Renouncing All

July 8, 2018

If you install new software on your computer you must register with the company. During the registration process there is usually a point at which you must agree to the terms of usage set by the company that produced the software. The terms of agreement, the fine print, if you will, are always available for you to read. I must confess that I never read the terms of agreement. I just click on the word, “agree,” and begin using the software. Sometimes I think about that and wonder what I have agreed to. So far it hasn’t gotten me into trouble.

But what about the fine print involved in being a follower of Jesus? When Jesus invited people to become his follower he spelled out the terms very clearly. There were some who began following him, but they turned away. They did not count the cost. In Lk.14:33, Jesus said, “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” Wow! Clearly disciples of Jesus Christ are called to renounce all that they have.

I. IN THE WORLD WEALTH IS USED TO PROMOTE ONESELF. Lk.12:13-21

In my opinion, the issue addressed in this passage is one of the most difficult issues for pastors in America to preach about. It is one of the more difficult issues of discipleship to Christ. The reality is that our country and most of us are deeply affected by wealth and materialism. Even if we are not all that wealthy or do not have many possessions, we are still deeply influenced by our society’s preoccupation with wealth and possessions. And we do not have to intentionally think this way because this way of thinking is deeply ingrained in us from the time we are young.

All of us are consumers and wasters. As a society we are addicted to having the latest technology. Or if it isn’t technology it is clothing or shoes, or automobiles. We like to go out to eat. We pay for cable T.V. and entertainment. Entertainment is not cheap these days. Just attending a professional sporting event can cost quite a bit. We have hobbies which cost money and of course we don’t want to be one dimensional people, so we spend the money. We like sports. Playing hockey isn’t cheap. We are concerned about upgrading our homes, our situations. We are looking for a promotion or a new job so that we can increase our income, so that we can maintain or enhance our lifestyle. We like to travel and we are willing to pay the price.

Total credit card debt has reached its highest point ever. The average American has a credit card balance of $6,375. Forty-three percent of Americans have been carrying a credit card balance for 2 or more years. The average household with credit card debt owes $16,883. The average household with credit card debt pays $1,292 in interest each year.

I mention all of this to help us see our complicity with the man in the parable told by Jesus in Lk.12. Before telling the parable, Jesus says, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness [greed], for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." So let’s look at this parable.

Here is a wealthy landowner whose land had an amazing year of productivity. He had such a crop and he realized that if he was going to be able to profit from this abundant crop he had to find a way to store it. He didn’t have enough barns to store it all. So he could see that the wisest thing to do would be to tear down his old barns and build bigger, state of the art barns to store his crops. As he considered his situation he realized that he was now in a place to begin to enjoy life. His crops would enable him to not worry about the future. He could relax and eat, drink, and be merry.

As far as I can tell from the parable, this man had done nothing wrong. We don’t get the impression that the man was cheating people or not paying his workers. His character seems as good as anyone else. He seems to be an industrious person who is careful with his money. His decision to build bigger barns makes a lot of sense. I mean if you and I have a productive year and make a sizable profit, do we not think about how to best invest that profit? We understand the value of saving and investing for the future. It just makes good sense.

But then we come to v.20, and everything changes. God says, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” I do not think this is a parable that teaches it is wrong to be wealthy or to make a profit. I don’t think this parable teaches that it is wrong to save for the future. Nor do I believe Jesus is teaching that relaxing, eating, drinking, and being merry is sinful. What is sinful is seeing oneself as the center of the universe. This man lived only for himself and his family. He may have made charitable contributions, especially if it provided a tax break. He may have volunteered in the community, especially if it enhanced his standing in the community. But what he was not going to do is jeopardize his future or his lifestyle. He wanted as much out of life as he could get. Unfortunately his life had come to its end, and he would lose control of all that he owned. What he thought was to his profit was no longer his.

And now he had other problems to deal with. He was now going to be dealing with God whom he had ignored throughout his life. And we get the impression that it was his wealth and possessions that so consumed his focus that he had little, if any, time for God. He certainly did not make any connection between his wealth and God. It never occurred to him that what he did with his wealth may have bearing on his relationship with God. This man may have believed in God. He may have even been religious. But his belief, his religion did not shape his life in this area.

Do you realize that your soul is not just yours alone? Your soul, your life, belongs to God, who gave our life to us. We are stewards of our lives. One day our lives will be required. In other words, we are accountable to God, our creator. And how we live, what we do with our wealth has consequence in our accountability to God.

I have no idea about your financial situation. More importantly, I have no idea about how you look at wealth and possessions. Those are matters deeply hidden in the heart. All of us should be concerned if our wealth and possessions are primarily used to promote ourselves and our lifestyle. In the world, wealth is used to promote oneself and when this is the case, wealth and our attitudes towards wealth will be our undoing.

II. IN CHRIST WEALTH IS USED TO PROMOTE THE WORK OF GOD. Lk.12:22-34

In the very next passage, Jesus begins to teach his disciples. He piggybacks off the topic of wealth in order to discuss anxiety about life. Our anxieties about living have much to do with income and wealth. We noted earlier that in Lk.14 Jesus says that, “any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” Wow! Those are challenging words. Jesus’ teaching in Lk.12 helps us appreciate the value of renouncing all that we have in order to follow Jesus.

One of the things that push us to acquire more and more is our fear: fear of not having enough to maintain our lifestyle, fear of not having what we think we need to live. Anxiety often goes hand in hand with greed and materialism.

In v.22-23 Jesus teaches that those who are his disciples do not need to be anxious about food or clothing. We need not be anxious because living life is a far bigger matter than just focusing on food and clothing. Life is found in following Jesus. Jesus came to give abundant life. He came to give us the same eternal life that he has. You never hear Jesus saying, “O, would you look at this! I have nothing to wear for Passover.” You don’t hear Jesus voicing concern that he might not have enough food even when he was in charge of feeding more than 5,000 people. Why is that? It is because Jesus understood the inexhaustible resources of life with God. What you eat and wear are the least things to worry about.

In v.24 Jesus explains that if God values the ravens enough to feed them, how much more does he value his people? God is the one who sustains our lives. In v.28, if God cares enough to adorn the grass with colorful lilies, will he not make sure his people are properly clothed?

But more than this, in v.32 Jesus tells us that God gives us the kingdom. Are you kidding me! Followers of Jesus get a kingdom? What is Jesus talking about? When Jesus walked the earth he taught that his presence on earth embodied and revealed the kingdom of God. What Jesus said and did revealed the amazing kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is the realm in which the will of God is always accomplished. In the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven.” In other words, we are asking that God’s rule would be accomplished on earth. And that is what Jesus showed us, God’s will being done on earth as it is done in heaven.

In fact, we know that Jesus is now reigning at the right hand of God the Father. He showed us the power and the goodness of God’s kingdom. He died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead for our justification, and ascended to the Father to reign, so that you and I can enter into life in the kingdom of God today. We may not be able to enter the physical reality of the kingdom because the new heaven and earth is still to come. But we can enter into the life of the kingdom of God through faith in Jesus Christ, becoming his disciple.

All those who enter into the kingdom of God through faith, allegiance to Jesus the King, receive Jesus’ eternal life to live. Followers of Jesus need not worry about living life on earth because Jesus tells us that our lives will be fully supplied by our loving heavenly Father. But as long as we hold onto the wealth and possessions of this world we show our unbelief in the provision of God. Renouncing our allegiance to all that we have is key to living as followers of Jesus.

In v.21 Jesus refers to the person, “who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” In v.33-34 Jesus says, “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

If we are followers of Jesus we need to come to grips with our relationship to wealth and possessions. Do you trust in your wealth to secure your life? Are you generous toward God with your wealth? Specifically here, Jesus refers to giving to the needy. Do you see your wealth as a means to promote Christ and his kingdom work or is your wealth for yourself? Are you as careful in keeping track of what you give to the Lord’s work as you are in keeping track of your own financial picture? Do you make it your aim to give as much as possible to the work of God or is it your aim to keep as much as possible for yourself? The issue is not how much you have and what you own. The issue is about control. Are you willing to renounce it all and allow God to direct your steps in regard to your wealth?

