- Religious observance can easily become more important than God’s law. Whether it’s a tradition like that of the Pharisees, or our own spiritual exercises (things like church attendance, and even reading the Bible and prayer), religious observance can easily become an end rather than a means to an end.
- Hypocrisy isn’t exclusive to those who do all the right things. What I mean is this. We often label the religious zealot as hypocrite because while he is clearly obeying all the rules (external), it’s obvious his heart (internal) isn’t right. But let me flip that around. If you attend worship services, call yourself a Christian, and perform an occasional service project, while living an otherwise selfish, indulgent life, your heart isn’t right either. You’re just as much a hypocrite. I looked it up. Hypocrisy is “the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform.” It is posturing yourself one way, while your heart – and thus behavior – reflects a different reality. (I’m tempted to qualify this, but I won’t. Apply it however necessary.)
- God isn’t opposed to the things that matter to you. He just doesn’t want them to matter as much as the things that matter to Him! Wow, that was probably a very confusing way of saying it. But I hope you get the point. Our traditions are fine. If certain things are important to you, make you feel more comfortable, make church and/or spiritual exercises more real or valued, no problem! But they must always be servant to the weightier matters of the law – things like loving God, and loving your neighbor as yourself! If you come to church on Sunday because that’s important, but act like the devil on Monday, because that isn’t important, your priorities are out of whack. If you care more about where you sit on Sunday, or how folks are dressed, than you do the needy sinner that just walked through the door, you need some adjustments. The things that matter to God are always of greater importance, and every preference or tradition must be servant to them.
This is clearly the most important thing I can do in the Christian life, if I hope to be fruitful and experience God’s best. It is also the hardest. Because it goes against my nature. You see, the key to abiding is “staying connected”, that’s the comparison Jesus draws with the vine and branch. And I have trouble staying close enough to Jesus to stay connected. Here’s why:
- Sometimes I run ahead – because I am almost always in a hurry. Sometimes I don’t even seek His counsel. I want to solve every problem, answer every question, meet every need, and save the world – NOW! Jesus’ pace is even and steady. He never concerns himself with time. He has different objectives.
- Sometimes I veer off course – because I am selfish and want to do what seems or feels best to me. Jesus always takes the selfless path; the path of humility, sacrifice and service.
- Sometimes I lag behind – because I’m pretty sure I know what He wants, and where He’s leading, and I am reluctance to go there. Jesus always walks in perfect step with – and in perfect obedience to – the Father.
- Sometimes I sit and wring my hands, in worry – because I am fearful the outcome won’t be what I want or when I want. I am anxious my needs won’t be met. Jesus, on the other hand, walks in perfect peace knowing the Source of all provision.
- Sometimes I’m just oblivious. You know that blank-eyed stare of the guys who is absolutely clueless. Yea, that’s me sometimes. I don’t know why, but I just don’t get it. I am so grateful Jesus is patient, and understanding, and “remembers that we are dust.”
I know I have the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit is the key to abiding. But I also know that He needs much better cooperation from me. I am nothing, and can do nothing, on my own. So I definitely cannot afford to hang out by myself. I am asking God to renew my passion, and strengthen my resolve to abide. I want to be in step with Jesus.
Here’s how I can be… (found in Psalm 37)
- Be still and wait patiently on the Lord. vv.7,9,34
- Delight in the Lord. v.4
- Commit my way to the Lord. v.5
- Trust in the Lord. vv.3,5
- Become established by the Lord. v.23
“So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:33
The word radical comes to mind when I read that statement. It sounds as though Jesus expects me to sign my life over. That I relinquish controlling interest. That He holds exclusive rights to my time, talent and treasure. That my loyalty – my allegiance – is to be to Him only. That He has everything and I have nothing.
I can think of only two reasons why He would do that.
