False Expectations

This message is a part of the new sermon series for 2016 at King’s Grant Baptist Church, taken from Luke 14:25-35. Here is the video of my message.

There was a debate perhaps 25 years on the meaning of salvation. At that time I discovered a tremendously insightful resource by John MacArthur called, The Gospel According to Jesus. It changed my life. This is what it was all about…

As Baptists we understand that salvation by grace through faith. No one earns salvation through their deeds. But can someone be saved and not follow Jesus as a disciple? Can Jesus be your Savior without him being your Lord? Can you pray a prayer as a younger person, and because Baptists believe in “once saved always saved,” it matters not that you never grow in maturity?

Let me tell you a story about someone coming to Christ while I was out witnessing with my pastor; this was my first full-time staff position after seminary. The pastor and I went out visiting and this young man, likely a senior in high school, sat and talked with us at his kitchen table. I sensed that the guy was not buying what we were selling, but before we left, he was on his knees praying the sinner’s prayer with my pastor. My question after that evening, after it was all said and done was, “will we ever see this guy get involved in worship, Bible study, or have any desire to grow in spiritual maturity at all?” Did he mean it? Was he ready to accept the challenge of following Jesus?

What are the expectations that WE have of Jesus and Christianity? What are the expectations that Jesus has of US?

When Jesus left the Pharisee’s house, great crowds followed Him, but He was not impressed by their enthusiasm. He knew that most of those in the crowd were not the least bit interested in spiritual things. Some wanted only to see miracles, others heard that He fed the hungry, and a few hoped He would overthrow Rome and establish David’s promised kingdom. They were expecting the wrong things.

Jesus turned to the multitude and preached a sermon that deliberately thinned out the ranks. He made it clear that, when it comes to personal discipleship, He is more interested in quality than quantity. In the matter of saving lost souls, He wants His house to be filled (Luke 14:23); but in the matter of personal discipleship, He wants only those who are willing to pay the price.

A “disciple” is a learner, one who attaches himself or herself to a teacher in order to learn a trade or a subject. Perhaps our nearest modern equivalent is “apprentice,” one who learns by watching and by doing. The word disciple was the most common name for the followers of Jesus Christ and is used 264 times in the Gospels and the Book of Acts.

Jesus seems to make a distinction between salvation and discipleship. Salvation is open to all who will come by faith, while discipleship is for believers willing to pay a price. Salvation means coming to the cross and trusting Jesus Christ, while discipleship means carrying the cross and following Jesus Christ. Jesus wants as many sinners saved as possible (“that My house may be filled”), but He cautions us not to take discipleship lightly; and in the three parables He gave, He made it clear that there is a price to pay.

We are going to dive in to what it means to love Jesus Christ supremely and to carry one’s cross.

