GROW IN GRACE . . . NOT “GRACE GROWS”

download (5)I trust today’s message will prove to be a word of great encouragement to you, regardless of where this finds you.

Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. (2 Peter 3:18)

Often the best way to figure out what Scripture is saying is to clearly identify what it is NOT saying. In this verse it is not saying that “grace grows.” Peter is telling us to grow in grace, but in no way is he suggesting that God’s grace grows in the life of the believer. Many have led the unsuspecting believer astray into this wicked error, teaching that the more we do for God, the more favor, mercy, and love we will receive. In other words, our good works cause God’s grace to grow in our lives.

Understand that grace is the free, unmerited, favor, mercy, and love of God in Christ toward His people, bestowed on them since before the foundation of the world (Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:4-6). Christian believer, you have been given all His grace from everlasting to everlasting! We cannot be more justified. We cannot be more adopted. We cannot be more pardoned. We cannot be more forgiven. We cannot be more saved. We cannot be more loved! We have been made perfect in the Christ Jesus, and it is impossible to rise above perfection.

To be sure, we will grow up into that grace as we grow up into Christ, but we have had—and will forever have—the full measure of God’s grace and affection poured out into our lives. I’d like you to pause for a moment and reflect on both sides of this cosmic coin. God’s grace does not grow in the life of the believer, because it is perfect and infinite and cannot be added to. Therefore, it is just as true that God’s grace does not diminish in the life of the believer. There is nothing you can do—nothing—that will cause God to love you any more or any less than He has loved you from before the beginning of time! Let that truth set you free to live the life God is calling you to live, and live in the joy of the Lord, which is your strength (Nehemiah 8:10).

With that as a settled truth in the heart of the believer, growing in grace becomes the well-worn path the believer walks in progressive sanctification. The Bible constantly reminds and encourages the believer to grow . . . to work out . . . to strive for . . . and at least eight times in the New Testament we are told to make every effort!

Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you . . . (Philippians 2:12-13)

This passage provides the key that unlocks the door leading to a lifetime of growing in God’s grace. We are to work out—not work for—our salvation. Why? Because it is God who works in us! Wow! We work out because God works in us. What a powerful truth to encourage and inspire us to live for the One who lived, died, and rose again . . . for us!

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Almighty Accountability – Part III

imagesToday is our third and final installment in our weeklong look at almighty accountability, which is taken from a sermon I preached about a month ago at Cross Community Church. You’ll recall that the message is rooted in Romans 14:12 —

Each of us will give an account of himself to God.

You can listen to this sermon—and all of the Bible teaching done at The Cross—by visiting our website at www.thecrosscc.org and clicking on the “Media” tab.

I’ve explained in the previous articles that Christian believers who have placed their trust in Christ’s atoning work on their behalf will not be required to give an account for their sins; Jesus paid that account in full at Calvary. But we Christians will give an account for the life we have lived as His people. Paul explained to the Christians at Corinth that “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10).

I believe there are three primary areas for which we will be held accountable by the Almighty: our use of time, the talents He has given us, and the treasure he has bestowed on us to steward on His behalf. The previous articles unpacked time and talents; today we’ll look at treasure.

Treasure

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

Have you ever thought about the primary use of our money? I know we all have bills to pay and we need money to pay them. But have you ever thought about the absolute, primary use of our money? It is, like every other aspect of our lives, intended for glorifying God. And the principal way we glorify God with our money is when we give of it sacrificially to build His kingdom. Sadly, only 5% of professing Christians in the United States give God the minimum requirement, a tithe, which is 10% of their total income.

This shameful statistic means that most professing Christians are serving the wrong master. One of the most remarkable ways God proves His presence in His people is by the way they give of their treasure. Did you ever think about the fact that Jesus truly cares about our giving . . . and takes note of it?

Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”  (Luke 21:1-4)

This wonderful account indicates just how much Jesus cares about our giving. He comments on the widow’s mite and how she gave out of her lack, while the others gave out of their abundance. To put it plainly, it’s a matter of the heart. Where our heart is we will find our treasure. This poor widow treasured the Kingdom of God; the others treasured their own kingdom.

