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Conviction Friction

If you are coming down the hill behind Jake’s Hamburgers to the stoplight where it intersects Sterling Street, you will notice a sign right there that says, “No Turn on Red.” That sign has always bothered me especially when I am sitting there at a red light waiting to turn. I can’t tell you the number of times I have sat there and talked to myself in the car vocalizing how stupid I think that is. Most places we can turn right on a red light that keeps the traffic going and to not have that permission there really bothered me. But then one day I realized that as much as I don’t like that sign it is probably there to protect me. When you look up the hill to your left there are some definite blind spots that if you pulled out at the wrong time there could be some serious accidents.

That is what’s happening in 1 Corinthians 8. Paul has obviously been told about this specific issue in the church. He is pointing out a dangerous spot if not addressed could cause a serious accident. The topic Paul is addressing is not one that we can identify with today but we certainly can identify with the principle behind it. “1 Now concerning food offered to idols . . .” (1 Corinthians 8:1). We can’t identify specifically with “food offered to idols” (1 Corinthians 8:1) but it was a huge deal in that day in Corinth. Their big question about the meat was “Can we eat it? If so, does it matter where we eat it?” The big questions for us out of this passage are . . . “How do you love people you don’t agree with?” And, “How do you get along with people who don’t see things just like you see things?” That’s never a problem in the church, right?

Corinth was a pagan city filled with pagan temples and pagan worshippers. You could not grow up as a Gentile in Corinth and not go to the temple. It was the ancient equivalent of our modern-day restaurant. The people in the first century would have been there as often as you are at a restaurant today. Pagan temples hosted festivals, community social events and private celebrations. Meat that was offered for sacrifices would have been set up in three different portions.

The first portion would have been set before the god and burned basically like a burned offering. The second portion would have been given to the people at the celebration. The third portion would have been put on what they called “the table of the gods” and attended by the temple employees. Meat that wasn’t burned in sacrifice or consumed by those in attendance was then taken to the market and sold for community consumption. So there was the tension in asking Paul to address the question, “Can we eat this meat and does it matter where we eat it?”

Since Corinth was filled with pagan temples and pagan or “idol” worshippers, many Christians who came to know Christ as their Savior were coming from this background. So there is the “conviction friction”. Paul divides this discussion into two groups . . . those who are the “weaker” brothers and the ones who are not specifically called this but who would call themselves the “stronger” brothers. As he begins to really dig in and address these two groups as he so often did Paul addressed their identity before he addressed their issues.

They had great theology but Paul rebukes them for what appears to be some “spiritual arrogance.” All of us must understand . . . Love is the goal of your faith in Christ; not knowledge. “1 Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. 2 If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.” (1 Corinthians 8:1-3). You will notice in your Bibles that Paul uses a quote that “all of us possess knowledge.” (1 Corinthians 8:1). This was a phrase used in the church at Corinth. They were very arrogantly saying, “We have knowledge. We understand these realities and we know what is going on.” Their focus was not on the fact that they were known by God but on how much they knew and others didn’t.

They were finding their purpose, significance and identity in what they knew about God rather than God Himself. They had great theology but were not good at living it out. Daily reflection on the gospel keeps you grounded. If you don’t reflect daily on the gospel you will blow up or as Paul says be “puff up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). Reflecting regularly on the gospel will blow up any spiritual superiority you might think you have.

Paul was trying to get them to understand . . . It’s not about what you know but who you know; It’s not about who you know, but who knows you . . . It’s not that you know and love God, but that you are known by God . . . It’s not about what you have done for God, but what has been done for you . . . It’s not your work, but Christ’s work that really counts!

All of this was an illusion back to the gospel and Paul ’s way of pointing them back to their real identity. Then Paul gets right back to the issue at hand. “4 Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” (1 Corinthians 8:4-6). He was telling them as the “stronger” ones, “I know you know idols are not real and there is only one omniscient and omnipotent God made visible in Jesus Christ.” “I know you know food is food, rock is rock and God is one but everybody doesn’t know that.”

Which brings us back to our big questions. “How do you love people you don’t agree with?” And, “How do you get along with people who don’t see things just like you see things?” The second thing we must understand is . . . Knowledge without love kills. “7 However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? ” (1 Corinthians 8:7-10). One commentator has said, “Even the smell of the meat reminded them of their former enslavement to the pagan gods and pagan religion.”

The Corinthians who considered themselves “stronger” had one agenda for the so-called “weaker” ones and that was to teach them knowledge. They were like, “These people are just too sensitive about this meat stuff so we will just hold our small group at the temple and eat a meal there. We are just going to show you how free you really are.” As Christ-followers in love we should always have a desire to obey God, a desire to walk in holiness before Him, and desire to guard our hearts from the lusts of the world. But we should never get to the point of being legalistic which means we take all of those desires and become judgmental, arrogant and mean-spirited in those desires.

Paul was like, “Your so-called knowledge is not doing what you think it is. It’s not making your brothers stronger, more knowledgeable or more spiritual. It’s destroying the very brothers of yours that Jesus died for.” “11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12 Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.” (1 Corinthians 8:11-12). If you just do what you want to do simply because you can and you know but don’t care how it affects others, Paul says you have really messed up. You have sinned!

With everything you need to . . . Think about what you are doing, how you are doing it and why you are doing it! Love should always win! Love trumps liberty all the time! “13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” (1 Corinthians 8:13). This describes a self-sacrificing love for others. This is not a begrudging self-sacrifice that has the attitude of, “Well, if I have to I will.” It is not a self-sacrifice that is constantly reminding people of how many things you are giving up for them. You are doing it because you love God and love people and you want God to be glorified.

Here was the complete scenario in Corinth: You had a city that was consumed with pagan worship with all kinds of temples and idols . . . You had a church (the Body of Christ) that was spreading the gospel and invading the culture with the gospel message of Jesus . . . You had Christians who were living in the culture but not being like the culture . . . You had mature believers who had been Christians for quite a while . . . You had believers who had only been Christians for a short while . . . Because of the pagan culture you had people coming to know Christ out of the pagan lifestyle.

So what was Paul’s goal in all of this? It definitely wasn’t for people to choose sides. The whole letter is about unity in the church. He didn’t want people choosing their verses and saying things like, “I’m one of the weak ones here and the way you are living is supposed to have a positive impact on my holiness and it’s just not working” or, “I’m one of the strong ones so just loosen up and eat the food because it’s all God’s anyway.” Paul never chose sides. He encouraged the “strong” to grow up and not demand their liberty at the expense of wounding the “weak”. And he encouraged the weak to get stronger. Eventually he wanted them all to realize . . . Food is food, Rock is rock and God is one.

What was Paul’s goal for the Corinthians when he addressed this issue? What should be our goal after looking at this? Paul addressed this same issue again in 1 Corinthians 10 and at the end of that chapter he gives the ultimate goal. “31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.” (1 Corinthians 10:31-33). Always stand for truth without compromise in love and always do whatever it takes to see people come to know Christ and grow in their relationship with Him and seek to glorify God in it all!


believe_small1In Mark 2 you see what it really means to believe.  When you read the story of the paralytic being healed you see people living out true belief.  The definition of true belief is this, “I will sacrificially do what I can do to see Jesus do what He wants to do and what only He can do.”

Jesus’ fame was spreading quickly and everywhere He went word really fast that He was in town. Capernaum was no different. After just a few short days, word got around Capernaum that Jesus was there. Probably at the home of Peter and people started coming. “And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them.” (Mark 2:1-2).

It’s obvious from these first few verses that Jesus loves lost people. Jesus had been traveling all around the region but had come back to his home area. A big crowd came to spend time with Jesus. So many came that there was no more room, not even at the door. People were spilling over into the streets. And as He always did, Jesus captured the moment and began preaching or “talking” to them about the word or the gospel.

Jesus loved lost people and they loved Him back. When you look through the gospels Jesus was always spending time with the tax collectors and sinners. He spent so much time with them that He was called “. . . a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” (Matthew 11:19). In one of Jesus’ parables He talked about the Shepherd which was a reference to Him and to us, leaving the ninety-nine to pursue the one lost sheep.

When Jesus was asked about His mission, He said it was to seek and save the lost. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10). He wasn’t waiting on them to come to Him . . . He was going after them! Jesus came for the lost, hurting, overlooked and those whom religion had rejected. God loves people and Journey must have a heart for lost people.

The bottom line is this . . . If you love God, you will love people! Since Jesus loves lost people and we are to be like Jesus We Must Love Lost People. “And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” (Mark 2:3-5). Notice it says, “And they came” (Mark 2:3). The “fantastic four” are not named, not famous and are just referenced forever as “they” (Mark 2:3). These four guys had a crippled friend and they were on a mission to get him to Christ.

When it comes to people who are lost we must Feel Personal Responsibility. Two things were for certain . . . They knew their friend needed Jesus and nothing was going to stop them from getting him to Jesus. We must be willing to be inconvenienced to bring people to Jesus. “And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.” (Mark 2:4). This bed they had him on was probably like a cot with four handles or maybe just with arms. They can’t get in the door so up the outside stairs they go to the roof. Roofs in the Middle East were flat roofs with beams about three feet apart covered with brush, clay and packed with manure. Now imagine this scene . . . you are standing here listening to Jesus and all of a sudden chunks of brush, clay and manure start falling on your head!

Plan “A” wasn’t going to work. Their “Plan B” was not convenient, was not easy and matter of fact took a lot of work. But his friends knew something had to be done and nothing was going to stand in their way of getting in front of Jesus. These four friends were willing to cut through manure to get to Jesus. They were not listening to any excuses and no obstacle was too big. You’re crippled? . . . we will carry you. Too crowded inside? . . . No problem, we will go through the roof. The roof is in the way? . . . we will cut through it. You and I are called everyday to do whatever it takes to bring people to Jesus! When Jesus saw the paralytic and his four friends it says, “And when Jesus saw their faith . . .” (Mark 2:5). We pray, we preach, we believe and Christ changes lives!

What you see in this passage is the “fab four” truly believed.  True belief says, “I will sacrificially do what I can do to see Jesus do what He wants to do and what only He can do.”  They knew Jesus could healed and wanted to heal.  They knew their friend needed to get to Jesus.  And although it wasn’t convenient and even difficult they did what they could do.  The result was they saw Jesus do what He wanted to do and only He could do.  Their friend who came in on a bed walked out of the house. “12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” (Mark 2:12).

