2016 Summer Series at The Gathering

I love the summer!  I enjoy the other three seasons, but I have a definite favorite.  It is possible that I’m more excited about this summer than I have been in quite a while, at least as far as it relates to my time as Lead Pastor at The Gathering goes.  I’m so ready for summer that we’re going to start a little early.

This Sunday, May 1, we’re kicking off our new summer series…

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The Psalms are an amazing collection of the most interesting, relevant and Christ-exalting songs ever written.  It has been said that it is all of Scripture in one book.  James Montgomery Boice, in his 2nd volume of his work on the Psalms, has said of this book:

I have always thought of the psalms as the deepest and most spiritual portion of the Word of God…the psalms touch deeply on the hurts, joys, and spiritual aspirations of God’s people…they never lose their grasp on God or their faith in Him as the great, sovereign, wise, and loving God He is.

Steven Lawson, in his book, Preaching the Psalms, describes this book as having the power to comfort the afflicted, renew the soul, and magnify the Lord.  He says, “From the pinnacle of praise to the pit of despair, this book captures the full range of human emotions, “ but most of all, he continues, “the psalms led God’s ancient people in worshiping Him.” (pp. 78-79)

Those are a couple of reasons I am looking forward to this new series.  We all have struggles and joy and pain, and successes and the book of Psalms helps us to work through each of these and, ultimately, lead us to the throne of Christ in worship.

To me, summer has always been about taking a little time to relax, maybe travel a bit and take some away from the normal stresses of life, reflecting on what has happened in the year so far, and planning how we’re going to finish it out.  That’s what I see this series being about, as well.  Taking time out from our normal Sunday morning series to look at these reflections of the heart as the writers plumb the depths of their emotions as they deal with all the stresses of life and finding their way to the foot of the throne of God.  That’s something that I think we all need to experience!

Another reason I have chosen to spend the summer in the Psalms is that this is the season of vacations.  Everybody is on the go (as, to some extent, it should be).  When the kids are out of school, that time with family should be taken advantage of if there is an opportunity to travel together.  That doesn’t mean we take the summer off from gathering together as a church family, but it does take into account that some time out of town inevitably happens.

Because the Psalms can be looked at as individual units, this will be an expositional series where you won’t be lost if you miss a week.  I wanted to continue walking straight through a book, but one that isn’t dependent upon the last weeks message.  Psalms gives us that best of both worlds approach.

Finally, I decided to tackle this admittedly challenging book this summer because it seems everything I’ve been involved in over the last couple of months has been pushing me in this direction.  For a long time, I sort of avoided the Psalms because of the sheer volume of Psalms to cover–I’m not sure we’re ready for a 150-week series!  Actually, it would be even longer because there’s no way we’re covering Psalm 119 in a week!  Now, I think we’re ready. So, the plan is to begin working through it this summer and, if the Lord directs, we may pick it back up where we leave off next summer and on and on.  The prospect of an ongoing summer series in the Psalms is pretty exciting to me and I hope it excites you, as well.

So, take a week or two to enjoy sitting under the palms, if you get the chance, but make sure you commit the rest of the summer to sitting under the Psalms!

A Theology of Serving

With every passing year, people find more ways than ever to fill their time.  Between work and family and all the extra-curricular actives that go along with that, there is very little time for anything (or anyone) else. For many Christians, just getting to church on Sundays is a major success. “Surely, God understands my schedule.  After all, I can only do so much. So, why should I serve?” That’s the question we have started the year asking at The Gathering. It’s an important question and one that must be asked if we, as the Church and as individual disciples, must ask (even for those who are already involved in life up to their noses).  This is perhaps most important for the “busy” since a failure to prioritize can often lead to a greater sense of busy-ness and decreasing levels of peace and joy!

Recently, I preached on “A Theology of Serving,” attempting to answer that all-important question of, “Why should I serve?”. I have presented four major reasons as to why we should serve, both within your church and in your community. These reasons form the basis of a theology of serving.