I’d like to ask you an uncomfortable question: What does your use of your money say about what you treasure most? The great Puritan preacher John Bunyan, author of Pilgrims Progress, once wrote, “A man there was, and they called him mad; the more he gave, the more he had!” It’s a funny thing about God: you simply cannot outgive Him! The more we give back to God, the more we seem to have in more ways than we can count. In the final book of the Old Testament, the Lord of hosts gives us this incredible promise:

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. (Malachi 3:10-11)

Jesus confirmed this promise during His time on earth, saying, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap” (Luke 6:38). I have experienced this truth in my own life, and I have heard it joyfully proclaimed in the testimony of dozens of Christian believers.

So . . . as we close out this series on almighty accountability, how are you doing in your stewardship of the three T’s—time, talent, and treasure? What kind of account would you give to the Almighty today if you were to stand before Him? How would you answer the following question: What do you have that you have not been given? The answer, of course, is nothing. Everything we have—including our time, talent, and treasure—is a gift from God, and our gift back to God is to put all we have and all we have become into the joyful service of expanding His Kingdom in this world.

May that be the confession of our lives.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Almighty Accountability – Part II

download (4)Today is the second installment in our week long study on the subject of almighty accountability, as expressed in Romans 14:12 —

Each of us will give an account of himself to God.

The blog’s three-part message this week is taken from a sermon I preached just over a month ago at Cross Community Church. If you’d like to listen to this or another message preached at The Cross, simply go to www.thecross.org and click on the “Media” tab.

In the previous blog, I explained that those who have placed their trust in Christ’s atoning work on their behalf will not be required to give an account for their sins; Jesus paid that account in full on the Cross. But we Christians will account for the life we have lived as His people. I believe there are three primary areas for which we will be held accountable by the Almighty: our use of time, the talents He has given us, and the treasure he has bestowed on us to steward on His behalf. I discussed time in the previous article; today we’ll look at talent.

Talent

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you . . .  (2 Timothy 1:6)

What do you think of when I use the phrase “robbing God”? I believe that many hands immediately clutch a wallet or purse a little tighter, thinking that I am speaking about giving money. Well, that’s not today’s message; that will come in Part Three! Today I write about an even greater theft: that is, when we rob God of our talent by refusing to put that talent to use in faithful and fruitful service of God.

The Bible makes it perfectly clear that every believer has been given at least one spiritual gift (see, for example, Romans 12:6-8). In addition, everyone has been endowed by God with natural talents and abilities. So every Christian possesses gifts, talents, and abilities, bestowed on us by God to be used in the expansion of His kingdom in this world. There is a Danish Proverb that says:

What you are is God’s gift to you;

What you do with yourself is your gift to God.

Helen Keller was once asked, “Is there anything worse than being blind?” She promptly replied, “Yes! To have sight without vision!” Scripture warns us, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18 KJV). God has equipped every believer with the equipment necessary to do what He is calling them to do, and He has laid out His vision for our lives in His holy Word. We need only respond by faith, forsaking our pursuit of things smaller than Jesus, and engage our gifts, talents, and abilities in the pursuit of God’s kingdom. The key to doing this, of course, lies in establishing priorities. Jesus instructed us to “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33); everything else will follow.

So . . . what have you been doing lately with the gifts, talents, and abilities God has given to you? Have you been seeking His kingdom first . . . or your own?

Let these words encourage you as we close today: God did not make any “extra” Christians. You are needed; you are valuable; you have a role to play. When you don’t put in what God has equipped you to put in, we are all diminished. We all need all of us to build His church! What we must remember is that we build in His strength, not our own. He has given us everything we need to do the work he has given us; all we need to do show up and do it!

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Almighty Accountability – Part I

images (2)This week I would like to share some themes from a sermon I preached last month at Cross Community Church. (Just as a reminder, you can listen to these sermons simply by visiting http://www.thecrosscc.org/ and clicking on the “Media” tab at the top of the web page.) Based on the feedback I’ve received from our congregation, that message provided a spark of encouragement and inspiration for a great many in our congregation. I’d like to share some of the important points with you. The message is rooted in Romans 14:12 —

Each of us will give an account of himself to God.