2016 is the year that we at Summit Community Church are saying we BELIEVE.  And by believing we will sacrificially do what we can do and as a result see Jesus do what He wants to do and what only He can do.  When we see a person who is far from God we know God wants to work in their lives so we will share the gospel with them.  When we see a need we will give of our time and resources to meet the need.  Do you see lost people around you?  Do you see needs around you?  Are you sacrificially doing what you can do?  Are you willing to sacrifice and do what you can do in 2016? If not you, then who?  If not now, then when?  You are the one and now is the time to BELIEVE!

Pursuing Happiness

If we are all being honest today, there is something that all of us long for in life. There is something we strive to achieve every single day. In everything we do we want to be satisfied, fulfilled . . . we just want to be happy! Years ago, Wal-Mart had a symbol for their “price rollbacks” that always brought a smile to us all. They had the famous “yellow smiley face.” (Show smiley face on the screen). This little “happy man” has managed to survive after Wal-Mart and made the transition into “emoji world” in this multi-media generation. Just look at that face. It’s really hard to look at that face and not smile! But the reality is happiness is not just about the smile and the exterior. Happiness is something God desires to saturate all of us down into our heart and soul which is the very core of our being.

On August 11, 2014 one of the funniest men to ever live took his life. (Show Robin Williams picture on the screen). From all outward appearances Robin Williams was a man filled with happiness. His whole persona, his career as an actor and comedian was all about laughter and making us smile. He smiled a lot because it’s hard to make someone else smile if you are not smiling. But what appeared to be happiness was not happiness at all. There were inner struggles and battles going on behind those smiles and the laughter.  There is no doubt many of you have lived the truth that life is difficult and can be hard. You have been or currently going through the chaos of life. You have lived with the tragedies and mishaps that life can sometimes bring. When it comes to this admittedly everyone of us has been through it, going through it right now or we will go through it.

With what we are talking about today I am not making little of the fact that Robin Williams had some emotional stuff going on that he was dealing with. Clinical help and counseling is sometimes a big piece of the puzzle to working through all that. How we deal with that is a big part of all this. I have seen people who find themselves in this dark hole and caught up in a downward spiral and rather than dealing with it they try to escape.  They escape through drugs, alcohol, “busyness” and avoidance. Never realizing that they are not dealing with the issue. Sooner or later, most of the time much sooner than later, you still have the issue and the situation to deal with. Dealing with what might be an issue is critical. Being willing to put the right practices and pieces in place is also vital to finding true happiness. True happiness that goes past the smile, past the exterior and deep into your heart and soul.

Sometimes we struggle with the whole issue of happiness and ask, “Can I be truly happy in life?” The question for right now is, “Are you happy?” Maybe you are on this rollercoaster ride when it comes to happiness . . . happy one moment but not the next . . . etc. Think about it this way . . . If your life didn’t change at all from this moment forward would you be happy? If your situation didn’t improve . . . If your marital status didn’t change . . . If your career didn’t progress . . . If your body didn’t feel any better . . . could you still be happy?”

The Old Testament book of Psalms was written about 3,000 years ago and that collection of songs and writings deal with some of the most crucial questions in life. One of those questions is, “Why am I not happy?” Or put another way, “How can I be happy?” At some point we all ask that question. You get caught up in the chaos of life or get blindsided by a tragedy or mishap and you find yourself asking, “How can I be happy?”

The entire book of Psalms in the Bible opens up with the word “happy.” The word used is “Blessed” (Psalm 1:1). The Hebrew word is “ashray” which literally means “happy.” This entire psalm is about happiness. It addresses the issue of “Can we be happy and if so, how do we get it?” Going back to the big idea for our series for a minute. We have established the truth that . . . Today’s decisions become tomorrow’s realities!

If we truly desire what happiness brings and we are committed to pursuing happiness, we have to look past the moment and be forward thinking with the future in mind. Always be looking down the road and see what the immediate and long-term effects will be from your decisions. Avoid the trap of being “caught up in the moment.” Don’t settle for instant gratification but aim for long-term satisfaction . . . that will lead to happiness!

After the psalmist begins the word “blessed” or “happy,” he then goes on to explain what it takes to be happy. He basically gives us an instruction manual on “How To Be Happy.” He does so by illustrating what a happy person’s life looks like and comparing the righteous life with the unrighteous life. As we work our way through this psalm we will see that happiness is a process. Happiness is not automatic but happiness is possible.

You can see when you read this he is developing a prescription for happiness. Just like when you go to a doctor and based on his diagnosis or desired outcome, he writes you a prescription. Happiness is the result of what you choose not to do. “1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers . . .” (Psalm 1:1). “Walking” is a reference to the way you think. “Standing” is talking about how you behave. The way you think must come from what I call a Romans 12:2 mind. “2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2). This is a mind that is under the control of God and His thoughts, His ideas, His ways and not the ways, the thoughts and the ideas of the world.

A natural result of thinking right is right behavior. You act and react only as a result of the impulses you get from your brain. If you are thinking like the world, you will act like the world. If you are thinking like Christ, you will act like Christ. “Sitting” is about where you find your identity. In Jewish culture, where you sat showed where you belonged. The men sat with other men, women sat with women, the rich sat with the rich, the young with the young, the old with the old, etc. As Christ followers we must be around people who are far from God so we can share the gospel and show them Jesus through our lives.

At the same time we have to be around other believers to be held accountable and be encouraged in our faith. You have concentric circles of friends. You are at the center and going out from there are your circles of friends. The first and closest circle are your friends who are Christ followers who encourage you in your faith, hold you accountable in your faith and help you grow in your faith Then you have circles out from there that are your friends and acquaintances who are not living for Jesus and who don’t know him. Sermons and Bible studies inspire you but your community shapes you!

This also applies when we are talking about our attitudes. If you are always around negative people, guess what? You will probably be a negative person. If you are regularly around positive people, guess what? You will probably be a positive person. Here is a challenge . . . Think about your five closest friends for a minute specifically their characteristics. If you take an average of how they think and how they act, more than likely that is how you think and act. So when you look at that, are you basically a positive person or a negative person? Are you an encourager or a discourager? You are who you are because of the influences around you. Your friends are your future you!

It’s not just about what we choose not to do. We must make wise choices in what we choose to do. Happiness is the result of what you choose to do. “2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:2). The idea here is that the Word of God becomes such a delight to you that it frees you from the seductions of the world. God’s Word is not just a religious duty to you or something you simply put on a checklist to feel guilty about. It is something you take delight in. You enjoy it and you realize you can’t live without it.

Brother Lawrence who was a 16th century dishwashing monk once said, “I find myself attached to God with greater sweetness and delight than an infant sucking at his mother’s breast . . . I have at times such delicious thoughts on God that I am ashamed to mention them.” The reason many struggle spiritually is you don’t know what it is like to have joy in God. You can only escape the pleasures of the world through the pleasures of the Word. To get to the place where you are consumed with God and crave His Word you have to meditate on His Word. “. . . and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:2). The Hebrew word for “meditate” means “mumble to yourself.” He is giving the image of mumbling the gospel to yourself over and over.  We read a section of Scripture, dig deeper in meditation and study of that Scripture and we memorize that Scripture to put it in our minds and hearts so it will influence how we live.

When you make good choices about those closest to you and you choose to delight in and meditate on God’s Word, you are establishing consistency and stability in your walk with Christ. The person who does this is compared to a tree. Real happiness happens when you choose God. Not happiness that is “here one minute and gone the next” because it is based on how you feel. Real happiness, happiness that lasts comes from God. “3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” (Psalm 1:3). People in the arid and dry Middle East knew the importance of having a water source close by in order to produce crops.

A tree that does not have a sufficient water supply will not produce a healthy crop and will quickly wither and die. Although you are surrounded by a world that is not so good, God will keep you spiritually healthy. He will sustain you and He will equip you to not only survive but thrive! A tree with roots is anchored and has the ability to draw nutrients but there has to be water and nutrients to draw from. The location where you plant a tree is critical to its survival and productivity. The imagery here is a tree that is intentionally planted by an endless supply of water. This is the image of you and God. When you are all about God and your relationship with Him, He gives you all of Him which is all you will ever need.

Even in the driest of seasons when trees in other places would not even survive, this one will because it is planted by streams of water. Spiritually when you are focusing your everything on God and His Word, God gives you a never ending supply of Himself which results in happiness. Just like in nature, life has seasons and storms. What you need to sustain you is a source outside of yourself and that source is God! When you have made a conscious decision to not be influenced by unrighteous people and be influenced by God’s Word you find that He gives you an endless supply of happiness.

People try to find happiness without God but it will never work. Pursuing happiness apart from God will always end in futility. “4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.” (Psalm 1:4). The picture here is of a threshing floor at the time of the grain harvest. The threshing floors of Palestine are on hills that catch the best breezes. Grain was brought in, crushed by animals or by threshing instruments drawn over it, then it was thrown high in the air where the wind blew the chaff away. The heavier grain fell back to the threshing floor and collected. The chaff is scattered or burned. Chaff is worthless and gives the picture of a futile, empty, and worthless life without God.

True happiness comes from being totally focused on God and not your circumstances. Life has seasons and life has storms. Your happiness can’t be based on circumstances. God doesn’t keep you from the storm, but He keeps you within the storm. God doesn’t deliver you from the changing seasons of life, but He delivers us within the changing seasons of life. When your happiness is based on God, you will be happy not because of your circumstances but in spite of your circumstances.

True happiness comes from being totally focused on God and not your circumstances. Life has seasons and life has storms. Your happiness can’t be based on circumstances. God doesn’t keep you from the storm, but He keeps you within the storm. God doesn’t deliver you from the changing seasons of life, but He delivers us within the changing seasons of life. When your happiness is based on God, you will be happy not because of your circumstances but in spite of your circumstances.

Decisions …Decisions…Decisions

Decisions . . . Decisions . . . Decisions! Decision-making is such a seamless brain process that we’re usually unaware of it until our choice results in unexpected consequences. Then we may look back and wonder, “Why did I choose that?” or “Why did I just do that?” After you have acted or reacted to something, do you ever talk to yourself or am I alone. Telling yourself, “I did pretty good” or “That was stupid! Why did I do that?”