Believe me, the goal of this message is not an attempt to get more money for the church. Rather my goal is to help us consider the value we place on being a disciple of Jesus. As I have been preaching these messages on the fine print of living life with Christ, I continually wonder if I am making life with Christ sound harsh. That is not my goal. The goal for me is to understand these words of Jesus. In Mk.10:28-30, we read, “Peter began to say to [Jesus], ‘See, we have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Are you a follower of Jesus Christ? Would you like to become a follower of Jesus Christ? Would you like to receive the forgiveness of your sins? Would you like to receive the eternal life of Jesus? Would you like to enter the kingdom of God today? If so, repent of your current self-directed life. Renounce all that you currently are and have and surrender in faith and allegiance to Jesus Christ as your Savior, Lord, and King. Amen.

Counting the Cost

July 1, 2018

Listen to this sentence from The Long Beach Independent, December, 1949. “Food Editor Beulah Karney has more than 10 ideas for the homemaker who wants to say ‘Merry Christmas’ and not have it cost her an arm and a leg.” Supposedly this is the first time the expression, “arm and a leg,” appeared in print. When we purchase something expensive we might say, “It cost me an arm and a leg.”

We are looking at the fine print involved in following Jesus. Why would someone decide to follow Jesus? Why would you decide to follow Jesus? Is there “arm and leg” value in following Jesus? Is the value of following Jesus worth any cost to yourself? This is an important question. This morning I want to point out that receiving God’s gift of salvation through faith in Christ involves personal cost.

I. JESUS COUNTED THE COST IN PROVIDING SALVATION. Lk.14:27 Mk.10:45; Phil.2:6-8

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve enjoyed life from God and with God as they lived in the presence of God. But when they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they chose to order their own steps, to define their own lives apart from God. They rejected life with God. When we reject life with God, in essence we are saying that we do not want God or want to live under the rule of God. And in doing so, we embrace death, because all that is not of God is death and only results in more death. This willful choice to establish our life apart from God is what the Bible calls sin. Sin speaks of our rejection of God. Sin speaks of our disobedience to the good commands of God. Sin speaks of our guilt before God. All the brokenness, immorality, abuse, deceit, anger, violence, shame, antagonism, racism, hostility and death that exists in the world today is the consequence of living life apart from God. Ever since Adam and Eve, this world and every person in it has lived under the domination of sin, death, and guilt before God. Look around you and see if that is not the reality of life in this world.

Think about this. When you make something that is beautiful and expresses your heart, when you seek to give your love and kindness to others, how do you feel if someone destroys the beautiful thing you made? How do you feel if the one you love turns away from you, especially if that person is your spouse or child? How do you feel when your kindness is rejected? Most of us experience hurt and anger. God created all things as an expression of his glory and for the good of mankind. He established a good order for life, but mankind, each one of us, has chosen against God and our sin and disobedience brings the wrath of God. God’s wrath is directed towards the sin which rejects and ruins all he has made and done.

Just as you and I might watch the evening news and shake our heads in horror at the terrible things we see being done to the earth and the people on this earth, longing to see justice carried out, so God, who is completely righteous, cannot bear to see the sin in the world and in our own lives. He loves us too much and he is grieved at what we have done to all he has made.

Because God is loving towards all he has made, he determined to establish a way by which all things in heaven and earth, including you and me, can be reconciled to him. In other words God has acted to make it possible for us to once again receive his life and enjoy relationship and fellowship with him in his presence. God has provided a way for our selfish disobedience and rejection of him to be forgiven.

God did this by sending his Son, Jesus Christ into the world. But Jesus did not just pop up on the earth one day. Jesus was conceived in the Virgin Mary, by the Holy Spirit. Mary was Jewish and so Jesus is Jewish and in fact, the history of Israel, found in the Old Testament, gives the important back story for Jesus’ coming into the world.

In the Old Testament we learn important truths about God as Creator and King. We learn about sin and forgiveness through atoning sacrifices. We read promises from God to send a Messiah, his anointed King who would experience death for all who are under the sentence of death as a result of sin. We learn that this King would be a mighty deliverer from sin and death, and the beginning of a new order of creation.

And so Jesus came into the world, fully God and fully man. From the very beginning of his earthly existence he began to experience the destructive power of sin and death that drives everything in the world today. When he grew up he began teaching about forgiveness and life in the kingdom of God. He performed amazing miracles, even raising people from the dead. Because he is fully God he has no sin. People who saw Jesus saw what a sinless life looks like. Jesus regularly invited people to begin living in the kingdom of God by repenting of their sins and becoming his disciple or follower. But there is more.

And this is where we begin to understand how Jesus counted the cost in bringing reconciliation. Being sinless in every way, Jesus understood that his was the only life qualified to die in behalf of sinners. He knew that in order for mankind to be reconciled to God, he would have to die, bearing the sin and guilt of the world. Being fully God, his life is of infinite value. Being fully man, he can stand in the place of humanity. Jesus willingly gave himself to be crucified on the cross in order to pay the price or debt of our sins. In Mk.10:45 Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” In Phil.2:6-8 Paul writes, that “though [Jesus] was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” In providing for our salvation and life, Jesus did not count his life to be dear. He gave his life. And Paul tells us that, “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” God bore his own wrath against sin because he loves us.

When Jesus, the perfect Son of God came into the world, the world did not recognize him and the world crucified him. This is what the world does to God. And so, Jesus, being God in the flesh, knew full well that he would be giving his life for the world. He counted the cost and obeyed the will of the Father even to death on the cross for you and me.

II. WE MUST COUNT THE COST IN FOLLOWING JESUS. Lk.14:27-32

To appreciate what Jesus is saying, we must recognize that for us the cross has been defanged. We wear crosses around our neck in the form of beautiful, costly jewelry. It is common for celebrities and professional athletes to wear crosses. You don’t even have to be very religious to wear a cross. That’s how fashionable it is.

However, in the days of Jesus no one would be caught wearing a cross around their neck as a fashion statement. Crucifixion was reserved for the worst criminals. Roman citizens could not be crucified. Crucifixions were done in public with crosses lined up on the sides of the street. People were crucified naked. Because it could take a number of days for a person to die, their exposed bodies were often eaten by birds of prey. Crucifixion was designed to humiliate and be as painful as possible.

So here is Jesus telling his would be followers to voluntarily take up their own cross in order to follow him. In fact, he tells us that before we even think about becoming his follower, his disciple, we need to enter into a thought process of counting the cost. What is it going to cost me if I become a follower of Jesus? And to help us Jesus gives two illustrations.

In the first illustration the owner of a vineyard wants to build a tower in order to guard the vineyard and protect his property. It appears that the foundation in and of itself is expensive to build and so he has to decide if he has enough money to finish the tower. The wise person, first sits down to calculate whether or not he or she can complete the project. To begin without counting the cost is to open oneself to ridicule and shame.

The second illustration involves a king who is contemplating going out to fight against another king whose army is twice the size of his own. The king must count the cost. “Can I be victorious with only 10,000 soldiers against an army of 20,000?” If not that king is wise to make peace so that he does not suffer the loss of his kingdom. As you can see in these two illustrations the stakes are high.

Now is Jesus preaching the gospel? Yes. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Entering into eternal life in the kingdom of God is costly. In fact I would add that the deep joy of knowing Christ cannot be experienced apart from bearing one’s cross. Perhaps you are thinking, “Wait, I thought salvation is a gift, a free gift that we receive from Jesus as we repent of our sin and call upon the name of the Lord. The price has been paid. How can there be a cost?”

Before I say anything else, let me point out that the gift of salvation is not the gift of going to heaven. The question is not, “Do you want to go to heaven when you die.” The gift of salvation is receiving the eternal life of Jesus Christ which was purchased through the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The gift is the forgiveness of our sins and the life of Jesus given to us. The gift is Jesus. It cost Jesus his life. And it will cost you and me our lives.