  • I serve because it fulfills my purpose.

Many people ask this question: What is my purpose. The answer is simple, but it might not be what you think. Many define their purpose with their job, be it a doctor, a builder, a homemaker, or an accountant. That misses out on purpose. There is a difference in calling and purpose. Calling is what you do (hopefully, based on your determination of what God has called you to do), purpose is what you ultimate accomplish by what you do. For a children of God, there may be hundreds or thousands of different callings, but all have only one purpose! That purpose is nothing more and nothing less than to glorify God! (Romans 11:36, Ephesians 2:10, Matthew 5:16, 1 Peter 2:12). So, in whatever I do, I am to glorify God in the way I serve.

  • I serve because it defines my identity in the Kingdom of God.

I serve because I am a child of the King and to be a child of the King is to serve the King and to serve the King, I serve others. Jesus, Himself set the example by coming not to be served, but to serve (Matthew 20:28). As disciples of Jesus, our identity is found in Him. We serve because we are to be like our Master (Philippians 2:5-7). If you refuse to serve, you are refusing to follow Jesus.

  • I serve to fulfill my role within the Body of Christ (the Church).

Every person who has been adopted into the Family of God (Romans 8:14-17) has been given both ability and responsibility to fulfill a calling within the local church. If God has called you here, to this specific church family, it is for a reason. You matter! If you are not serving in some capacity, then you are not accomplishing your calling and, consequently, are not experiencing the level of joy Christ has for you, and we are lacking in something that God has for His church that you are to provide (1 Corinthians 12:12-26).

  • I serve because to do so stands against the spirit of darkness and declares the existence and work of God.

We are the “Imago Dei”; the Image-bearers of God (Genesis 1:26). Since the fall of man in Genesis 3, we have preferred “self-serve”.  Sin has made us into self-centered creatures, living to feed our wants, our desires, our needs and our lusts.  Those who believe that there is no God and that the universe is simply a product of chance observes this tendency towards self-preservation and argues that we have a natural instinct towards the survival of the fittest; that we will only do that which assures our own survival or the continuation of the species.  All “serving” would then be utilitarian with the goal of serving our own interests.  When we give and serve, expecting nothing in return, we are declaring “PURPOSE!”  We are demonstrating the fact that we are made in the image of the living God, reflecting His character to a dying world.

If we are going to call ourselves disciples of Jesus, there is no alternative. If we are not serving, we are not following. Look for ways to serve both your church and your community. Get involved in some of the ministry or pray about what ministry God may be calling you to start in 2016. Whatever it is, get off the sidelines and engage in the ministry you were designed to do!

Blessed With Another Year at The Gathering

imageDecember4, 2006 was a Monday.  On that day I was excited, uncertain, confident, humbled, overwhelmed and a knotted bundle of a hundred other emotions.  I was beginning my first week as the Pastor of Memorial Baptist Church, the foundation upon which The Gathering would be built and I had no idea of what all was in store.

With today being the start of my ninth year as Lead Pastor, I still feel a little of all of those things.  I am so grateful for all that God has done through this faith-family and am looking forward, with great anticipation, to all He has yet to do.  He has raised up leaders that are second to none, built a community of faith that is solid.  He has matured Believers, taking them from infants needing milk to Disciples feeding on the Word.  He has, in short, done more than I could ever think, hope or even dream of.

To say this journey thus far has been easy would be a joke.  To say it has been free of deep heartaches and pains would be a lie.  To say it has been joy-filled would be a gross understatement.  Through everything so far–all of my mistakes and all of our accomplishments–I can’t imagine being anywhere else or doing anything else.

I am grateful to God for letting me be His undershepherd for a church like The Gathering, Chattanooga.  To Him be all the praise and glory!