  1. Jesus’ Instruction concerning discipleship (Luke 14:25-27)
    1. In regard to the candidate’s family (Luke 14:25-26)
      1. Jesus was still traveling toward Jerusalem, and large crowds had joined him.
        1. Perhaps all these casual followers considered themselves “disciples” of this popular teacher.
        2. Perhaps they thought he was the Messiah and wanted to be there when he inaugurated his kingdom.
      2. Jesus needed to explain that following him did not mean receiving goodies, like the expectation of so many children.
        1. He wanted to explain what it meant to truly be his disciple. So he turned and spoke to them. His disciples had to hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself.
        2. This may be the only verse that teenagers will enthusiastically quote and follow, after all, Jesus said that I am to hate my parents.
        3. Certainly this caused a stir among the people. Who would possibly ask his followers to hate their family members and life itself? The point is not to HATE, but to LOVE others less. Your love for Jesus must be so strong that any other relationship of LOVE would look like HATE in comparison.
      3. Jesus never contradicts himself. Never has Jesus advocated “hatred”—in fact, he even commanded his followers to love their enemies (Luke 6:27, 35).
        1. In these words Jesus was not going against his own commands of love, or the fifth commandment to honor father and mother (Exodus 20:12).
        2. Instead, the word “hate” is a Semitic hyperbole—an obvious exaggeration to make a point (see Genesis 29:30–33; Proverbs 13:24). Their love for Jesus should be so complete and wholehearted that their love for family members, and for life itself, would pale in comparison, to the point of being like hatred. In first-century Jewish family settings, deciding for Jesus could mean alienation from the family.
        3. Jesus warned the would-be disciples that they must be clear about their true allegiance. Jesus’ point was that those who wanted to be his followers would have demands placed upon them. The task would not be easy. Sometimes relationships would be severed, and his followers would have to turn away and remain with Jesus (12:51–53). Those who cannot make that kind of commitment cannot be his disciple.
    2. In regard to the candidate (Luke 14:27)
      1. Besides being willing to love Jesus more than any others and more than life itself, the true disciple must be ready to carry the cross and follow Christ.
      2. Jesus’ audience was well aware of what it meant to “carry the cross.” When the Romans led a criminal to his execution site, the criminal would be forced to carry the cross on which he would die. This showed submission to Rome and warned observers that they had better submit too.
      3. Carrying your cross means daily identification with Christ in shame, suffering, and surrender to God’s will. It means death to self, to our own plans and ambitions, and a willingness to serve Him as He directs (John 12:23–28). Bearing a “cross” is something we willingly accept from God as part of His will for our lives.
      4. Jesus gave this teaching to get the crowds to think through their enthusiasm for him. He encouraged those who were superficial either to go deeper or to turn back. Following Christ means total submission to him—perhaps even to the point of death.
  2. Jesus’ Illustration concerning discipleship (Luke 14:28-35)
    1. A disciple must be like a man preparing to build: the example of the unfinished building (Luke 14:28-30). The story has a couple interesting observations.
      1. Adequate Resources – mockery – a landmark of foolishness. If a person could not finish what he started, the community would mock him, and his unfinished building would be a testimony to his lack of following through.
      2. Adverse Reality – the calling to follow Jesus deserves serious thought and contemplation – the example of John Mark leaving the missionary journey (Acts 12:25-13:5, 13:13). The glamour and newness wears off and reality sets in. The young man did not count the cost of following Jesus and serving God as a companion of Paul.
    2. A disciple must be like a monarch preparing for battle: the example of a unsuccessful war (Luke 14:31-33) – To rush out with his soldiers, without first discussing the options, would invite disaster for any nation. It is far better to think it through beforehand. So those who want to follow Jesus should carefully consider their decision.
      1. The Christian life is a battle, if it was easy, everyone would do it.
      2. Satan is the enemy and our adversary, who seeks out downfall. He is the god of this world. Spiritual warfare is not a minor endeavor.
      3. For some, giving up everything may be literal, such as the rich young ruler in Luke 18:18–23 and many of Jesus’ early followers; for others it may be a willingness to hold loosely to material possessions.
    3. A disciple must be like a maître d’ preparing for a banquet: the example of an unsavory condiment (Luke 14:34-35)
      1. The maître d’ handles the reservations and preparations, so many Christians blend into the world and avoid the cost of standing up for Christ.
      2. But Jesus says if Christians lose their distinctive saltiness, they become worthless. Just as salt flavors and preserves food, Christ’s disciples are to preserve the good in the world, help keep it from spoiling, and bring new flavor to life.
      3. This requires careful planning, willing sacrifice, and unswerving commitment to Christ’s kingdom. Being “salty” is not easy, but if Christians fail in this function, they fail to represent Christ in the world. The person with ears should be able to understand these words and apply them.
        1. Salt without flavor is good for nothing; it has no purpose at the dinner table.
        2. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

What are those “costs” to believers? Christians may face loss of social status or wealth. Family and friends may hate or avoid you. We may have to give up control over their money, time, or career. It is not like living overseas where Christianity is illegal, and may cost your freedom or your life.

Following Christ does not mean living a trouble-free life. All people must carefully count the cost of becoming Christ’s disciple so that they will know what they are getting into and won’t be tempted to turn back when the going gets tough.