He is a tyrannical dictator – a control freak – with a desire to rob my possessions and suppress my achievements to His own end. In that case He is the self-centered One, building His Kingdom on the backs of mind-numbed robots like myself who don’t possess the knowledge or power to fight back. But the evidence doesn’t favor this position. He never lead an army and never wielded a sword. It seems those who followed Him did so of their own accord. Besides, look at what He gave up! A crown. Look at what he took up. A cross. Paul said, “he who was rich, for your sakes became poor, that through His poverty you might be made rich.” It can’t be this. There must be something more.
He must have known that what we received would be of far greater value that all we gave up! And thus the battle begins. It seems that this is indeed the invitation, but can it really be? The things I have are so dear. The things I do with the things I have are so enjoyable. My rights are precious. Is it possible that what Jesus is offering by what He is demanding is better than all of that? Here’s the subtlety of His invitation: every one of us has to answer that question for ourselves. It’s a risk either way. But which is the greater risk? To hold on to what I have, or renounce it for the offer of something better?
Let me just offer this. You can ’t afford to get it wrong!
Hebrews says, “consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” – Hebrews 7:25 (ESV)
The line of reasoning the author of Hebrews uses in this context is profound, and extremely encouraging. I want to share it with you this morning. It begins in the two verses previous to the one I just gave you. Speaking of the old order of priests he writes, “the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office. But he holds his priesthood permanently,because he continues forever.” Then comes the verse above. So what he is saying is this, the old priests died and therefore had to be replaced. Jesus, on the other hand, lives forever, therefore his priesthood is forever. So what? Well, that’s where verse 25 comes in. “Consequently…” In other words, what he is doing at present, as priest, is possible because he always lives. And, he always lives in order that he might continue as priest in doing what he doing at present. Confused? Follow this:
- “he continues forever…”
- and thus “holds his priesthood permanently…”
- in order that he might “make intercession for [us]…”
- and therefore, “save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him.”
That last line is the heart of it for us! In a sentence it might be rendered like this. “Jesus Christ lives forever as Priest, making intercession for us, in order that we might be saved to the uttermost.”
Now I’m not sure what that does for you, but it fuels my faith and fills me with deep gratitude. Here’s why. While we understand that Jesus saved us – past tense – when we confessed our sins and placed our faith in Him, we tend to place a great deal more emphasis in the present on our ability to “get it right.” Are we disciplined enough in our devotional life? What kinds of things are we avoiding..or failing to avoid? Did we do enough? Read enough? Pray enough? Witness enough? What are we going to do about those attitudes? How are we we going to overcome that sinful actions? We imagine that salvation is up to us…
But when I contemplate Hebrews 7:25, I am suddenly reminded that Jesus isn’t just responsible for my salvation past tense, but for present and future tense also! He not only saved me, he is saving me, and will save me! Right now he is interceding for my salvation! Did you catch that? Right now he is interceding for my salvation! And, Hebrews says “he is able to save completely! Completely. Through and through. That’s what uttermost means. Because he lives forever as priest, he is forever interceding for my salvation. And He will not fail!
Does that mean I have nothing to do with it? No. Look at the verse one more time. It says, “he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him.” The words draw near are important in Hebrews. They point out the fact that God cannot do anything for the person who does not come close and present themselves to him. So I encourage you to do that. But as you do, know that you have a ever-living priest who is interceding for your full and complete salvation!
Trust in Him today!
He will use every kind of evil deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them. – 2 Thessalonians 2:10
Paul is addressing the Thessalonians regarding events just prior to the end, and offers instruction and warning to keep the church informed and on their guard. He uses words like “counterfeit” and “deception”, and phrases like “don’t be fooled”, and “stand firm”, and “keep a strong grip on the teaching”. What he concludes is this: those who don’t believe or accept the truth will be greatly deceived and ultimately condemned. Those who know it, believe it, and embrace it will be saved.
Here’s the point. Everything hinges on the truth! Know it and you will live. Refuse it and you will die.
My encouragement to you today, then, is to be passionate pursuers of truth! Realize that while there are smidgeons of it here and there on the radio and television, in the newspaper, and in conversations, ultimately the only source of pure, unadulterated, unmixed truth is the Word of God. Don’t go through the day without reading, meditating on, understanding, and responding to it. Let God’s truth be the source of your conviction, and no one will be able to deceive you with lesser opinions.
