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Do we seek another?

“Are you the church or do we seek another?” These were the words of Pastor Lee Shipp as he preached at New Beginning Fellowship yesterday morning, and they have been thundering in my heart ever since. Just as the life of Jesus manifested the Father, even so our lives should manifest Jesus Christ. “As He is, so are we in this world.” (1 John 4:17)

But are we? When the world looks at us, do they see the body of Christ, the representation of Jesus Christ, or are they left seeking another because they have seen much of us but little of Jesus? Oh how a world perishes for the lack of Jesus Christ revealed among His people!

Where is the crucified love of Jesus in our midst? Jesus said that He was given the power to lay down His life by the Father (John 10:18) and He has given this power to us…..the power to die to our selfishness and desire to please ourselves, that our lives might be poured out and spent for the Lord Jesus Christ. And how do we do that? By letting that love that’s been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5) pour out of our hearts by the power of that same Spirit. It’s a love that reaches out to restore the broken, comfort the hurting, give to the needy, love the unlovely, bring good news to the hopeless. It’s a love that may often be misunderstood and unappreciated. But it is THAT love which will identify us as followers of Jesus. (John 13:35)

If we have committed our lives to Jesus, and our lives are now to be given that the person and love of Jesus may be demonstrated through us then is there any risk, any sacrifice, any scorn too great to bear?

Where does love draw the line? At what point is the cost too great? Shall we love this far and no farther? Is our own comfort and safety the boundary of our love? Shall we love just up until the point of someone else’s displeasure or disapproval? I’m glad Jesus didn’t love us like that…but He loved us all the way to the cross. He didn’t draw the line at thorns and nails. There were no boundaries to His love…none imposed by Himself or by others. Lord help us to be bold enough to love like that….that those seeking Jesus may find Him in our midst.

 

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Last Friday as a young man was passing by on Third Street, I handed him a gospel tract and tried to start a conversation with him. He seemed eager to enjoy his evening and not very disposed to stop and talk until I mentioned the name of Jesus. He stopped in his tracks and told me that he was a backslider.  He had been raised in church all his life and had made a genuine profession of faith in Christ as a young man. He had been active in ministry and diligent in the spiritual disciplines. But he had a struggle that he couldn’t talk about with anyone….until it overtook him. Having been molested by a family member when he was a young boy, he found himself struggling with same sex attraction for years.   He prayed and sought freedom from these desires but eventually grew weary of the fight. He told me that all through those years he was active in evangelism and discipleship. In the midst of his own personal struggle he was always going after people for the kingdom….he said ”and I wondered when is somebody going to come after me”. All up in the middle of church and ministry, yet sinking into the seeming hopelessness of a besetting sin….battling alone and being overcome.   He wept, right out there in the middle of Baton Rouge’s party street….longing to be free….missing the Father’s house.

We prayed together and I trust that the Spirit of God will complete the work of restoration. Please pray for D. and so many, many like him who are slipping away from Christ in the midst of the house of God. Make no mistake….this world we live in is a battle zone. As the people of God, we must war with one another and for one another so that we can all say at the end….”I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7

Take it to heart

I “met” Rob recently through some friends. In the last week we talked on the phone a couple of times and exchanged a few text messages. Rob had a history of addiction and described himself as an agnostic. I was planning to pick someone up for church this evening that was staying at his house and Rob actually invited himself to come to church with us. He talked a lot and he talked super fast so it was sometimes difficult to get a word in, but I was able to briefly share the gospel with Rob. Several times in the last week Rob let me know he was excited about coming to church and I sent him a text message this morning to let him know what time I would be there to pick them up. A little while later I got a phone call that Rob was dead…very possibly an overdose.

I never got to meet Rob in person, but his death has affected me.

We have recently experienced the deaths of several people in our church and although there was sadness, it was tempered with the joy of knowing they were with Jesus. There is nothing to lessen the sorrow of Rob’s death. There is no joy, there is no hope.

Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to heart. Ecclesiastes 7:2

Take it to heart, you who live. For there are many who are dead while they live….dead in sin and separated from God. The gospel is their only hope. It is the only remedy. But the gospel is not good news to the man who dies without it. So preach it often. Preach it boldly. Preach it that all may live.

Love with no limit

Where does love draw the line? At what point is the cost too great? Shall I love this far and no farther? Is my own comfort and safety the boundary of my love? Shall I love just up until the point of someone else’s displeasure or disapproval?

I’m glad Jesus didn’t love me like that…but He loved me all the way to the cross. He didn’t draw the line at thorns and nails. There were no boundaries to His love…none imposed by Himself or by others.

Lord help me be bold enough to love like that.