Let me start by making it clear what kind of accountability we have before our God. If you have placed your trust in Jesus Christ’s atoning work on the Cross, you will NOT account for your sins. Jesus has already paid that account in full on the cross. But we Christians will account for the life we have lived as His people. At the bema, the judgment seat of Christ, rewards will be given for the lives we lived by grace through faith; this is where we will bow and lay our crowns at the feet of the Lamb who alone is worthy to receive all glory and honor and praise.

Keeping that truth firmly in mind, let’s take a brief look today at the first of three primary areas (Time, Talent, and Treasure) for which we will be held accountable by the Almighty.

Time

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

I often tell our congregation that we are all dying at the rate of 60 minutes an hour; when you spend an hour, you have one less hour to spend . . . so spend it wisely! We have been given this gift of time to live and to serve by “the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways” (Daniel 5:23 NKJV). And so we are all debtors to the one who gives us “life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:25); the wise stewardship of our time is a debt all men must pay. Eventually we will breathe our last . . . and then we will give an account for how we spent that time.

So . . . what are you doing with this gift called time? Remember, if you have money and lose it you can always get more money. But what you lose in time you can never get back.

The psalmist writes, “Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath” (Psalm 39:4-5). We must remember that, in the end, our lives will not be measured by their duration but rather by their donation.

So let me ask you a second question: what have you been donating your life to lately? Have you been working to expand your kingdom or God’s kingdom? The choice is always yours!

Here is a question that seemed to resonate with everyone in our congregation, and it comes right out of my own personal life experience:

Question: What is the greatest time waster in the world?

Answer: Doing something God does not want you to do and then having to clean up the mess after!

Can you relate to that? I know I’m not the only who can! The key to maximizing the fleeting span of time God has given to us is remembering to keep the main thing the main thing. The years have taught me that the secret to saying NO to some things is to have a bigger YES to pursue. And that bigger YES is the Lord Jesus Christ and the expansion of His kingdom.

In the next article, we’ll take a look at our use of our talents.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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HOPE IN HOPELESSNESS

images (1)With a myriad of bad news all around us—from the threat of terrorist attacks to the persecuted church; from an economy that has yet to fully recover to rumors of a ghastly epidemic which has reached our shores—it is easy to feel a sense of despair. Yet the believer is still to have hope, even in the face of hopelessness. Why? Because we hope our hope is not in One who rose from depression, disease, disadvantage, or even despair; rather, our hope is in the One who rose from the dead.

Is there anything more hopeless than death? I can’t think of anything more devastating than . . .

  • The death of our comfort
  • The death of our desires
  • The death of our plans
  • The death of our promises
  • The death of our career
  • The death of our dreams

Yet even when we seem to be facing the death of the life we hoped to be living, we can still have a joyful, expectant hope, because the One we hope in rose from the dead! And just as Jesus rose from the dead and lives forevermore, all those who have placed their trust in His atoning work on their behalf shall rise from all the death they have experienced in their lives. Our comfort shall rise from the dead. Our desires shall rise from the dead. Our plans shall rise from the dead. Our promises shall rise from the dead. Our career shall rise from the dead. Our dreams shall rise from the dead. And as good as all that is, there is something even better: we shall rise bodily from the dead on that great day when Jesus returns to finish what He started.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

Is there any area in your life where you find some kind of “death” knocking at your door? Remember, Jesus is bigger than any problem you are currently facing and He has a Word that will guide you through every storm. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life. He and He alone takes what is dead and brings to it life. And that includes every set of circumstances that may seem utterly hopeless to you. In Him you always have hope!

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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MOVING PAST POSITIVE THINKING

downloadIf you visit this blog regularly, you may remember the phrase “stinking thinking,” which I use from time to time. We all understand that negative thoughts often become a self-fulfilling prophecy and how important it is to pursue a positive mental attitude.

Yet the Bible makes it clear that the mature Christian must move past positive thinking and into the biblical process of the renewing of the mind:

I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

The apostle Paul is teaching us that renewing the mind is more than mere positive thinking. It is the dismantling of the fallible, hollow, and deceptive philosophies of this world and replacing them with the inspired, inerrant, infallible truths of God’s Holy Word.

