The All-Surpassing Value of the Gospel of Christ

I am scheduled to preach this Sunday morning – yippee!  Opportunities have been scarce of late, so my heart is thrilled to once again have the sacred honor of feeding God’s flock from His Word.  Of course, for someone such as myself whose preference is always expository preaching, verse-by-verse, passage-by-passage through books of the Bible, having to just “figure out” what text to preach is somewhat intimidating!  How do you topical preachers do it? :-0  How did Spurgeon do it?  I’m just not that creative!

One thing is for sure, any man who fills a pulpit has nothing of eternal value to offer listeners apart from the very words of our God as recorded in the Bible.  This is why exposition – the explanation of the text’s meaning and the application of its timeless truth – is so very critical to the life of a church.  God created by His Word (Gen 1:3).  God saves us by His Word (Romans 10:17; James 1:18).  God sanctifies (grows us more like Christ) by His Word (John 17:17).  Jesus said “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4).  One can quickly get the idea from Scripture that the Word is important!

Indeed, the Word is important.  And this Sunday, Lord willing, I will expound on a passage that leaves me awe-struck every time I read and study it.  The passage is 1 Peter 1:8-16.  In a nutshell, Peter tells us this gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus was sought after intensely by the grand old saints of Old – men like Moses, Samuel, David and Isaiah.  Pious woman of old like Esther and Ruth no doubt wished for their eyes to behold Messiah.  Yet, it was not God’s plan to send Salvation to walk the earth during their lifetimes.

This salvation God brings to undeserving sinners like us is so glorious that Peter says the angels are bewildered by it!  Say what?  Angels?  Like those men in white robes that have unbelievable power?  Yes, those angels.  They long to look into the mystery of how Holy God reconciles unholy sinners to Himself through the bloody work of Jesus on the cross.

Well, I do not want to get so excited that I preach the whole sermon here!  You’ll just have to come hear it in person this Sunday, March 7th, at Tar Landing Baptist Church, at 10:30 a.m.  Or, log onto www.tarlandingbaptist.org in a few days to download the audio.  I want you to hear the sermon not because I am preaching it, but because I am convinced we American Christians sorely need to reorder our priorities.

What would our lives look like if we really started to treasure the glorious gospel of King Jesus above all?  What would our homes look like if we truly bowed our knee in awe of what God has given us in the gospel?  How would we spend our money?  Time?  Would we still make the same educational choices for our children?  Would we continue to let our kids spend more time studying Geometry and Biology than they do Scripture?  What of their “extra-curricular” activities?  Might we launch our children to the nations to carry the gospel torch if we really got a hold of what God has told us through Peter’s pen?  After all, it is the gospel that has as its end the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ!

That’s the all-surpassing value of the gospel, friends.        

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American Idols (Pt 4)

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24).

Jesus had a habit of making Himself clear!  Notice our Master says the issue of allegiance to God or money is not a “both/and” proposition.  It is “either/or.” 

Christian families in America desperately need to wrestle with this issue.  Perhaps nothing gets me in hotter water as a pastor than when I begin to challenge the whole notion that a dual-income home is a necessity in America.  Granted, in rare instances, it is necessary.  But, if we are all laid bare before God, the reason we send mothers out into the workforce right alongside dads is due to a standard of living – or, put another way, lifestyle.  We have established  lifestyles that require a certain amount (and often more than we actually earn) to sustain.   

If some crazed preacher implies that God might actually expect His people to downgrade their lifestyles in order to order their homes according to His purposes, he is scorned and ignored.  Our pursuit of lifestyle (aka the American Dream) is hindering us more than we know from following hard after the great treasure who is Christ.  If we get a raise, our first inclination is often to raise our lifestyle, rather than increasing our giving to the kingdom of God.      

Before the accusations start flying, let me clearly state that the Bible does not categorically forbid women from working outside the home and/or contributing to the family income.  In fact, the Proverbs 31 woman is industrious and does add to the home’s income.  A godly lady (or person for that matter) is not lazy.  Period.