Certain factors can play a part in our decision-making process. Things like . . . Time of Day . . . Your Bladder . . . Your Mood (How angry or upset you are) . . . Having Too Much Choice . . . Your Gut Instinct . . . Your Surroundings . . . The Temperature . . . Tempo of Background Music . . . How Rested You Are . . . etc. There are more, but these are just a few of the common factors that will affect your decision making either positively or negatively.

Each individual is different, so it is impossible to pinpoint a specific number of daily decisions that applies to every individual. But Time magazine puts the number in the thousands. It has been estimated that the average adult makes 35,000 remotely conscious decisions everyday. Many decisions like what to eat for breakfast or what clothes to wear have few, if any long-lasting consequences. Other decisions like . . . whether or not to stay in school . . . the career path you choose . . . where to look for work . . . who to date . . . who to marry . . . can have a huge impact on the direction of your life.

When we think about the decisions we make and the factors that influence those decisions, I want to add another factor to the list. This factor is one that should trump all other factors when making a decision. It’s called . . . Your Convictions (Pre-Determined Boundaries)! Conviction is defined as “a firmly held belief.” Another way to think about that is setting your price. Do you ever remember watching the television show . . . Fear Factor? The premise for the show is if the price is right people will do anything at any given time . . . eat live slugs . . . climb into a coffin with thousands of snakes, worms and hissing cockroaches . . . perform a daredevil stunt . . . etc.

It would be nice to think that we as Christ followers do not have a price. That an initial one-time commitment to Jesus is accompanied with a lifelong and resolute loyalty. That we as Christians would not sell out. But sad to say many Christians compromise their commitment to Christ every single day. When this happens what we say many times is we are “compromising our convictions.” But I would ask this, “If it truly is a conviction, can it be compromised?” Again, conviction is defined as “a firmly held belief.” So, if it is firmly held, can you go back on it? And if you do, was it ever that firm to begin with and was it really a conviction?”

The reality that we face when it comes to our decisions is the Big Idea for our new series . . . Today’s Decisions Become Tomorrow’s Realities! While we did state above there are some decisions that have very little impact on the future, there are some decisions we make in the moment that have a huge impact on our future. Every decision you make to turn away from God will ultimately separate you from His purpose and His plan for your life!

Glorifying God

In the early 1700’s there was a revival movement that swept through the American Colonies known as The Great Awakening.  This massive movement of the Holy Spirit was led by a young pastor by the name of Jonathan Edwards.  Jonathan was born in 1703 and The Great Awakening took hold of New England in 1734 with Jonathan Edwards leading the way. 

He was a godly young man with a very strong passion for Christ, His Word and the Church.  In his early twenties he composed some life goals which he called resolutions.  Listen to some of the personal resolutions he made.

“Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.”

“Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.”

“Resolved, that I will live so, as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.”

“Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power, might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.”  

Prior to the Great Awakening in the 1600’s, the church was going through quite a few changes.  In 1646 over a hundred theologians met at Westminster Abbey to draw up what would come to be known as The Westminster Confession.  Part of what came out of that confession was a defining statement about what our life purpose is to be as believers in Jesus Christ.  It said this . . . “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.”     

Regardless of the era, one thing has not changed.  Every generation has always been obsessed with answering the questions, “Why am I here?” and “What is my purpose?”  The answer to those questions will determine the who, what, when, where and how of life.  Ask people these questions and you will get a wide range of responses.

Tom Brady who is an MVP, a Super Bowl Champion, and an All-Star Quarterback for the New England Patriots once said in an interview, “Why do I have three Super Bowl rings and still think there’s something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, ‘Hey man, this is what is.’ I reached my goal, my dream, my life. I think, ‘God, it’s got to be more than this.’ I mean this isn’t, this can’t be what it’s all cracked up to be … I love playing football and I love being quarterback for this team. But at the same time, I think there are a lot of other parts about me that I’m trying to find.”

We live in a culture today that is really a lot about “me.”  Social media has allowed us to usher in the “selfie” generation.  In case you don’t know what a “selfie” is, it is people using their smart phones to take personal photos of themselves and posting them on social media . . . Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.   The ones that really concern me are the ones that show them behind the wheel of a car.  I wonder if they are taking while they are driving or sitting still.  If we are not careful we can slip into a culture and a generation that is defined primarily by self-promotion. 

It is very easy to begin thinking that life is all about me.  We can become obsessed with questions like, “Do I like this?” . . . “Will this benefit me?” . . . “How does this make me feel?” . . . “Does this make me happy?” . . . “What’s in it for me?”  It can become a “Me, Me, Me” and “Mine, Mine, Mine” mentality.  But the hardest statement for many of us even as Christ-followers to admit is, “It’s not about me!”  God’s life goal for you is not your happiness, but your holiness!  Life is not about how to make you happy but how to make you holy!

Deep down inside all of us know there has to be more to life than just life itself and life is really more than just us.  If we could get an audience with Tom Brady this morning we could tell him, “There is something greater out there for all of us.”  That something greater is what the Westminster Confession says and most importantly what God’s Word says we are to be about.  We are to live in such a way that we glorify God or bring glory to His name! 

When we talk about glorifying God or bringing glory to God what do we really mean?  Glorify is similar to the word beautify.”  Beautify means to improve something’s beauty.  What we do not mean is that we are adding something to God.  God is complete and cannot be added to or improved.  So when we talk about glorifying God it is not like beautify. 

Glorify is more like the word magnify.  It is more like the magnification of a telescope rather than a microscope.  A microscope takes something really small and make it appear larger than what it really is.  When we glorify God it is like using a telescope because with a telescope you make something massive and awesome visible for what it already is.   

 The church in Corinth was established by Paul at the end of his second missionary journey.  Corinth was a very popular and wealthy city due to where it was located.  Many tradesmen came through Corinth.  Corinth was a Greek city made up of a very diverse group people from varying backgrounds.  The church at Corinth was by far the most carnal church that Paul ever dealt with.  In 1 Corinthians 6, he was addressing some specific sinful behaviors but it has some general applications. 12 ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:12).  Evidently this phrase, “All things are lawful for me” (1 Corinthians 6:12) had become an extremely common phrase at this point for people at Corinth.  Paul even says it twice in the same verse. 

Their thought was, “Well, now that I am free, everything is okay for me to do.”  This is actually something that Paul teaches at other points in the New Testament.  In Christ you are free!  The problem is they had taken that truth and warped it to think that, “Well, because I’m free, I’m free to do whatever I want.  Everything is lawful or permissible for me.”  They had not reformed their attitudes and behaviors since coming to Christ.

And Paul tells them,  “All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful.” (1 Corinthians 6:12). He says, “Don’t ask if you have the right to do something. Ask if it is helpful or beneficial?” Literally it means, “Is this of advantage?” The word Paul uses in 1 and 2 Corinthians for “helpful” (1 Corinthians 6:12) or “beneficial” (1 Corinthians 6:12) usually refers not only to a benefit or help to us but the emphasis is more on a benefit to others. 

It is really asking, “Is what I’m getting ready to do a benefit for me and more importantly is it a benefit for others?” In other words, “How will what I am getting ready to do affect me and those around me?”  Will this hurt me or help me?”  “Will this hurt others around me or help others?”  “Will this hurt the cause of Christ or will it help the cause of Christ?” 

Paul repeats that phrase again and then he says, “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:12).  This is the way sin works. It gets in our minds and our emotions and our bodies and it controls and gradually begins to take over.  Once we have given in to sin, before long it will begin to control and dominate everything about us until it has destroyed us. 

There is one thing that should control or dominate us.  14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).  Because of what Christ has done for us in sacrificing Himself on the cross for our sins, we should be controlled by His love to always do what pleases Him.

When Paul wrote this letter to the church at Corinth, he was specifically addressing sexual sin.  The people had been engaged in sexual activity with prostitutes and Paul was letting them know this was not acceptable activity for them now that they were Christ followers.  But this addresses much more than just sexual sin.  This passage applies to any and all sinful behavior we might be involved in. 

It involves everything we are thinking about, watching, participating in, etc.  It encompasses everything in your mind and your body.  The question is, “What part of your body is not bringing glory to God?”  Paul explains how once you become a Christian you totally belong to God.  Every part of your being (physically, mentally and emotionally) belongs to God.  17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.” (1 Corinthians 6:17).  This joining and becoming one with the Lord is the Holy Spirit taking up residence within us.  Paul compares this to the temple.  19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? (1 Corinthians 6:19).    

This is the beautiful picture at the end. We don’t have time to go into Old Testament history but let me just remind you about the temple.  This was the place where God’s presence dwells among His people.  This was not just a normal sanctuary like we have now and you come into this place. This was “the place” and where God’s glory dwelled among His people.  The temple was the place where God’s holiness drew the nations to Himself.  That’s what He says over and over again throughout the Old Testament. He says, “I’m going to draw the nations to see my greatness and to see my holiness in the temple.”  That is the picture we’ve got in the Old Testament.

You get to the New Testament, Jesus Christ says, “I’m the temple. I’m the place where you meet the glory of God. You want to see the presence of God? Here, I’m drawing the nations to myself.” He goes to a cross, He dies, He rises from the grave, He ascends into heaven, He sends His Holy Spirit and now, you and I, just as the temple in the Old Testament housed the presence of the living God, you and I house the presence of the Spirit of God in our bodies. Is that not one incredible truth.  Within our bodies we possess His presence as the church! And the beauty of this is you have the Holy Spirit in you which needs to be guarded. 

Don’t forget the Holy Spirit is the only One who has power to help you overcome sin, help you conquer sin.  He is living in you so you are not going out and fighting the body alone. You’ve got the Holy Spirit of God in you for that purpose!  As a result of the Holy Spirit taking up residence within you and becoming one with you, you must live for Him and not for yourself.  Don’t give in to the sinful desires that are attempting to lure you away from God but choose to glorify God. 

