Out of Focus

All at once, the law shows us God’s holiness and our own sin. And it doesn’t just reveal sin, it stirs it up.

Now, let’s be clear, the law doesn’t cause sin. Sin is already there. At best, its buried in a shallow grave where it can easily claw its way out. But the law brings to the surface what we find hard to see. It shows what a Holy God requires. And it shows me that I’m really bad at it.

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. Romans 3:20

But the law not only reveals sin, it stirs it up in us, too. The law actually antagonizes the sin. It aggravates it. Draws it out of us like an Epsom salt bath.

The law is holy and just, but sin works its way in when we hear it. It actually makes us want to sin. Think about it. What happens when someone tells you that you can’t so something? Naturally, you want to run right out and do it. Try telling a toddler (or teen) what they can’t do and see what happens. Then look in the mirror. Because every human is hard wired with authority issues.

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The law tells us what to do- our hearts rebel at the thought of someone in authority over us, who knows better than we do what’s best for us- and sin has its way.

The answer- adjust your focus.

Focus on the law alone and you’ll fail. And even if you are a little successful, the tiniest voice will still whisper, “good job.” That’s works righteousness, i.e. sin.

So apart from Christ, any good work starts us down the road to earning it. And that doubles down on our sin. For then, even when we do good, we are doing bad.

Law out of focus is law done out of the sight of Christ.

You can only properly approach the law through Christ, in whom we can and want to do all things as we remember what he has done for us.

You can never do law out of view of Christ. You must always hold the law in one hand and Christ in the other.

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An Un-hypocritical Love

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Law starts with love. Because how did Jesus say we are to do the law? By loving God and neighbor as ourselves.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Romans 12:9-10

“Love must be sincere…” And then Paul continues in the chapter with all these things we should be doing: hating evil, clinging to good, being joyful, patient, blessing those who curse us, etc.

And not just love, but sincere love. If we’re focused on the list, box checking, refrigerator list Christianity, even though they are all things you should be doing: you are practicing hospitality or sharing with those in need…there’s a danger- we may have a secret ulterior motive.

One of our motivations is the hope that we’ll be loved back.

So, in that case, you’re really doing it for yourself. It’s self-love.

  • What can I get out of it?
  • Will people like me more?
  • Will God love me more?

Self love is not sincere love. Sincere means without hypocrisy. And if we’re not sincere, we’re hypocrites. Self love is hypocrisy.

We’re not really doing it because we love others, we’re doing it because we love ourselves.

Check out how we learn to do it the right way, in love, here:

Desert of Sin

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We’re all told to do something we can’t.

In Numbers, God’s people are told that in order to obey the law, they are to make all kinds of sacrifices to God. But they can’t.

They are told to make grain, oil and and wine sacrifices and offerings, but they don’t have any of that.

They’re in the desert.

And there’s no Desert Costco where they can get it. But Numbers also envisions a future where they will be able to obey. The promised land.

  • We, too, are told to obey and can’t. But scripture envisions a future where we can, too.

We don’t have to stay no-growth stuck. Israel was stuck with just manna. But someday they would enter Canaan and have the ability to obey.

Despite their failures and sin.

In the same way, we’re able to obey. Because we have a sacrifice that allows us to. Jesus.

Hopefully, more and more each day, our failure and sin turns to loving obedience as we grow in our love for the ultimate sacrifice.

The gospel takes us on this journey from having to obey to wanting to obey.

And obedience is the gateway drug.

We may not even want to at the time, but after we do- we’re like wow, that was pretty cool. And then we act shocked and surprised that God really does know what’s best for us… and our heart changes a little more.

Want More God?

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Want more God? Check your prayer.

Truth is, we spend most of our time praying that God will give us what we really want- and its not Him.