The title of this message is False Expectations, so let me wrap this us by sharing with you what I would call one of the most haunting verses in the Bible is Matthew 7:21-23 – “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ Talk about false expectations. Those who expects “well done, good and faithful servant,” heard Jesus say, depart from me, I never knew you.”

Discipleship is serious business. If we are not true disciples, then Jesus cannot build the tower and fight the war. Oswald Chambers wrote, “There is always an if in connection with discipleship, and it implies that we need not [be disciples] unless we embrace this. There is never any compulsion; Jesus does not coerce us. There is only one way of being a disciple, and that is by being devoted to Jesus.”

IF we tell Jesus that we want to take up our cross and follow Him as His disciples, THEN He wants us to know exactly what we are getting into. He wants no false expectancy, no illusions, no bargains. He wants to use us as STONES for building His church, SOLDIERS for battling His enemies, and SALT for bettering His world; and He is looking for quality more than quality.

Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem when He spoke these words, and look what happened to Him there! He does not ask us to do anything for Him that He has not already done for us.

To some people, Jesus says, “You cannot be My disciples!” Why? Because they will not forsake everything for Christ, bearing shame and reproach for Him, and letting their love for Him control them.

Will you be His disciple?

Next Steps:

  • How possible are this conditions for you?
  • What has it cost you to follow Jesus?
  • What cost of following Jesus seems too high for you?
  • What relationships of other loyalties do you need to pray about to strengthen your loyalty to Jesus?
  • In what area of your life can you have a deliberate effect for Christ this week?

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Facing Our Spiritual Immaturity

The writer to the Hebrews instructs the church to, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrew 13:17). This is an awesome charge, NOT to the leaders, but to the people. While the leaders have charge over the souls of God’s people (which is intimidatingly awesome to say the least) the writer tells the people that it is their responsibility to not cause grief to their spiritual leaders. Spiritual leaders teach, guide, instruct, challenge, protect, admonish, comfort, and yes, rebuke and discipline when it is needed. It is not an authority thing, or a superiority issue, but God says there are benefits in people cooperating with their leaders. As people catch vision, discover their places of service and ministry, live out their faith in a lost and dying world, leading people ought to be a joy, not full of grief.

So, this message is from a heart of love and compassion, to help us and to challenge us all to become the people of God that the Lord desires for us to be.

From the Hebrews 5 passage today, the consequences of not being all-in for God, is spiritual immaturity. And let’s admit it, we often desire to remain immature, probably so that we are not obligated to work, or to serve, or get connected, or talk about our faith, or lead people to Jesus, or teach preschoolers or children… just fill in the blank with whatever you fear that God would ask you to do for his kingdom.

How many of us would admit that we have told God, “Give me enough of Jesus to escape hell, but not so much that would move me toward actually BEING the hands and feet of Jesus in the church or the community.”

After a long discussion about the priesthood of Christ being superior to that of the earthly priests in the line of Aaron (Hebrews 5:1-10), we get to our focal passage today. Here the writer deviates from his theological presentation to address to the people of the church… and in addressing them, he addresses us.

This is a practical section on how to move away from spiritual immaturity and toward spiritual maturity (Hebrews 5:11-14), but first, everyone needs to take an inventory of their spiritual progress. If you recognize your spiritual immaturity, you may be have-way there. But let’s NOT stay there. Using this spiritual inventory, we will see that it is so important to know where you ARE before you can get where you want to GO.

What about the people reading this letter? They needed to face their spiritual immaturity… and so do we. The first thing I want to point out is that…

They had a MENTAL problem, they were dull of hearing. Dullness in hearing is definitely a sign of spiritual immaturity. Let’s read again Hebrews 5:11 – Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. Let’s recap through the book of Hebrews and discover their backward journey…

First, they were drifting from the Word (Hebrews 2:1-3a) – For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. 2 For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, 3 how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?

Next, they were doubting the Word (Hebrews 3:7-4:13) – 3:12 Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end… 4:11 Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience. How will anyone have an evil, unbelieving heart? They doubt the Word of God and embrace the deceitfulness of sin.