Shallow Church

Of late, I’ve been dealing in my own mind with the sillyness that is the American church.  We are ridiculously petty and self-absorbed.  Like in the days of the early Church, today in many parts of the world, persecution exists and is running rampant.  Just last week, I heard of four children in Baghdad, under the age of fifteen, who were beheaded because they refused to denounce Jesus to ISIS terrorists.  Seriously?  Kids who died for their faith?  Would I do that?  Would my children?  Are we too tied up with important stuff like getting our feelings hurt because of the way someone spoke to us or because someone simply did something we didn’t like?  Are we too concerned with getting a good parking space, flipping off the driver who cut us off or other earth-shaking “First-world problems” to worry about serious spiritual growth that would result in a boldness that would allow us to die for Jesus if called upon?

God help us in this crazy world.  God help this crazy institution we call the American church.  May it not come to the point of requiring persecution to wake us up to the realities of the spiritual realm.  May we not have to be threatened with death in order to get serious about our walk with and commitment to Christ.  I don’t hope for or wish for persecution.  On the other hand, if it did (or does) come, the Church would undoubtedly be strengthened almost immediately.  Would you be a part of it?  For more of my thoughts on the subject, watch my message from Sunday:

John – Portrait of a Savior, Part 39 from The Gathering on Vimeo.

Getting it Right

One of the things I had to learn once I started seminary was how to effectively and rightly interpret Scripture. I guess I hadn’t though much about it up to that point. I figured you just read the Bible and did what it said. From time-to-time, I would have people ask me, “Do you interpret the Bible literally?” Hm. Wasn’t sure how to answer that. I guess so. At the time, I didn’t understand what they meant. I later learned that some people interpreted everything literally. Since there are passages that instruct women to “adorn themselves in respectable apparel…” (1 Timothy 2:9-10), some churches have decided it best that women not wear make-up or shorts or anything other than long dresses. While I respect their desire for modesty and am totally in favor of the appropriate amount of cover-up, make-up, in my humble opinion, is not a bad invention. Therefore, I assumed that I didn’t take everything literally.

On the other hand, there were those who argued for allegorical interpretation of Scripture. In this case, stories like Jonah and the Whale, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Noah and the Flood were not historical events but stories made up in order to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. I definitely didn’t fall into that category.

So, when I got to seminary, I learned how to properly interpret Scripture. I learned that it is important that we seek out the author’s original intent according to the context in which he wrote. What was he trying to say when he wrote what he did under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? I learned that there are different genres in Scripture just like there are different genres in other types of literature. As such, they must be interpreted accordingly. For instance, poetry can’t be interpreted the same as history. Imagery is used that cannot be taken literally. If it were, then a painting of the bride that Solomon describes in Song of Solomon 4 would end up looking like a strange work of art by Pablo Picasso…more like the Elephant Man than a beautiful woman.

During my studies, I discovered a device that is often used in Scripture called “Phenomenological Language.” When someone uses this literary device, they are simply describing what they see as they see it without using technical jargon or concern to describe what is actually happening. For instance, in Psalm 19, David, in describing the heavens that God created, writes:

In them he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

Now, if we take that literally, we have a lot of problems with Scripture. As a matter of fact, this verse has been used by some who believe the Bible is full of errors. They say that if God essentially wrote Scripture, it should be known that the Sun does not actually move, but that the earth revolves around a stationary sun. This, therefore, proves Scripture errant. These people fail to realize the phenomenological language that is being used to provide word-pictures. David is simply looking up and describing the heavens as he sees it. The reality is, we know that the Earth revolves around the Sun yet we do the same thing today! Think about it: “What time is sunrise today?” “Did you see that beautiful sunset?” “I love watching the Sun rise over the ocean.” What are we saying about the nature of the Sun’s actions in relation to the Earth when we talk like this? Nothing. That’s not what we’re talking about at all.

In light of this, it’s important that we understand how we interpret language. Otherwise, it can completely derail our understanding of Scripture and how we live our lives.