Any gift of great value involves a cost to both the giver and the receiver. Imagine you are married but because of infertility you are not able to have children. You go to the doctors and follow their advice, but no babies. You are praying to God, asking for a baby. You have almost lost hope, but then you find out that you are going to be a mother, a father. Your baby is born and you see this baby as a gift from God. And it is! But in receiving the gift there is great cost. It costs everything you have for you give your life to the care of your child through joy and heartache. Receiving the gift involves great personal cost.

The gift of salvation is a free gift of God through faith and allegiance to Jesus Christ. If you receive the gift there is a cost that comes with it. It is the cost of your life. In receiving Jesus we embrace him as our Lord and King. What exactly is the cost of believing in Jesus? Let me offer a few thoughts about this. 1) The gift of Jesus Christ is received as we enter into union with Jesus. Over and over again Paul talks about being “in Christ.” In Rm.8:1 we read, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” In Jn.14:20 Jesus says, “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” Being saved is about being found in Christ. This speaks of a deep relationship with Jesus that is ongoing. So like any other relationship, our union with Christ must be cultivated. That means we will set our minds on Christ and things above. We will seek to walk in the way of Jesus. 2) There is a cost because the life of Jesus that is in us is set against the practice of sin. Everyone who turns to Jesus is a sinner. Sinful ways of acting and thinking are deeply embedded in our bodies. Well if we embrace Christ as our King then we will seek to resist these sinful ways. We will seek to put to death what is earthly in us. That is costly. We are dying to ourselves. 3) There is a cost involved because this world does not embrace Jesus and his ways. Just as Jesus was mistreated and crucified, so his followers may experience rejection and ridicule. That is costly. We are bearing our cross. 4) When we embrace Jesus we surrender ownership of our lives to him. He is our King. If Jesus is King then you and I are not king. We die to self. Jesus says, unless we bear our cross we cannot be his disciple. There is no salvation apart from discipleship to Jesus.

And here we are at the Lord’s Table. The bread and juice speak of Jesus who counted the cost of giving his body and blood, his life for us. But if you think eating this bit of bread and drinking a shot of grape juice brings you salvation, you misunderstand the significance of this meal. At the Lord’s Table we draw near to Jesus, who has saved us. At the table we reaffirm and physically act out our receiving of Jesus as Savior, Lord and King. It is Jesus who saves and strengthens us to live in obedience to him, not the bread and the juice. But in eating and drinking he is present.

If you do not know Christ, this table is a visible invitation for you to repent of your sin and give your life to Jesus in faith and allegiance to him alone. The table is only for disciples of Jesus. If you are his follower come to his Table.

Did Jesus Really Say That?

June 17, 2018

“Not my President,” was a phrase heard in the aftermath of the last election. The phrase was used by some people who did not vote for President Trump. They were upset and so they made it clear that President Trump was not their President. Of course the reality is that by virtue of being a citizen of the United States and living in the United States, President Trump is their President. He’s just not their preferred president.

Jesus Christ is reigning as Lord and King over the universe. Of course, it is very clear that Jesus is not everyone’s preferred Lord and King. And most people in the world want little to do with Jesus. What about you? We are looking at the fine print involved with being a follower of Jesus. In every relationship there is always fine print, implications that can’t be ignored. Today we see that if Jesus is your King, he must have first place in your life.

I. JESUS IS ACCESSIBLE TO ALL PEOPLE. Lk.14:25

In Luke’s gospel there is an emphasis on the crowds who followed Jesus. It begins in Lk.4:37. There we read, “And reports about him went out into every place in the surrounding region.” In 5:15, we read, “But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities.” Lk.6:17-19 says, “And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all.” In 8:45 we read that the crowds were pressing in on Jesus. In 9:11 it says, “When the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing.” In 11:29 we read that the crowds were increasing. And now in 14:25 we see that great crowds accompanied him.

I point this out to show that Jesus made himself accessible to all who had a desire to see him and be with him. And there were many who wanted to see Jesus. Why did they want to be with Jesus? From the verses that we read, it would seem that people were drawn to Jesus because of his life giving, authoritative teachings and his miracles. But it was more than just his teachings and miracles. Jesus was a humble, kind, and gracious person. He went around doing good because he is good. And it isn’t surprising that people began to wonder about Jesus. When Jesus asked his disciples in Lk.9, “Who do the crowds say that I am," His disciples answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” And as Jesus’ ministry continued many of the people began to wonder if Jesus was, indeed, the Messiah, the Christ. When Jesus entered into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, many welcomed him as the messianic king. They just didn’t understand much about his kingship. And in the end they rejected Jesus because he did not meet their expectations.

That said, clearly Jesus welcomed everyone. He associated himself with everyone. He was comfortable hanging out with men and women, rich people, poor people, old people, children, religious people and sinful people. And he still welcomes everyone to himself.

But obviously things are different today because Jesus has ascended to the Father. What draws people to Jesus today? Let me suggest a few thoughts. Some people are drawn to Jesus as they read about him in the New Testament. They read about Jesus and they are struck in a positive way by his character, teachings, ministry, death and resurrection. Others may attend a church service of some kind or hear a radio program and they are drawn by what they hear concerning Jesus. Others are drawn to Jesus by the lives of Christians. After all, as Christians we embody the life of Jesus. In fact Jesus dwells in us through the Holy Spirit. And finally, everyone who is drawn to Jesus, is drawn by the Holy Spirit. We should welcome anyone and everyone who expresses any kind of interest in Jesus. Their interest shows that the Holy Spirit is drawing them. Our hope and prayer is that as people are drawn to Jesus they will come to understand that Jesus is God in the flesh who has done all that is necessary for us to receive forgiveness of sins and new eternal, transforming life in the kingdom of God.

But it is immediately important to point out that the life we receive from Jesus is an embodied life. It is not a life that we receive when we die. It is a life that is received from Jesus as we repent of our sins and put our ongoing trust and confidence in him. In other words, it is a life that is meant to be lived out here on earth, right now.

At the parsonage we have old American Standard toilets. When I need to replace the fill valve I go out to Lowes or Menards and buy one. But the old American Standard toilet tank does not like the new fill valves. In other words the newer fill valves don’t fit the toilet. So I usually end up modifying the valve so it will fit. The new doesn’t really belong in the old. Now the new life that we receive from Jesus doesn’t fit well in this present world. This present world and every person who lives in this world, is broken and fallen and continually being ruined by sin and the dark forces of evil. When Jesus walked this earth many received him but many more did not. It did not go well for Jesus.

When we receive the life of Jesus our broken lives begin to be transformed as we follow Jesus. So we also no longer fit well in this world. Jesus told us in Jn.16:33 that in this world we will have tribulation, trouble. We continue to be troubled by the sinful habits that reside in our bodies. We continue to be troubled by those who are antagonistic to Jesus and the gospel. We have trouble. So while Jesus welcomes everyone, not everyone welcomes Jesus. Not everyone enters into his life and seeks to follow him in living out his life.

This is why Jesus calls believers the light of the world. The church, made up of believers, is on display to show the marvelous work of God in reconciling all things to himself. So as we move on in this passage, let me reemphasize that following Jesus calls for some radical action on our part. This is part of the fine print of being a follower of Jesus. You see…

II. THOSE WHO FOLLOW JESUS MUST PUT HIM ABOVE FAMILY. Lk.14:26

In Lk.14:26 Jesus turns to the crowd and says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Wow! Here it is Father’s Day and how is that we are looking at these words of Jesus? Why on earth would Jesus even say such a thing? Does Jesus really want us to hate our family members? When you speak with your dad today please do not say, “I hate you dad, in Jesus name!” That is not what Jesus is saying.

