Incidental Contact

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If you’re a Christian, God has given you a special affinity for other Christians.

There is this immediate bond that follows when you, a believer, meet another believer. Think of the times you discover when someone you’ve just met follows Jesus. There is this immediate sense of familiarity. As if you are naturally a brother or sister of this person, only better.

That’s something that is latent in all Christian relationships, but it needs to be developed.

Going to church on Sunday and brushing up against other Christians on your way out to the parking lot is not going to do it. All of these brief contacts, at church, at work, on the ball fields, are great.

But they amount to nothing more than incidental contact. They are like a sip from the water fountain when you are dying from thirst.

All Christians are united together as one body. Christ is the Head and Christians the members. And just as in a natural body all the members are ready to serve one another, so it is in this spiritual body. (Rom. 12:4-5, 1 Cor. 12:12-13)

  • The hands serve the rest of the body.
  • Our ears, eyes and feet all exist to serve the rest of the body.
  • And if the head is dishonored, watch out!- the whole rest of the body springs into action to prove it wrong.

If we say we are Christians, but deny this kind of community, we are being too selfish.

But it’s a community that’s going to require more than a sip.

Developing that natural affinity is going to require that we drink deeply of it. Only then will we be satisfied and find the true community that we were designed for.

Hollywood: the New Moral Majority

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2017 is the year that Hollywood got religion.

What they are learning the hard way is that only he who has not sinned can cast the first stone. And that’s precious few in Hollywood. It’s a slippery slope when people who abuse women call out other people for abusing women- or- when sinners call out sinners. So let the Torquemada-style Inquisition begin. Circular firing squad anyone?

So is it time to go back to the good old days of the Judeo-Christian sexual ethic?

Although that sounds attractive, “the good old days” didn’t work in the old days, either. The one thing that Hollywood and the Moral Majority have in common is a set of rules that they can’t live by.

The Moral Majority had its own Harvey Weinsteins. So maybe setting up a bunch of rules isn’t as effective as it sounds. That’s just religion.

Religion is a set of rules by which we are accepted.

Hollywood and the Moral Majority are religions. And rules can never change us in a way that makes a difference.

The Moral Majority made flabby, cultural Christians. And that doesn’t always make you a true believer. You like the rules, the Christian concepts that are part of God’s common grace- they certainly make the world work better- but even you’re not able to do them in way that really makes you different from the other rock throwers.

Any set of rules, any morals- without the gospel, is just religion. Throw in God and you have theism- a general idea of God- with a strong moral code.

Trying to be moral in a way that is culturally influential- even when it makes intellectual sense- won’t last for long- apart from the real heart change brought by the gospel.

It’s like asking an ant to carry a boulder on its back.

When you know that you have a Savior in Jesus who was moral in every way that you have failed to be- and who took the penalty for that failure for you- that should be doing something to your heart.

If its not- if your not interested in where true moral authority resides- and how you can please the one who did what you couldn’t- the One who loves you despite your failure- you should be worried.

Oftentimes, when Christians have power- we focus on the morality part- on Christian culture- rather than the actual gospel- rather than in the weakness and love of a Savior- who if you love him- and you really get what he did for you- brings morality- and “doing the right thing” into your life anyway- through the heart change that only the Holy Spirit can bring.

So not only do we know what’s right, we genuinely want to do it, too.

When Are We Truly Ever Happy?

The happiest people I’ve known are also the ones who I’ve watched selflessly serve others.

My Grandma and my wife are two people in my life who exemplify this. They are people pleasers. Now, there are good and bad people pleasers.

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The bad ones want something out of you. But both these ladies are simply happiest when they are making others happy. They just do it to do it. Why?

Jesus, who is the perfect human image of God, fully pleases God, and it delights Jesus to do it, as only one perfect Being can please another. It’s part of the perpetually pleasing back and forth of the members of the Trinity.

As humans, we are made in the image of God, so we have some sense of it, too. That’s why when we please other image bearers, it just makes us happy.

You can only find happiness in either the true image or the image bearer.  You can’t find it in yourself or in an inanimate object, because its something that has to be reflected back at you by another Being.

  • Happy in the True Image: It’s a not-so-vicious circle. We live by God’s good- are happy in it- so we do more of God’s good- and are even happier. And since God is most pleased with us when we love and obey Him, so we are pleased and content, too.
  • And Happy in the Image Bearer: what brings happiness in others, bring happiness in us. And who doesn’t like being around happy people? So when we please others- love your neighbor style- they are happy, and so are we.
So we are designed to do good things. And the degree to which we are able to do those good things- we’re happy when we do it, and less happy when we don’t.

Cold Affections

Micah exclaimed, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.” (Micah 7:18)

David, the famous adulterer, said the same thing: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. (Ps 32:5).

You’re a Christian so you think you’re OK. Maybe your not “as bad” as David. So you’ve stopped bringing your sin to God. Stuffing your sins in the closet rather than dealing with them has a lot of practical consequences.

One of them is that Jesus becomes less and less an object of our desire and delight. As Christians, when we pass on the forgiveness and restoration offered by Christ, our desire and delight in Him waxes cold.

And, as Octavius Winslow wrote:

If there is coldness in the affections, if the mind grows earthly, carnal, and selfish; dark and gloomy shadows will gather round the character and the glory of God.

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Where there is but little dealing with the atoning blood, leaning upon the righteousness, drawing from the fullness, and bearing daily the cross of Christ, the love of a believer waxes cold.

And you’ll never suspect it. You’ll never see it coming. You’ll look just as holy outwardly- but have a lack of joy inwardly.

You’ll do all the same things you always do: go to church, your Life Group, serve occasionally- but there will be a lack of joy in any of it.

  • Do you lack joy?
  • Has gathering with God’s people and listening to His Word become a boring chore?
  • Would you rather take a pass on worship (or at least skip the first few songs)?

Our view of Jesus is affected by the state of our affections towards him.  Winslow said that we can judge the depth of a person’s Christianity, by the reply to the question:

“‘What think you of Christ?’ Is he lived to, or is he lived upon? Is his name your delight, his cross your boast, his work your resting place?” 

Or is he just a decision you made long ago?

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.

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:

The Wall Between Us

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One thing your going to find in Christian community- and its going to be unexpected- it might be surprising. Your going to find a strange mix, this strange brew of people. People that you normally wouldn’t be hanging out with. Different ages than you, backgrounds, nationalities, family types.

The gospel does that. It takes away all the boundaries and groups that we tend to clump ourselves into and uses the most unlikely people in our lives. And it makes for an unlikely church.

Now, if Christ is your Savior, God has broken down the wall of partition between you and God. A consequence of that, a side effect- is that partitions between people, walls between nationalities and tribes, skin color- rich/ poor, red state/blue state- those walls are also torn down.

Because we should no longer be identifying ourselves like that- those things are no longer most important- where we go for our acceptance. Now- our identity- is supposed to be found only in Christ and in what He accomplished for us. In other words, groups aren’t so important. So we no longer find our worth and accomplishments there.

In Paul’s time- a wall similar to what we see today, separated Jews and Gentiles. We often refer to this in theological terms- but in simple terms, they really just hated each other. Some of them would’ve been fine throwing down at a first century version of Charlottesville.

Here’s what Paul wrote about that- speaking of Christ- he says in Ephesians 2:14:

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…