I have another one for you. We talk about “going to church.” How often do you talk to your family and friends about going to church? It happens all the time, doesn’t it? Do you go to church every Sunday? What church to you go to? What are we doing? We’re using phenomenological language! It looks like we’re going to church, but that is not the reality. The Bible describes the Truth behind the language in places like 1 Corinthians 12:27, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” Again in Romans 12:4-5, “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” As a matter of fact, there are over 20 passages in Scripture that talk not about going to church, but being the Church! Our understanding on this point makes all the difference in the world as to how we respond to it.

If I believe that I simply go to church on Sunday, then my level of commitment and involvement is very limited. I go to the store to get what I need and leave without another thought of it. I go to the movies and am entertained for a couple of hours and then get on with my life. I am, essentially, a consumer who gets what I need and then moves on with that experience having little impact on the other parts of my life.

If, on the other hand, I understand that I am the Church, that changes everything! I cannot be a father only when I’m around my children or a husband only when I’m around my wife. These aspects of my identity shape everything about me. They determine decisions and actions, attitudes and thoughts. That is me. In the same way, I cannot be a part of the Church only when I’m there. I am a part of the Body of Christ at all times and in all places. That fact should also shape decisions, attitudes, actions and thoughts. It should determine how I function within the Body as well:

I don’t ask whether I should serve. I assume that. Instead, I ask “Where should I serve.”
I don’t ask wether or not I should give. I assume that. Instead, I ask, “What should I give?”
I don’t ask whether or not I should participate. I assume that. Instead, I ask, “How do I participate.”
I don’t ask whether or not I should be a witness for Christ at work and play. I assume that. Instead, I ask, “How can I be a good witness in my context?

I hope you can see the importance of understanding Scripture rightly, and how our use of language matters, as well. If I talk too much about “going to church,” that will eventually shape my thinking about it. Instead, I need to begin reminding myself at all times and in all ways, that, because I have been adopted by the Father, redeemed by the Son and sealed by the Spirit, I am the Church. In so doing, I’m changing the way I identify and interact with all of the other members of that same Body of Christ, serving, giving and going with the right attitude and determination to glorify Him in all things.

Who’s Choice is it Anyway?

It is an understatement to say that the topic of Divine Election is a hotly debated one.  People are often very passionate and sometimes downright uncivil in their expressions of those passions.  People are cast with (what are intended as) disparaging labels, looked down upon with expressed disappointment, and dismissed as marginal when they admit to certain doctrinal beliefs.

That the Doctrine of Election is taught in Scripture is undeniable by anyone reading Scripture with honest eyes.  Getting beyond our preconceived ideas of what is taught is usually the problem and a challenge for any of us to get to the heart and truth.  Certainly, we can all find our various “proof-texts” or “spoilers” to opposing doctrinal positions.  However, a goal of theology involves avoiding outright contradictions in our formulations in our quest for the TRUTH of God.

If a seemingly opposing passage can be easily worked into a particular doctrinal position without either twisting or changing it’s basic meaning, it should be seriously considered.  If it cannot, then that position must be rejected since the teaching of Scripture does not contradict itself.  If there is interest, I may explore one or two examples in a future post.  For the moment, though, the point is that we must determine to approach the Scripture humbly and honestly, with no axes to grind but only a desire to learn of the nature and will of God.  Due to some of the inevitable implications, for many, MANY years I wrestled with this teaching, desperately wanting (kicking and screaming, as it were) to deny it on the one hand, and yet knowing that it was undeniable on the other.

On Sunday, I addressed the topic in part 15 of my series, Portrait of A Savior.  I pray I did an honest and adequate job handling this subject, building my argument from a simple reading of John 6:22-71 as well as additional supporting passages.  My goal was not only to teach how Scripture is clear of God’s sovereign choice in election, but also the great paradox of man’s responsibility to believe and freely respond (as well as to explore the origin of “belief” itself).

To the best of my ability, the only presuppositions I deliberately and unapologetically start from are that Scripture is perfect in it’s teaching and, whatever formulation of predestination, freedom, election or salvation, God must be clearly seen as the Sovereign originator of salvation.  To do otherwise is to elevate man’s position above that of God, thereby glorifying man above God, and that must not happen.  God will not allow that to happen.  Isaiah is clear that He will share His glory with no one (Isaiah 41-42).