So what is he saying? In order to understand Jesus’ words we need to appreciate the cultural context. In the culture at that time, loving and honoring one’s parents was virtually the highest obligation of a person. Family honor was a deeply held value. You didn’t do anything that might bring shame on your parents or your family. Remember the story of the blind man in Jn.9. When the parents were asked about their son they distanced themselves from him. “Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself." And then John includes an explanatory note. “(His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.)” You see, anyone who became a follower of Jesus, would be alienated from their family. That is a high price to pay.

It is still this way in many cultures around the world. Family is what defines us as people in society. In the United States the value of family is not as strong. We value independence and individualism. We raise our children to leave the nest and establish their own lives. And yet, there are many people living in the United States today who are from cultures that have a similar perspective as the Jewish culture in Jesus’ day.

So Jesus is using hyperbole. He is saying, “If you are going to be my follower, you must love me and put me above all other family relationships. I must come first in your life. If you honor your father or mother above me, you cannot be my disciple. If you honor your spouse or children or your brothers and sisters above me, you cannot be my disciple.”

Think about what Jesus is saying. In Judaism the only one worthy of more honor than one’s parents was God. And here is Jesus requiring the same honor that was to be given to God. Well, clearly in making this requirement, Jesus is claiming to be equal with God.

Now before I say anything else, let me point out that in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus also endorses the commandment to honor one’s father and mother. In addition to this we see that Jesus highly values marriage to the point that he warns against divorce. What is more we see how Jesus treasures children. So Jesus is not telling us to actually hate family members.

But he is requiring that as his followers we put him above all family relationships. This means that Jesus along with our obedience to his teachings and commands, must come first. This priority was seen early in Jesus’ own life. When he was 12 years old his parents brought him to the temple for the feast of Passover. So there was Jesus at the temple. When it was time to return to Nazareth, Mary and Joseph thought Jesus was with relatives and it wasn’t until a day’s journey that they realized Jesus was not to be found. Quickly they hurried back to Jerusalem and after 3 days they found him in the temple sitting with the teachers listening to them and asking questions. All the teachers were amazed at his understanding. When Mary and Joseph asked why he had done this, Jesus said, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" Or as the old King James puts it, “wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?” Already at the age of 12 Jesus prioritized the things of God above his earthly family.

Then as an adult we read in Lk.8:19-21, “Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, "Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you." But he answered them, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it." Ouch. That seems a little insensitive. But no. Hearing and doing the word of God takes priority regardless of the personal cost.

Jesus must have first place in our lives even above loyalty to our family and even to our own self. How should you and I renounce our families? Perhaps the place to begin is to have DTR with yourself. DTR stands for, “Define the Relationship.” Dating couples have DTRs every so often. They need to define the relationship. So ask yourself, how much do I value Jesus and knowing him? If you answer that question it will help you define your relationship with Jesus. And then it is important to fix your eyes on Jesus day in and day out. Let Jesus fill your heart and mind. This will involve thoughtful reading of the scriptures and prayer. It will involve ongoing thought about how you live your life from one moment to the next.

There may be some activities that we just can’t participate in with our families because we are followers of Jesus. Or, as you seek the Lord, he may call you into his service to be a pastor or missionary and that may not meet with your family’s approval. Well is Jesus Lord or your life or not?

Followers of Scientology learn about the practice of disconnection. Disconnection is “the severance of all ties between a Scientologist and a friend, colleague, or family member deemed to be antagonistic towards Scientology. The practice of disconnection is a form of shunning.” Sometimes marriages are ended and children are separated from their parents. It is a very controlling practice and is just one more indication that Scientology is a cult.

Jesus is not interested in disconnecting you from your family and loved ones. But he wants everyone to know that those who choose to follow him may encounter conflict because Jesus is Lord and King. Following Jesus becomes our priority. We seek to be as gracious as we can be. Our goal is not to sever family ties. Often family ties are severed by the family that cannot accept our relationship with Jesus. If that were to happen would you choose your family over Jesus? If Jesus is your King, he must have first place in your life. Amen

Witnessing for Jesus

June 10, 2018

Sales people must be thoroughly familiar with their company’s products. If a sales person continually says, “I’m not sure about that. I’ll have to find out about that,” you don’t feel very confident about the company or the product. This is why salespeople go through training and they practice their presentations. They learn how to present the product in the clearest way that will enhance the product’s strengths.

We are witnesses of Jesus. Wouldn’t it have been helpful if the New Testament writers had included a very clear, concise presentation of the gospel? Then we could memorize it and practice presenting it. Unfortunately we don’t find that in the New Testament. But this morning as we look at Lk.10 my hope is that we will gain insight for how we can be effective witnesses of Jesus. From Lk.10 I see that there are three essential foundations for being an effective witness for Jesus.

I. A CHRIST-PREPARED UNDERSTANDING. Lk.10:1-4

In v.1-4 Jesus is preparing 72 people to be witnesses. Imagine that you happened to be one of the 72 selected by the Lord to participate in his mission. You are not one of the 12 apostles. You are just an average follower of Jesus. Suddenly you feel out of your element because you have never done this before. So as Jesus gives instructions you are carefully listening. You want to be as prepared as possible. You are a little relieved because you hear Jesus saying that you are going to be traveling in pairs. Great! This isn’t a solo mission.

But then you hear Jesus’ first instruction in v.3. “Go your way; behold I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.” “Wait! What did you just say, Jesus? ‘Lambs in the midst of wolves?” Let us not be under any illusions about what witnessing for Jesus entails. We never quite know what we might encounter. In fact, we might encounter wolves who want nothing more than to devour our lives and the gospel message. All the powers of hell want nothing more than to keep people from Christ. In our country we do not fear outright persecution yet. But many do experience various kinds of opposition. It is an ever present reality. As followers of Jesus we can expect to be treated no differently than Jesus was treated. So when we embrace Jesus as our Lord and King, we are signing up for potential persecution.

In v.4 Jesus gives another instruction. He says, “Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals.” In other words, this mission is grounded in faith. From my reading I learned that it was common for traveling preachers and teachers to carry a knapsack. It allowed them to be a bit more independent. But the mission of Jesus is not meant to be independent. Jesus intends for us to be dependent upon God for all things. This is one reason why he sent the Holy Spirit. As witnesses for Jesus we do not rely upon gimmicks and rigid methods. We rely upon the Holy Spirit to guide us and provide what is needed. We never know when the opportunity to witness for Christ is going to come to us. So we go in faith every day, asking the Lord to lead us.

Again in v.4 Jesus says, “and greet no one on the road.” Why would Jesus give this instruction? It seems as if he is telling his disciples to be rude. But that isn’t the point. I believe Jesus is teaching us that the mission of being his witnesses in the world is urgent. It’s not urgent in the sense that we must be rushing. Rather it is urgent in the sense that the gospel is concerned with matters of life and death. The many beautiful people that we know, family members, friends, co-workers, all need Jesus.

Not everyone who professes to know Jesus has this sense of urgency. I don’t know why that is, except that many of us are just as caught up with the things of this world as the people of this world are. There are professing believers who do not understand that Jesus has commissioned all of his followers to be his witnesses. They do not think of Jesus as their King and so there is little sense of the need to be obedient to their Lord and King in this matter.

Before we take the first step on mission with Jesus, these are things we need to keep in mind. We are his representatives in the world. Through the Holy Spirit he will guide and direct us as we are dependent upon him. This is a matter for prayer every day. “Lord help me today to be aware of the people around me and to be ready to speak a word for you. Amen”

II. A CHRIST-LIKE LIFE. Lk.10:5-9a

Believers were first called Christians at Antioch. The term basically means “Christ follower.” The name caught on. After all, that is what we are. We are followers of Christ. Presumably this means our lives reflect the character and teachings of Jesus. When it comes to living and witnessing, our overall character and conduct is important.

In v.5 Jesus gives instruction on how we are to present ourselves to the world. He says, “Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace be to this house!' And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you.”

