to be happy, right?

The answer is that God wants you to be blessed…and that doesn’t always come through happiness. Sometimes, the greatest blessing comes through the greatest pain.

Is that right, though? Why wouldn’t God be most concerned about my happiness if I’m His kid and He loves me?

The answer is that if God is God, the most supreme being in the universe above whom there is no one or nothing else, then God cannot be most concerned about us or He will be guilty of idolatry. He MUST be concerned about His own glory. Our happiness is secondary, at best!

What should my greatest concern be then? Well, if I’m a follower of Christ, my greatest concern has to be His glory, too! Through that, I’m also securing for myself the greatest level of blessing.

So, if God is ultimately going to do whatever He wants, what are my options? Simple, either obedience or rebellion.

In light of that, I want to suggest some things for you to consider in order to help move you to a place of willful obedience:

1. God is not capricious. He never does things on a whim or for no reason. God never conducts experiments. He DOES have a plan and it’s a good one! Trust Him in that. It will ultimately lead to your blessing. Read through chapters 1 and 3 of Hosea. Every time God called him to do something crazy, there was a “for” (i.e. “because”) that followed. God always has a reason, whether He spells it out for you like He did Hosea or not!

2. God will never call you to anything that He will not provide you everything you need to accomplish it. This especially includes GRACE.

Joshua 1:9

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

He reaffirms the universality of this promise in Hebrews 13:5-6

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say,

The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”

3. If you submit to God and lay down your life to Him and live according to His instruction, whatever He calls you to will be a life of honorable use. Nothing is wasted in God’s economy.

2 Timothy 2:20-22:

Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. 21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable,[d] he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.

22 So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.

The Ball is in Your Court…sort of

So, what is your attitude going to be towards the call of God? Rebellion and self-idolatry or willful submission to a loving, holy God who, in spite of the difficulty of the call, works all things for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

Are you going to be used as a child or a tool?

 

 

Monday Morning Rewind: A Passion for ‘The House’

cleansingtemplebanner

The following is from my message yesterday at The Gathering.  You can watch video on Demand here.

What is your attitude towards “the House”?  I’m talking about the Church.  Not the building…the people; the Body for which Christ died?

Over the years, the church has been largely defined by individuals or groups who have led it…or been active in it. For some, by using manipulation and threats, church leaders could get people to act the way they wanted and so it has been used as a tool to control people.

roberttilton

For others, it is a means of great gain, with so-called “ministers” using their pulpits to woo members to make a $1000 vow and pay it or to buy the minister a new Mercedes so he can make hospital visits in style, or give very large percentages of their income regardless of whether they knew where the money was going or not.

Politicians throughout modern history have used church membership in order to demonstrate their upstanding community status and improve their electability. Conservative political parties have “courted” the Christian vote in order to further their political agenda while liberal political parties have done the same to liberal Christians in order to rubber stamp policies that stand starkly against the clear instruction of God’s Word.yle, or give very large percentages of their income regardless of whether they knew where the money was going or not.

It seems so many people use and abuse the Church in such a way that, rather than being held up and protected as the beautiful Body and Bride of Christ that she is, she is mistreated and turned into a pleasurable commodity up for sale to the highest bidder, whored out as nothing more than some cheap, special interest group who can win over the populace or earn a buck under the guise of religious interest.

What does God think about this? Do you think it bothers Him when people fail to understand the nature of the Church and mishandle the very thing that Christ died to establish?

I think the clearest picture we get is what happened after Jesus entered into Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday, the week before He gave Himself up to be crucified on the cross. I’m framing it like that because I want you to see the connection between how He came as the suffering servant contrasted with His attitude towards those who abuse the Holy things of God.

Look at Matthew 21:12-13:

 Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”

In this statement, Jesus quoted from Isaiah 56:

56 Thus says the Lord:

“Keep justice, and do righteousness,

wfor soon my salvation will come,

and my righteousness be revealed.

2 Blessed is the man who does this,

and the son of man who holds it fast,

xwho keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it,

and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”

3 Let not ythe foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,

“The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;

and let not the eunuch say,

“Behold, I am za dry tree.”

