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Worthy of the Gospel

 When I think of having a life that is worthy of the Gospel, I think first of having a life that is righteous and holy to God. I think of a life that is dedicated to not doing sin and one that is dedicated to serving Him. Generally, I think about following rules and those rules are found in the New Testament.  But that type of thinking can lead me to a life in which I check off a list of things to do: Bible reading? (check); Pray? (check); money in the offering? (check); didn’t swear, lie, or smoke? (check, check, check).

But is that what a life that is worthy of the Gospel is all about? I would suggest to you that it is not.

So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”  (Rom 1:15-17)

First, we note that the Gospel is more than “how can you be saved.” When Paul says he wants to preach the Gospel to those in Rome, he is not talking to “non-Christians” but to Christians! If the Gospel is only the plan of salvation, then there is no need to preach it to those who are saved; it is obviously more.

Second, it is in part the plan of Salvation. The message of the death, burial, and resurrection which Paul preached and those who believed practiced (in their baptism) is indeed the invitation of God into His family and the preaching of that Gospel introduces sinners to God’s grace.

Third, it reveals the righteousness of God. This is so important. What kind of God do we serve? What is His standard of righteousness? whatever it is, it is the righteousness that we want to imitate.  If we look at the Greek gods, we see immoral and base behavior. It can truly be said that whereas God created man in His image, Man created gods in their image.

The Pharisees also had a righteousness but Jesus said we need to exceed that if we hope to get into Heaven. The problem with their righteousness was that it was self serving, hypocritical, and pretentious. It certainly fooled men but it did not fool God. They had so lessened God’s law that they even fooled themselves into the thought they were keeping it.

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mat 5:20)

The thing that stands out to me about the Gospel is Christ’s actions and example. He came to serve and not to be served, he came to give his life as a ransom for many.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (Mar 10:45)

To have a life that is worthy of the Gospel then, is more than one that is simply following rules, it goes beyond following rules to doing things that are exceed what is required.

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die– but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  (Rom 5:7-8)

The righteous man is one who does everything right, by the book. If you agree to work for a righteous man for $100, he will pay you $100. Not less, not more. He is righteous.  The Good man would agree to pay you the $100 but if you did a great job, he might pay you $120 for that day’s work. He is not good because he is righteous, he is good because he is generous, he does more than is required of him. Someone might die for either of these two individuals, but Jesus died for the scoundrel sinner.

Jesus did more than was required of Him. Had he stayed in Heaven and not come to earth, not died on the cross, not given his blood for our sacrifice, he would be no less righteous. He would be no less Holy. Our need did not require him to act.  And THAT is the standard to which we are to strive to live.

Let us follow the example of Jesus and reach out to those people in the world who need that message, even if it costs us something in the process. We cannot just throw open the doors of the church building and say “they know where we are, if they want to come, they will.”

photo credit: Oceanbound.com via Google images

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Testing faith

So you go to the bookstore and find three books that you wish to purchase. You hand the books to the cashier and walk out with the books in your bag, a receipt, and a vague feeling that the amount is not correct for your purchase. The vague feeling quickly becomes a confirmation in your car before you leave. You have been overcharged! Instead of three books, your receipt reflects four. What do you do?

(Insert 30 second pause here)

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How many of you did not need 30 seconds? How many of you knew that you would immediately march back into the store, receipt in hand, and point out the error. Would you also discuss with yourself  “Self, what if they do not believe me?” The answer would be obvious, you would ask for a manager. It would be important to you to correct this error. The clerk made a mistake and should not have done so. It must be corrected, it will be corrected. You do not even leave the parking lot.

This is a reasonable conclusion. You may have concern about being believed but you wouldn’t let it stop you. You would be just and righteous if you were to return to correct the problem.

So let’s revisit this situation again, only this time, instead of being charged twice for one your books, you get to the car, check your receipt and that vague feeling is again confirmed. This time, you notice that he only charged you for two books, not three. What do you do?

(Insert 30 second pause here)

I would hope that no one needed more time deciding what to do in this scenario than they did in the previous one. Unfortunately, we have grown up in a society where if the mistake benefits “me” then we will just keep our mouth shut. The justifications range from  “He should have noticed it—his loss”  or “They can afford the loss–it is after all a big company” to the outrageous ones “God has blessed me!”

Unless two parties are agreed that something took place, how can you call it an honest transaction?  Sure mistakes are made and sometimes correcting them takes a lot of time but at least, by calling it to the attention of the other party you allow the unintentionally self inflicted harm to be corrected.

Honesty is always right. Integrity cannot be shown only when things are in your favor.

As you leave the store, the second time you feel good because the total is right. Neither of you lost money, the transaction was as it should be. Price offered and willingly paid.

James says that when trials come that our faith is tested. (James 1:2) I think many consider this faith that James mentions to be a belief in God’s existence. I think that he means instead, that we will test what kind of faith (trust) in God that we have.  We will learn, after the test, if our life matches the life His Son led. WWJD?

Flee and Pursue

2Ti 2:22  So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.

In this passage Paul has given Timothy a lot to work on. Presenting himself as a servant approved and not giving into the irreverant and idle chatter of those who need to be silenced. In telling Timothy what NOT to do though, he tells him what he SHOULD do. So often we tell people NO NO NO but do not share with them what IS acceptable as an alternative. Paul does not fail to encourage Timothy in this way.

Flee. Run away, Get out of Dodge, “Feet do your stuff”, move move move. The one thing that we should do when it comes to youthful lusts (which do not only present themselves to our youth) is to leave. Just as Joseph did with Potiphar’s wife. He left his coat in her hands and fled from her presence.