I mentioned a few minutes ago that Paul repeated the phrase in 1 Corinthians 10. “All things are lawful” (1 Corinthians 10:23).  In that section he is addressing the danger of idols and eating in temples that are dedicated to idols.  Everyone of us if we are not careful can have idols in our lives . . . things that take the place of God. They might not be made of wood, plastic or metal.  They may not be sitting on a shelf, but there can still be idols in our lives.  When he closes out that thought he goes right back again to the challenge to glorify God.  31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

When you combine 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Corinthians 10, what are the motivations for glorifying God?  19 . . . You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).  We glorify God because of the value Jesus placed on your life by giving His life for yours.  Out of gratitude and respect to God, glorify Him instead of gratifying yourself.  

In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul says, 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.” (1 Corinthians 10:32-33).  Our goal for making the choices that we make and living the way we live should always be to win people to Christ.  We glorify God because we want to bring people to Christ not push them away from Christ!  Before we do anything we need to ask, “How will what I am getting ready to do affect me and those around me?”  Glorifying God is the most important part of our existence. God’s glory is intertwined throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.  God’s glory is in His character and His creation.    


Love Does

We are going to be looking at the most well known text in the Bible. Even if you don’t have much of a background in church, you have seen this verse waved at you. If you have ever watched a football game you have seen it flash on the screen from a fan in the stands on a poster board. If you have ever watched a basketball game, you have seen it when held up when a player is shooting a free throw. Even those who are not believers in Christ at least have a framework of reference for the text.

This verse it perhaps the greatest verse in all the Bible. It is the best loved and best known verse. It is the most power paced twenty-five words in all of Scripture. Martin Luther called it the miniature gospel. Some have called it the “gospel in a nutshell.” It has also been called a love letter from God written in blood for everybody. This is the one verse Satan would love to remove from the Bible because it makes hell tremble.

This verse makes me afraid. You might ask, “Why would such an incredible promise and verse make you afraid?” Because I am afraid it has a tendency to become so familiar that it loses it’s power and meaning! We can fly right through it and miss the awesomeness of what God has done for us especially in what has been commonly labeled “the Bible Belt.” We can read the words but totally miss the much needed message.

Society has a way of deceiving us and selling us a “bill of goods” when it comes to love. All the movies, sitcoms, and songs that are based on the idea of love are really based on a very unhealthy kind of love. It is a shallow, hollow, and empty kind of emotive love that looks down on a deep, genuine and Biblical love.

Predominantly love is emotive and can be fallen in and out of. It is a love totally based on how happy the other person is making us. So when that is the case, we really don’t love the other person; we really love us. That is not love! Love is not “You make me happy, so I love you.” That is a self love and not a love for somebody else.

What do you hear people say all the time today? “I’ve fallen out of love. I just don’t love them anymore.” Something that is frowned upon by a large part of society is someone who loves by the will. In the Hebrew culture they had a word for this type of love. It was the Hebrew word, “ahava.” It was a love of the will and it meant, “I’m not going anywhere.” “Ahava” love told the other person, “I have seen the ugly side of you and I’m staying.” In our culture we predominantly view this as unhealthy.

In a situation like this, what do we say? “You don’t deserve this. You deserve better than this. Life is too short to live like this. Are you really going to spend it like this?” Love is very flippant in our culture. It can shift and change at any given moment. The love we see played out all around us in culture is very conditional and circumstantial. It is not sustaining and it is definitely not safe.

Love is seen like the car we bought that Josh drives now. It’s a 2004 Nissan Altima. I have had Nissans in the past and they were always dependable. The car looked good, it ran good, and had a good price. So I bought it. A little while later I heard it knocking and it was almost out of oil. No sign of leaks but it was just about gone. I then found out that from 2002-2004 Nissan had some problems with their valves and rings. So what was my first thought? Get rid of it. Sell it or trade it on something else. That is how many people treat love today. Things come up that are not so good and then we are ready to get rid of it or trade it in. If you want to understand why people are putting off marriage or choosing to avoid marriage altogether all you have to do is look at how we are defining love. Why would anyone want that?

In our English language we don’t have words that differentiate between our different types of love. With the same word we say, “I love my dog, I love pinto beans, I love my kids, I love my wife, etc.” Most of the time when we say, “I love you” what we are really saying is, “You make me happy, so I love you.” This is a weak form of love and will not sustain moving forward. We all want and need emotion in our love. There needs to be a little bit of “ahava” love to make it in the long run, to be safe and grow as people. During your worst times when you show the worst of you what you need is somebody to say, “Yeah, I’ve seen that. It is ugly but I love you. I’m not going anywhere.”

I have said all of this because if we don’t understand what love actually is and should be we can’t really understand God’s love. If your understanding of love doesn’t have some depth, some root and an anchor to it, it’s impossible to comprehend God’s love for you. It won’t feel as incredible as it really is.

If you haven’t already turn in your Bibles to John 3. We are going to be reading as we always do from the ESV but if you are like me this is the first verse I ever memorized and it was from the King James Version. I want you to look on the screen with me KJV version before we get into the ESV version. “16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16 from KJV). In the most famous verse ever about the love of God, Jesus Himself thought it was important to point out that God’s love is what rescues us in our eternal perishing. “16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).

Look at how God loves us. It says, “For God SO loved the world . . .” (John 3:16). The most insignificant appearing word really is one of the most important words in this verse. It’s as if there was a volume button to God’s love and when it comes to loving us He cranks up the volume. When Jesus mentions the “world” (John 3:16) here, He is not talking about the planet earth. What He is referring to is us . . . all the people of the world.

Several weeks ago I made a statement to you about God’s love for you and what that looks like. I said, “God loves you just they way you are; but God loves you too much to leave you the way you are.” You can see this being fleshed out in John 3:16. “16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son . . .” (John 3:16). What you see in this is God’s love initiating towards us. This is so amazing and what makes it so amazing is that because “God so loved” (John 3:16) us He chose to move towards us.

God looks down and sees us the way we really are. In our sinful state He sees our rebellion, pride, selfishness, arrogance, self-righteousness, etc. We all struggle with sin and we all have junk in our lives. God sees our junk. He sees our issues and struggles. And yet in the middle of all that junk, God sends Christ to be the righteousness we need. In the midst of all the mess, the hatred and the rejection of Him, He chooses to jump right in the middle of it with us. Rather than being repulsed by all that, God came to rescue you!

You at your very best will never be adequate to pay your sin debt. You will never be able to save yourself! God knows that and that is why in His great love He was not repulsed by what He saw but moved in to rescue you. John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us . . .” I really like The Message translation of that verse. “14 The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.” (John 1:14). He looked down and saw that we needed a Savior! He saw that I needed a Savior! He saw that you needed a Savior!

Why would God do that? Why would God choose to jump right in the middle of our junk? To really understand why Jesus came you have to read John 3:16-18 together. “16 . . . that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. ” (John 3:16-18). God extends a gracious invitation to everybody. An invitation that says regardless of where you are, regardless of where you have been, regardless of what you have done or regardless of what you are doing, He will take away your sin and give you the free gift of eternal life.

This “eternal life” (John 3:16) obviously speaks about the future and eternity . . . thus the word “eternal.” But it’s not just heaven; it’s also fullness of life here and now. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10). So, God doesn’t want you to perish in eternity or perish now. He wants you to experience abundant life now and experience life in eternity with Him!

I want to ask you, “Do you want abundant life now and to spend eternity in heaven with Jesus?” Most of you would say, “Yes.” To receive that, there is something you have to do. It says you have to “believe” (John 3:16). Here is where it gets complicated. This belief is not just intellectual assent. It’s not just, “Oh yeah, I believe in Jesus.” It’s not just that “Bible Belt/Southern thing” that is the acceptable thing in our culture. “Why, yeah, I believe in Jesus. I’m American and I live in the South so of course I believe in Jesus.” To believe in Jesus like John 3:16 is to believe He is who He says He is and He did what He said He did!

This puts a whole new twist on belief because Jesus says He is God and He also says He is the only way to God. Believing in Jesus means you have declared war on the sin in your life and that you are serious about growing in your knowledge with God. If that does not describe you, you do not really believe in Jesus. If there is no seriousness about sin in your life and no desire for you to grow in an understanding of who God is and who Jesus is, you don’t believe in Him!

Based on that definition of belief, have you ever truly believed in Jesus for your salvation? Have you ever realized that salvation is a gift, earned entirely by Christ? Have you ever understood that without Christ as your Savior you are an otherwise hopeless sinner? The true test of your belief is what you do with your sin. Do you have an awareness of sin? Are you convicted by your sin? Are you willing to confess your sin? Are you willing to repent of your sin? Jesus illustrates all of this by the analogy of light and darkness.

When you truly believe in Christ as your Savior, God rescues you from condemnation. “19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” (John 3:19-20). People get this backwards. When sin is confronted people will say, “You are condemning me.” Really that is not true. This says in sin you are condemned already and confronting that sin is releasing you from condemnation. Let’s illustrate it this way.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12). Although light does cast shadows, the purpose of light is really to illuminate. The general purpose of light is to illuminate and eliminate the darkness. Jesus coming into the world as the light of the world exposes the sin and darkness that is already here. People who are without Christ are condemned already but they just can’t see it because they are trapped in darkness.

If you have truly believed in Jesus, it is mandatory that we share what Jesus means to us and what He has done for us. “21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:21). Once you realize how free you really are in Christ, you run to God even with your sin because you have experienced what real freedom feels like. You know what real joy feels like. You know what real peace feels like. You want to tell everybody because you want them to experience what you have experienced and are experiencing. When you know that you are an otherwise hopeless sinner without the gift of salvation which is earned entirely by Christ, you are compelled to tell other hopeless sinners where to find hope!

Why would we spend so much time on John 3:16? To nail down what it really means so you can know if you actually have practiced that kind of belief. Our new series is about being bold and sharing your faith. But you can’t share what you don’t have! Are you serious about your sin? Do you have a desire to grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus? If you can’t answer yes to both of these questions, you don’t have it!

Whose Side Are You On?

Going through school there was a group of guys who I hung out with all the time.  We grew up in church together, we went to school together, we played ball together, we hung out together all the time.  One of the guys in our group was Charles Warren.  We all called him “Charlie Ray”!  Charlie Ray was a unique kind of guy.  He was very slow academically and was not  real popular.  But he was our friend and we looked out for him.  Many things happened over the years that are comic relief for us even today.

