No Spiritual Smorgasbord

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I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.  (1 Corinthians 9:22)

If we do not understand the biblical truth of what Paul said in the words “all things to all people,” we may find ourselves becoming absolutely nothing to anyone. At that level of living, we have not only watered down our witness for Christ, we have likely lost it altogether.

So what is the great apostle Paul telling us in this verse?

First, Paul is speaking about those areas in life that come under the heading of “indifferent”—they are neither commanded nor forbidden by Scripture. In these areas we have been given liberty to choose. Paul was in no way considering actions that were contrary to the moral law of God in order to become “all things to all people.” He would not water down his witness. He would not compromise his faith. He would not preach a false gospel . . . all with the hopes of winning some to Christ. Why? Because Paul knew the biblical truth that what you win people through, you also win people to. If you win them through the truth, you win them to the truth.

Because Paul’s identity was in Christ, in those areas that mattered not, he did not care what others might think of him in order to reach the lost for Christ. His identity was firmly fixed in Christ and it could not be shaken by the opinions of others. He ministered not for the applause of man, but rather for the approval of God. Paul knew he had been given great freedom in the Gospel, but he refused to use his freedom for any reason whatsoever that might negatively impact the faith of a brother or sister whose faith was not as strong as Paul’s.

As the former “Pharisee of Pharisees,” Paul knew the ceremonial law of God inside and out. And he knew that this yoke of the law had been removed by the blood of the Lamb of God. Paul knew that his faithfulness to Christ meant freedom from the ceremonial law. Yet, if by submitting to it in any way, a weaker brother might be brought to faith in Christ, Paul would give up his freedom and bear the yoke of the law. He could do this because He knew what God had done for him during his Damascus Road experience: Saul, the one who had been the violent persecutor of the church had been transformed into Paul, the church’s primary preacher and pastor and the man would pen much of the New Testament.

Sadly, many in the church today misunderstand what Paul was saying in his epistle to the Corinthians, and they have become a veritable “spiritual smorgasbord” . . . for them, everything is up for grabs. They are blown to and fro by every imaginable wind of doctrine in their misguided attempts to be all things to all people. The truth is shrouded, the Gospel is watered down, and the whole counsel of God is obscured—if not distorted.

We must remember that we are merely instruments of salvation in the hands of the Almighty. God saves; we simply share the truth of the good news of the Gospel and leave the results up to Him. We don’t need to change the message to meet the felt needs of lost people in the hope that some might be saved. Our God needs no spiritual smorgasbord to assist in the process of salvation; He needs and wants sold-out saints who will tell others the truth about the Savior.

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

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The Christian Course

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From the heavens the stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera. (Judges 5:20)

If even the stars in heaven have been assigned a cosmic course to follow, then there can be no question that the Christian has too. God has set a course before every Christian, and the closer we hold to that course, the more fruitful, faithful, and fulfilled we shall be.

To journey beyond our course is to journey in our own strength. God has promised never to leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), but He has not promised to give us His supernatural strength when we launch out on our own and travel a path of our own choosing.

You remember the story of the reluctant prophet Jonah don’t you? Instead of walking in God’s strength, Jonah left the course that had been prescribed by God, and he ended up spending three days and nights in the belly of a great fish. God was with Jonah every step of the way, even when he sank into the depths of the sea (Jonah 2:5-6), but Jonah was operating out of his own strength, satisfying his own will, and fulfilling his own desires. That never ends well for us!

Personal experience has taught me that it is not so difficult to find the course God has set before us. We need only stay close to Christ and our course is clear. What is harder to do is to stay in that course. The old, sinful nature still lives inside every child of God, and that old nature is hard at work. “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want” (Galatians 5:17). Pride fights against our Prince. Selfish ambition wars against our Savior. Self-righteousness battles against our Redeemer.

The key to staying on course is staying in close contact with Christ, and staying in close contact with Christ is rooted in love. We must love Jesus more than we love anything else in this world; when we do that, we begin to live out the truth of 1 Corinthians 13:5—“Love does not seek its own way.” The more we love Jesus, the more we will submit and surrender to His will in our lives. We will realize that His course for our lives is better than any other course we could have chosen apart from the leading of His Spirit. When we are living in the course God has set before us, we are living at the deepest level of meaning, significance, and purpose in this life. God knows us intimately—He formed us; He gave us all of our gifts, talents, and abilities; and He knows exactly how we should be using those gifts for His glory and for the good of others.

So, regardless of where this message finds you today—whether you are in the center of the course God has set before you or perhaps you have drifted a bit off course—draw closer to Jesus. He is your true North Star who will guide you every step of the way into glory.

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

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Promised Piercing

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A sword will pierce even your own soul.  (Luke 2:35)

Because of her relationship to Jesus as the mother who gave Him birth, Mary was promised a piercing of her own soul. This piercing was not only promised to Mary; it is promised to all those who desire to live in proximity to their Prince.

