Relating to Peter is Not Enough

Most people can relate to the Apostle Peter. His tenacious, spontaneity attracts the wild at heart. He was quick to speak and slow to listen just like so many of us. He often found himself in situations that could have been avoided if he simply kept his eyes on the glory of Christ. All of these things make Peter such a relatable person. But there’s a danger in finding comfort in relatability alone. We need more. We need victory. All of us do. And Peter, though it took a while, eventually learned to find His victory in Christ. God transformed him from a faithless, rebellious, betrayer to a gracious lover of people and a powerful witness for the glory of the Gospel.

Walking and drowning

We’ve all heard it. Jesus walked on water. But that’s easy for Him. He’s God. But He’s not the only man in history to do so. Peter had a moment when in the midst of a ferocious storm he set his gaze on Christ and stepped out of the boat onto the sea. Jesus was all he needed in that moment. In his mind there was no storm, only the Lord of glory that bid him come. But something happened. He began to focus just for a moment on the surrounding difficulty and sunk beneath the waves. His mistake is clear to us now in hindsight. Yet still, we all do it time and time again. We relate to Peter here but that’s not where we find strength.

Spirit and Flesh

Peter was sure in what he believed. Or so he thought he was. As Jesus huddled with his twelve in Matthew 16 he asked a simple question. “Who do people say that I am?” After a round of answers Jesus focused in on Peter and asked it to him personally. “Peter, who do you say that I am?” “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16) Bingo! What a glorious confession of truth. Jesus blessed his words as a holy confession that did not come from human intellect but from the Father in Heaven. In fact, these words were so good that Jesus instructs the future Church as a whole to be built upon that very confession, and in so doing not even the gates of Hell will prevail against it. But once more it all came crashing down for Peter when in the next moment Jesus began to speak of the necessity of His death. Peter denied it. Jesus replied, “Get behind me Satan.” Ouch! Behaviors worthy of praise and rebuke only moments apart. Something each of us can relate to.

Commitment and Denial

Finally, in Luke 22 Jesus warns Peter that a day is coming soon when the Satan will sift his life like a baker sifts wheat. Peter won’t have it. Sensing that what Jesus truly meant, that he would be tempted to deny the Lord, Peter says, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” But Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” Sure enough, the record shows that while Jesus made His way from the garden of Gethsemane to the Jerusalem courts to be tried he denied His Lord three times. Could there be a darker day? It hurts to be betrayed. But it also hurts to be the guilty betrayer of a man who came to die for that very sin.

Victory is Better

By now we can see that even with just these three examples of Peter’s life we can all relate. But what we need is a Victor and a Savior, not just someone to relate to. And that’s exactly what we see in Jesus. When Peter sunk in the water after taking his eyes of the Lord, who was the one to lift him out? Later Jesus rebuked Peter for refusing to believe in the necessity of His death, but we never see Him writing Peter off completely. And when Peter denied the Lord three times, a sin we’d all rather leave off our own lists, we know that Jesus remained with him through it all with a plan to restore his faith and use him to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Peter’s hope, his Savior, his Victor was Jesus. He sinned often, but learned to repent often. He fell regularly but learned to lean on Jesus in order to stand again. Sin often beset him, but Jesus took that sin to the cross and nailed it there so that real victory and hope could be found. It’s good and often comforting to relate to Peter, but it’s not enough.  Look to Jesus for strength. When you fail, and you probably will often, He will restore you.

Luke 22:31 – 32 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

 

 

What’s So Special About St Patrick’s Day?

Did you know St. Patrick was not a native Irishman?

He was born in Britain, captured at age 16 by pirates and taken into captivity for 6 years. This is when he first knew Christ.

The Lord used this time of slavery and hardship to draw him to saving faith.

He later went back to Ireland as a missionary and Church planter; personally baptizing thousands, converting sinners both rich and poor with the preaching of the gospel of grace.

Yes, he was a saint, but his sainthood was not achieved by religious works. By genuine belief in the Gospel of Grace; the imputed righteousness that comes through faith, Patrick was transferred from darkness to light and set on a God-given mission of making disciples for Christ.

What’s so inspiring about St Patrick’s Day? The Spirit’s work of grace to take a man from captivity and weakness to faith and trust in Him. And in that place of trust and faith God can use a person to shape the course of even an entire country.

Today, think what God might do with you as you lay your life down, pick up your cross and follow hard after Jesus?

#happystpatricksday

Want to know more about St Patrick?

