Portrait of a Savior, Part 11 video

Portrait of a Savior, Part 11 from The Gathering on Vimeo.

According to John, Jesus has the authority to both give life to whomever He pleases and to judge the living and the dead.  What does it mean to truly live the life given by Christ?  Is it possible to have eternal life and yet live a life of unrepentant sin?  I fear many people have received a false sense of security by holding onto a moment in which they prayed a prayer asking Jesus into their hearts, but after which have lived a life where there is no indication of transformation.  What does the Scripture say about this?  Can you be a disciple of Jesus if you aren’t actually being discipled by Him?  Can you say that you are a follower of Jesus if you aren’t actually following Him?

This was a difficult message to preach and I’m certain a tough one to hear, but I think it was an important one.  I pray God’s Spirit will be your guide if you decide to watch.  Blessings!

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Video: Relentless, Part 7: Sowing the Wind, Part 2

It’s easy to waste our lives chasing after meaningless things.  In this message from Sunday at The Gathering, I talk about how to realign your life so that your time, money and energy are leveraged towards that which makes a difference for the Kingdom of God.

The Gathering Chattanooga 05-26-13 Sermon from The Gathering on Vimeo.

Monday Morning Rewind: Relentless, Part 1 – Because

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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’

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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.

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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?

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