Do you remember how Jesus introduced himself in Nazareth? In Lk.4 Jesus was in the synagogue and he read from the scroll of Isaiah. He read verses that applied to him and after reading Jesus said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The very next verse says, “And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth.” Jesus presented himself in a gracious way, the way peace.

When it comes to witnessing for Jesus we are to be people of peace. We are people who are filled with the God of peace through the Holy Spirit. It is interesting to see that in the New Testament the gospel is always referred to either as the “gospel of God,” or the “gospel of Christ.” Once Paul called it the “gospel of your salvation, and once he called it, “the gospel of peace.” Believers are people of peace. We are not people of violence or coercion. We are people of peace. And as people of peace we seek to speak peace to others. When we are in conversations we want to bless others with the presence of Jesus who is present in us. In your reading of the gospels, note how Jesus approached people. As David Fitch writes, “Presence proceeds proclamation.”

If our peace is received it will bless the person we are with. If it is not received our peace, our blessing will not rest upon that person. I take it to mean that we then move on until we find someone who receives our peace.

In v.7-9 Jesus says, “And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it.” This is interesting because Jesus seems to be teaching that we should take a posture of submission and service. As citizens of the Kingdom of God, we are guests in the world. We are to be open to relationships as they unfold. We are not in charge. We are not in control. Christ is Lord and is already present. As we read these verses, we don’t get the sense that Jesus intended his disciples to go knocking on doors. He says, “Do not go from house to house.” Witnessing takes place in the context of relationship. And relationships take time.

In v.9 Jesus tells us to heal the sick. We are people who seek to have ministry among unbelievers. I wish I could heal the sick, but I have never had that kind of ministry. If God has given that ministry to you. Use it! But let me put it this way. We are to be people who use whatever ability, talent, or skill that we have to serve others in the name of Jesus. Is there a good you can do? Do it. Do what leads to peace, to wholeness, and reconciliation.

Of course all of this implies that we are people who reflect Jesus in our living. Witness is not just about proclamation. Proclamation is framed by a life that is being transformed by the Holy Spirit.

III. A CHRIST-FILLED MESSAGE. Lk.10:9b-12

In v.9 Jesus continues by instructing us to say, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” Let me ask: Is this the way you begin when you share the gospel? Do you say, “Hey I want to tell you that the kingdom of God has come near?”

James and the Apostle Paul are the earliest writers of New Testament documents. Paul’s expression of the gospel message reflects the way that the early church presented the Gospel.

What I want for us to see is that when Paul and others communicated the gospel, it was focused on Jesus. I point this out because we often make the gospel message about ourselves. We usually begin a gospel presentation with the fact that we are sinners. We have a sin problem and from there we move on to talk about how Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead. If we believe in Jesus and pray the sinner’s prayer we will be saved and go to heaven. But that is not how Paul shared the gospel. You see, the gospel is not about us. The gospel is about Jesus. It is the good news about Jesus.

In Rm.1:1-5 we read, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.”

When Paul talks about the gospel he situates it in the Old Testament. He focuses on Jesus and does not reduce the gospel message to our sin problem and the death and resurrection of Jesus. He includes the ascension, the fact that Jesus has been declared to be the Son of God in power.”

In his book, “Salvation by Allegiance Alone,” Matthew Bates identifies eight events that comprise the gospel of Jesus Christ. 1) Jesus preexisted with the Father. 2) Jesus took on human flesh, fulfilling God’s promises to David. 3) Jesus died for sins in accordance with the Scriptures. 4) Jesus was buried. 5) Jesus was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. 6) Jesus appeared to many. 7) Jesus is seated at the right hand of God as Lord, and 8) Jesus will come again as judge.” In his book Matthew Bates shows how this outline is found in Paul’s writings, and in the life and teachings of Jesus found in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. There is only one gospel message.

So the point here is the gospel message, the good news is not about getting my sins forgiven by trusting in a plan of salvation. No. The gospel is the good news about Jesus Christ, who is God in the flesh, who lived, died for the sins of the world, who rose from the dead and who now reigns as Lord and King, reconciling all things to himself. When we present the gospel, we tell the story of Jesus. Faith is our response of trust and allegiance to King Jesus. Justification is a result of placing this kind of faith in Jesus.

Because the gospel is about Jesus and how we can enter into a saving, life-giving relationship with Jesus, it is not a message that we should try to rush through. We are not like insurance salespeople, trying to sell a plan. We are followers of Jesus seeking to help others become followers of Jesus. So the better we understand who Jesus is and the more we cultivate being in relationship with Jesus and his people, the better we will be able to be his witnesses.

My goal in these last few messages has been to help us see that being a witness for Jesus is more about who we are as followers of Christ in this world. It has more to do with presenting Jesus than trying to convince others that they are sinners and need to pray a certain prayer. Our spoken witness is to flow out of our relationship with Jesus and knowledge of Jesus rather than a memorized presentation. We are presenting a person, not a product. My hope is that if you are a follower of Jesus you will make it your aim to be his witness. Amen

Being A Grace-Filled Witness

June 3, 2018

Ambassadors have an interesting career. Ambassadors represent their own country while living in another country. They seek to promote the best values and customs of their homeland in a foreign land.

In 2Cor.5:20, Paul writes, “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” As we are thinking about the fine print of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, we want to continue to focus on the reality that we are witnesses of Jesus.

If we see ourselves first as ambassadors for Christ in this world it shapes our whole presentation to the world. We don’t just represent ourselves. We represent Jesus Christ. This morning I want to say that Christian witness flows out of grace-filled living in the world.

I. WISE ACCOMMODATION. 1Cor.9:19-22

In order for God to reveal himself to mankind in a way that we can understand, he has to accommodate himself to our human limitations. This is why God entered into the world in the person of Jesus Christ. God became man in order to reveal himself in a clear way. Jesus embodies the fullness of God’s goodness, love, humility, mercy, grace, power and justice for all to see.

Before ascending to the Father Jesus made it clear that his followers would be his witnesses in the world. On the day of Pentecost Jesus sent the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide us into Christ-like living and to empower our lives for witness. So here we are, empowered by the Holy Spirit so that we might be witnesses of Jesus.

Just as God accommodated himself to humanity, so there is a sense in which we as witnesses of Jesus accommodate ourselves to the world in order that we might win unbelievers to Christ. We accommodate ourselves so that we do not put up any needless barriers before the gospel. In 1Cor.9:19-22 Paul writes, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.”

In these verses Paul makes it clear that he accommodated himself to various people groups in order to present the gospel of Jesus Christ. In writing this, Paul is not saying, “Hey, ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” No, he makes it very clear in v.20-21 that while as a follower of Christ he was no longer under the Jewish law, he did understand that he was under the commands and teachings of Jesus. So in whatever ways Paul accommodated himself to people of various ethnicities and cultures, he did not compromise his obedience and loyalty to Christ.

So what is Paul talking about here? Well, I believe that as Paul interacted with various ethnicities and cultures, he went to great lengths to not cause offense. As long as a custom or practice did not compromise his obedience to Jesus and the gospel, he didn’t worry about it.

As you may remember Paul was sent to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. But as a Jew, Paul was a devout Pharisee. Circumcision, Sabbath observance, and eating kosher foods were very important to Pharisees. These are the primary markers that separate Jews from Gentiles. But when Paul became a believer in Jesus he recognized that these boundary markers were of little consequence for knowing Jesus. Those boundary markers may have even continued to hold some personal value for Paul, but he understood that a person does not have to become Jewish in order to know Christ. And so, Paul felt free to associate with the Gentiles and eat whatever was put before him. In Gal.3:28, Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

In his commentary on 1Corinthians, Craig Blomberg writes, “The world’s religions and cultures include many such practices that at times may be intertwined with anti-Christian spirituality but that in many settings are not. These include ceremonial foods, days, festivals, dress and grooming, forms of recreation, social functions, and so on. Where participating in any one of these would inherently compromise the gospel, Christians must refrain. Where abstaining would inappropriately distance believers from their non-Christian friends and neighbors, they should participate.”