Now, they were dull of hearing the Word of God, which manifested itself by being unable to listen to God’s Word, receive the Word, or even act on the Word. They were not like the people in Thessalonica where Paul writes about them, “Therefore, we never stop thanking God that when you received his message from us, you didn’t think of our words as mere human ideas. You accepted what we said as the very word of God—which, of course, it is. And this word continues to work in you who believe.” (1 Thessalonians 2:13)

Face it; one of the first steps backward toward spiritual immaturity and complacency is that we develop a dullness toward the Bible and the things of God.

  • The Sunday School class is dull.
  • The lesson is dull.
  • The preacher and his sermons are dull.
  • All this church stuff is always dull, or to use the word of the day, BORING.

But let me submit to you that it is not the Sunday School teacher, not the preacher, or anything else, but the problem resides within the attender himself, because when you encounter the living God, it is anything but dull.

The fact is, you get out of a service or a Bible study exactly what you expect from it or what you put into it. Worship becomes “all about me” when I tell myself or someone else about how the choir special didn’t speak to me, or that the preacher’s message was irrelevant to my life.

How often do we drive to church having LITTLE or NO preparation to encounter the living God? We hurriedly strut into God’s presence with an attitude of, “bless me, wow me, God must surely be happy that I’m here today, this service better not go past 12:00, I hope no one comes forward to get saved because that will delay my lunch, I’m not going to respond to the invitation and commitment time because THAT is for other people, because me and God are just fine.”

So, people were dull of hearing, which indicated they had a MENTAL problem. I also challenge you to see that…

They had a MORAL problem, they refused to be teachers. Face it, the inability to share God’s truth with other people is a sign of spiritual immaturity. Hebrews 5:12a says, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God.” The word, “ought” indicates an obligation, and since it was their DUTY to teach others, their failure to do so became a moral problem.

I understand that not all believers have the gift of teaching, but we ALL can tell someone else about what we learned in the Bible, or what God has taught us by reading the Bible.

I find it interesting that the very first real problem we discover in a child is the inability to share with other people? NOT sharing is certainly a sign of childishness and immaturity.

Those who were the recipients of this letter should have been teaching others by now. But instead of helping others to grow in their knowledge of and love for God, they were in need of going over and over again the elementary principles of the Christian life. They wanted to stay in the shallow end of the pool, never desiring to launch into the deep end of spiritual truth and understanding.

If you want to get out of the kiddie pool or out of your second childhood, then learn to teach others, learn to share the Word of God with other people. It takes a little practice to be good at it, but you have to get started and keep moving forward.

Teach in your own Sunday School class; ask for an opportunity to lead a lesson one week, be a substitute once a month.

Tell Connie or Karen that you want to invest your life into the next generation, leaving a legacy of faith to the children in our congregation. You can sign up for every other month in a 9:45 Sunday School class or even once a month working with preschoolers at 11:00.

Think about all the needs we have in our children’s and our preschool departments. If everyone would simply commit to helping out every once in a while, we will share the load, and those who have been serving faithfully for years won’t burn out. People can still be a part of an adult class on a regular basis.

I’ve heard a few stories from older members who founded and established this church, that “we have put in our time, and it’s time for the 30-somethings and 40-somethings to step up…” There IS something to be said for that.

I know that many people in this room have taught for years and faithfully served for so long, but is it EVER true that you can retire from teaching others the Word of God?

Some people may not be physically able to serve like they used to and that’s OK. Maybe your strength doesn’t allow you to securely hold babies anymore, or your knees won’t let you to get on the floor with toddlers.

But I challenge you all to look around the room and see all of the able-bodied believers who could step up to the meet needs of others and share what they have and what they know with others.

After looking around, make sure you also look in the mirror. What is holding YOU back? Knowledge? Apathy? Education? The fear of tough questions? Very few people attended seminary so you can’t simply leave it all to the pastor or staff. The CHURCH is charged with the gospel, that ALL of US, ordinary followers of Jesus allowing the Holy Spirit to use us as he sees fit.