(J.R. MacDuff, “Influence!“)

“For when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed.” Acts 13:36

In deducing from these words moral and spiritual lessons, I would observe generally, that each individual in this life has some great purpose to fulfill. “David served God’s purpose in his own generation.” He has left his indelible footprints on the sands of time!

Everything in the wide universe has its special mission. The flower fulfills its design by unfolding its colors or scattering its sweet fragrances wherever it blooms. As we see it dropping its decayed and withered leaves one by one, we feel its little destiny in its own little world has been attained. The lark as it mounts in the air, and chants its carol fulfills its mission by these tuneful melodies.

If we take a loftier survey, and ascend amid the glories of the firmament, we see the sun fulfilling his great appointment to give light to the system: coming forth “like a bridegroom from his chamber, and rejoicing as a strong man to run his race.” Or the moon, that faithful sentinel, lavishing her nightly care on the earth — a majestic beacon-light to land and ocean.

Turn to whatever page we may in the vast volume of creation, we shall find in each, the record of some peculiar office and vocation. Mountains and seas, fire and hail, snow and vapor, stormy wind — all fulfill the word and decree and design of God.

And is it different with man? Has he alone no momentous work to perform in the economy in which he is placed? Is our whole earthly destiny to eat and drink, and sleep and die? Are we to fritter away our brief hour on life’s stage; to be ushered in with a few rejoicings at our birth, followed by a few tears at our departure? And when our sun has gone down, when the grass of the grave covers our resting places — shall we be as if we never were?

How many there are who, to all appearance, think so! They have never yet awakened to a sense of their high destiny, as having a part to play, and a sphere to occupy. Their inward feeling seems to be that in this great world, with its teeming millions, that it signifies nothing how they live; they soon shall be as though they never existed; when they sink into the tomb — it will be like the vessel going down in mid-ocean. There will be a few plungings and heavings as it momentarily wrestles with the storm; but the tempest sweeps, the sea opens its yawning mouth, the waves close over it — and then resume their usual play! Not a trace or vestige remains; the place that once knew it, knows it no more!

My brethren, that solemn, that momentous reality they call life, is no plaything! It was given as the mightiest of possessions, and loaded with immeasurable responsibilities. The weighty saying, which many a tongue was taught earliest to lisp was this, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God!”

Oh, truly it is a solemn thought that each one of you is exercising some influence — either for good or for evil. If you are not serving your day and generation for the better — then you must be serving it for the worse. There can be no such thing as mere neutral influence. And if so, it well befits us individually to address to ourselves the personal question: “Am I fulfilling the great end and design of my being?”

Happy are those who have been led to regard life as a golden talent — who have realized its momentous requirements and stern responsibilities! Even the lowliest and humblest, can help directly or indirectly to untie the bandages from a sin-stricken, woe-worn world, and send it forth from its fevered couch, walking and leaping, and praising God.

Be it yours not only to serve your God, but so to live that the world may be the better because of you; and that when you die and your hand lies withering in the grave — the seed dropped by that hand, years on years before, may spring up bearing fruit to the glory of God!

 

2 Corinthians 8:1-5 Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia, that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.  And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God.

The context of this passage is related to the offering that Paul is expecting to receive from the Corinthian believers for the relief of the saints in Jerusalem. They had previously committed to helping financially and as the time is approaching for the funds to be collected and delivered to Jerusalem, Paul is encouraging their generosity by presenting as an example the sacrificial giving of the Macedonian believers, which would have included Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea.

There are some intense words and phrases used in this passage that warrant some attention:

  • Great trial of affliction – When you read Acts 16-17 you see the hostility the gospel faced in these three cities when Paul first came preaching. Not only can we assume that the believers in these places also faced the same trouble, we see Paul writing about it in Philippians 1:29For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”
  • Abundance of joy and deep poverty – When someone is below the poverty line in America, they will normally still have a cell phone, TV, electricity and many things that are not necessities. But these Macedonian believers were living in a state of “deep poverty”. Yet even in the midst of their deep poverty, they were abundantly joyful. What a dichotomy! But also a reality that is possible in Christ.
  • Abounded in the riches of their liberality – In such a depth of poverty, we would expect that they were carefully conserving all that they possessed and had access to. But instead, they gave to others in need, and they gave liberally.
  • They were free willing, imploring Paul urgently to let them be involved in giving. They didn’t have to be guilted into it or persuaded in any way, except that they were compelled by the love of God to share with others in need.
  • They first gave themselves to the Lord – so this wasn’t just a matter of religious duty. They yielded themselves to Jesus and from that, these desires began to come into their hearts…desires that were bigger than their ability.