Again, this is a tough subject, but an important one, nonetheless, and one that provides the Believer with a certainty that, regardless of the storms, the trials and circumstances, Christ will never let go of all whom the Father gives Him.  At the end of the day, we may disagree on certain aspects of God’s application of His work of salvation.  However, for Christians of various doctrinal differences, our agreement (I trust!) is that salvation is through Christ alone (John 14:6), by faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), resulting in repentance of sin and the desire for holiness (Romans 10:9-10).

My prayer is that, if you watch the following video, you will do so with a desire to hear from the Spirit of God through the Word of God, not with a closed spirit simply looking for grounds upon which to disagree or pick a fight.  I am certain there are plenty of opportunities for that.  That is, however, not my purpose.  My purpose is singular in nature and focus:  Soli Deo Gloria!

Portrait of a Savior, Part 15 from The Gathering on Vimeo.

For a pretty thorough handling of the Doctrine of Election, check out this explanation. (Sorry for those of you who, like me, aren’t big KJV people.)  It’s always a good idea to first study what you say you don’t believe to make sure you don’t actually believe it.  Caricatures abound!  😉

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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I Am a Hypocrite

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Listen to an audio version of this post.

 

Yeah, it’s true…I am a hypocrite.

There.

Said it.

You want to try it? Really, you should give it a shot.  Ok, say this with me, “I am a hyp…”. Wait, not yet.  Let’s make sure you should say it.  I suppose it’s possible (though not likely) that there may be someone to whom that label doesn’t apply.

Let’s find out:

1.  Are you perfect?
2.  Have you ever been perfect?
3.  Do you ever plan to be perfect this side of the grave?
4.  Have you ever acted like you are perfect?

Alright, let’s evaluate a little bit because, frankly, I think it would be pretty easy to come up with a big negatory on all four of those.  That is, unless we explore question number 4 a little bit closer.

So, you’ve never acted like you’re actually perfect…I mean literally perfect…but have you ever acted like you have it all together?  What I mean by that is, you don’t have any really serious sins in your life; you’ve managed it all pretty well so that if anyone looked at you, they would say, “Hey, he’s got it all together” (or something like that).

Let’s look at it another way:  Would people be shocked if they knew how you really were on the inside?  Would they be disappointed if they saw the ugliness that you know is there, but can’t bear for anyone else to see it?  Would you be embarrassed or downright humiliated if you let them know the real struggles you deal with regularly?  You talk the talk, but the walk doesn’t look quite so polished and pretty.  Do you feel the pressure to hold it together so that you don’t disappoint or discourage someone who may be looking at you as an example?

Congratulations…you’re a hypocrite.

Ok, so back to where we started.  Altogether now:  “I am a hypocrite.”  No, really, because I know you did not say it out loud.  Once again and for real this time…with feeling:  “I…”  You can do it… “I am a hypocrite.”

There, now.  Feels better, doesn’t it?  Owning it is the first step in killing it, and kill it, we must.

Hypocrisy is one of the greatest enemies of the Church.  Think about it:  What is the number one reason unchurched people give for being unchurched people?  Right!  “That place is full of hypocrites.”

You know what?  They’re right.

Before you go and jump to conclusions about what we hypocrites look like, let’s unpack it a bit, shall we?

If you’re like me, the first thing you think of is this:  “I need to bring my actions in line with my words.”  In other words, “I need to try harder to actually LIVE the life I SAY I live.”

Uh, yeah, thanks for playing, but WRONG!
If that’s your game you will simply solidify yourself as a life-long, devout, professional hypocrite.  Look, did the Old Testament teach us nothing?  The WHOLE THING was written to unveil God’s plan of redemption and I assure you, it had nothing to do with your goodness or Super Christian…..ness.  Whatever.