We only go to God to get:

  • the job
  • corner office
  • a spouse
  • hitting our fighting weight
  • for our to kid make the travel team
  • finally getting some money in our savings account
  • straight As
  • or my most favorite muscle car ever (yes, I got it- pictured above:)

Tune to the right channel- THEN, check your content…

  1. In order for the thing we want not to become an idol we seek after more than God, make sure you have an open channel to God.
  2. Then pray for the things HE wants us to be a part of: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Along with gospel principles such as mercy, grace and justice. Pray what’s in scripture.

Yes, really! Pray for those things by name, and things going on in your life where you can apply them. What God wants for us, what he wants us to be praying for, is right in His Word.

Every time you do this, even when you’re not feeling it, you are fighting the idolatry in your heart. The Holy Spirit will actually redirect the desires of your heart away from the whatever it is that you really want- to you really wanting more of God.

From Exclusive to Inclusive

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Here are some things we ask our small groups to consider at my church every summer break:

  • Has your group been together for several years? AND
  • Is your group too big?

Answer yes to either of these- and you may be unintentionally hanging the “closed” sign on your front door.

Your “closed” to new members for two reasons:
  1. unofficially: nobody wants to be the new kid on the block OR 
  2. officially: they are simply too big numerically, so there is no room at the inn.
The problem: exclusivity 

The solution: plant a new group

Allow the leader you have trained to lead your group. Then you and one another experienced member leave and plant a new one. It can be the same night, the same place, the same everything- just mostly new members. Then…

Exclusive becomes inclusive:

Yes, people will not want to get out of their comfort zone. But when we don’t, we exclude. And the gospel is never exclusive- in fact, exclusion is the opposite of the gospel.

Christ didn’t die to keep people out- he died to bring them in.

So we make a sacrifice of our own comfort and exclusivity to include those who have not experienced what we have experienced in community. We bring them in.

 

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Jesus gives us a risky new way of Being Human. How do we do it? How do we live this new way? The difference is in who is keeping you. Someone is always keeping us. We’re either keeping ourselves or someone else is. 1 John 5:18 says:

the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. 

Who is the One “born of God”? Jesus.

When we keep ourselves, we base our worth on how well we do what the world expects of us. How well we keep all the balls in the air.

But when Jesus keeps us- the pressure comes off. What he did for me- accepting me even though my kids aren’t perfect and I didn’t get the job I wanted. That freeing.

Being “Born of God” gives us a whole new way to begin to be human in the way that God originally designed us. We gain a new understanding of both ourselves and Jesus that changes our hearts. And because its Jesus who keeps us, we can take the risks associated with this new way of living.

Click to listen to the whole thing…

https://www.cedarrun.net/sermons/being-human/

Performance Anxiety

Performance Anxiety

Sometimes, we get nervous about whether or not to get involved in something.

  • Because there is always the risk of failure.
  • We expect a lot from ourselves.
  • And we live by the mantra: risk versus reward.

But what if there really wasn’t a risk? What if we’ve been dreaming risk up as an excuse not to try something? Or to put pressure on ourselves to ensure high performance?

In the ministry that I’m involved in, I always worry that people won’t join, that the ministry will be a failure. But guess what: even if they don’t, its not on me.  It’s hard to break the performance based model we are accustomed to- but the gospel says Christ performed for us already and our acceptance is based on that- so whether or not what your involved with performs well or feels like failure when it doesn’t perform well- is no longer the issue.

  • So what that does is frees us up to take base-jumping level risks.
  • Since the outcome really isn’t on you, you’re free to be faithful.
  • Now I’m free to risk spectacular failure for the Kingdom- because worldly performance benchmarks (i.e. how good a pastor I am) are no longer the basis for my acceptance.
So just take a chance and be a faithful servant.

Word vs. Works

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Now, you’ll get no argument from me that churches are primarily Word Ministry based. Practically, para-church organizations are better equipped to serve communities.  But every church should have a couple of gateway programs that do community outreach as part of their discipleship program.

