Sunday, January 5, 2014

the greatest horror


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). 
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?’
And then I will declare to them,
‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’
Matthew 7.21-23

Have you ever found your faith waning and your prayer life unfruitful?  I have, and it is miserable.  You work hard and pray hard, and it seems to never come.  Even when you pray with the right motives, it seems that there are times when you’re just talking into the air.  Moments like that can fill even the strongest person with doubt.  At moments like that we wonder if there is a God, and if He’s there … maybe something’s wrong with us that keeps us from hearing the big “yes” we’re so desperately seeking. 

Like all our experiences, this one is also found in the stories of the Old Testament, for they had moments just like that.  One such moment was after the Jews had returned to their homeland after exile in Babylon/Persia.  They were God’s chosen people, descendants of Abraham.  They left homes and friends in Persia, and moved back to Judea.  They started a new life, rebuilt their homes and re-planted their crops, they had even started restoring God’s house (the Temple).  But after a while they found themselves struggling.  Read what the prophet Haggai said:
Thus says Yahweh of hosts:   “Consider your ways!“You have sown much, but harvest little;
…you eat, but there isn’t enough to be satisfied;
…you drink, but there’s not enough to become drunk;
…you put on clothes, but no one is warm enough; and
…he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes.”Thus says Yahweh of hosts:   “Consider your ways!
(Haggai 1:5-7)
The harder they worked, the less they got.  And these were not just regular folks, they were God’s chosen people.  And even among that community they were among the best, for they were part of God’s remnant after He had destroyed most of Israel, and as if that weren't enough, they were the part of the remnant that actually returned to Israel to rebuild their homes and re-establish the kingdom – God’s kingdom!  So what was wrong? 

consider your ways

Remember that Jesus was also speaking to Jews in the SOM, and among those Jews he was addressing his disciples.  And yet even among them he says not all will be approved!  Some of them would claim Jesus as Lord, they would even do miracles in his name … and still be lost. 

In this section, Jesus was doing much the same thing as Haggai did (on God’s behalf) for Israel.  He was encouraging them to “consider their ways.” 

That is what I hope you’ll do, too: consider your ways. 

Most of my life I've heard this section of Jesus’ sermon used to justify one particular doctrine or belief, and then claim that if people don’t “straighten up,” they’ll be doomed to eternal flame.  I've heard this quoted thousands of times, and never once has the speaker said the phrase through tears.  Instead, usually the speaker uses this as a threat to manipulate his audience and take advantage of their (our) greatest fear: that we THINK we’re saved, but really we’re not. 

This was not Jesus’ intent.  He clearly said that it wasn't based on works, for these pitiful lost souls had not only done works, but had done works apparently enabled by the Holy Spirit!  How else can one cast out demons? 

So these who were chosen by God … were lost, and even their works couldn't save them.  If we’re not saved by grace or by works – what’s left? 

The lesson here is simple: consider your ways.  This does NOT mean:
  • Consider someone else’s ways
  • Consider your works
  • Consider your goodness

Rather, God meant just what He told Haggai to tell those people: “Consider your ways.” 

In the case of Haggai’s audience, they were good folk, children of God, and hard workers.  When the economy struggled, they struggled harder.  They did not realize that the economy had gone bad because … GOD did it Himself!  It wasn't the king or the priests or the president’s fault.  Ben Bernanke hadn't been born.  God did it.  And why?  Because He had something to communicate, and this was the only way He could get their attention. 

This sermon has been our Lord’s attempt to communicate.  Specifically Jesus said that it was those who practice lawlessness” who would be excluded from the kingdom.  Remember their law was the Torah (Genesis – Deuteronomy), so Jesus’ audience would have understood that they were supposed to be very good Jews.  But for we who are not obliged to follow Jewish law, we must follow the law of Christ. 

But that’s not the scariest part!  The scariest part is this:
“I never knew you”
This is why I started out writing about fruitless prayers and work.  What if we now call Jesus “Lord,” and are doing “good” works?  Is it possible that Jesus doesn't even know us? 