As we think about what it means to be a witness for Jesus, I see here that an important part of being a witness is being in relationships, friendships with unbelievers. We don’t just hand out tracts and drop gospel bombs on people. We seek to engage and live life together with our friends and neighbors. Witnessing is part of who we are, not some activity that is a requirement of our religion. We are not like Jehovah Witnesses in this. We are Christ’s witnesses. We are seeking to show in our lifestyle what following Christ looks like.

Now this is not always so easy to discern. We have to think about what is and isn’t truly part of being a follower of Jesus. We need to ask the Lord to give us wisdom in these matters. As witnesses of Jesus we are not trying to get people to follow rules, rather we are seeking to live out and talk out the life of Christ that is in us.

II. ATTRACTIVE CONVERSATION. Col.4:5-6; 1Pt.3:15

In Col.4:5-6, Paul writes, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

Before we say anything about our conversation, let me point out that being a follower of Christ is always front and center in our thinking and living. When I lived in Cameroon, West Africa, I was always very much aware that I am from the United States. I was always aware of this because the way people live in West Africa is quite different from how people live in the United States. After living in Cameroon for a while, I did become more comfortable, after all there were also many similarities because we are all humans, but I was never as comfortable as I am living at home in the United States.

We were all born into this world and we were comfortable living in the world. But at some point we turned to Jesus Christ. Our sins were forgiven. We received the resurrection life of Jesus and our citizenship was transferred into the Kingdom of God. So we are no longer citizens of this world. While we may still feel relatively comfortable living in this world, this world is not our home. We are aliens and strangers here. That is why I say that we are always mindful that we are followers of Christ. We are on display as citizens and ambassadors of God’s kingdom. We represent Christ and his kingdom reign

So this means that everything we do and say reflects upon Jesus. In Col.4:6 Paul focuses on our conversation. Our speech is to always be gracious. In other words our speech is to be attractive, pleasant, and winsome. Not only that, but our speech is to be as if seasoned with salt. It could convey the idea of purity in our speaking or zestfulness. We are fully engaged in the conversation.

Paul says we should speak in these ways so that we know how to answer each person. I take this to mean that even though we may not have an answer to whatever question is asked, we do know how to respond in the sense that whatever our response it will be gracious, seasoned with salt. In days past I used to find myself getting upset when the Jehovah Witnesses came by because to me they are spreading heresy and also because I would get impatient with them. They just keep going from scripture to scripture following the scripts they have been taught. Years ago I had to ask myself, “Wait! Why am I getting upset?” So if I do talk with the Jehovah Witnesses, I remind myself that it is not for me to try to convince them that they are wrong. Because I want to respond with grace, I always know how to respond. Whatever I say I want to say it graciously.

In other words, the goal of our witness is not to win an argument. It isn’t to prove that we are right. Nor is it to get a person to pray a prayer. The goal of our witness is to present Jesus Christ as Savior, Lord and King. The goal of our witness is to show that Jesus is transforming our lives, including our speech.

And I also see that Paul talks about knowing how we ought to answer. This seems to imply that we have been asked a question. I don’t want to make more of this than is warranted, but there is the implication that it is not our duty to go around trying to engineer conversations about the gospel. We certainly are not to force other people to listen to our gospel presentation. As I am in conversations with people I try to listen for cues that might suggest they have an interest in spiritual things. If I sense an openness I might ask a question and based on their answer either move forward towards the gospel or not. The Lord is in charge of this, not me.

In 1Pt.3:15-16, Peter writes, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”

Our gracious speech is not to be filled with ignorance. Peter tells us that we ought to be prepared to give a defense to anyone who asks us about why our hope is in Christ. Notice again the emphasis on being asked about this. What was it that brought you to Christ? What was it that convinced you that Jesus is Savior, Lord and King? What has changed in your life as a result of knowing Christ? One doesn’t have to have a PhD in philosophy or religion or science to be able to give a reason for their Christian hope. We should be able to talk about the gospel in a clear way and according to v.16 our conversation is to be accompanied by Christian behavior.

III. KIND CONSIDERATION. Mt.5:16; 1Pt.2:12

In Mt.5:16 in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Add to this, 1Pt.2:12, which says, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”

We don’t often associate witnessing with doing good works. In the 19th century, German Baptist Pastor, Walter Rauschenbusch, became the father of the social gospel movement. Unfortunately in the social gospel movement, the gospel message often got set aside in the desire to address huge social problems. Ever since then, conservative Christians in the United States have been a bit leery of viewing good works as a part of our witness. However in Acts 10:37-38 Peter is speaking to Cornelius and he says, “you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”

Jesus did many good works in the name of God. He did these good works because “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Followers of Jesus seek to reveal the goodness of the kingdom of God in the way they engage other people. We simply seek to do good to others in the name of Jesus. And we seek to do good because God, who is good, dwells in us through the Holy Spirit. Doing good works is what believers do. Our good works help to prepare the soil for the gospel.

Do you seek to do good to your neighbors? Do you seek to do good to your co-workers? Do you seek to do good to those who hurt you and say unkind things about you? Doing good, showing kind consideration to others is part of our Christian witness.

  Now it is possible to have an accommodating way about you. It is possible to speak in attractive ways and to show kind consideration to others apart from having any gospel witness. There are many nice people in the world. We are not just talking about being nice. We are talking about letting the gospel of Jesus Christ shine forth in our lives. We are people who are being transformed by the gospel. That transformation impacts our lives. Because we have received the life of Jesus we desire to share Jesus with all we can. Amen.

Witnesses of Jesus

May 27, 2018

As most of us know, Kevin Wood is a presenter of Abraham Lincoln. He works hard to be as authentic as possible. He studies Lincoln and memorizes Lincoln’s speeches. He purchases clothing that looks like that worn by Lincoln. He tries to speak in the way that Lincoln spoke.

When you look at Kevin dressed as Lincoln, you have to do a double take. The only thing that makes us realize Kevin is not Lincoln is the fact that this is 2018 and Lincoln has been dead for 153 years. However, Kevin does bear witness to Lincoln.

Before Jesus ascended to the Father he said that his followers are to be his witnesses. As we begin in earnest looking at the fine print of what it means to follow Christ, we begin with the idea that we are witnesses of Jesus. We bear the name and likeness of Jesus to the world. This is what we want to think about this morning. In this world, believers in Jesus bear witness for Jesus.

I. DO YOU BELONG TO JESUS? Acts 1:6-8

This might seem like an elementary question since we are a congregation of professing Christians. But when we think about witnessing for Jesus, it is an important question. In v.8 Jesus says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses.”

If you are involved in an accident and must go to court, your attorney will try to find eyewitnesses of the accident who might testify in your behalf. In that situation it is better if the witnesses are not related to you in any way. They are independent of you and have nothing to gain in testifying in your behalf. If they can corroborate your story they help to make your case to convince judge and jury to rule in your favor. Such people are your witnesses.

But when it comes to being a witness for Jesus, personal relationship with Jesus is vitally important. Witnesses of Jesus do not just speak in his behalf as independent, dis-interested people. They belong to Jesus. They belong to Jesus in a certain way. What does it mean to you to belong to Jesus? When you got connected with Jesus what was your understanding of that relationship?

There are many people who get connected with Jesus out of a desire to have their sins forgiven so that they can go to heaven when they die. If you had training in how to witness in the last 50 years, you were probably taught to ask a person, “If you were to die tonight do you know if you would go to heaven.” If a person wasn’t sure about it then we could go on to explain how we are all sinners and how sin separates us from God, but Jesus died for us on the cross and if we repent of our sin, believe that Jesus died for us, and pray a sinners prayer to receive Jesus as our Savior, then we will be saved and will go to heaven when we die. After all, Jn.3:16 says that, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” So for many, being saved means having our sins forgiven so that we can have eternal life. Now, that is good as far as it goes, and many of us came to know Christ in this way.