 

So I was reading this passage from 2 Corinthians 8 a few months ago and I had a flashback to a Sunday school lesson that I heard taught over a year ago. Here is a brief synopsis of one of the points that was made:

Jesus was in the synagogue and there was a man who had a withered (shrunken, dried up) hand. The Scriptures tell us this: Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and it was restored as whole as the other. Matthew 12:13

The problem with the story is this….Jesus told the man to stretch out his hand, but that’s exactly the one thing that he couldn’t do. It is entirely possible that this man could have walked away in despair, knowing that what he had been asked to do was beyond his ability. Instead he just did what Jesus told him to do, what was beyond his ability, and the power and glory of God were manifested right there in front of all who stood by.

The story of the man with the withered hand is powerful. The story of the Macedonian believers and their sacrificial giving is powerful. But it’s the common element in both stories that has become so significant to me. Let me explain:

Jesus was asking the man with the withered hand to do something that was beyond his ability, and many times the desire of God is to bring us to a place where we step out into things that are beyond our ability, and He’s looking for this Macedonian attitude of being freely willing beyond our ability. We live in a natural world, but we are citizens of a supernatural kingdom. Living in a place of our own ability is a comfort zone of sorts and we can easily finding ourselves gravitating towards and settling into that comfort zone. If I know that I’m able to do something, I can rely on that ability. I can trust in myself. There’s very little fear….probably very little prayer and trusting God. Life is just easier that way.

But 2 Corinthians 5:16a says this:   Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh.

This gets right to the heart of the problem….I am often regarding myself according to the flesh, making judgements about what I’m able to do and what I’m not able to do, based on what I know about my abilities. Not only am I not to regard myself according to the flesh any longer, my eyes shouldn’t be on myself at all.

Col 3:2 tells us to set our minds on things above, not on things on the earth. Because looking at myself or anything in this world around me is not going to encourage the kind of faith that is willing beyond my ability. When I look at me I see weakness and inability. But when I look at Him I see not only mighty power, but almighty power. And it’s a power that He is willing to use on our behalf and through our life, and there’s a reason why:

1 Peter 4:11 If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

It’s a matter of glory and who’s going to get it. And how is He going to get the glory through us if we’re not willing to be put into situations where there’s no question that the power and ability working through us is His? A great example of this can be found in the book of Acts.

Acts 4:13-14 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus. And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.

The great part about this passage is that by observing the lives of these apostles it verified that they had been with Jesus. His presence and His power marked their lives in a way that was discernable. They had run away in fear when Jesus was arrested, concerned about saving themselves. That’s what was in these men. If they had only continued having prayer meetings and Bible studies while hiding away in the upper room that would have been no big deal because that was safe. But they are preaching the gospel publicly and being used to perform miracles of healing. This was not the apostles’ ability. It is the ability of God. They are living beyond their ability through His ability. Why? How did they get to that point where they were willing….willing to live beyond their own ability? It’s because they had just been with the resurrected Christ and were now a people filled with the Spirit of that Christ. The ability of God now dwelt within them.

2 Corinthians 9:8-11 makes some great promises: And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. As it is written: “He has dispersed abroad, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.” Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God.

He is promising that for every good work that He puts before us to do, He will provide what is needed, making all grace abound toward us. Should we be afraid when God prompts us to do something that is beyond our ability? The answer is a resounding NO! But what He requires of us, we must require of Him. We must realize that our ability cannot accomplish the works of God…that we are absolutely poverty-stricken. Yet there is such hope in God, and we can rejoice that He has provided all that is needed. And then we must, by faith, lay hold of what He has already promised.

Ephesians 3:20 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us

There is a power of God in the believer. He wants that power to work in us and to work through us. And whether or not you let that happen determines the legacy you leave on this earth. Will you be content for people to say at your funeral that you were a nice Christian?   Or do you want to be known as a man or woman whose life was a marvel because you walked with God and refused to be content to live in your own ability.

God, make us willing beyond our ability!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few people decided not to behave themselves at one of the bars near us on Third Street last night so the police had to get involved. It was a bit intense for a few minutes but everything settled down quickly. And then there was one young lady who walked past us early in the night, cursing me out as she walked by. When she passed back by again, Wren tried to give her a gospel tract and she walked up to him and shoved him. For any of you that know Wren, you know that he is a kind-hearted, gentle soul. We were both a bit surprised at what had happened but I reminded him that Jesus said that we are blessed when we are persecuted for his name’s sake. So we just continued on. Later in the evening we had several really good opportunities to share the gospel with people whose hearts were open. All in all, it was a good night. IMG_1971