When Kim and I were first saved in 1995, our relationships began to change, both professionally and personally. We both felt this promised piercing keenly as we lost friends, colleagues, and clients; at times we experienced condemnation from those who could say that they “knew us when . . .” It has been 23 years—six years as church planters—and we can both testify to the truth that the closer we walk with Jesus, the more we experience this promised piercing.

Christians must remember Christ’s statement that He came “not to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). Jesus is the dividing line in life. The unbelieving world may tolerate Him as a “good teacher” or even a “great prophet,” but it will have nothing to do with a Jesus who is both Lord and Savior. When Jesus is that to you—when you confess that He is “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6)—the world is not happy with you. You are seen as intolerant, narrow-minded, and living in some kind of modern “dark ages.”

This hostility should not surprise us in the least. Jesus promised that we will have trouble in this world if the world knows we are His. I remember Dr. R.C. Sproul telling me during a seminary class, “Tommy, if some people are not upset with you when you are preaching the whole counsel of God, one of two things has happened: either they don’t understand what you are preaching . . . or you are not preaching it!”

Our Lord spoke very directly of the animosity we should expect from the world:

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.  (John 15:18-19)

Have you experienced this promised piercing of your soul because of your sold-out commitment to your Savior? Have relationships with friends or even family been affected by your relationship to Jesus? Remember, we must speak the truth in love, but with a heart filled with compassion, so that when this promised piercing comes, it comes for His sake and not because we projected a “holier than thou” attitude. Peter said, “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:14).

May this be the confession of our lives for the glory of God and in the name of Jesus!

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

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NO RESURRECTED LIFE WITHOUT DEATH!

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Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.  (Luke 9:23)

Yesterday was Easter Sunday, and Christians all around the world celebrated the bodily resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. But the resurrection must never be seen in isolation. Why? Because there is no resurrection without death.

Our Lord was condemned as a criminal; He was beaten and scourged; then He was put to death by crucifixion and buried in the tomb. On the third day, a dead Man got up and walked out of His tomb and into the hearts of all those who would, by grace through faith, place their trust in Him for the forgiveness of their sins and life everlasting.

Does that describe you?

Now, life everlasting does not begin on the other side of the grave. It begins the moment we transfer our trust from ourselves to Jesus for salvation. At that point, the Christian is living the resurrected life. But, just as with Jesus, there is no resurrected life without death.

The key to understanding today’s verse is found in the phrase, “take up their cross daily.” Jesus’ words were unmistakable to His first century audience; the cross was a cruel death administered by the Roman soldiers. At times, crosses with the enemies of Rome nailed to them would line the roads. So when Jesus said His disciples needed to take up their cross daily, it could only mean one thing: death to the self.

Dying to self begins at the new birth. When we are born again, the old self is put to death—indeed, Paul said “our old self was crucified” (Romans 6:6)—and the new self is brought to life through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. This is a one-time event, but it doesn’t stop there. Throughout the rest of his or her life on this side of the grave, the Christian is to die to self through the lifelong process of sanctification. When we die to self—to our desires, our dreams, our goals, our plans, our ambitions, our will—we begin to live for the Savior. Death to self puts Jesus on His rightful place on the throne of our lives; death to self removes Jesus from the circumference of our lives and places Him in the center.

Remember, death to self is not an option or an add-on. It is foundational to the Christian life. It is the reality of the new birth in Christ—of having been raised from death to life. And it is the goal of every committed Christian, because the more we die to self, the more we live for the Savior. And that is when we begin to live the abundant life that is offered to us in John 10:10.

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

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Good Friday’s Goodness

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He was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.  (Isaiah 53:5)

It seems counterintuitive to refer to the day when Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried as “good,” but its goodness is so utterly glorious that it’s cosmic!

For the Christian, Good Friday begins the celebration of the most momentous three days in the history of the world. That weekend began on the Hill Golgotha, where . . . well, Scripture explains it far more eloquently than I ever could!

Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.
(Psalm 85:10 ESV)

When Jesus cried out, “It is finished” from that cruel cross, He meant what He said! The demands of God’s perfect, righteous justice were fulfilled when Jesus paid the penalty for our sins in full. Because Jesus took our place on that cross, receiving the full measure of God’s divine wrath for our sin, we have now received the first fruit of justification: peace with God.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” so that the holy demands of His perfect righteousness would be completely satisfied by Christ’s sacrificial death, “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16 NKJV). God’s unwavering, steadfast love for you, Christian, met God’s faithfulness to administer justice, and both were fully expressed at Calvary. Righteousness and peace met at the cross and kissed one another. This really is goodness on steroids!

But it doesn’t stop there. The weekend reached its glorious conclusion when God placed His supernatural stamp of approval on all that Jesus had done by raising His beloved Son from death to life.