One day Charlie went fishing with some of our buddies over at Huffman Bridge.  Both of them were in the boat waiting on him to get in.  Charlie didn’t have a lot of experience stepping from the dock into a boat.  When he went to get into the boat, he put one foot on the boat and kept one foot on the dock.  The dock was solid and secure and the boat was not.  So when he went to step over into the boat he found himself straddling the two.  Not really able to commit to either one you know what happened next . . . Charlie Ray fell into the water with a splash! 

Picture in this story that the dock is God and the boat is the world.  God is solid and secure but the world is not.  You can choose to be on the dock or in the boat.  You can choose to be with God or the world, but you can’t choose both.  If you try to keep one foot in the world and one foot with God, the truth is you will fall and you will fall hard.  The theme of James 4 is you have a choice to make.  You can choose sin and worldliness or you can choose holiness and Christlikeness!  You can choose to be worldly or Christlike.  Too many times people are trying to keep a foot in both and it simply will not work.  The title and question for today is, “Whose Side Are You On?”        

The theme of the entire book of James is . . . Take the faith on the inside and display it on the outside!  In other words, “Does my faith impact the way I live?”  He is all about putting feet to our faith!  Everything in the book of James ultimately deals with that issue.  James gives us three diagnostic tests in James 1:26-27 that are answered throughout the book to see if our faith is genuine.  One is “How do I treat others?”  Another one is, “How do I use my tongue?”  The third one which we are talking about today is, “Am I pursuing a Godly life?”  In other words, “Am I closer to Christ today than I was yesterday?”

Before we get into James 4, we need to define what worldliness is.  Worldliness is a world system that encourages you to want more stuff, to pursue your comforts over everything else and to focus on yourselves over everybody else.  It is a way of thinking that deceives us into believing that the way to satisfaction is selfishness and the world is all about us.  It convinces you to pursue your temporary happiness rather than eternal holiness.  If you fall for this worldliness you miss the point that by pursuing holiness it becomes your happiness.   

James then begins to debunk this worldly philosophy.  He reveals the problems that arise from pursuing this kind of thinking and spells out for us the symptoms of worldliness.  The first problem of worldliness is Tension With Others.  1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1).  The word “quarrels” (James 4:1) is a word that literally means “to declare a state of war.”  The word “fights” (James 4:1) is just like a typical fight or conflict. 

When you put sinful and selfish people together there will be problems.  He is telling us whether it is a war between countries or a simple disagreement between you and somebody else, the real source of  the conflict is you.  It is those worldly pursuits you have allowed to take hold of you that are causing wars and fights.  How and why does this play out this way?  The hardest thing to do in any conflict is to say these three words  . . . “I was wrong!”  Repeat those words with me, “I was wrong!”  In our relationships rather than focusing on what we are doing wrong, we justify our actions and focus on what the other one is doing wrong.  Before we know it, we have become polarized defending the fact that we think we are right and righteous.

The next problem is Tension Within Yourself.  2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.  3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:2-3).  Do you see the frustration here?  There is dissatisfaction and constant turmoil within you stemming from unmet desires and wants.  James makes it clear that all of this ends in a bad way. 

When he says “murder” (James 4:2), it is probably not literally taking somebody’s life.  Probably more like in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus equated murder to when you have anger between you and someone else.  James even shows us that the person caught up in worldliness will have spiritual frustration.  The prayer life of this type of person is frustrating because all of their prayers are self-centered prayers and God will not answer those kind of prayers.     

Worldliness will also cause Tension Between You And God.  This is the key verse in this whole passage.  4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4).  James hits us with some pretty strong language because this is a serious topic.  When he says, “You adulterous people” (James 4:4), he is basically saying, “You promise breakers!”

The term “friendship” (James 4:4) as it is used here can be a little confusing to us today.  Friendship for us can be more like casual acquaintance.  Social media has caused many of us to feel connected to people but we are really not connected to those people at all.  You might have hundreds of “Facebook friends” and you might read what they ate for dinner, where they have been, what they are doing, etc. but you are not really friends with those people.  Friendship in the first century was something that was much deeper and serious.  This word for “friend” is a word more like “lover” than “acquaintance” or even “close friend.” 

When you look at it this way it changes how you view sin.  Sin is not just breaking the rules.  Sin is not just missing the mark.  Sin isn’t just disobedience.  Sin is breaking your lover’s heart and like being unfaithful to your spouse.  That is not how we typically think about sin.  Usually we will think, “Well, I just blew it”  Or, “Man, I should have known better than that.”  But really our response should be, “God, I have been so unfaithful.  I am so sorry for cheating on you.” 

Back to our question . . . Whose Side Are You On?  The great thing is if you find yourself being unfaithful and on the side of worldliness, you don’t have to stay there.  God gives you a way to get back on His side and stay there.  5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, ‘He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us’?” (James 4:5).  The word for “jealously” (James 4:5) is the word for “burning passion.”  This idea of God’s jealousy can be a little confusing because we think of it in terms of things birthed out of fear or insecurity.  That’s definitely not like God’s jealousy! 

Think about the kind of burning, passionate love husbands and wives are to have for each other. That is the kind of passion God has for us spiritually.  As a matter of fact, God’s very name is jealous.  14 for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” (Exodus 34:14).  God never created you to have only part of you.  God created you because He wants all of you.  Remember when Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37).    

God is not jealous about you.  He is jealous for you and for His own glory!  His jealousy is like, “I put that spirit in there.  My glory and their joy is at stake.”  God’s jealousy stems from the love of His own name and the hope that your joy in that name might reflect more perfectly His goodness and grace.  This takes you giving all of you to God all the time which will take more than you can give. 

To move from a life consumed with worldliness to a life consumed with God takes what you don’t have. God knows that and is prepared to give you what you need to make that possible.  6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’”  (James 4:6).  The word “oppose” (James 4:6) literally means to “set up a military front.”  Pride says, “I’ve got this thing called life all figured out God.  I’m going to leave You over here.  Stay here because I might need You for some forgiveness some stuff or comfort once in a while.  So just be a good God and stay right here where I can find You.  I’ll come back but I’m going to live my life.”  That is pride and James says that God opposes it.

Humility is the opposite of pride.  Humility says, “God, I don’t have all this figured out.  I need you to stay right with me every moment and help me with every decision.  I can’t make it without you.”  That is what Paul meant in Romans 5:20.  It says, 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more . . .” (Romans 5:20).  God honors that and it says, “God gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6).  Matt Chandler says, “There is no sin with more power than the cross of Christ.”  All of that means grace will always trump any and every sin you have committed or might commit.  There is no equal to God’s grace and His grace is superior to everything that happens in life. 

So if you find yourself consumed with worldliness and the tension that it causes, how do you move away from worldliness to a life consumed with godliness?  James lays out a strategy to make this happen. 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7).  The first step is Submit To God.  The reality is we are in a battle with our spiritual enemies.  In that battle how you posture yourself will determine whether the battle is won or lost.  If you don’t position yourself right and understand who you are and how you relate to God, you will lose the battle before it starts. 

When James says “Submit” (James 4:7), he uses a Greek word that means, “to put yourself in the proper place.”  Once again he is really talking about humility.  Pride is the thing that empowers and emboldens our enemies.  Pride makes our enemies strong.  Pride puts you in the place of God.  Pride is all about several things.  Pride is self-sufficiency which says, “I can strengthen myself and I don’t need God’s strength.”  Pride is self-righteousness which says, “I can save myself and don’t need God’s salvation.”    Pride is self-protection which says, “I can only trust myself and I don’t need others around me.” 

The reason why we don’t overcome sin and we have struggled with the same sins for years is because we are the ones trying to change it.  We are trying to be in control.  We are trying to fix it.  The degree that you submit and surrender to God will determine whether or not you win in your battle with sin. Humility puts you under God.  Humility is realizing and admitting you are really “not all that.”  It’s saying what Jesus said in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will, but God’s will be done.”  Forget pride and totally submit yourself to God, realizing at the very beginning you are not going to defeat your enemies on your own.

Once you are living in total submission to God then you have the strength to Resist The Devil.  God makes a promise, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7).  In the original Greek language the word “resist” (James 4:7) is wartime language and implies aggression.  Resist . . . Stand firm . . . Fight . . . etc.  You don’t run.  You turn and fight!  You pull your sword and engage the enemy!  Once you do that the promise is the devil will run.  The reason we find ourselves having so much trouble with the devil is because we entertain him and we don’t make a quick enough decision to fight.  We don’t rely on God’s strength and we give up.  Resist and fight!  Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 10:13, there is always an escape,  a backup and more powerful help coming!

To successfully escape worldliness we submit to God, resist the devil and we Pursue God.  8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:8).  There are several ways we pursue God.  We pursue Him by reading and studying the Bible.  We need to read and study God’s Word not just to know the Bible, but to know the God of the Bible.  We don’t read the Bible merely for facts and figures.  We read and study the Bible so we can see the beauty of God and His character. 

We pursue God by connecting with other believers.  We offer Connect Groups to give you opportunities to connect on a more intimate level with other believers.  God did not create you to live an isolated life; He created you to be in community with others!   If you are not close to God, guess who hasn’t moved?  God is constant and fixed; He doesn’t move! The promise is if you draw near to God, He will draw near to you.

Escaping worldliness means submitting to God, resisting the devil, pursuing God and Be Serious About Sin.  8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.  Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8).  Seriousness about sin is not just about our actions but also about our desires.  Sin involves our hands, our minds, and our hearts.  We have to be as much aware of the wickedness in our minds and hearts as we are of the actual sins we commit.  Fighting sin is an internal battle.  Dig deep inside and take ownership of your sin by  confessing your very thoughts to God.

James says to be broken over your sin.  9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (James 4:9-10).  Not a happy thought, but very necessary!  We are all about entertainment, feeling good and laughing.  God is about something much deeper than just entertainment, feeling good, and laughing.  God is about joy!  But we will never find the joy of God until we are broken over our sin.  The Puritans wrote some profound things and were deep thinkers.  One of the things they would pray for was tears. They would pray to be grieved by their sins.