Remember that the Word of God was translated into the vernacular (the common language) so that God’s Word would be in the hands of everyday common people. No longer would God’s Word be only for an elite few (like pastors and priests) who understood Latin, or New Testament Greek. The Bible is for the PEOPLE to read, and then people are unleashed to read, serve, teach, witness, and share about God and what he has done for us all.

Let me put in a good word about small groups and teaching: I would much rather have servant-leaders who have a heart for a small group of people, than those who just teach the Bible without exercising care and concern for their flock.

Fortunately, King’s Grant has a bunch of people serving in our discipleship ministry who do BOTH very well. But the fact is, we will not, and cannot grow to the next level without the body of Christ stepping up and doing what it takes to serve and teach others. We cannot let our faith or discipleship be a “one-hour-on-Sunday” experience.

So, not only did these people in the book of Hebrews have a MENTAL problem, (they were dull of hearing the Word of God); and have a MORAL problem, (they refused to do their duty and teach God’s word to others)…

They had a DEVELOPMENTAL problem: They preferred their “baby food” diet by continuing to feed on “milk” rather than “meat,” which is another sign of their spiritual immaturity. Hebrews 5:12b-13 says, “you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant.” These people were still babies.

I believe that spiritual infancy is nurtured by religious ritual. I say this because the nation of Israel would be considered to be in the infancy stage of Christianity. The old covenant has passed away and the new covenant was brought through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. With the coming of Christ, the nursery is left behind. They made no spiritual progress because they were tied to the apron strings of a ritualistic religious system.

Perhaps the ritualistic system today is what I call “drive by church.” Many people say, “I’ll just attend, but have no plans on getting involved, or investing my life into others, or allowing others to invest their lives into me.” For many people, Christmas and Easter are all they desire of the things of God, and this may be the ultimate in a ritualistic mindset.

Let’s talk about the “milk” and “meat” for a moment:

  • “Milk” is considered to be the first or elementary principles of God, which would include the teachings about the earthly ministry of Jesus: his birth, life, teachings, miracles, death, burial, resurrection.
  • “Meat” would be the teachings about the ministry of Jesus RIGHT NOW in heaven as our high priest.

Even the most mature believer still drinks milk, we enjoy and are challenged by the teachings of Jesus while he was on earth. But we must not stop there. We must include what we call theology. How does all of this fit together? How is Jesus the fulfillment of the Old Testament? How can I apply this teaching in today’s world?

So, these people had a MENTAL problem, (they were dull of hearing the Word of God); and had a MORAL problem, (they refused to do their duty and teach God’s word to others); they also had a DEVELOPMENTAL problem (preferring spiritual milk rather than meat); and finally, we come to the last mark of spiritual immaturity…

They had a DISCERNMENT problem: They were unskilled in using God’s Word, because as we grow in spirituality and knowledge of God’s Word, we must learn to apply it in everyday life. Hebrews 5:14 tells us, “But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

When we APPLY the Word of God, we develop our spiritual senses and exercise discernment. Little children lack such discernment; think about it, a baby will put anything in its mouth, food, bugs, dirt, rocks, moth balls, a soiled diaper.

So, what does that means for an immature believer? He or she will listen to ANY preacher on the TV, radio, or podcast and not be able to discern truth from error.

Discerning good and evil are a part of the Christian life, and those reading this letter to the Hebrews were in danger of making a terrible mistake. Just as Israel failed to discern God’s leadership, their failure caused them to go backwards and wander aimlessly through the wilderness. They were unable to enter into God’s rest.

Hebrew 4:11 says, “Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.

Wow, it’s time to draw this to a close. How do we make this message practical? Let me tell you a story.

Imagine a football team, fired up, the cheering crowds, with pep rally fever pitch, and now the team is running out to the huddle. They gather to hear the play, break, and then run back to the bench. This happens several times, and the crowd begins to wonder what’s going on. This is a great picture of today’s American church. We run out on the field, huddle, hear the pastor’s plays, he tells us what we need to do, we all agree, then break, we run back to the sidelines. Imagine the church actually running the plays, and making a difference. (from Francis Chan, The Forgotten God)

It’s time to face your spiritual immaturity and you MUST conduct a proper evaluation of where you are before you look ahead to where you want to be. Check your bulletin outline and look at those questions at the bottom.