Far to often, we try to get close to sin, figure out that magical line where we can say “this far and no further”, “up to this point, I have not sinned” and we get really defensive when someone suggests that we need to remove ourselves from the situation or environment. Just try to suggest to people that Desperate Housewives or Grey’s Anatomy are not appropriate shows for Christians and you will quite possibly get lots of reasons why that is a ‘blanket’ statement. (And we ALL know that blanket statements are wrong.)

No, youthful lusts are not just for the youth. The point is that by the time we mature, we should be past those desires that they youth find so enthralling. (side note: Thrall is an ancient word meaning slave. To be enthralled is to be enslaved by something even though that meaning is not commonly given to the word today).

Pursue. The positive thing that we are to do. Chase, run after, Seek, track down and just basically not give up the hunt in trying to obtain 4 things: Righteousness, faith, love, and peace.  Excellent qualities and if sought after in the sense of pursuit, will not just make you a better Christian, will limit the time you have to be concerned with those things you are fleeing.

You might think of this illustration too. If you are Fleeing, it is because you are being chased and there is danger. If you are chasing something it is because it has value and there is value. So while you chase, don’t forget to flee. Because if your feet are not pursuing something, neither are they fleeing anything.

Seek ye first…

As is the case with verses memorized when I was a child, I can’t seem to get rid of the “Ye”. But included or not, one of my most favorite verses is Matthew 6:33

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

We really like the promise of this verse; that all these things will be added to us. We love that God will take care of us and we love that he will provide for us the things we need. In the context, it is clear that he is discussing food and clothing and yet, we can easily expand it beyond food and clothing when we read “Are you not of much more value” than the birds and lilies.

We take great comfort and rest in the idea that God will just do what we need. We seem to forget something too. That all of those people in the world, you know, the ones who are NOT seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness…they also are getting food and clothing.

Mat 5:45    For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

So it isn’t like we are getting special treatment in the food and clothing area, is it?

No. What makes the difference and what makes us different is that we follow after God. Jesus said to “Seek”. This is a word that we do not use often today and which most people would equate with “look for” but I would like to suggest that it should be “diligently look for”. There is an effort and urgency in the word “seek” There are also two things we are supposed to seek.

1)His kingdom (or His rule). that is, the way he wants things done, a place where His laws stand and are followed.  2) His righteousness, that character or quality that is His of being right or just.

No matter how you slice it, you will soon discover that this means we look to follow God and we look to become like God. It doesn’t happen overnight but that is what we should put our efforts into. You will also note that “first” means before all other things.

Too many Christians are focused on the food, clothing and temporary things. They are focused on the education and the degrees they can get. Our highest calling is to serve God and further His kingdom. If we can do that and get a degree then ok, but God comes first. If we can do that and accumulate wealth, great, but God comes first.

If you do not know what to do, it is a good sign that you are not reading enough of the Scriptures because the Scriptures can equip a godly man/woman to be prepared for every good work. 2 Tim 3:15-16

Seek more, trust more. Read more, Do more.

Harvesting in peace

And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.  James 3:18

When I was about 13 or so, we had a garden. I learned two things in the couple of years that we had that garden. The first thing I learned was that, sometimes gardening is fun but mostly, it is hard work.

The hard work is not in the planting of the seeds, although it does take some effort to do that. Some seeds you can just place on the top of the soil and it works out ok, several, like corn you have to bury a little ways down.  No, the hard part in gardening is not the sowing; it is the preparing of and the tending to the garden.  Anyone can scatter seed and some of the seed will grow but not generally enough to outpace the weeds, animals, and what little you have that grows will not be that great, that tasty, that worth it.

peas from Google images

The second thing I learned was that no matter how much I might want peas, if I planted carrots, I would get carrots. I would not get peas. You reap what you sow, and depending on how you tend to that garden, you may not reap much.

In life, we are always sowing and reaping. If we sleep late, we miss the interview and the job. If we study hard, we get a good grade. If we don’t save money, we have none in retirement. If we sow to the flesh, we shall reap the flesh; if we sow to the Spirit we shall reap the Spirit. God is not mocked (Gal 6:7-9)

James says that a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace.  If you sow righteousness, you will reap righteousness. We should go about our business. We should tend to our garden. By preparing and weeding and watering it, the harvest will result. A man busy in the responsibilities of his own life will not have so much time to get involved in the affairs of another. He will neither take the time to judge him, nor meddle, nor gossip, nor quarrel. In other words, there is peace not war. Righteousness can be sown and harvested.

Since James did not write in chapters, verses, or paragraphs, I would ask the question: Which chapter does this verse go with? Let’s have it work double duty and go with both. Perhaps it is a transition between the thoughts of chapter 3 and 4.

First, if a person wants to be a teacher so badly, let him control his tongue, which also means his heart, the garden of his life in which his fruit (good or bad) grows.  Gossip, slander, anger will not promote peace and without peace, righteousness cannot be sown, nor will it be harvested.  Such incorrect uses of the tongue show that a person truly is not wise because, if a person can’t see those weeds in his own garden, how can he see clearly to pull the weeds in a brother’s garden.  Besides, if you are so busy tending to your own garden, preparing, weeding, watering, you will be too busy to even notice when people are admiring your abilities and wanting to learn from you.

Second, the next chapter is going to show the problems this group of Christians had. There was fighting and jealously and overall, just a basic misunderstanding of the way God will work in their life. There was no peace. Certainly, no peace with God; they still wanted to be friends with the world. Their prayers were not answered.  If you want to be righteous people, and more importantly, if you want people in the world to be able to see your good works (and glorify God), you need to learn how to get along. Not just with each other, but with God.

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