That said, the Bible also makes it clear that God’s design for the home is for wives and mothers to be “workers at home” (Titus 2:5).  Feminists may despise this instruction, and several articles I have read in recent years have seen all out attacks on any woman who would dare to obey this Divine mandate.  Workers at home (or stay-at-home moms as we call them), according to feminist thinking, are “letting down the team.” 

But God Almighty does not check with anyone before telling us how a home is supposed to look.  And, I must ask, “Which team is being let down?”  The feminist army or our homes?  The very reason given for this Divine Design of the home in Titus 2 is “that the word of God may not be reviled.”

So, this crazed preacher may well be ignored, but let it be known that in the end, Jesus will not be ignored.  The choice He gave us is clear – God or money.  Bondage or freedom?  Freedom to serve at His pleasure.  Freedom to actually “raise our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”  Freedom to go as He sends.  Freedom to give as He guides.  Freedom to teach that class at church, to lead that home group, to start that ministry to abused women.  Freedom from the exhaustion that accompanies pursuit of the American Dream. 

“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor 3:17).

O God, please begin to set your people free from the bondage of busyness and lifestyle.  Start a revival, O Holy Spirt, of Cross-Centered Homes.  Give us strength to give up the American Dream and start dreaming with You . . . for our neighbors, for our cities, for our states, for our nation, for the nations of the world, for the glory of God.              

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American Idols (Pt 3)

Funny thing, this morning I received a mailing from Focus on the Family.  Enclosed was a small flyer entitled “State of the Family 2010.”  Four key issues infecting our families were listed:

Unmarried childrearing, Cohabitation, Increasing childlessness, and Busyness.

Did you catch that last one?  Below the bold-faced Busyness the flyer reads: “Nearly 3 out of 5 Christians say their hectic schedules prevent them from spending enough time with God.  American parents spend 40% less time with their children than they did 50 years ago.”

But why?  Why are we work-a-holics?  Why do we work 50, 60, even 70 hours per week?  Is it because our employers demand it?  Only in rare instances is this truly the case.  I remember well working for a Fortune 500 Company from 2000-2004.  At first, having come from a military officer position (where ridiculous work hours are often routine and necessary), I logged 60 hour weeks.  I will never forget my first opportunity to get a raise.  My raise was pathetic in comparison to the hours I gave, and if I may say so, the value my work added.  My job was to save the plant money via materials cost out projects, and save it money I did! 

It was a pivot point in my life.  God came to me through those circumstances and strongly convicted me that I was enslaved to a system that was hindering my walk with Him, as well as hurting my family.  After long talks with my wife and lots of prayer, we begin making some tough decisions.  I would not work 60 hours any longer, unless there were true emergency-type circumstances.  The next three years of my work life were more pleasant, and even more financially rewarding, not to mention the turn for the better in my home life. 

But, why did I work such long hours anyway?  My wife and I had already committed to her staying home to manage the home and raise our daughters.  So, maybe that’s why I felt compelled to work so much.  We’d sacrificed the two-income standard, so the burden was now all mine.  Or, was there really another reason lurking beneath the surface? 

One word – lifestyle.  It’s the “other” American Idol that is spiraling Christian homes (and all homes for that matter) down into the abyss. 

Folks, face it, the “American Dream” still captivates us.  We work insanely hard to increase our lifestyle and to save so that we can give our kids an even better standard of living than our own.  Our parents bought into this idolatry.  So did their parents.  It appears at times that American Christians are willing to give up almost nothing for the sake of God’s kingdom.  

But, in our next installment, we shall see that our King, Jesus, has made Himself clear in this matter.  Doing home God’s way, pursuing God’s kingdom and His righteousness, requires hard choices, not the least of which is how much longer we are going to allow the idols of busyness and lifestyle to own us.