The key that unlocks the door in this renewing process is found in the Word of God. As I have said before, the book you don’t read won’t help you! Reading and meditating in the Word of God is critical in the mind-renewing process. Take a look at the following passages, which record the words of Christ:

  • He answered, “Haven’t you read . . .” (Matthew 12:3)

  • “Haven’t you read in the Law . . .” (Matthew 12:5)

  • “Haven’t you read,” he replied . . . (Matthew 19:4)

  • “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read . . .” (Matthew 21:16)

  • Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures . . .”(Matthew 21:42)

    “About the resurrection—have you not read what God said to you . . . ?” (Matthew 22:31)

Six times in the Gospel of Matthew we find Jesus asking people “Have you not read . . . ?” Jesus is asking us that very same question today. God gave us His Word so that we would read it, not leave it on the bookshelf. Jesus’ consistent quoting of the Scriptures makes it clear that the Bible is to form and guide our thoughts and actions. Jesus read the Scriptures; He meditated on them; He marinated in them. And this is how we are to live our lives as followers of Christ! The more time we spend in the Word of God, the more the Word of God will be in us.

We must remember a few warnings from the prophets. Hosea 4:6 declares that “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” and Jeremiah 2:12 laments, “My people have forsaken me, the spring of living water.” When we neglect these living waters and do not drink from the fount of every blessing that is the Word of God, we do so to our own detriment—even our own destruction.

A positive mental attitude is a good thing to have, but it must be rooted in a mind that is being renewed. It’s the difference between behavior modification and heart transformation. One can get you through the day, but the other will get you through a lifetime. The choice is always ours to make; so let it never be said of us, “Have you not read . . . ?”

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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WHEN A POOR MEMORY IS PROFITABLE!

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Far too often I don’t remember where I put my car keys; I’m not sure how much time I have wasted over the years looking for them. But now my beloved Kim has come up with a solution: she put hooks on the wall by the front door on which to hang the keys when I come home. Now I just need to remember to do it! A poor memory has not proved profitable over the years when it comes to my car keys.

Today however, I want to encourage you with a word from our Lord, which tells us when a poor memory is profitable:

I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 3:12b-14)

When the apostle Paul speaks of “forgetting what is behind,” he is talking about his painful past as a persecutor of the early Christian church. Paul knew that in order to make forward progress in the direction of accomplishing God’s purpose for his life, he would have to get past his painful past. If Paul had let himself get bogged down with dwelling on his past sins, he would never have been able to pursue God’s purpose in his life.

And the same is true for you! Listen, we all have pain in our past. We are all broken and all of us have a “history” littered with shattered dreams, broken promises, and unmet goals. Some, like Paul, once lived lives of open rebellion against God. But the key is to learn from the past and not live in the past. As I’ve told our congregation, falling is not failing unless you fail to get up again! And that is why Paul said that in order to press on toward the goal, he had to forget the past. This is when a poor memory is profitable!

So what past do you need to get past? Is there anything keeping you from pressing on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called you—personally . . . professionally . . . relationally? Paul knew that when Jesus forgives, He also forgets. The slate is not just clean; it has been broken, never again to be used by your Abba Father to keep score.

Jerry Bridges illustrates this need for forgetfulness beautifully in his marvelous book, The Gospel for Real Life. He quotes Micah 7:19, in which the prophet assures us that the Lord “will again have compassion on us; [He] will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” Bridges observes that, “Instead of living in the sunshine of God’s forgiveness through Christ, we tend to live under an overcast sky of guilt most of the time.” The antidote is to recall that God has forcibly hurled our sins into the depths of the sea, never to be seen again. And then, as Corrie Ten Boom said, “God put up a sign saying, ‘No fishing allowed.’”

Forget the failures and disappointments of the past; God has! We all must leave the past in the past and get on with living in the present, knowing we are progressing into our promised future. And this is when a poor memory is most profitable.

And if you are anything like me, do what my Kim did for me: put a key hook by the door for your car keys and your sunglasses. As I advance into this new habit, I am forgetting about all the times I lost my keys in the past!

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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