“He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” (Matthew 28:6 NKJV)

The angel reminded the women that Jesus walked out of the tomb, just as He predicted He would. You see, Good Friday’s goodness brings us to Easter morning and the Resurrection. If Jesus had remained dead in the grave, we would all still be dead in our sins. But Jesus was raised from death to life and showed Himself to hundreds of people during a 40-day period before He ascended back into heaven, where He now sits at the right hand of God the Father.

The “goodness” of Good Friday not only saves us from the penalty of our sin, it also begins the life-long process of saving us from the power of sin. Peter writes, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24).

Jesus Christ’s wounds witness to the wealth of goodness that we have been given through His unimaginable suffering on that dark, dreadful day more than 2,000 years ago. To the watching world, evil had triumphed, but that “victory” was short lived. On Easter morning, Jesus became the death of death; and that, beloved, is the ultimate goodness of Good Friday. Let that truth set you free on this Good Friday as you prepare to celebrate the Resurrection.

Death has been swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting? (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)

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

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Fallible Faith

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Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” (John 21:15)

As a pastor, I frequently encounter those who are struggling with their “fallible” faith. I always remind them to go back through the biblical record and see that this is the only kind of faith the people of God were ever able to demonstrate! We see the faith of Jesus and we marvel, as we rightly should, and it is this Christlike faith that we are to desire with every fiber of our being. But we must never imagine that this is the kind of faith we will demonstrate on this side of the grave. When we fall short—and we will, time and time again—we must remember that our salvation is not rooted in our faithfulness to Jesus, but rather in His faithfulness to us.

Let these few examples of fallible faith comfort you today:

  • Abraham tried twice to pass his wife off as his sister to save his own skin.
  • Jacob did everything he could to scheme his way into his birthright.
  • Moses killed an Egyptian taskmaster and hid in the desert for forty years.
  • David slept with Bathsheba and then had her husband killed to try to cover it up.
  • Elijah cried out for death after defeating the prophets of Baal.
  • Jonah ran from God’s call and spent three days in the belly of a great fish.
  • Peter denied Jesus three times in the courtyard on the night He was betrayed.
  • John Mark deserted Paul and Barnabas during a missionary trip.

Fallible faith that leads to failure does not end your relationship with Christ! Falling is only fatal if you fail to get back up. Wherever this finds you, know that God wrote your story before the beginning of time, and it contains moments of rock-solid faith and moments where your faith falters. Why? Because you are still a sinner in moment-by-moment need of a Savior. This is the condition of each and every one of us. Not one of the giants of the faith listed here was disqualified from serving their Savior, even though they failed badly—many of them on more than one occasion. God restored them over and over again, calling them to continue in their calling.

When Job said, “Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1), he was speaking of you and me! This was not a statement for the unbeliever and the ungodly. It is a biblical truth for everyone born of woman.

Near the end of his life, Paul wrote, “I have kept the faith.” Don’t fool yourself into thinking that Paul meant he kept the faith perfectly. Paul called himself the “chief sinner” (1 Timothy 1:15); everything he did he did imperfectly. His faith was as fallible as yours and mine, but Paul never let that stop him from doing what God had called him to do. May this be the confession of our lives as we seek to live, by God’s grace, for the good of others and the glory of God, in spite of a faith that will be fallible from time to time.

For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again . . . (Proverbs 24:16)

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

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Believers . . . Not Achievers

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The disciples asked, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:28-29)

We can get so caught up in doing, doing, doing, that we can forget that our first priority in our relationship with Jesus is believing, not achieving.

How does this truth resonate with you today?

The first thing we must keep in view is what we are called by God to do—believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Then we focus on what we are called by God to be—believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. If we exchange achieving for believing, our entire relationship will be rooted in merit rather than mercy . . . good works rather than grace. We will be slaves to the law rather than servants of our Lord. This was the condition of the Jewish religion in Jesus’ day: the Scribes and Pharisees were trying to work their way into the blessing and favor of God.

Notice that when the disciples asked Jesus what work God required, Jesus did not say, “No work at all.” Instead He raised the work of believing to the very top of the list for those who are called by the Lord. Before we can even begin to consider any kind of service and work for our Lord, we must be settled in what we believe. We must believe that Jesus is the promised and anointed Messiah. We must believe that Jesus lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death, rose from the grave, is now seated at the right hand of God the Father, and will come again to judge the living and the dead. Everything we achieve must flow from these truths we believe.

It’s a funny thing about believing; the more you believe, the more you will ultimately achieve. Achieving flows out of believing. This is a faith that is alive, and because it believes in Jesus as Lord and Savior, it achieves for the glory of Jesus as Lord and Savior. And all of this is a result of God’s grace in our lives. The more we believe, the more the Holy Spirit will guide us into the works that God foreordained that we should do. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).

Knowing that Jesus responded to a cry for “action” with a profound statement of “belief” should be a source of great encouragement for you today. Regardless of where this finds you, Jesus wants you to focus your attention more on believing than achieving; when you do, achieving will naturally follow and flow from your believing. This is God’s perfect plan and purpose for your life. Live it today and every day until He calls you home!

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

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