My friend, Charlie Ray had one foot on the dock and one foot on the boat.  By trying to stand between both, he fell hard!  Where are you today?  Are you with God? Are you away from God with the world?  Or, Are you attempting to be in both?  We have a statement around here.  Repeat after me . . . No . . . Perfect . . . People . . . Allowed!  It is true that God loves you just the way you are and we love you just the way you are.  But God loves you too much  for you to stay the way you are.  And we love you too much for you to stay the way you are. 

Again I ask, “Whose side are you on?”  If you are on the wrong side today, I beg you make the choice to make it right today.  Make the choice today to . . . Submit yourself to God . . .  Resist the devil . . . Pursue God . . . Be serious about your sin.  Being serious about your sin means you . . . Confront your sin . . . Confess your sin to God . . . Repent of your sin.  Repentance is simply when you agree with God about your sin, you grieve over it, you decide to leave your sin and turn to Christ for Him to forgive your sin and take your sin away from you!

Just Do What I Say

When you read the book of James you need to ask, “Who is this man named James?” He was the second born son to Mary and Joseph which means he was the younger half-brother of Jesus. Have you ever heard of the “second child syndrome?” James was probably known more as “Jesus’ brother” than just James. Sort of always existing within the shadow of the older sibling. So here was Jesus as the older brother who never sinned. But James did. James was born of a sin nature just like all of us and he was living in the shadow of a big brother who was God in the flesh. With his sin nature and being far from perfect, James had a built-in problem right from the start.

When Jesus left home James was probably happy to see Him leave home when He did. But then his “different” older brother came back to their town claiming to be the long awaited Messiah. How do you think James felt towards his older brother then? We don’t have to wonder. The Bible tells us His brothers didn’t believe Him. “For not even his brothers believed in him.” (John 7:5). The word there means “siblings.” It also says they thought He was crazy. “And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’” (Mark 3:21).

Throughout Jesus’ ministry we see James in a state of unbelief and skepticism when it came to Jesus. But everything eventually changed for James. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:7 about Jesus appearing to James after His resurrection. When the disciples were gathered together in the upper room after Jesus’ resurrection James was there. “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” (Acts 1:14). When Saul (who became Paul) came to know Christ as his Savior was finally accepted into the Church he tells us in Galatians 1:19 he sought out James.

James came to believe in Jesus as His personal Lord and Savior after his brother had died, was buried, resurrected and ascended. In AD 49 James went on to write the very first book of the New Testament. This book we call James is a very short but practical manual on Christian living. The theme of the book of James is “putting feet to your faith.” The main idea throughout the book of James  is . . . Take the faith on the inside and display it on the outside! Your inside must match the outside.

Think about the difference between a Hershey’s Kiss and a Reese’s Cup.  I will admit that my favorite of the two is definitely Reese’s Cup . . . I love peanut butter! But spiritually that is not the right answer. The right answer spiritually is Hershey’s Kiss. Spiritually speaking what is inside must match the outside. You must allow God’s Word to change you on the inside. Make that change obvious on the outside by how you live, what you say, what you think and what you do. You must live what you say you believe!

James was writing to a very specific group. “To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion.” (James 1:1). The Jews had been dispersed or scattered at this time due to various persecutions from the Roman government. They had established Jewish communities throughout the Roman world and many of these Christians had even been kicked out of their own communities because of their faith in Jesus as their Savior. These hurting and persecuted believers were the ones James was writing to. That is why he penned a letter to them about how to live an authentic faith in a hostile world. As you read through the book of James, you need to always be asking yourself, “How can I internalize what I see here and let others see it in me?”

If you have your Bibles turn with me to James 1. We are going to begin in James 1:19. You can tell James is writing to believers when he says, “19 Know this, my beloved brothers . . .” (James 1:19). He is acknowledging that they already know what he is about to say. He is basically saying, “I know you are aware of what I am about to say, but you need to hear it again. You need to review and revisit some of the basics.” He is giving them a reminder but he is also giving them a rebuke. In telling them to remember he is also telling them they have forgotten.

This entire section is about how we receive and respond to God’s Word. His first reminder of how to approach God’s Word is Be Humble. “19 . . . let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;” (James 1:19). “Quick to hear” (James 1:19) is basically saying, “Hurry up and listen.” Hidden within this word for “hear” is the thought of genuinely receiving the Word. It is listening with the intention of learning and obeying. “Slow to speak” (James 1:19) is another way of telling us to be quiet. Be humble as you approach the Word. “Slow to anger” (James 1:19) means don’t come with your defenses up because all that does is lead you to anger and resistance to God’s Word.

James knows so often we approach God’s Word talking and not listening. So often we come to God’s Word thinking, “Here is what I want it to say.” We are looking more for justification than modification! We prefer justification because that speaks to our pride and doesn’t hurt like modification. Modification always calls for change and adjustment and those can be painful and we are made to avoid pain. “20 . . . for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20). If we don’t come to God’s Word humbly listening and being quiet, we are like people who are in an argument. Anger is all based on raw emotion and blocks your ability to be rational. Now be honest, most of the time when you are in an argument instead of listening to each other, you are consumed with formulating your next response.

Then James says Be Repentant. Be willing to get rid of anything and everything in your life that is not of God. “21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:21). When he speaks about “filthiness and rampant wickedness” (James 1:21) it is talking about all of our sinful and selfish desires. The only way we can truly receive God’s Word is to first get rid of all the sinful stuff we tend to hold onto. “Putting away” (James 1:21) is literally the idea of “taking off a garment.”

Many of our ideas and habits from the world confront and contradict God’s Word. The Word thinks so much differently from the world. “Filthiness” (James 1:21) in life plugs your hearing like wax in your ears. Like your air filter that is completely clogged with dust and debris. “Wickedness” (James 1:21) slows down your response time. All of this can lead to pride that will keep you from exposing your true selves to the light of God’s Word. But humility allows you to submit to whatever the Word tells you. Humility is the only right response. Humility is being ready to put aside all the thoughts and actions of your sin nature and enthusiastically embracing the attitudes and actions of your new nature in Christ.

After you have shown true humility and a repentant spirit, then James says Be Eager. “Receive” (James 1:21) here in James has the idea of eagerness. It’s the image of the person who can’t wait and can’t get enough of God’s Word. This person craves it and knows he can’t live without it. It’s like with your favorite meal or favorite dessert. You always want it and you can never get enough of it. For me it’s the old-fashioned banana pudding. As soon as somebody mentions it, my mouth begins to water and I could eat the whole thing.

Peter illustrates this when he compares us to newborn babies. “2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 2:2-3). Babies are quick to let you know when they are hungry. They love to eat and can’t seem to get enough. We should be the same way with God. We should love God’s Word and always feel like we can never get enough. The question is, “Do you value Scripture?” Do you value it more than you value your reality TV shows, your songs downloaded from iTunes, your favorite sports teams, etc.? The definition of value is what you crave and desire more than anything in the world.

After James reminds us how to approach God’s Word then he gets to the main idea of the entire book . . . Take faith that has changed you on the inside and show it on the outside. Put feet to your faith! He reminds us to Be A Doer. “22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (James 1:22). Do you want to know what you really believe? Look at your behavior, your lifestyle, your language, your desires, your actions, your reactions, etc. These are a true indicator to what you believe. We hear a lot of stuff but we will only act on what we truly believe in. So, you want to know what you believe? Then, how do you act?

There is so much we have heard and probably a lot we can even quote from memory, but has it changed how we live? For many Christians God’s Word fails to make it from their head into their heart! A.W. Tozer said, “An intelligent observer of our human scene who heard the Sunday morning sermon and later watched the Sunday afternoon conduct of those who heard it would conclude that he has been examining two distinct and contrary religions. It appears that too many Christians want to enjoy the thrill of feeling right but are not willing to endure the inconvenience of being right.” James is telling us if we have heard God’s Word but are not living according to it we are fooling ourselves.

The bottom line is the Word always produces and demands action. If there is no action from the Word, then there has been no acceptance of the Word. James goes on to illustrate it. “23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.” (James 1:23-24). Mirrors back then were not like today’s glass mirrors. They were polished metal of bronze, silver or gold. But they did enable them to get a good look at themselves. When he says “his natural face” it means “the heart of our birth.” In other words you are looking into God’s Word and the reflection you see is your sin nature. You see yourselves for what you really are.

This is not a casual, passing glance. But he says he, “looks intently” (James 1:23). It is an attentive look and a scrutinizing look. It is the idea of critically analyzing it and studying it. As they say, “the mirror doesn’t lie.” This person sees it all but rather than deal with it and change what they see, they walk away. Whether out of fear, stubbornness, pride or laziness or whatever they choose to ignore what they saw and do nothing. You see it, you acknowledge it, you know things need to change but you choose to be disobedient.

When God’s Word confronts, challenges and convicts we put it aside and forget it refusing to put it into action. We choose not to put forth the effort to change. It’s the principle of Conforming vs. Transforming in Romans 12. “2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2). Conformity is a process that means “fitting into a mold.”

It is allowing outside forces to shape you. Like when you take Play Dough and make it into something. Transformation is a process that takes place from the inside out. That “implanted word” (James 1:21) inside of you pushes out against those outside conforming pressures of the world and transforms you into what God wants you to be. If you have accepted Jesus, you will obey Jesus!

Remember the guy in our video today? You need to see both what you actually are, what God wants you to be, and be willing do something about it. “25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (James 1:25). The “perfect law” (James 1:25) is God’s complete, inerrant, infallible Word from Genesis to Revelation. “16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Being a doer means when you are confronted, challenged and convicted by God’s Word you submit to it and choose to change.

James says the way to blessing is by doing. “25 . . . but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (James 1:25). Often we say Jesus loves you just the way you are and He loves you no matter what you do. When it comes to Jesus saving you from your sins and loving you when you have nothing in you to deserve this love is very true. But Jesus also requires obedience. Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word.” (John 14:23). And, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:14). The result of that obedience is blessing. This is not a “name it and claim it” kind of material blessing. It is the promise that if you are a doer and act on what Jesus shows you, you will be genuinely happy doing what is right.

The question is, “Are you just a hearer or are you a hearer and a doer?
When you look in the mirror of God’s Word, what do you see?
When you see what you see, what do you do?
Do you ignore what you have seen and continue just like you are?
When it comes to God’s Word, do you just hear it?
Or, do you take action and do something about it?