  1. How would you describe your level of spiritual maturity?
  2. How have you grown since you first came to faith in Christ?
  3. For what decisions do you need a little extra discernment?
  4. Of what does your spiritual diet consist?
  5. How can you become more useful to God and his kingdom?
  6. What will you plan to do to become more mature in your relationship with Christ?
  7. What will you change in your daily and weekly routine to combat spiritual immaturity and laziness?
  8. Where will you volunteer to make an impact on others? It’s time to get out of the huddle and run some plays!

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Defining Success

Have you ever asked this question in a group of church people? “How do you know if the church is being successful?”

Generally there is silence and a perceived need for clarification, so let’s rephrase the question: “How do you measure the success of your ministry?” Generally more silence. Either people are afraid to say what they think, or they have no definitive answer.

We’re wired with a desire to succeed, whether it’s a relationship, the classroom, the marketplace, the athletic field, or ministry. Since success is so important to us, we should have a way to measure it.

Consider these four questions, which are intended for every believer, not just pastors and church staff, because God wants us all to pursue success as He defines it.

Question 1: Are You Being Faithful?
I read a book long ago called Liberating Your Ministry from Success Syndrome. In that book the author challenged the reader to step away from the numbers game. Pastors love to play this game at the Convention… “We grew by 55% this past year,” or “We baptized 30 new believers.” But the pastor of a small church who faithfully preaches the gospel, witnesses in the community and shepherds his local congregation year after year with little results, what about him? The numbers indicate that he is not successful like these other churches.

I suppose that we would declare the apostle Paul as unsuccessful… after all, he was a jail bird who was run out of town on several occasions, causing riots and turning the world upside down. But I suspect that none of us would classify Paul as a failure.

We all want to hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Hearing those words would shout success. In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), it’s profound to note that the master commended faithfulness: What did you do with what I gave you? The second servant received the exact same commendations as the first servant, even though he produced less of a return. Jesus is making the point that being a faithful steward of what you’ve been given is what matters most. Are you being faithful?

Question 2: Are You Bearing Fruit?
In John 15:1-11, Jesus taught that it’s God’s will that we bear much fruit. As we do so, God is glorified, and we prove to be Christ’s disciples. The New Testament speaks of two kinds of fruit:

  1. The fruit of Christ-like character (Galatians 5:22-23). The fruit of the Holy Spirit includes nine characteristics that should fittingly describe those who call themselves Christians.
  2. The fruit of Christ-like influence (Acts 10:38). We’re called to make a difference in the world in the name of Jesus.

So, are you bearing fruit?

Question 3: Are You Fulfilled?
My dictionary defines fulfill as, among other things, “to make full.” Is your life or ministry making you full of joy. Looking again at the parable of the talents, the master told his faithful servants, “Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21, 23). Joy is one of the primary blessings of faithful and fruitful service.

This is exactly what Jesus indicated as He concluded His remarks in John 15 about fruit-bearing: “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (John 15:11). Jesus taught them to bear fruit so they would know His joy, and experience it in the fullest way. Are you fulfilled?

Question 4: Are You Making God Famous?
God wants us to be faithful, to bear fruit, and to experience fulfillment (his joy) in a way that makes him famous. Peter teaches that the faithful exercise of our gifts is “so that in all things God may be glorified” (1 Peter 4:10-11). Jesus tells us, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16). Are you making God famous?

Imagine for a moment what your church or ministry would be like if every believer was successful in biblical teams: faithful, fruitful, fulfilled, and engaged in making God famous. While such an objective may not be as quantifiable as other measures, it’s worth pursuing because it’s God’s measurement of success.

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Suffering and Glory

These are notes from my reading John R. W. Stott’s classic book, The Cross of Christ.

According to the Bible, suffering is an alien intrusion into God’s good world, and it will have no part in his new universe.