What it DID have to do with was God giving us His Law and saying, “Keep it.”  The problem?  Nobody could do it.  Ah-hah!  Now, we’re on to something!  Nobody could…that’s the point.  What happens when you are told that the ONLY way to have relationship with God is to keep the Law fully only to realize it can’t be done?  (check out Galatians 3:10 – For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”)

What happened in the OT was that people finally began to realize their inability to please God through the Law.  What does that lead to?  Yep, hopelessness.  What’s the point in even trying, right?

Unless…

See, what happened at that point was God stepped in with some really great news. Catch this:

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, 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. 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. 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.”

You got that, right?  God steps in and says, “Hey, you know that covenant I established that you didn’t keep?  I’m replacing it.  See, the reality is that you couldn’t keep it because you are fallen humanity.  You had to experience the hopelessness of trying in order to learn that you couldn’t do it.  Now that you realize that you can’t earn your own salvation, I’m stepping in to do the job myself…because I’m the only One who can.” (That’s from the New Modern, Uninspired Davidic Paraphrased Edition).

Then you get word through the prophets that a Messiah (or Deliverer) is coming and it just sweetens the pot!  So, you get that kind of news, what do you do?  Uh-huh…you start looking for that Deliverer!

Then He comes!  That’s where the New Testament picks up.

Alright, all of that and where does it leave us?  Back to that passage in Galatians 3:10, but now we go a little bit further.  Let’s run by verse 10 again and then go from there:

Galatians 3:10-14 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

So what Paul did there was establish that anyone who tried to be justified under the Law is cursed because they can’t do it though commanded to in order to earn eternal life.  Then he points to Jesus who did fulfill the Law! Perfectly. Every proverbial jot and tittle.  Then, having fulfilled the Law through His life, He satisfied the wrath of God towards sin in us through His death (taking our place) and then secured our eternal resurrection through His own from the dead.  That, then, is the free gift of salvation given in Romans 6:23.  That’s incredibly cool!  Seriously…think about that…cool!

Now, back to the hypocrite issue.

Life under the Law declares you must be perfect, but get this:  CHRISTIANITY DOESN’T!!!

It is precisely THAT you are a filthy sinner that you NEED a Savior.  If that is the case, why do we act as though we don’t!  (The exclamation marks are evidence I’m getting fired up, huh?)

So, seriously.  When we ACT as though we have it all together, failing to be honest before the world about our sin and short-coming, we are actually communicating that, though we may have needed the Gospel INITIALLY to save us and deliver us from sin, we really don’t so much any more because we’ve got this sin-thing managed pretty well.

That, my friend, is called deception.  YOU are deceived into thinking that you must look good to be a good Christian and you are deceiving the WORLD into thinking the very same thing.  Further, it puts you in a position of looking down on the other filthy sinners who haven’t done nearly as good of a job as you have to cover up their sin.  At least when they flaunt it, they’re being honest (and don’t forget, lying is a sin).

In fact, to be a good Christians assumes you’ve been a very bad person.  Because you screwed up being a perfect human before God, you need the God-Man, Christ Himself, to do what you failed to do.

Alright then.  If this is true, what, do I just own my sin and flaunt it?  Um, Paul says no.

Warning: This is a little bit long, but very important.

Romans 6:1-14 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

This means that sin no longer has me under its spell, but does not mean that I will be sin-free.  It means that I am free to live honestly about my sin nature; that I can openly communicate to those around me that I am still wrestling with this sin, but that I am no longer destroyed by it; that I am no longer a slave to it.  I can confess that I am no better than anybody else and that my sin bought me a ticket to hell just like the rest of humanity.  The ONLY difference in my sin and someone who has not trusted in Christ is that mine has been paid for.  See what Paul later said in Romans 8:1-4:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

No condemnation!  None.  Zilch. Nada!  This means very simply that I don’t have to walk according to the flesh anymore, but I don’t have to act as though I’m perfect, either.  I can admit the fact that I needed the Gospel initially to save me and I need the Gospel NOW to sustain me.  It’s all about Jesus!Now, rather than trying harder to actually LIVE the life I SAY I live like I’m tempted to, I simply need to submit honestly and humbly before Christ so that HE can live His life through me, killing the sin in me, not trying to hide it (like we hypocrites are prone to do) but rather flaunting the work of Jesus so He gets glory in re-making a sin-soaked guy like me.