Are these the last days? Perhaps. Is there plenty of falsehood, deception and lies? Yes! Guard against it by knowing the truth, and then “keep a strong grip” on it! You will be saved.
(Spoiler alert: I’m gonna talk about this Sunday, but wanted to get you thinking about it this morning).
Our culture is achievement oriented. In society, our worth is measured by our success, and we have lots of ways of measuring it. In business it’s, “do you have a corner office?” Or, “How many people report to you?” In life, success is measured by things like, “how much money do you have?” Or, “how big of a house do you live in?” And, “what kind of car do you drive? And in the church the things that seem to matter are “how many people attend?” And, “what’s your annual budget?”
Rare among the measurements, however, will you find this question: “how well are you loving others?” And yet, according to 1 Corinthians 13, that’s the thing that matters most. It could even be argued that love is the only thing that matters. Whether in business, or life, or the church, real success is not measured by how much or how many or how big. It’s measured by the intensity and intentionality of your love for others.
So, here are two statements regarding love that I’d like you to ponder:
- Love is something we possess, but fail to prioritize. If we’ve been born again, Christ lives in us. Therefore, we have his life and his love. That means we could love if we chose to. If we don’t it’s usually because we’re too busy “succeeding” elsewhere.
- Love will equal our greatest loss, or our greatest legacy. Here’s what I mean. Fail to love and you will lose far more than you could possibly gain by the things that will take it’s place. Choose to love, and whether you live another week, a year, or fifty years, the legacy you leave will be priceless!
Now, go love someone today!
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” – Philippians 4:6 NLT
What was on your mind, first thing, when you woke up this morning? Was it how utterly exhausted you feel? The crushing weight of responsibility, and the countless things you have to do but can’t seem to get done? A financial need? A relational struggle with a spouse or child? A problem at work? Car trouble? The moral and political crisis in America? “Where’s the coffee”?
Chances are, one of those things, or something very similar, was pretty close to the surface when you got out of bed this morning. I know this because sin’s curse has left its mark on all of us, and none of us are immune to the very real trouble that is prevalent in our world. And, I also know this because the devil loves to wreck havoc and cause heartache by directing our focus to the problem, so that we forget there is a solution.
Read Philippians 4:6 again slowly. If you could push rewind, and wake up with this verse on your mind, how do you suppose your morning might have been different? “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” Pretty simple really, and very straightforward. Don’t worry about anything. Pray about everything. Tell God what you need. Thank him for past blessings. It’s not at all a matter of knowing how to do this, it is quite simply a matter of putting it into practice, of disciplining our minds and developing the habit. Instead, however, here’s what we do. We worry about everything. We pray about nothing. Or, if we do pray, our prayers are something like wringing our hands over the troubles that are perplexing us. And then we wonder why we are so stressed out all the time. Let’s face it, this verse doesn’t need a commentary. It doesn’t need a full-blown explanation of why and how and when and where. This verse, this truth, just needs a response. A response that goes something like this:
“Father God, I know this world is full of trouble. Jesus said it would be. But he also said we should be of good cheer because He has overcome the world (John 16:33). I haven’t been of good cheer. In fact, I’ve been really anxious. I am so sorry that I have allowed my troubles to become bigger than you are. Instead of praying about everything, Father, I’ve been worrying about everything. And I haven’t been praying as I should. Please forgive me. I release my problems, my worries, and my concerns to You right now (this would be a good place to just list them one by one)! I declare that you are greater than all of them, and that you love me and will take care of me. I ask you to bring me out of my troubles, or at the very least to keep me safe and strong and joyful in the midst of them. I deliberately choose to fix my mind and heart on You and not my problems, and I believe that you will provide for all I need. Thank you for saving me. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for caring for me. Thank you for keeping me. Thank you for taking my problems and giving me your peace. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen!”
Now, go light your world!