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Tiger Woods – Fighting a Losing Battle

I hate sin.  In my life.  In others’ lives.  In our culture.  In our world.  This is who God graciously makes us in Christ – haters of sin and lovers of God.  So, it has been with great sadness that I have followed the now over-exposed exploits of Tiger Woods.  While the media circles like sharks around a bloody piece of bait, his adoring fans remain shocked and deeply disappointed.  He was, and is, the world’s greatest golfer, an icon to millions of kids.  His downfall is not something to rejoice over or even to gawk at like the news agencies so want you to do.

The question I wish to address here, however, is how can we use this episode, and others like it, as an avenue for sharing the gospel with our children, extended family, co-workers, peers, etc?  Christians should not allow such opportunities to escape, for things like Tiger Woods’ escapades can really be springboards to discuss things that matter forever.

First, as Christians we ought to never be surprised by sin, whether it is in Tiger Woods, ourselves, or our neighbors.  It amazes me how many Christians have expressed “shock” over Tiger Woods’ behavior.  Really?  I mean, you have read your Bibles, right? 

“Can the Ethiopain change his skin, or the leopard change his spots?  Then you who are accustomed to doing evil can also do good” (Jer 13:23).

“What comes out of a person is what defiles him.  For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality . . .” (Mark 7:20-21).      

Friends, we all have heart disease.  It’s called sin.  We are sinners by nature, in the very core of our beings.  Tiger Woods was born a sinner.  So was I (Ps 51:5).  We sin because we are sinners.  We act in character, if you will.  And, if left unchecked by the grace of God, sin can cause any one of us to do, say and think ruinous things.  Our sinful heart disease is terminal.  It controls and masters us, enslaving us from the inside out (see Romans 6-8).

Second, Tiger Woods will not find mastery over his sin via Buddhism.  Brit Hume is right.  Only Jesus Christ offers what Tiger really needs.  Buddhism is an atheistic religion, much like evolution / Darwinism (but that discussion is for another day).  It is precisely the atheistic worldview that leads people to behave like Tiger has been.  No God, no objective standard of right or wrong, no accountability, no worries beyond the grave = each individual determines what is “right for him or her.”  Tiger’s sexual exploits were perfectly consistent with the atheistic Buddhist worldview.

Yet, oddly enough, Buddhists preach salvation through human self-effort.  They strive to eliminate desires / craving via the 8 Fold Path laid out by their founder, the Buddha.  The path includes things such as Right Thinking, Right Speech, Right Conduct, Right Effort and the such.  How they determine “right” apart from an objective Law or Law-Giver that transcends all things is beyond me.  And, how do you eliminate desire in your life by desiring the 8 Fold Path?

Add to this that Buddhists generally view suffering, and individual persons as merely illusions.  None of it is real.  This life is just a mirage.  Tell that to Tiger’s wife and children.  Tell it to the numerous women he treated as worthless pieces of animal meat.  I wonder if Tiger himself really believes that he himself is just an illusion with a ginormous bank account?   

Tiger does have a problem with desire, to be sure.  SINFUL desires are ruling his heart and life.  Sin masters us all, that is until Jesus breaks into our lives and enthrones Himself in our hearts.  The only solution to sin is Jesus.  Jesus experienced real suffering, bearing the real wrath of the real God in the place of real sinners like Tiger Woods, who rightly deserve God’s justice.  And Jesus rose from the grave, conquering the great enemies of our souls, sin and death, forever.   God out of His great love and mercy comes to people, convicting them of sin and their need of Christ, by the power and presence of His Spirit, and gifts them with repentance of sin and faith in the person and work of Jesus.  God offers real forgiveness of real sin committed against a real God who is really holy.  This forgiveness of sin cannot be earned or merited through self-effort.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:8-10).

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). 