What happens if we can finally get this?  We can at last live in the freedom of Christ, having been liberated from the pressure to appear perfect, while demonstrating to the world around us that they can find the same solution for their own sin problem, AND the Church will become a much nicer place when the Christian elite stop thumbing their noses at fellow sinners who haven’t learned to wear the masks yet.

Then the Church can move from being a museum full of spiritual relics (I believe Jesus called them “white-washed tombs”), setting examples of what it looks like to fake it well, to what it is intended to be: a hospital full of people being healed and made whole by a Great Physician.  A place where He gets the full glory and man gets a very…yes, cool…blessing!

Sunday Morning Rewind: Taming the Wild Beast in Your Mouth.

zipper“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”  James 1:26

Bridle your tongue.  Have you ever tried to bridle (or we could say, bite your tongue) when someone really pushes your buttons?  When they say that one thing that really puts you over the edge?  It’s hard isn’t?  I dare say, almost impossible.  Actually, maybe it is impossible.  In chapter 3, James says as much: “…every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

Aha! A loophole!  See, Scripture, itself, gives us a pass and an excuse for not holding our tongue when that huh-huh-huh had it coming! Ah, not so fast, cowboy.  This may give us a reason as to why we don’t hold our tongue, but it doesn’t give us an excuse.

Wait a minute, though.  No human being can tame the tongue.  That’s what it says.  So, if no human being can control the tongue, how are we held responsible when we don’t?

This is where spiritual maturity comes in.  It’s why James said not many should become teachers in verse 1 of chapter 3, because there must be spiritual maturity.

Look at it this way:
Unless we bridle our tongue, we are deceiving ourselves and our religion is worthless.  Now, James says no human CAN control the tongue?  The spiritually mature one understands this, but further understands that, though no HUMAN BEING can control the tongue, God can!  So, through submission to the Holy Spirit of God, our tongue comes under control and HE makes us into doers of the Word through our speech.  At that point, our speech becomes a good indicator of the Holy Spirit’s control over our lives.  If He is not in control (demonstrated by out of control speech), then our outward expressions of our belief system (“religion”) are worthless.  In other words, it isn’t real.

Here are a couple of things to consider as you fight the battle of taming the tongue:

 1.  Understand you can’t control your own tongue, so submit to the work of the Holy Spirit ( this, of course, assumes you really have a relationship with Him.  If not, start there!)
2.  Through His strength, take every thought captive (2 Cor. 10:4-5)
For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ
3.  Quote James 1:19-20 in your mind before you say a word and then RESPOND (rather than reacting) with a goal of honoring Christ.

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”  James 1:19-20

 

Video: Relentless, Part 8: Integrity, On the Verge of Extinction

Who do you trust? I mean really trust?

If you’re like most people (me, included), you can probably count on one hand the number of people you know, beyond a doubt, that their word is their bond; that if they commit to something, you can take it to the bank. Can you name them?

Would you be on someone else’s list?

Being a man or woman of your word seems like a dying breed. We live in a world where promises are expected to be broken, commitments are expected to be circumstantial and contracts expected to come pre-loaded with loopholes.

Cynical? Maybe. Realistic might be a better word.

Yes, it is the world that we live in. However, it doesn’t have to be the life we live…and it’s not supposed to be. As a matter of fact, if we’re Christ-followers, it must not be!

This week, in Relentless, Part 8, we talk about integrity and how being called to holiness demands we live lives of integrity. How do we do it? Watch this weeks message and find out.

The Gathering Chattanooga 06-02-13 Sermon from The Gathering on Vimeo

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