Monthly Archives: March 2017

You Deserve It-(New House Edition)

Three years ago, after living in the parsonage for fifteen years, Sarah and I bought our first house.  At the time it was a nerve wracking experience for me as I’d never bought anything so big or been in debt.  I had trouble really trusting God during the process, stressing out repeatedly as we navigated the steps you take in buying a house.  In the end, things went amazingly smoothly and we even closed two weeks ahead of our original closing date!    Its a nice spot, the perfect house for us, and has many extras that have blessed us.

People have been happy for us, and one comment has come again and again: “You deserve this.”   Now I appreciate the well-meaning sentiment of that statement.  People know that we have dedicated our lives to serving the Lord, and they are happy to see us end up with something nice.

It is a beautiful house…., and we certainly don’t deserve it, not one acre or bedroom.

As Christians, we can easily slide into this thinking, that as we are good and faithful, that God is going to reward us, or that we are racking up points like a rewards card from the store.  You’ve been a loyal God customer and your reward is coming.

This is normal, but also very unBiblical and dangerous.  When we think that our relationship with God is merit based, we have moved away from an understanding of and appreciation for the amazing Grace of Jesus.  Grace of course is undeserved merit.  If you earned it, it wasn’t grace.

God didn’t owe me a house.  Not a nice one or a small one or a big one or anything.  The fact that He provided one for me is purely and completely an example of His Grace.   Years of faithful service are not given for the purpose of earning points, but rather in response to the One who gave up Himself for me.

“So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.'”
(Luke 17:10)

The danger is that we start feeling like God owes us one.  When I look at my kids, my house, or anything in my life with a feeling that I’m entitled to it, I forget my hopeless state outside of God’s grace.  Then if I lose anything, experiencing a loss of some kind, I can think that God has cheated me.  I am no longer living in grace.   I also forget that while I will be rewarded, the reward that I will get is not coming in this world.  The reward is in the future, and that too will be given because of God’s grace.  Without His work, I could never have anything.

in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.
(2 Timothy 4:8)

I’m very thankful for all that God has provided my family.  We are very blessed.  Knowing that we don’t deserve it has made my appreciation of God’s lovingkindness, His grace & mercy all the sweeter.   Much better than if I’d earned it.  Thank you Lord!

Driving Miss Message

Imagine how you would describe the job of a race car driver.  Would you say “Drive Fast” or perhaps “Drive faster than everyone else.”  Simple, to the point, accurate.  Also a bit incomplete.

Imagine our new hire following his job description on I-95.  He would be a menace to all around him and not accomplishing what he was supposed to.  Yet he did drive fast; faster than everyone else.

The problem was that driving fast is not the point of a race car driver.  The point is to win the race.  Driving fast is a method, not a goal.  The goal is to win on the track.  Driving fast is just a description of how to best fulfill that mission.

Without a clear view of that mission, the instruction to Drive Fast could result in failure.

Now consider this key verse for pastors.

 “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. ”
(2 Timothy 4:2)

This is an important instruction from Paul to Timothy.  Paul even warns a few verses later that the day will come when many won’t want sound doctrine, preferring to have their ears tickled.

So how does this relate to my race car driver?

The job of a pastor according to Scripture is to equip the saints for service.

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;
(Ephesians 4:11-12)

This is the only time in the New Testament where the word Pastor is used.  The job here is clear, to equip the saints for the work of service.

I fear that sometimes pastors are driving fast, but they are not trying to win a race, they are merely barrelling down I-95, scattering people left and right.  They are preaching the Word.  They are ready in season & out of season.  They are rebuking and exhorting their hearts out.  They go home feeling good that they “drove really fast today.”

But did they win anything?   Sometimes our hearers are deeply educated but lightly equipped.  They will win at Bible Trivia and pass the theology test, but haven’t made a Disciple in years.  They can recite the four spiritual laws but are still not mature leaders who are training other leaders.  They have been in church for years, learning, but producing no disciples, and haven’t even brought a friend to church in recent memory.

Preaching the Word for a pastor is like Driving Fast for a race car driver.  Both are essential and neither is the point.  The point, the goal, for the pastor, as well as every Christian is Make Disciples.  Not merely educated believers, but equipped-for-service believers.

Without a clear view of that mission, the instruction to Preach the Word could result in failure.

It is beautiful when we put aside our pride at being “Preachers of the Word” and pour ourselves into the race that has been set before us:  to equip the members of the Body for their service.  To see them not only become Disciples, but to become Disciple makers.  Some of them even becoming Pastors & Teachers.  Oh, the joy of that winner’s circle.  Paul looked at Timothy and saw the wreath he had won.   He had preached the Word, but in a way that achieved the goal.  He had finished the race.

 

Far From God

What do you picture when you think of someone being far from God?  Sometimes we might feel far from God because we’ve been messing up big time.  Perhaps our life has just been full of sin.

Same with looking at others.  We might often think of the person on drugs, or deep in partying, or just living a wild or troubled life as being so very far from God.

Conversely, when you look at the person who has their life together, working hard, being responsible and a productive member of society, you might be less inclined to think of them as being far from God.

If they go to church, then they are definitely not too far from God.  From birth many of us have learned what it means to be a good person or a bad person.  We have learned what is acceptable and what is not.  If we were raised in a religious context, that standard got spiritualized and we are even more sure of what it means to be “good” or “bad” and what it means to be far from God.

Of course, if we have a Biblical theology, that tells us something a bit different.

If we have studied the life of Jesus, that tells us something different as well.

What does it mean to be far from God?  Is it found in behavior, or in reception to the love and forgiveness of Jesus?  We know from the Bible that the key to being close to God is to receive his love and forgiveness by repenting and turning to Him.  We do not have to clean ourselves up or make ourselves acceptable.  We need to admit that there is nothing we can do in ourselves to make ourselves presentable to Him.

When Jesus walked the earth, there were a lot of really “good” religious people who were busy being good and following the rules.  There were others who were successful in life and impressive members of society.  Few actually followed Jesus.  We may know of the rich young ruler who admitted that he kept all the commandments, but wouldn’t follow Jesus because he also wanted to keep all his money.  Then there were all the religious leaders who didn’t want to admit that they weren’t good enough.

They were really far from God.

Meanwhile the poor, the destitute, the sinners of the world, the outcasts who didn’t have a place in polite society had a great reaction to Jesus.  It even became a bit of a scandal, seeing who Jesus tended to hang out with for dinner.    He was friends with some really bad people.

They were much closer to God.  Having supper with Him.

In Revelation, one of the churches that is rebuked the strongest, Laodicea, has a problem with thinking they are really good when what they really need is the work of God.

Many very good polished people who even go to church are very far from God for the simple reason that they are good and polished people who think they do good things Humanly speaking, they are doing great things.

Being close to God is not a matter of behavior, but is a matter of grace and mercy.  If you are not fully aware each day that your closeness to God always rests in His grace, His mercy, His sacrifice on your behalf, on His work, then you miss what it means to be close to God.

Now to be sure, those who have been touched by the Amazing Grace and Mercy of God will be changed and will no longer live for themselves.  In other words, if you are close to God, you will live better, but living better does not earn you closeness.

Our theology teaches us this.  Let’s live it.   Make each day about His goodness, not your goodness.