However, I notice in the gospels that Jesus did not present himself in that particular way. And I also see that this way of presenting the gospel is not how Paul presented it. In fact I believe this presentation of the gospel reduces the gospel to a momentary transaction that takes place through a once and done prayer. And so there are people who because they prayed a prayer think all is well between them and God and do not give it another thought.

When Jesus came preaching, he called people with ears to hear, to repent of their current way of living and thinking, to count the cost and follow him. And while Jesus did die for our sins and rose again, the gospel story did not end with his resurrection. It continued with his ascension. He ascended to reign as Lord and King at the Father’s right hand. When the gospel is presented as a means of going to heaven when we die, there is a tendency to leave out the fact that Christ is Lord and King. We make the gospel to be more about ourselves than about Jesus. This presentation of the gospel makes discipleship to Jesus optional, giving rise to the idea that a person can receive Christ as Savior, but not as Lord and King.

Last week we read 1Cor.6:19-20 which says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” Followers of Jesus belong to Jesus.

Jesus not only gave his life for us; he gives his life to us. His life is our life. We no longer derive our life from this world. In Gal.2:20, Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Paul tells us that when we die we will be with the Lord. The Lord is in heaven and so when we die we will be in heaven. But heaven is not our eternal home. God is going to make a new heaven and new earth. Peter writes in 2Pt.3:13, “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” Christ, who rose from the dead and ascended to the Father, is the firstborn of the dead. He is the beginning of the new creation. And here is where it gets exciting for you and me. In 2Cor.5:17, Paul writes, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Literally it reads, “If anyone is in Christ, new creation!”

Do you see what is happening here? The idea of being saved is not just about taking care of our sin problem so that we can go to heaven when we die. The idea of being saved is that when we embrace Christ as Savior, Lord, and King, we are given his new creation life to live out. We are becoming new creation people. Ideally, as our lives take on the character of Christ we show this world, which is passing away, what new creation people look like. Believers reveal in their living, heaven on earth.

If I only view Christ as someone who forgives my sin so I can go to heaven when I die, then I am free to live however I choose during the rest of my life on earth. Heaven is assured because I satisfied the requirement of belief and prayed the prayer. But that is not the gospel. And it will be very difficult to be a convincing witness for Jesus with that kind of understanding.

So I want to ask: Do you belong to Jesus? Is Jesus your Lord and King? Is the goal of your daily living to see Jesus Christ reflected in your character, conduct, and conversation? Are you living for Jesus? If not, why not? This is not about how well you perform. We all sin. This is about who is your king? Who runs your life? Who has your daily allegiance?

II. ARE YOU A WITNESS FOR JESUS? Acts 1:8

In Acts 1:8 Jesus says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." During the days of my youth and young adulthood, I participated in numerous seminars on evangelism training like Evangelism Explosion. I learned how to ask clever leading questions. I learned how to present the Four Spiritual Laws, or Steps to Peace with God. I learned how to use the Roman’s Road and the bridge illustration. And I used all those methods with some effect.

Last week in prayer meeting I shared how when I was a student at Moody, we had to do door to door evangelism. The man who trained us demonstrated a technique to use. When the door was opened we were to put our foot into the opening. We also were taught to use a survey that tried to gauge where a person was at spiritually. Perhaps you were brought to Christ in one of these ways. God uses many people and many ways to bring others to Christ.

But because our witness for Jesus is rooted in our relationship with Jesus, the condition of our relationship creates a framework or platform for our witness. If Christ is the Savior, Lord and King of our lives, then he is the most important person in all of life. We love him and worship him and serve him and promote the good news about him to others. We do this because the good news is truly good news to us. We cannot do otherwise because Christ is our life.

If we are going to think about why we are not better witnesses for Jesus, I suggest we begin by asking ourselves whether or not knowing Jesus is as good as we say it is. Our life with Christ is the place to begin. If we don’t get this right, we won’t get witnessing right.

I’m reminded of a college student named Larry. Many years ago my parents were on staff at a well-known church in Boston. Larry was a student at Boston University. He came to Christ. He was excited and began telling his friends. I will never forget at one Wednesday prayer meeting when Larry gave a testimony. In his excitement he said, and I quote, “All my friends are saying, ‘What the hell happened to Larry.’” Well we all laughed. Larry didn’t know that he shouldn’t use that word in that way, especially in church. But we were all excited with Larry.

In the beginning of our walk with Jesus, we may have that kind of excitement at what Jesus is doing in our lives. It will affect our witness. But as we mature in Christ and go deeper with him, that will also affect our witness. But it should not diminish our witness. And that is what happens to far too many Christians. In 2Cor.4:4 Paul writes, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” But for many of us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God has grown dim.

Jesus does not have a small vision for his church. In v.8 Jesus envisions his church taking the gospel into all the world, to the end of the earth. He does not picture his church just making converts. Rather he envisions his church making disciples, calling people to become lifetime apprentices of Jesus. Nor does Jesus paint a picture of his church at home in the world. He told his disciples that they would be persecuted and imprisoned and brought before kings and governors. He said that when this happens this will be your opportunity to bear witness. And so it is even today. We are his witnesses

If you are going to move into a new housing development or apartment, you will be shown model houses or apartments to help you decide what kind of place you want to live in. Sometimes those model homes or apartments are staged. In other words, they have furniture in them to help you get an idea of what it would be like to live in those places.

When God sought to reach the world, he himself came in the person of his Son, Jesus. Jesus is fully God. When we look at Jesus we see God in all his goodness. While Jesus was on earth he spent a great deal of time teaching and training his disciples to carry on his mission of seeking and saving the lost. After his ascension he sent his Holy Spirit to indwell every one of his followers. So now God is present in us. Believers in the world are models of what it is like to know Christ. But we are not just models. We are alive in Christ. We are the real deal. God has put us on display in this world so that the world can see how good, how life changing it is to know and follow Jesus as our Lord and King. Do you belong to Jesus? Are you his witness? Amen

What's So Good About the Gospel?

April 29, 2018

On April 16-17 some 50 Evangelical leaders met at Wheaton College. The purpose was to discuss the state of Evangelicalism in these contentious days. In his opening address, Dr. Labberton, president of Fuller Seminary, noted that instead of sounding like good news, our proclamation of the gospel has begun to sound like fake news. He says this because he believes our presentation of the gospel has been overshadowed by our coveting political power. Instead of focusing on the gospel it appears that our real agenda is to have power.

Now regardless of our political persuasions, we all agree that the gospel is good news. And we don’t want to put up any barriers that would hinder others hearing the good news. But what is the good news? That’s what I want us to think about this morning. The presence of Jesus in the world enables all to have abundant life with God.

I. JESUS ENABLES US TO KNOW GOD. Jn.1:1-14

John 1:1 begins exactly like Gen.1:1 which says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In Jn.1:1 we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John alludes to Gen.1:1 because John is writing about another significant beginning. John identifies a person whom he refers to as “the Word.” He tells us that the Word already existed in the beginning, the Word was both with God and was God,” at one in the same time. And this is an amazing statement that baffles the mind.

John goes on to explain that this one who is the Word, who is both with God and is God, created all things. What is more, he tells us in v.4 that in him was life. The life that is in him is so intense and powerful that it is the light of men. Of course we all know that light enables us to see. In v.5 this light is shining in the darkness, and in fact, overpowers the darkness. In v.9 we read that this light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. In v.14 we read that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” And finally, in v.18 we read, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.” This is the Prologue of John’s gospel. And there is no question but that John is referring to Jesus Christ. Jesus is the living Word of God. He is God in the flesh.

A central teaching of the Bible concerns the presence of God. From Genesis to Revelation we see that God makes himself present and desires for men and women to live and walk in his presence. God has been revealing himself since the very beginning of creation. In Heb.1:1-3, we read, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” Jesus reveals God. He is God with us. In Jn.14:9, Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” In Jn.10:30, Jesus says, “I and the Father are one.” Jesus is God with us.

