Pastor's Blog

June 2016

Christians need to offer better help

In every bookstore there is a section usually called “self help.” It’s filled with books about improving relationships, fixing your house or car, being a more effective employee or employer. You ever wonder about the people who wander through that section? Or maybe you’ve wondered what other people think about you as you browse those shelves? “Ohh, what’s wrong with them? What problem are they facing in life that they need help?” Of course, we all need help from time-to-time; that’s really not my point in bringing this up.

My point is there seems to be an interesting inconsistency in our culture. Most people don’t like being told what to do. So why is our culture spending a tremendous amount of money on books and other things that do just that? Why are people buying books by Dave Ramsey, Doctor Phil or Rick Warren which tell them how they should be living their life? It’s just a little theory of mine: but I think the reason this happens is because people today are feeling disconnected from any sort of moral authority or moral direction. They know things aren’t quite right in their life, but don’t know where to go for the answers.

The problem for believers is that we have, in certain ways, contributed to this. There’s no doubt that Scripture is the moral authority. So why aren’t people knocking down the doors of the church to get those answers? To be sure, people are rejecting the gospel and there’s nothing we can do about that. We can’t force people to believe. But we can’t deny that part of the blame is ours: that we have not confessed the name of Christ so clearly. We always need to strive to have a clear confession of Christ. 

That clear confession begins with our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. It is our shepherd who renews our faith. he is the one who laid is life down for sinners to make them right with God. And that truth of what Jesus did for us must be renewed each day. Each day our faith must feast on this good news so that it can grow. How can we ever expect to confess the name of Christ if we have not called upon the name of Christ, if we have not invoked his blessings and power? It’s foolishness to climb a mountain on an empty stomach, don’t try to proclaim your savior on an empty faith. Fill it with the words of Christ every day, and your faith and your confession will be strong and vigorous, giving people the help they desperately need from Jesus.

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The Prayer of the Free Man

Do you pray as a slave?

Imagine you grew up the son or daughter to the king. You were the heir to the throne. But that throne can’t be yours until your father says it’s yours. It might be when he dies, it might be when he’s too old to rule. But until that time, you don’t get to exercise your authority. Instead, you have to listen to those who are in authority over you. Just like the servants of the castle.

Until Christ came and did his important work, we were like the heirs to the throne: we had to do what the law told us to do. It was our only choice. But when Christ came it was like the king said to his child, "Now the time is right." Christ has set us free to exercise our status as heir and not as a slave.

Think about when you pray to God. Are you a slave or are you free? Is God your father or is he  your slave owner?

Slavery is the poison that can destroy faith. It comes naturally to all of us.We can become slaves to our own works. We think God loves us because we do good works. Even our prayers can become something we do in order to make God happy, because we have to. Why do you pray before a meal? “Well, it’s what we do.” Then your prayer is worthless and it would have been better if you kept your mouth shut. This slavish attitude dishonors God.

The other end of the spectrum is we become slaves to our sins. Instead of slavishly trying to earn God’s reward, we reject God’s favor with our sins. Our prayer life dwindles because we’re too wrapped up in our selfish pleasures. Or we get buried in guilt and think that we’re too sinful to pray; that I haven’t done enough good for God to hear my prayer—a perverted form of selfishness.

Either way, slavery ruins your relationship with God because it corrupts Christ’s work and makes you a slave to the law again. If you want to focus only on your work, then your work had better be perfect or you will suffer the curse of everlasting death.

I’d rather have the freedom that Christ earned, and I know you would, too. And that’s exactly why Christ came. He didn’t come to live a perfect life in order to show us how to live perfectly. He came to be a slave to the law so we wouldn't have to. And he was the perfect slave. He never disobeyed and he always did the job perfectly.

Jesus’ own prayers reflected that perfection. On the cross he prayed for his enemies’ forgiveness. During his last days on earth, he prayed for the disciples and you and me. He was motivated by his love for the Father to cry out to him in prayer. And he did all of that to buy you back from your own slavery. So you don’t need to be a slave to the law in order to be saved! Christ did that on your behalf and earned you a new status as a free child of God.

So when you pray to God as your father, realize what that means. You are not a slave, but one of God’s free children. Your prayers don’t make God any happier with you than he already is because of Christ. There is no pressure to pray—do this or else! No! We pray because God has picked us up from the wreckage of our slavery and made us his children. He adopted you into his family. We pray, because, like Christ, we naturally want to talk to our father and he always wants to listen to us. There is nothing standing between you and your father. There is nothing holding back his love from you. So cry out with your prayers because your father wants to hear them.

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It is very easy in our life to make it all about the rules.

We can become motivated by what we should be doing. I have to go to church; I have to be nice to others; I have to be a better parent, child, student, employee, boss. That’s all true; God does want those things for us. But where does this pressure lead you? Let’s say you do become a better person by obeying all these rules. What do you think of yourself, “Hey, I’m pretty good, aren’t I? I need to make sure I talk a lot about the good decisions I’ve made for God!” We can become arrogant and lose our humility. Or let’s say you don’t keep those laws. What do you think of yourself now? “I’m a horrible person. I’m not a good enough parent. I'm not pretty enough, strong enough, smart enough, etc.” We can despair and lose hope.

But the really bad part is when we start believing that we can keep all those rules, it becomes true. God says, if we want to keep the whole law to make God happy, then we had better do it all. (See Colossians 2 or read Galatians)

But that’s too late for us, right? We can't possibly keep those laws perfectly. And that’s why God had to obliterate the law. Your record of sin was crucified with Christ. You were crucified with Christ. Your sins, your violations, you rule-breaking, it all died there on the cross. Can you hear those hammer blows pounding Christ to the cross? That was for you. Each blow of the hammer was your sin being pinned to a cross so it could be punished once and for all. There is no punishment for sin anymore. It’s been wiped away forever.

Jesus condemned the law, which still tries to cry out against us. No, it has been obliterated. And all those enemies of God have been drug through the streets of hell and proclaimed to be powerless in the face of Christ. You are not a victim of the law. You are not a victim of your own disobedience. Christ was the victim and you are set free.

So life isn't about shoulds and have tos. It's about "done."

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For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works... ~ EPHESIANS 2:8-9