A couple of years ago, the church I attend started a community service program called Send Seventy, modeled after Jesus sending the disciples out in pairs.  Send Seventy was designed to get people out into their neighborhoods to serve.  It platformed out of our Life Group ministry- so that people could go together and support one another as they tried something new.  Hopefully, three things would happen:

  1. Together, people could overcome their trepidation to try something new.
  2. Once they tried it, service would become something they wanted to do, rather than a burden or just another thing on the to-do list. (Enter sanctifying Holy Spirit:)
  3. They’d be motivated to find a place that fit them and continue serving.

Gateway programs like this are important in combatting community service lethargy. Many people, myself included, shy away from service because its new and intimidating not to know anyone or what to do- we’re uncomfortable.  A gateway service program called Salt and Light is run by our church at a local homeless shelter ministry.  It’s led and supported by a regular and dedicated leadership team from the church, but with plenty of room for people to get out of their pews and try it out.

Church community service programs should be designed to introduce people to service so that they can find their own service home and routines in their own contexts, neighborhoods and comfort zones.

Did Send Seventy work?  Well, it worked for me.  I’ve shared my struggles with serving and new routines and busy-ness. But after a few tries (and few bad fits), I found a place in my neighborhood where I feel comfortable, know the people and can serve regularly.

Two Places Not to Serve

I hate serving.  I love serving. You could say I have a love/hate relationship with serving.  I hate getting started because its inconvenient.  It takes me out of my game.  I don’t know anybody there.  I don’t know what to do or how to do it.  So my default setting is usually: “don’t I do enough already?”  Then, after the guilt sets in, the evil twin of, “I don’t do enough.”

These are the two places from which Christians should never serve.  Because frankly, you could never “do enough” or not “do enough.”  Christ already did everything.  The first is born of pride the second guilt.  If we’re “doing enough,” we’re taking credit for doing something that we think should cause God to love us more.  And when we’re not “doing enough” we think God loves us less.  Both attitudes are opposite sides of the sanctification by works coin.  God won’t love you more for doing more and he won’t love you less for dong less. But precisely because he loves us unconditionally like that- we should love him back- in obedience.

So rather than looking at service opportunities from the “works” binary, simply try to obey… for obedience sake.  Simple obedience is the gateway drug to sanctification.  Now surely there will be valid times when you can’t or shouldn’t.  But simple obedience gets us over the reluctance hump.  Once you try it, figure it out, meet the people, serving becomes something you want to do rather than have to do.  That’s a heart being sanctified.

Cheesecake Factory Church

The Cheesecake Factory is known for its ability to pull off an eighty page menu. Churches, not so much…

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Cheesecake Factory Church

The Cheesecake Factory is known for its ability to pull off an eighty page menu.  Churches, not so much.  In church world, something for everyone sounds great but usually fails at disciple-making.  A church with too many menu items becomes stretched and spread too thin.  Or, as Frodo Baggins would say “butter scrapped over too much bread.”  You wind up with a dozen or so ministries with a dozen or so people in each- it dilutes resources- people, energy, time and money.  Ministry fatigue results.  So I prefer the Steakhouse model instead, pick a few things you can do well and stick with it.

What ministries in your church are good at disciple making? Where can you get the most bang for your buck?  Small Groups are a “big bang”  discipleship program.  Connectivity, care and share, in depth bible study, gospel application, meaningful group prayer, leadership development, and even eating the occasional cheesecake together.  If your only going to get people one time every week or two outside of church, this is a good one.

If you have many programs that accomplish all of these things well, then great!  But we should always be evaluating and asking- how are they making disciples?  If you’re only hanging out/socializing, that’s great- maybe you’re only studying the Bible together, not bad either, or serving, or praying, etc.  But where are you doing all these things at once?

 

Check out this message on John 17:17-24 – its as close as I’ve been able to come to fully and biblically articulating the (drive by) theology behind my position:  The Beauty of Gospel Community