Do YOU have ears to hear? 

belonging to Yahweh’s family

This is one of the challenges of God that is hidden in plain sight.  Many will call Jesus “Lord,” and will imagine they are part of the family of God.  They will do good things and belong to “the right” church and do good works.  They will think they are part of God’s family, but on Judgment Day Jesus will not say “Well done, good and faithful servant,” rather he will say “get out – I have NEVER known you.” 

The people Haggai spoke to had a specific problem.  So did those who Jesus spoke to, and so do we.  Those problems may be the same specific issue, or they may be different.  But in general terms there’s one real issue: who is first in your life? 

It’s popular these days to say that family comes first.  That’s what Haggai’s audience thought.  They put family first. 

For many of Jesus’ audience, their top priority was being “righteous” or “good.”  For others, they wanted more than anything to win a political battle – for Republicans (Pharisees) to rule the day over Democrats (Sadducees), and for others they wanted death to the Romans (Muslims/Terrorists). 

What/who is first in your life? 
We are all trained to say that God comes first. 
We are all trained to say that Jesus is Lord.

We know how to give the right answer with our mouths, but it’s not our mouths that will save us.  And it’s not our works that will save us. Only by grace will we be saved.  And grace will exclusively be extended to those of us who not only say that Jesus is Lord, but live it.  Those who walk the walk; those who choose the narrow pathway; those who take up their cross daily and follow.

“Consider your ways” is a challenge – a personal challenge - for you to dig deeply into your heart and find out if you really think of God ahead of yourself and your family and your friends. 

Can you overcome challenges and fears and stress by the power of God?  If so, you’ll know the difference between that and self-discipline. 
Can you learn from God during times of suffering?  Most people run to other humans for comfort.  Or they (like Haggai’s Israel) try to work harder, pray more, or they just quit believing. 
Can you say you’re growing stronger in faith and love as each season of life passes? 

In all of the SOM (and especially in chapter 7) the main issue is understanding that we are now to be a part of God’s family.  He is the Boss, the Lord, and the Dad.  He talks, we listen.  He protects, He punishes, and He gave His Son to save us.  In exchange, we owe him 100%.  We don’t “tithe,” our money or our lives – we give Him our all.  We sell ourselves into slavery – gladly! 

Consider Paul’s words to the church in Rome:
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.For what the Torah could not do (weak as it was through the flesh) …
God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Torah  might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.For:
those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh,
… but …
…those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit - if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.So then, brothers:
We are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.
(Romans 8:1-17)

Who are the children of God?  Those who are led by the Spirit.  And without Him living inside us, we will be unable to please God, and we are not even God’s children.  No matter what we claim, no matter what church we attend (or not) and no matter what miracles and good deeds you do, the only thing that matters is whether or not you’re a “God-first,” “Spirit-led” child of God.  That’s it – nothing else. 

Consider your ways
Did you put God first yesterday?  Or were you busily occupied with something else. 
Consider your ways

If your first thought every day is focused on God and His kingdom and His righteousness, and if that is your last thought at bedtime, and if that’s how you live your life all day long … then you have nothing to fear, nothing to dread, no reason to stress.  You realize that God gives good gifts to His children, so you don’t need to “work” to please Him so He will pay you off for your spirituality, or right doctrine or even your purity. 

We are all sinners.  We are all broken, and there’s nothing we can do to erase the past.  But we can do something about today and tomorrow.  Early disciples of Jesus asked the question we all should ask: “What must we do to be saved”?  To which Peter gave the only right answer:
 “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)
“Repent” means change.  It means we make tomorrow better than yesterday. Baptism is the physical act that represents cleansing and rebirth. 

We are all sinners, but God’s grace gives us “the right to become children of God” (John 1.12-13) by being born again (John 3.3-6 & Romans 6.3-6) and then living as those who walk in the light (1 John 1.5-7). 

This is our “way” 

We walk by faith, not sight. 

We live according to the Spirit, not the flesh. 

Our citizenship is in heaven, not in the USA. 

And our family is God, His son Jesus, and all those who have been born of God (John 3) and obey Him (Mark 3.33-35). 