  1. Suffering is often caused due to sin, or the sin of others: children suffer with unloving or irresponsible parents, poor and hungry people suffer from economic injustice, refugees suffer from cruelties of war, people suffer in road casualties cause by alcohol.
  2. Suffering can be a reckless use of our freedom. There is cause and effect but it is much different than Hindu karma. Think about how unreliable the universe would be receiving pain for every wrong step and pleasure for every good step.
  3. Suffering is due to the human sensitivity to pain: but pain is a valuable warning sign that something is wrong (Dr. Paul Brand, leprosy, and feeling pain).
  4. Suffering is due to the kind of environment God has placed us: laws of nature are in effect when the hurricane devastates a coastal town.

Stoics believed that suffering is meaningless, but Jesus spoke of it as revealing God’s glory. What then is the relationship between Christ’s suffering and ours? How does the cross speak to our pain?

Patient Endurance: while suffering is to be recognized as evil therefore resisted, there comes a time when it must be realistically accepted. It is no credit to us if we are beaten for doing wrong, but if we suffer for doing good and endure it, this would be pleasing to God (1 Peter 2:18-23, Hebrews 12:1-3).

Mature Holiness (Hebrews 2:10, 5:8-9, 7:28, James 1:2-4): Jesus was made perfect through suffering, and he was never disobedient. Here are biblical images of suffering and discipline:

  1. A father disciplines his children: this is an expression of love. No discipline means no love.
  2. God as a refiner of gold: heat to purify and remove the dross.
  3. Jesus mentions his allegory of the vine: pruning to bear fruit.

God intends suffering to be a means of grace; it develops humility and deepens insight.

Suffering Service (John 12:23-26, 32-33): death is more than the way to life; it is the secret of fruitfulness. Unless it falls into the ground and dies, it remains a single seed. Paul found meaning in his suffering; the greatest secret of evangelism or missionary effectiveness is the willingness to suffer and die for the sake of others:

  1. For the sake of the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:1, 13)
  2. For the sake of the body (Colossians 1:24)
  3. For the sake of the elect (2 Timothy 2:8-10)

The Hope of Glory (Hebrews 12:2): suffering should be expected; don’t be surprised by it (Matthew 5:10-12, John 15:18-21, Philippians 1:30, 1 Thessalonians 3:3, 1 Peter 2:21, 4:12, 2 Timothy 3:12). It is the hope of glory than makes suffering bearable. What happens to us down here cannot compare to the next life. Suffering is God’s appointed path toward sanctification (mature holiness), multiplication (fruitful service), and glorification (our final destiny).

The Ground of a Reasonable Faith: Job had the attitude of self-pity and self-assertion, while his friends’ attitude may be described as self-accusation. The goal is self-surrender, which Job realizes at the end of the book.

The Pain of God: the cross of Christ is proof of God’s love, that it is personal, loving solidarity with us in our pain. Philip Yancey wrote a book called, “Where is God When it Hurts?” and asked an interesting question, “If God is truly in charge, somehow connected to all the world’s suffering, why is he so capricious, unfair?” Similar to Job 9:23, like God mocking the despair of the innocent. But God is not on a deck chair watching us, he was on the cross, and continues to suffer with us today.

Outside of Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus wept with those who grieved and snorted with indignation. He wept over Jerusalem, lamenting over their blindness and obstinacy.

Nobel Peace Prize winner (1986) Elie Wiesel wrote about his time in the death camps of Auschwitz, Buna and Buchenwald and came to this conclusion: he heard over and over the question about “Where is God? Where is he?” and as they were force to watch hangings at the gallows, he heard it again, “Where is God now?” He heard a voice within him answer, “Here he is…he is hanging here on this gallows.” God in Christ suffers with his people still.