Maybe God has shown you something from His Word in the past. And because of your unwillingness to change, you walked away ignoring what He showed you. Maybe God is showing you something today? Are you taking what is on the inside and showing it on the outside? Are you putting feet to your faith?

This Changes Everything

Have you ever had one of those special days that had lots of anticipation, excitement and build up to it? You just couldn’t wait for it to get here! Last day of school . . . Vacation or Trip like Disney World, Cruise, etc. . . . Graduation . . . Prom . . . Wedding Day . . . Birth of a Child . . . First Job . . . Career Change . . . etc. Today is one of those days. Easter is the most anticipated, most exciting day in the life of a Christ-follower. Without a victorious and resurrected Savior there is no Easter. Without Easter and an empty tomb there simply is nothing known as the Christian faith!

Have you ever heard the phrase, “That is a Game Changer!” A game changer is something that radically changes the way things were going before that something happened. Easter is a Game Changer! Easter is one of those days that changes everything! All the great religions of the world, apart from Christianity are about “Do.” “Do this and you might go to heaven,” “Do that and you might find nirvana,” and so on. Christianity is all about “Done.” God has taken care of your salvation through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. He cried out, “It is finished!” He purchased your ticket to heaven at the cross. He finished the process when He rose from the grave to show us He has won and is not defeated by death.

Go to the grave of any other leader of any other world religion and you will find the remains of a dead body. With Christianity we find an empty tomb! Easter gives us hope in the face of despair. It gives us victory in the face of defeat. It gives us power in the face of powerlessness. Easter changes everything! When we go back to that first Easter morning what Jesus’ followers experienced at the empty tomb set in motion changes within them that would forever change the world around them.

Right after the crucifixion the disciples were all huddled together behind locked doors hiding afraid they might be next on the list to be crucified. What they saw that morning transformed them into men and women who were not afraid. They were unashamed from that point forward to proclaim their faith in Jesus. An example of this transformation is Peter and John later in the book of Acts. “13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. . . . 19 But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.’” (Acts 4:13,19-20).

On that first Easter morning there were several of Jesus’ followers who ventured out of their self-imposed prison to visit His tomb. In John’s biography, he lists Mary Magdalene, Peter and John. What they saw that morning set in motion a life transformation that would transform the world forever. We call it the empty tomb! Jesus had resurrected and He wasn’t in the tomb but the tomb wasn’t totally empty.  There were things in there that were proof Jesus had risen from the grave.

There were other women who went to the tomb that day but Mary Magdalene is the one John lists because she was the first to get there. It says she went “while it was still dark.”( John 20:1). This means she was there between 3:00am and 6:00am. There was a reason Mary was so eager to go to Jesus’ tomb. Jesus said the person who has been forgive much will love much. Mary had been forgiven of a lot. Mary Magdalene was also known as “Mary of Magdala.” She was the Mary in Luke 8 who was tormented by demons and Jesus was the only one who could and did set her free.

When Mary arrived at the tomb she saw the stone had been rolled away and she obviously thought of the obvious. She made an assumption based on the external evidence. Assumption is the tone of voice you put to an e-mail or text that might or might not be true. Assumption is the motive you attach to someone’s silence . . . “They didn’t call me back or write me back.” An assumption is where we take a few facts and fill in the blanks. She saw the stone rolled away so she immediately thought Jesus’ body had been stolen.

She said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’” (John 20:2). She says, “They” (John 20:2). Who is the “they” she is talking about? We really don’t know but it’s probably like when you say, “Well, you know they say . . .” She probably didn’t know the “they.” But she did know people who had it out for Jesus like the Pharisees, Romans, etc. Basically she is forming an opinion. Mary is saying, “Based on what I see I know what has happened. They have stolen His body.”

Grave robbing back then was a common crime. It had become so common that Emperor Claudius made a law of capital punishment for anyone caught robbing a grave. If a grave was robbed . . . If a body was moved . . . If a stone meant to seal the tomb had been moved it was capital punishment. Mary comes, she sees and she assumes. She is connecting the dots, but she is totally wrong.  In her panicked and emotional state she runs to find the disciples to tell them what she has seen.  Peter and John don’t waste any time. They fly out the door running toward the tomb. “The other disciple” (John 20:4) is John’s way of talking about himself in second person. I think it is funny that John mentions himself as the “other disciple” beating Peter to the tomb. Why would John mention this? Just so he would be known throughout history as the one who beat Peter. “I beat Peter! I beat Peter!” Maybe but I really don’t think so.

I do think I know why John might have beat Peter to the tomb. Peter was loaded down with guilt at this point. Since the last time Jesus and Peter were together Peter had denied Jesus. Even though he told Jesus, “I will never deny you,” he denied him three times. Peter has mixed emotions about going to the tomb. He wants to go but yet he doesn’t want to go. His emotions are all over the place right now.

When they finally get to the tomb look at the different responses.  Mary looks at the situation and makes the wrong assumption He has been stolen. Peter looks inside the tomb and is puzzled by everything. John looks inside the tomb and based on what is there it says, “he saw and believed.” (John 20:8).

In the English it says several times they “saw.” But there are different words used for this word in the Greek. When Mary saw and John saw but didn’t go inside in John 20:1 and John 20:5 it is a word that means “take note of.” In John 20:6 when it says Peter saw it means “to study because something unusual has caught your attention.” When John goes inside the tomb and “saw” in John 20:8 it means “to see with understanding and comprehension.” John looked at what was in the tomb and it all made sense to him. He looked at the evidence and said, “It all makes sense. There must have been a resurrection. I believe.”

I said earlier Jesus had resurrected and He wasn’t in the tomb but the tomb wasn’t totally empty. So what was in the tomb? What was it that they saw inside the tomb that caused John to believe? “6 He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.” (John 20:6-7). Literally, he saw the linen cloths lying in their folds undisturbed and in order. They were not in disarray or piled up. They were neat and orderly just like when the body was in them . . . but the body was gone!

What would we have seen if we had been there at the moment Jesus was raised from the dead? What we would not have seen is this. We would not have seen Jesus open his eyes, sit up and begin to struggle out of the cloths. That would have been a resuscitation and not a resurrection. That would have been as if he had recovered from a “swoon”. Some people have falsely put out there what is called the “swoon theory.” It means that Jesus really didn’t die on the cross. He “swooned” or “passed out” just giving the appearance that He had died.

Then when He was put in that cold tomb, He was shocked back to life. Think about how much that doesn’t make sense. Beaten like He was beyond recognition, nailed to the cross, having a spear thrust into His side, taken off the cross after all that time and wrapped up in all that cloth like a mummy. Then Jesus would have the strength to break free from all the linen cloths and roll the stone away from the entrance. Sound logical?

It simply doesn’t make sense but what John saw showed him that Jesus did resurrect from the grave! It showed him that Jesus’ body wasn’t stolen. Something about the grave cloths drew John’s attention. First of all, they were all there. Because what grave robbers would steal the body without the linen cloths? They would steal the body and if they wanted to they would ditch the clothes somewhere else.

Also, the clothes were undisturbed. The word John uses is a word used to describe things that are carefully placed in order. John noticed there had been no disturbance in the tomb. Also, had it even been possible they would have thrown the grave clothes into a pile in the corner. They would not and could not have kept them intact like John saw them.

One glance at these grave clothes was proof to John that there had been a miraculous resurrection. It wasn’t a stolen body and not a “swooned” resuscitation. It was a resurrection! What you would have seen that morning had you been in the tomb at the very moment Jesus resurrected from the grave would have been this. It would have been almost like His body being vaporized and transformed into something new, different and wonderful! Jesus passed through those grave clothes like He would eventually pass through walls and closed doors. What the disciples saw was everything in order, but the body was gone. Jesus was resurrected in a resurrected body!

John would have probably explained it all to everybody else like this, “Don’t you see? No one has move the body or disturbed the grave clothes. They are lying there exactly like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea left them on the eve of the Sabbath. But the body is gone. It has not been stolen. It has not been moved. Clearly His body must have passed through the cloths to leave them like they are now. Jesus has definitely risen!”

One of the last verses in this passage can be confusing. it says earlier that John believed. Then you read where it says they did not understand the Scripture. “9 . . . for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” (John 20:9). In that moment they knew the stone was rolled away. They knew the tomb was empty of a body. They knew the grave clothes and face cloth was still there intact and orderly just like they had been with His body inside. At that moment what they believed was based on their experience. But when John is writing all this he then knew the Scripture and was able to put it all together.

Look At The Evidence. During that first Easter morning and ever since that day Christianity finds itself “on trial.” As with any case when it goes to court, the evidence is presented, testimony is given and a verdict is given. The first disciples found the evidence. Jesus’ body was obviously gone but the grave clothes were undisturbed. The face cloth had been carefully folded by itself. It stands to reason the body had not been stolen because the grave clothes would not be left undisturbed. After all He had been through Jesus didn’t just “swoon” or “pass out” and then wake. Besides that He couldn’t have pushed the grave stone from the opening.

Once you look at the evidence then Let It Change You. From that point forward you have followers who were cowards become bold in their faith. After what they had seen, experienced and put together with Scripture, they were forever changed. So much so that they were willing to face beatings, torture, and even die as martyrs for what they “had seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20). I ask you, “Who would die for a lie?” People will not die for a lie, but people will die for conviction and truth! I would not die for a lie, but I will die for a truth that has changed my life forever!

Just like the disciples that first morning we have all come to an empty tomb today. Maybe you came out of curiosity. Maybe it’s skepticism that brought you here. Maybe guilt drove you here. Maybe emptiness motivated you to come and check all this out. Maybe it was belief that got you here. Whatever the reason, you are here! That is why you came. We have the evidence.  We have the eyewitnesses giving testimony.  We have the changed lives of the disciples that transformed them and motivated them to sacrifice their lives.  The question that remains is, “How are you going to leave?”
Are you going to leave still checking it out?
Are you going to leave believing?
Are you going to leave convinced and changed?
Are you going to leave unashamed and ready to share?

Live By The Comma

Death is inevitable.  I hate to be morbid for a second but I want to share a fact.  Death will happen for all of us!  The only exception to that would be if you are still alive when Jesus comes back.  But beyond that, death is as much a part of life as the breath you are breathing right now.  I heard about a mortician in Florida who rather than signing his letters with “Sincerely Yours” he always signs his letters with “Eventually Yours.”