The early church was called “the way” (Acts 9.2 & 22.4).  Each of us who live by the spirit are walking in “the way.”  We have agreed to walk in this way, or else our repentance was not genuine.  We cannot be perfect, but we can stay in the way.  We are not yet completely holy, but we can keep washing and repenting.  We are not yet wise, faithful, patient, fearless or void of self – but we strive to be so; every day this is our quest. 

happy idiots

The world is full of people who think they’re right about something, but they’re wrong.  They are happy because they are so convinced they’re right.  These are people I call happy idiots.  These are people who believe in some bizarre conspiracy theory or that the world is flat or whatever.  And nowhere are happy idiots more prevalent than among religious people. 
Happy idiots
  • Noah’s grandfather had lived over 900 years without seeing water fall from the sky as rain.  It must have seemed impossible to him, and so he and all others on earth laughed at Noah. 

Happy idiots
  • Israelites celebrated their new leader (Aaron) and their new god (a gold calf named Yahweh).  It seemed impossible to them that Moses had been up on the mountain for so long and would ever return. 

Happy idiots
  • Today some believe in a god who will supply good men with dozens of virgin females for their sexual pleasure when they get to "heaven," and they believe it so strongly they’re willing to commit suicidal murders to fulfill their sexual fantasies. 

Happy idiots
  • Some “Christian” faiths have special, magical saints and clergy who are forbidden to marry; others have magic underwear and baptize for the dead and think they can become gods.  Many others think they see Jesus’ face on a tortilla or his image on a "shroud" of cloth. And the myriad "miracles" that take place are used to convince the gullible. 

Happy idiots
  • And then among evangelicals there are those who claim to believe in the bible, but imagine a physical temple will be built in Jerusalem, who follow false teachers, who think God’s concerned about how we vote, or who believe their church is the only one who knows the truth. Or work to force unbelievers to live according to God's law. 

Happy idiots

If you were one of these happy idiots – would you know it?  Does a fool know she’s a fool? 
NO! All fools are accidentally so!  They don’t think for a moment they’re fools!  So if you are convinced you’re right – take care! 
“Let him who thinks he stands - take heed that he doesn't fall.”  (1 Corinthians 10:12)

Don’t be a happy idiot - consider your ways!

Consider your ways
Maybe the reason your prayers aren't answered is because Jesus doesn't even know you.  Or maybe it’s because our Father is trying to teach you. (Isaiah 1.15-17)  But one thing is for sure, if you will seek God – first – with all your heart; He will let you find Him.  (Jeremiah 29.12-14)

Consider your ways
Before you next say, “Jesus is Lord,” make sure you say it with your life – not merely your mouth.  (Matthew 15.7-9)

Consider your ways
Before you set yourself up as a teacher to tell someone what he or she should believe … consider that teachers incur a stricter judgment (James 3.1)

Consider your ways
Before you “share” your opinion in bible study or class, consider why you feel compelled to expose your own folly (Proverbs 18.2)

Consider your ways
Before you argue with someone about a religious topic – consider the possibility that you’re just as wrong as Job’s friends – scholars who were humiliated by God (Job 41.7)

Consider your ways
  • Before you ask God to forgive your sins, consider whether you've been forgiving (Matthew 6.15).  And before you are good to your friends and deliver justice to others (Matthew 5.44-47) …

Consider your ways

This section of Jesus’ sermon is a call for you – a warning – never to be complacent.  We must always seek God first and only, and obey Him, love Him and serve Him.  We must never trust ourselves or those around us – but we must be fully devoted to our Father – after we have been certain He really is our Father.  

But this section is also a reminder to look back at what Jesus has just taught.  Just because those people were God’s chosen people, and now followed Jesus – did not mean they were saved.  Just because someone does good things – does not mean she’s saved.  Just because a man claims God, doesn't mean God claims him.  We need to review this sermon and be sure we’re actually living it – as the third column would suggest.   

Consider your ways

Brothers, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load. The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption,
…the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.
(Galatians 6:1-10) 

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