4 For thus says the Lord:

“To the eunuchs xwho keep my Sabbaths,

who choose the things that please me

and hold fast my covenant,

aI will give in my house and within my walls

a bmonument and a name

better than sons and daughters;

cI will give them an everlasting name

that shall not be cut off.

6 “And ythe foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,

to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,

and to be his servants,

everyone xwho keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,

and holds fast my covenant—

dthese I will bring to emy holy mountain,

and make them joyful in my house of prayer;

ftheir burnt offerings and their sacrifices

will be accepted on my altar;

for gmy house shall be called a house of prayer

for all peoples.”

8 The Lord God,

hwho gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,

i“I will gather yet others to him

besides those already gathered.”

By quoting Isaiah 56, Jesus is foreshadowing the very salvation He came to establish and not for the Jews, alone: (7b) “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples“. Keep in mind here that He is not talking about Universalism (all people will be saved), but all peoples as in “people groups”. This is in keeping with Revelation 5:9-10,

Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

Jesus has just walked into Jerusalem to prepare to be slain in order to establish for Himself a people from every nation on earth, fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 22:16-18 where God said to Abraham following his near sacrifice of Isaac:

By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

This song in Revelation, sung by the angels, is from the future looking back on the events of this week of Jesus’s passionate mission coming to a head. On the other hand, both the passage from Isaiah and the promise from Genesis are looking forward at this week centuries before they happened! This is the week! This is when it’s all coming to a head and salvation will either be secured for all peoples or it will not. Jesus is focused and He is passionate! It’s clear in His response to those who were abusing the Temple.

We see it also in the second part of Isaiah 56:

9 All you beasts of the field, come to devour—

all you beasts in the forest.

10 His watchmen are blind;

they are all without knowledge;

they are all silent ldogs;

they cannot bark,

dreaming, lying down,

loving to slumber.

11 The dogs have a mighty appetite;

they never have enough.

But they are shepherds who have no understanding;

they have all turned to their own way,

each to his own gain, one and all.

12 “Come,” they say, “let me get wine;

let us fill ourselves with strong drink;

and tomorrow will be like this day,

great beyond measure.”

 Jesus is very compassionate towards the repentant; towards those who know they are in need of a savior and fall on His mercy. He is merciful, providing forgiveness for those who desire to be holy yet fall in sin, calling out to His name in response.

Yet He is jealous of the Holiness of God and responds in fury to those who abuse and willfully mishandle things of God. Look at what He calls them: A den of thieves.

These are people who are not only cheating other people, but more importantly they are cheating God, robbing the Temple of it’s holiness; using and abusing the holy things of God for their own purposes.

Let’s not miss something important here: this was not directed just at those selling, but also to those buying.

“[He] drove out all who sold and bought in the temple…”

Everyone who missed the point, who got caught up in the accepted religious traditions of the day, and abused the holy things of God, fell under the righteous, passionate fury of Christ.

So, are we off the hook now that Christ died and Temple worship has been abolished? Now that WE are the Temple of God? Are there ways in which we still abuse the holy things of God by participating in the Body of Christ in a way that communicates that we’re primarily interested in what we can get like a pack of thieves?

Let’s see if we can identify the characteristics of a modern day Den of Thieves:

– Pursuing God for personal gain (blessings of some sort) at the expense of personal relationship (which is the greatest gain!).

– Personal satisfaction over personal holiness. Pursuing what makes me feel good at all cost.

– Emphasis on taking over giving.

Warning: this might get a little personal

Throughout the Christian church today, one of the most popular non-contact sports to engage in these days is church-shopping. That’s closely aligned with church-hopping, which is what we’ve done after we’ve checked out the amenities of each club.

We move around from church-to-church, going to websites first, checking out their online inventory to see what they can “offer me” before making our way to their “showroom” and ask for samples, like Saturday at Sam’s Club. We’ll ask for a test-drive, jump into the seat and take it around the block a few times, getting a feel for it so we can decide if this one is “for us.” We have to make sure all of our needs are met; all of the boxes are ticked. If not, well, there are plenty of other options around.