Wow!  There it is!  Real power for real living.  This is what Tiger Woods needs.  He needs a new Master.  He needs the Spirit of God living in him, enabling him to fight back against the sin in his heart and life.  He needs to hear and know the truth, for the truth shall set him free.  Freed to serve and please God, being empowered by His gracious Spirit and Word.  Freed to say “no” to temptation.  Freed to repent and trust the only person who is perfectly satisfying to God – Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God.  Tiger, like everyone else, needs to be brought into union with Christ.  He needs to be changed from the inside out.  He needs a heart surgeon whose name is Jesus.

Let’s pray God puts people into Tiger’s path who will speak truth into his life, so that He can have the opportunity to escape the snare of sin, not just now, but for all eternity.  May God help Tiger find The Way, instead of the 8-Fold Way.  Let’s share this goods news of how a holy God has made a way to reconcile unholy people to Himself through the person and work of His Son, Jesus. 

*For more information on Buddhism, visit www.4truth.net

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American Idols (Pt 2)

Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). 

Perhaps nobody lived a busier life than Jesus did during His three or so years of earthly ministry.  As I read the gospel accounts of His life, I am often overwhelmed just by the sheer numbers of people who seem to be crowding around Jesus no matter where He goes.  The crowds were so bustling and the ministry so demanding that at times we are told Jesus and His disciples did not even have time to eat!

Busyness is something nearly every Christian in America can understand.  We are purported to be the busiest people on earth.  I realized this when working for the General Electric Company several years ago.  Part of my job was to purchase materials from suppliers in Brazil, Austria, and the Far East.  With the exception of China, working with those in other countries revealed that the pace is far more laid back and stress-free in other countries.  It’s not that they do not work hard in Austria.  No, that’s not it at all.  Rather, it’s just that they are not workaholics.  They are not consumed by the American dream, and do not seem to be so enslaved by their employers’ demands.

Friends, busyness is killing our homes, not to mention the detrimental affect on our churches.  Just last week I heard yet another Christian appeal to the ever-familiar American idol of busyness to excuse away the lack of involvement in the church and her ministries.  How many times have you heard it?  How many times have you used this excuse?

Why do many churches today only have one corporate gathering per week?  Why is finding a nursery worker like pulling eye-teeth?  Why does nobody come to weekly visitation?  Why are Saturday prayer-walks attended by only a handful?  Why are parents not teaching the Bible consistently to their children?  Why no family worship?

While there are many answers to these questions, perhaps they can all be summarized with one word – busyness.  Christians are bowing down to this idol like never before.  It controls our hearts routinely.  The scenario described to me recently by a concerned grandmother says it well.  This lady thanked me for continuing to challenge young parents to teach the Bible and worship together as families.  But then she began to lament (and I paraphrase):

By the time Frank and Ilene (not the real names) both get home from work, manage to get some supper on the table, get the kids in the bath, teeth brushed, and jammies on, then off to bed, they are absolutely exhausted.  Frank and Ilene end up crashing in bed themselves from sheer mind-numbing tiredness, only to awake 7 hours later to begin the whole routine yet again.  

Frank and Ilene are caught in the vicious American cycle.  No time for family worship.  No time or energy for Bible teaching, much less for serving their community through the ministries of the church.  They stumble through life exhausted.  Bowing down, perhaps somewhat unwittingly, to the idol of busyness.  Meanwhile, their home suffers spiritually.  Their marriage is merely routine.  They do, however, manage to bounce into church every Sunday morning smiling from ear to ear, and dressed to the nines. 

But, come Monday morning, it will not be the kingdom of God and His righteousness they seek.  No, busyness will once again be in the driver’s seat.  Friends, hard work is commendable, and even commanded by God.  But, we in America have completely lost the ability to know where to draw lines.  Workaholism is a monumental American idol in Christian homes today.  And why? 

More on that in the next post . . .

For now, contemplate how it was that Jesus was so busy, yet we know He never wasted a second, still found time to rest, and never needed to appeal to “busyness” as a way out of doing His Father’s will.

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