Seven Affirmations in the Letter to the Galatians:

  1. The Cross and Salvation (Galatians 1:3-5): an introductory statement that is theologically balance and indicates what the letter is going to be about.
    1. The death of Jesus was voluntary and determined.
    2. The death of Jesus was for our sins.
    3. The purpose of Jesus’ death was to rescue us.
    4. The present result of Jesus’ death is grace and peace.
    5. The eternal result of Jesus’ death is that God will be glorified forever.
  2. The Cross and Experience (Galatians 2:19-21): in context Paul writes about justification, how a righteous God can declare sinful humans as righteous. Several times he repeats it is not by the law. The death of Jesus on the cross satisfied the demands of the law.
  3. The Cross and Preaching (Galatians 3:1-3): once you have begun in faith in Christ, why continue in their own achievement?
    1. Gospel-preaching proclaims the cross visually (prographo).
    2. Gospel-preaching proclaims the cross visually as a present reality (to accept or reject).
    3. Gospel-preaching proclaims the cross as a visual, present and permanent reality (perfect tense indicates a permanent benefit of the historical action).
    4. Gospel-preaching proclaims the cross also as an object of personal faith (we continue in faith and grace, not personal efforts).
  4. The Cross and Substitution (Galatians 3:10-14): here is the meaning and consequence of the faith. Here is Paul’s logic:
    1. All who rely upon the law are under a curse (Galatians 2:16, 3:10, 11, 12, Deuteronomy 27:26, Habakkuk 2:4).
    2. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (plain statement of substitution, Galatians 3:13).
    3. Christ did this in order that in him the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, by faith (Galatians 3:14).
  5. The Cross and Persecution (Galatians 5:11, 6:12)
    1. Preaching circumcision is to preach salvation by the law.
    2. Preaching the cross is to preach salvation by God’s grace alone.
  6. The Cross and Holiness (Galatians 5:24): there are acts of the flesh and acts/fruit of the Spirit).
  7. The Cross and Boasting (Galatians 6:14): false teachers where obsessed with the numbers of their converts.
    1. To glory or boast in the cross is to see it as the way of acceptance with God.
    2. To glory or boast in the cross is to see it as the pattern of our self-denial.

The Cross in Galatians:

  1. The grounds for our justification (Galatians 1:4, 3:13)
  2. The means of our sanctification (Galatians 2:20, 5:24, 6:14)
  3. The subject of our witness (Galatians 3:1, 5:11, 6:12)
  4. The object of our boasting (Galatians 6:14, 17, Philippians 3:18)

A Desire to Be Wise

I believe that growing up in spiritual things involves growth in wisdom. It’s not just about being smart, but how your life experiences have taught lessons as well. It might help to define wisdom. The Holman Bible Dictionary tells us this:

Real Wisdom Is the Fear of God: Three basic definitions of wisdom summarize the status of the field of study very well. Note that the first two of these definitions are quite secular in nature while the third is religious.

  1. First, wisdom is considered by many to be simply the art of learning how to succeed in life. Apparently, ancient persons learned very early that there was an orderliness to the world in which they lived. They also learned that success and happiness came from living in accordance with that orderliness (Proverbs 22:17–24:22).
  2. Second, wisdom is considered by some to be a philosophical study of the essence of life. Certainly, much of the Books of Job and Ecclesiastes seem to deal with just such existential issues of life (see particularly Job 30:29-31).
  3. Third, though the other definitions might include this, it seems that the real essence of wisdom is spiritual, for life is more than just living by a set of rules and being rewarded in some physical manner. Undoubtedly, in this sense wisdom comes from God (Proverbs 2:6). Thus, though it will involve observation and instruction, it really begins with God and one’s faith in Him as Lord and Savior (Proverbs 1:7; Job 28:28).

When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths. (1 Corinthians 2:13)

Everyone wants to be wise, yet here Paul taught the Corinthians that true wisdom or discernment requires the believer to be guided by the Holy Spirit. Because Satan’s greatest impact on us occurs when he deceives us, we need the Holy Spirit’s help. Spiritual discernment enables us to

  1. Draw conclusions based on God’s perspective
  2. Make wise decisions in difficult circumstances
  3. Recognize the activities of God’s Spirit
  4. Distinguish the correct and incorrect use of Scripture
  5. Identify and expose false teachers

Ask God to give you his discernment and wisdom as you serve him. Let that discernment guide you in your daily walk with Christ.

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