In thermodynamics the second law is what is called entropy.  It basically says that if left to its own devices, everything in the universe moves toward disorder and decay.  Examples would be  . . . cars rust . . . food rots . . . humans grow old and die.  The only way to prevent the law of entropy is to introduce an outside energy source to counteract it.  Your refrigerator is a perfect example.  As long as it is plugged in and has electricity it produces cold air to keep food from rotting.  But if the power goes out or it gets unplugged entropy will take over.   

Not only is entropy in the physical realm but it is in the spiritual realm as well.  Spiritually it has been a major player ever since it was introduced in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve’s original sin.  While they didn’t die immediately their disobedience introduced the process of decay that leads to physical and spiritual death.  Sin is a slow acting poison.  The immediate effects are many times indiscernible, but the aftereffects are far more devastating than what we realize at the time.  Sin is much more than a moral dividing line between right and wrong.  It is a matter of life and death.  Jesus didn’t die on the cross just to make bad people good.  He died to bring dead people to life!

Think for a minute about the last funeral you attended. You probably went to the funeral to do several things.  You wanted to show support for the family and friends.  You wanted to let them know you loved them and pay respects to the person who had died.  You wanted to honor the person who had died.  How many of you went to the funeral and expected the person who had died to rise up out of the casket?  Did you walk through the receiving line to look in the casket and say, “He looks so good” and expect the person to sit up and say, “Thank you very much.”  During the service you probably weren’t expecting to hear a knock from inside the casket and the person say, “Hey, get me out of here!”    

I heard about one woman who died.  After the funeral service in church, the pallbearers grab her casket and were walking her out toward the hearse.  One of the pallbearers stumbled and they bumped they casket into a wall.  When they did they heard a faint moan from inside the coffin.  They opened up the casket to find the woman was alive and that she lived ten more years.  Well, eventually she did die and they had the funeral again.  This time the funeral was held in the same same church with the same pallbearers.  As they were walking the casket out after the service when they were coming close to that wall, her husband yelled out and said, “Watch out for that wall!”

Nobody goes to a funeral with the expectation of seeing the person come back to life.  Nobody goes to a cemetery expecting to see people coming out of the graves.  If there is one thing we know it is that when death comes it is a done deal.  27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment . . .” (Hebrews 9:27).  Death is a done deal and death is irreversible . . . until Jesus shows up!  Jesus makes the impossible possible!  Jesus is the Grave Robber!

Have you ever felt as if life was over?  You were at the very bottom and it felt as if all hope was lost.  If you have been on the receiving end of divorce you know what that feels like.  If you have received a frantic phone call in the middle of the night you know what that feels like.  If you have gotten lab results from your doctor that confirms your worst fears, you know that feeling as well. 

There are always things we would like to undo or redo.  In certain moments and certain situations we all would like to be able to get in the Delorean time machine with Doc Brown and Marty McFly and go “back in time.”  There are moments that happen where we would like to escape reality because it feels as if life is over.  In John 11, Mary and Martha felt this way.  Their brother Lazarus died and was gone for good.  They felt as if life as they knew it was over.  But it’s not over until God says it’s over!  As we work through this story the main thing for today is . . . Never Put a Period Where God Puts A Comma.  If there was ever such a thing as “Jesus’ Greatest Hits”, the resurrection of Lazarus would be the number one hit!

In the middle of desperate times Never Doubt God’s Love. Even in the midst of all the “why” questions, always know God is acting in love.  3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” (John 11:5-6).  When you read this you are probably like me and you ask, “How is that love?”  Jesus knew Lazarus was sick and was going to die but yet He stayed.  Rather than leave immediately to be by his friend’s side and be there for his sisters, he stays and allows him to die. 

Jesus had been there and done that.  Jesus had already displayed His healing power and now it was time to unveil His resurrection power. If Jesus had simply healed Lazarus, it would have reinforced the faith they already had.  Jesus wanted to stretch their faith and to do that sometimes things have to go from bad to worse before they get better.  One thing about a resurrection is you can’t resurrect what hasn’t died!  Jesus waited a little longer so He could grow their faith even more and reveal His resurrection power.    

Often we can feel like we are in the middle of a holding pattern and nothing is making sense.  You are wondering, “Where is God and why is He not coming to save the day?”  It might be because God is doing something even more miraculous than you have ever experienced before.  Oswald Chambers said, “Sometimes it looks like God is missing the mark because we are too short-sighted to see what He’s aiming for.”        

Knowing that God loves you in the midst of desperate times allows you to Display Your Faith.  Martha makes one of the greatest statements of faith in the middle of her grief.  21 Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.’ 23 Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ 24 Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ 25 Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ 27 She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.’” (John 11:21-27)

The phrase I love the most in all of this is where she says, “But even now.” (John 11:22).  Martha was speaking out of her faith.  Faith often looks as if it is out of touch with reality. But that is only because it’s in touch with a reality that is more real than anything you can see or hear or taste or touch or smell with your five senses.  “Even now” (John 11:22) says, “Even when it looks like God is four days late, it is too soon.”  Even when your dream seems like it is dead and buried, don’t put a period there.  Never Put a Period Where God Puts A Comma.  You refuse to put a period at the end of your disappointments because God can make the impossible possible. 

Your application is denied . . . Your adoption falls through . . . Your business goes bankrupt . . . etc.  Sometimes in your discernment you feel like God is saying it’s not meant to be and to let it go.  But if you have been fervently praying and you know God is saying keep pressing on even through the most difficult moments you can believe, “Even now.” (John 11:22).

In the midst of desperate times know for certain that Jesus Feels Your Pain.  32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ 35 Jesus wept.” (John 11:32-35).  The shortest verse and most powerful statement in all the Bible is right there in John 11:35 when it says, “Jesus wept.”  For most people when you see other people you love upset, it upsets you.  Jesus enters into your pain and your sorrow.   

In ancient Israel the custom was to bury someone on the day they died.  After their death there were seven days of deep mourning and thirty days of light mourning.  Jesus has shown up in the middle of their deepest mourning.  But you look at this and you know that Jesus knows it’s not over.  In about ten minutes or so Lazarus will live again because He is the one who will raise Him from the grave.  So why was He crying?

There are two words used here for crying.  The Greek word used for their weeping is a word that means “to wail.”  The Greek word for when Jesus weeps is a word that is used nowhere else in the New Testament.  It means “to silently weep or burst out quietly in tears.” They are wailing and as Jesus is standing there tears begin filling His eyes and running down His cheeks.  Just before Jesus cries it says He “was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” (John 11:33).  Then it says again in John 11:38, “Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb.”  The word used for deeply moved means “indignant.”  It is a Greek word that literally means “the snorting of a horse” and when it is used with humans it means “outrage, anger and indignation.”  The word for “greatly troubled” (John 11:38) means “agitated and stirred up.” 

So Jesus is agitated, stirred up and indignant.  In the middle of his crying why would he stand before the tomb and be agitated and indignant? Jesus doesn’t just get sad.  Jesus gets mad! Jesus is mad at death itself and more importantly at the sin that has caused death.  In this tomb is a friend He loves who has died.  He knew this was not God’s original plan and things shouldn’t be like this.  This was not part of God’s plan in the beginning when He created man on the earth. 

That’s why your first emotion when someone dies is denial.  When somebody you love dies that is why you often say, “This is wrong.”  You feel like you have been ripped off and robbed.  Jesus shares that sentiment and that anger.  That is why He came to fix that and why He came to give life.  In the middle of your grief you need a friend and a person who can do something about it and Jesus is both! 

Death is as much a part of life as life itself.  Jesus is the only one that can bring death to life and life to death.  39 Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.’ 40 Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’ 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.’ 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out.’ 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’” (John 11:39-44)

Back then they didn’t embalm people.  They wrapped them in pieces of cloth and put spices in the folds of the wrapping.  They buried them in a tomb that was usually a natural cave used as a tomb or a little room they carved out of  the pure rock  in the hillside.  The tomb was a room about eight feet by ten feet with shelves on the sides to accommodate up to eight bodies so a family could be buried together. 

Once a person died and was put into the tomb there was a round stone they would roll in  a groove over the entrance to keep out animals, grave robbers and the stench.  After a year, they would re-enter the tomb.  By this time the flesh had eroded off the bones.  They would collect the bones in a very small box called an ossuary or “bone box” and put them in one of the shelves.  That was normally what would take place, but this was no ordinary day.  Jesus was there!   

We suffer from what is called “hindsight bias.”  We can read and know how the story ends.  But just for a moment try to forget how the story ends.  Put yourself actually in the scene standing where you can hear Jesus when He says, “Lazarus, come out.” (John 11:44).  Jesus is standing before the tomb of a guy who has been dead for four days and you can’t believe what you are hearing.  You are probably thinking, “Who talks to dead people?  Does He actually believe Lazarus will hear Him and come out?” 

But all of a sudden there he is.  Lazarus looked like a mummy.  His feet would have been bound at the ankles and his arms would have been tied to his body with linen strips.  Then he would have been wrapped in approximately one hundred pounds of grave clothes to preserve and protect the body.  So more than likely, he didn’t come walking out; he came hopping out!  Jesus set him free when he said, “Unbind him, and let him go.’” (John 11:44)

This miracle foreshadows Jesus’ own resurrection from the grave later.  It also foreshadows what Jesus wants to do for you.  We are powerless to redeem ourselves, save ourselves and keep ourselves from the grave. Sin is the curse that causes all this powerlessness.  But where we are powerless, God is powerful!  What we all earn by our sin is death but God gives us a gift of eternal life through Jesus’ death and victory over the grave.  23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23).

When you sin, it’s like the enemy wraps you up in grave clothes. Sin has a way of stealing, killing and destroying you.  Sin buries you alive and tends to make a mummy out of you.  And if you keep on sinning, it will weigh you down like a hundred pounds of grave clothes.  But Jesus is calling you out of the tomb!  Instead of hearing Jesus calling Lazarus out, hear Him calling you out.  Hear Him saying, “Mike (insert other people’s names here), come out!”  He’s calling you out of sin.  He’s calling you out of death.  He’s calling you out of the tomb.