Sound familiar?  Have you been guilty of the attitude that leads us to this?  Obviously, there is validity in visiting churches before settling into one, but what is the goal?  Is it finding God’s place of service for you or finding the right mix of programs to keep you and your family happy, satisfied and fulfilled?

Is this the same thing that was going on in the Temple that Jesus was so upset by? I think so. I think it’s the same attitude that says, “church-involvement is all about what it does for me?” How it makes me feel. What they offer, using all of the most up-to-date principles of consumerism.

Of course, those of us who have settled into a church aren’t off the hook either. We can be a member of a church for years with the same basic mindset. We serve when and where it’s convenient; the times and places that it is both convenient and obviously rewarding. If the message on Sunday doesn’t leave me with warm-fuzzies as I walk out the door on Sunday, I wonder if I’ve gotten my money’s worth from the five I dropped in the basket…or maybe we’re relieved because we made the right call keeping the five in our pockets…what a waste of money THAT would have been!

No, I think it’s very easy for us to be among those whom Jesus would run out of the House because we live in such a consumeristic, “ME” world. We’re programed to think about our satisfaction first: “Have it your way” “Get the credit YOU deserve.” “It’s YOUR money and you want it now!”

Maybe we simply need to stop and ask a simple question:

Why am I doing ___________________? You fill in the blank.  Is it to get something out of it? Is it primarily to find personal satisfaction? To feel good about myself?

A House of Prayer

Jesus said, “MY HOUSE shall be called a House of Prayer.” You think that might be the problem? You think maybe we’re more focused on asking what will scratch our itch most effectively rather than what God wants?

Maybe before we set out to find that “perfect” church, we put our must-have list aside and seek the face of God so that He will direct us to the place He wants us to serve…rather than be served. It may be in a place that doesn’t check all the boxes. But then, again, it’s not about us?

Maybe we need to stop limiting ourselves to serving where we THINK we should be or where we FEEL we’ll be most blessed and simply say to God, “Here am I, send me.” Not what scratch’s my itch best, but where is the Spirit of God calling me to serve.

Maybe it’s less about your giftedness or passions for a particular area of service and it’s much more to do with your passion for God’s glory and will to be fulfilled in your life. Maybe it’s about you sacrificing what your want to do in order to pour yourself out in what He calls you to do…and maybe you’ve never even considered that thing because you feel you’re too gifted or talented for that.

Maybe you’re just playing around in a den of thieves.

A House of Prayer speaks of real relationship. Church is not just somewhere to “attend,” but a group of people who, together, walk in relationship with God, serving as His hands, His feet, mouth, etc.

So, now

 rather than pursuing God for personal gain at the expense of personal relationship with Him, I’m pursuing God Himself because HE IS ENOUGH; He is the prize and the blessing, regardless of what I’m doing.

…rather than pursuing personal satisfaction over personal holiness and what makes me feel good at all cost, I’m pursuing personal satisfaction THROUGH personal holiness and what brings God glory at all cost.

…rather than focusing on taking over giving, I’m focusing on giving more than taking, understanding that I’ll receive far more than I can ever give.

Jesus’ passion was and still is the glory of God. That is what led Him to the cross to die in our place so that God’s wrath against sin could be satisfied and He could rightly redeem for Himself a people. Is God’s glory YOUR passion, too?

Are you focused on God’s will for you and where He wants you to be and what He wants you to do and how much He wants you to give? Or is it all about you’re glory and what you can get and how happy you can be and how many toys you can collect?

As we move through Passion Week towards Easter Sunday, I’d like to ask you to consider where your own passions lie? Are you honoring God’s holiness in a House of Prayer, or have you found a comfortable home among a den of thieves?

Don’t miss an incredible opportunity to take part in a very special Christmas concert by recording artists, FFH, November 23 at our church, The Gathering, Chattanooga. Enjoy great music and help support the care of orphans in Zambia at the same time!  Tickets are $25 (includes dessert) and available online or at area Lifeway stores. We hope to see you here!

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