And just to complete this thought, on that first Easter Sunday when Jesus appeared to his disciples, we read, “And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.” In Jn.16:7, Jesus says, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” Jesus is referring to his ascension and to his sending of the Holy Spirit to dwell in every believer. In Jn.14:26, Jesus says, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” The Holy Spirit seeks to ground us in the life and teachings of Jesus. God causes his presence to actually dwell in each of us who have embraced Christ by faith.

Out of love for each of us, God sent his Son, Jesus. The good news here is that by looking to Jesus we come to know what God is like. It is difficult for me to think that a person could read the gospels and come away with a negative impression about Jesus and the God he reveals. Jesus embodies the kind of justice we all desire. Jesus embodies the kindness that we want to receive and show to others. Jesus embodies the goodness and wisdom we all aspire to. Jesus embodies a loving heart that seeks to serve others and ultimately Jesus died in our place on the cross, bearing the guilt of our sins so that our sins could be forgiven. I mean, even if you don’t believe Jesus ever existed, you would have to conclude that if the Jesus of the gospels did exist that would be special. The good news is that through faith in Jesus Christ we come to know our creator God relationally and experientially. Through the Holy Spirit, God comes to live in us. This is amazing news that ought not to be taken for granted.

II. JESUS ENABLES US TO BE PART OF GOD’S FAMILY. Jn.1:9-12

The assumption made by many today is that we are all God’s children. And that is true in the sense that God created each one of us. Paul spoke of this when he gave his defense at the Areopagus in Athens. He said, “for in him [God] we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.” But in John’s gospel and throughout the New Testament the phrase, “children of God” refers to those who have come to know God through faith in Jesus.

Jesus was Jewish and he came to the Jewish people calling them to enter into the kingdom of God by becoming followers or disciples of Jesus. But we learn in v.10-11 that while Jesus was in the world, the world did not know him. In fact, he came to his own people, the Jews, and they did not receive him. This tells us that the basic posture of the people of this world, both religious and non-religious, is not inclined towards Jesus. When you stop to think about this it becomes clear that in seeking to reveal himself to humanity, God has a hill to climb. The people of the world are not particularly interested in God. And we learn why in v.12.

In v.12 it says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” To receive Jesus, to believe in his name, is to embrace him and all he says as the truth. It is to entrust one’s life and eternity into the hands of Jesus. It is to give complete allegiance to Jesus. Most people are not interested in yielding control of their life over to someone else, even someone like Jesus.

Everyone who is in the world belongs to a family and people group at least at the beginning of their life. Ideally, when you belong to a family you enjoy the privileges, mutual care and love between family members. Of course, there are a lot of broken families that bring much emotional destruction and pain.

Many people are drawn to watch the show, “This Is Us.” I don’t watch it because I can’t take the drama. But the show tries to portray the realities of family life. In the show we see how a family tries very hard to figure out how to get along with and love each other despite the hurts and disappointments of life.

Jesus came to this earth in order to make it possible for people to enter into God’s eternal family. In this family, God has covenanted to care for his children. Jesus is called God’s first born Son in the sense that he holds the position of honor, privilege, and inheritance that a first born son would have in that day. When a person receives Jesus they are brought into the family of God. According to Heb.2:11, Jesus is not just our Savior, He is our brother. And if Jesus is our brother then each of us are brothers and sisters in Christ. We receive the privileges, care, and love that are found in God’s family. The family of God is seen in the church of Jesus Christ. We who know Christ belong to each other.

Men and Women, the good news of the gospel is that all who receive him, become part of the family of God. We are brought into his family through faith in Jesus Christ. We are the recipients of his love, grace and mercy. Through faith in Christ, we are home and look forward to being with the Lord in the new heaven and earth. Jesus enables us to be part of God’s family. That is amazing, good news.

III. JESUS ENABLES US TO HAVE ETERNAL LIVING. Jn.1:13

Verse 13 refers to, “children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Here John introduces the idea of the new birth, being born from above as we saw in Jn.3.

John makes it clear that this new birth is not something that comes about by physical means. We are not talking about physical birth here. We are talking about a spiritual birth. No race of people have an advantage over any other race of people when it comes to experiencing the new birth. While Jews were in a place of privilege as God’s chosen people, the Jewish people largely rejected Christ.

No, we are talking about receiving, through Jesus, a new life from above. It is an eternal kind life. It is not a life that begins when we die. It is a life that begins the moment we receive Jesus, believing in his name.

As we read through the gospel of John the nature of the life that we receive from God is fleshed out for us. In Jn.3, Nicodemus, who was confident of his religious standing, learned that even he had to be born again. It is the Holy Spirit of God who regenerates or makes us alive in Christ. In Jn.4, the Samaritan women who met Jesus at the well of Sychar, discovered that Jesus gives living water that quenches the inner thirst for love and acceptance and forgiveness. Again in Jn.4 we saw how Jesus healed the deathly ill son of a synagogue official. The son was some 20 miles away from Jesus. Not only that, but it says that this official and his household believed in Jesus. He put his faith in Jesus even though he was not in close proximity to Jesus. A person can enter into this new life from anywhere because God is present everywhere.

In Jn.5 we read about a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years. His was a hopeless case. But Jesus healed him with a word. Jesus went around doing good, giving new life. In Jn.8 we saw the pitiful situation of a woman caught in adultery and treated badly by the religious leaders. They cared nothing about the woman. Jesus forgave her sin and treated her with the kindness of God, giving her a new life. In Jn.9 Jesus cured a man who had been blind from birth. Not only did he open the man’s physical eyes, but he opened his spiritual eyes and that man worshiped Jesus, having received a new life. And on and on we could go.

The good news of Jesus is that it is by faith in Jesus that we receive new eternal living through a relationship with God. In Jn.17 Jesus is praying. In his prayer he says, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Eternal life in being in a relationship with God. Jesus makes this possible through his life, death and resurrection. This is good news. No other religion has this kind of good news in which eternal living is received by believing on the name of Jesus. This life is a gift from God through Jesus. And if you don’t know God through faith in Jesus I want to invite you to turn to him today.

But I want to make a transition here in order to introduce a series of messages about life with Christ. When God in all of his love and goodness came in the flesh to dwell with us in Jesus Christ, things did not go well for Jesus. When light comes into a dark world, the world doesn’t like the light. And so Jesus was rejected, mistreated, and eventually crucified. The good news that we have been talking about promises eternal living while we are still living in this world.

Through faith in Christ we receive his resurrection life. We live as followers of Jesus seeking to be the light of Jesus in this dark world. Well, this has serious implications for those who know Jesus. I want to read Lk.14:28-32. “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.”

I only want to point out that when Jesus offered to give forgiveness of sins and eternal life, he also called people to consider the cost of being his follower in this world. Because living in the way of Jesus is out of sync with the ways of this world, followers of Jesus can expect to be treated like Jesus was treated. In other words, there is some fine print that we ought to read before giving ourselves to Christ. That’s what we are going to be looking at in weeks to come. What is the fine print that we need to know? Amen

The gospel of Jesus Christ is indeed, good news. It is true news that is life changing. This past week I participated with a group of NAB pastors called, “Blue Ocean” (I can explain later). I met a pastor from Edmonton who told me how he came to Christ. He was an atheist. One day while sitting in his college Physics class, the professor was explaining how energy from space is bombarding the earth, but because of the atmosphere, only a small amount of energy actually reaches the earth. The energy that reaches the earth is just the right amount to sustain life. If it were more or less life could not exist. David started to think about that and he asked the professor, “So are you saying that the exact amount of energy needed to sustain life on earth is just by chance? She said, “Yes.” That is when David’s mind and heart was awakened to the existence of God. He didn’t know Christ but he came to believe in God and then did come to Christ. But as we will see, knowing Christ in this world is costly. Just as the gospel cost Jesus his very life, so it calls us to surrender our life and there is a cost. We must count the cost involved in following Jesus. Amen