Here are a couple resources.

http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/kevindeyoung/2015/03/17/who-was-st-patrick-3/

http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/remember-saint-patrick

Loving God and People is Living the Gospel

They are the greatest commandments in all of the Bible, yet sadly they’ve almost become cliche. Love God and love people. Over complicate it and we’re no better than the self-righteous Pharisee who knows nothing of grace. Over simplify them to the point of ignorance and we might as well stop calling ourselves Christians. They are a must, but they’re not meant to be a burden. There is a beauty and a balance in these two commands, summing up all of the Scriptures into two statements that teach us what it means to live to God’s glory.

Love God

We all crave to love and be loved. God created us this way. To love is to express often what words cannot describe. Love goes beyond words into selfless action. To love is to act with the deepest affection for someone. Because love is a universal language it’s easy to tell when love is genuine or when one is merely giving lip-service. It’s also not to be confused with lust, which is always out to self-satisfy.

When God created us He did so out of the purest love in the universe. Everything he does is perfectly selfless. Everything that flows from Him does so for His own glory, which is right, since there is nothing higher. That’s why He made us.  To love Him and bring him glory, and in so doing, fulfill our purpose.

When God penned the ten commandments and gave them to Moses there were two tablets. On one was recorded the perfect standard for man’s behavior towards God, and on the other was written the standard for how man should treat his neighbor. Both tablets contained impossible tasks. It wasn’t that He wanted us to fail, but that we needed to see that the standard was impossible to meet in our own strength. For all the failed attempts to keep the law, He provided a sacrificial system that would be ultimately fulfilled in Jesus. His innocent life would be taken in place of the guilty to atone for sin. God’s justice would be satisfied and the guilty who trust the sacrifice are set free forever.

So when it comes to being a Christian and living for God we do so out of a sense of freedom. We’ve been set free from the bondage of sin and freed up to live for what is supreme. Loving God is not hard, it’s impossible because of sin. But with sin dealt with at the cross we’re truly free to give to God what He deserves, our everything. When we do we find satisfaction in fulfilled purpose and rest in the fact that even though we know we’re not perfect, a perfect Savior has done the impossible for us.

Love People

The first command flows immediately into the second. And you cannot have one without the other. On the second tablet of stone given to Moses we find what would seem to be logical requests. Don’t kill, don’t steal, obey your parents, don’t desire what belongs to your neighbor, and tell the truth. But the problem lies in the heart. As much as we might be able to fool the world into thinking we’re pretty good people, in our hearts we fail daily. According to Jesus, to hate is to kill and to even look with lust at someone is an adulterous act. We’re hopelessly lost and without the Gospel of grace we’re all doomed.

Jesus not only loved God perfectly, but He loved people perfectly. Every word, thought and act was one of perfect love and justice. Even His anger was perfect, teaching us that loving people doesn’t mean to simply tolerate what they’re doing. Jesus ate meals with sinners and tax collectors, came to the defense of prostitutes and advocated for the widow. He gave of His time without complaint and labored in prayer for those around Him. He truly loved people. But the ultimate fulfillment of this second great command came at the cross. He did there what we could never do for anyone. Laying His life down at the altar, He shows us that to love others is to do for them what they truly need, even when it costs us greatly.

Christians are called to love everyone, even our enemies. Much of the world even knows instinctively that love should be shared across borders, between the world’s ethnic groups and with those who are weak, oppressed and hurting. But only Christians can do what God is requiring because it is only the Christian that has the indwelling Spirit of Christ living through them and empowering them to love. Loving people God has made is an act of God. When we join Him in that we are loving Him.

It’s the Gospel

The Gospel can also be summed up with these two commands. God loved so He gave. God, out of his perfect being and for His own glory, loved His enemies and died for them in order to do for them what they could never do and bring them to Himself. When we look at these commands now, to “Love the Lord with all you heart, soul, mind and strength” and to “Love your neighbor as yourself” We’re doing so with an understanding the God makes it possible. God set the example of how in Jesus. Through His death He dealt with our failures. Through His resurrection He gives us victory. And through His ascension and the pouring out of His Spirit He gives us the power.

There’s no doubt that we cannot do this as well as we’d like every day. Don’t let it be a burden. Don’t just let it be a slogan. See the power of God through the indwelling Spirit, a power that is promised to all who are His through faith.

 

 

 

Condemning-Sin vs Sin Condemned

“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:3-4

What God did

The law had it’s purpose. It revealed the holiness of God to Israel. It revealed that the human heart is sinful and desperately wicked at its core impulse. It pointed man to a perfect Law-giver, a standard too high to achieve in human strength. But what it could not do, what it was never intended to do was save a soul.

“the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” Galatians 3:23-24

What did God do for us that the law could never have done?

-He fulfilled the righteousness that the law demanded.

-He became the atoning sacrifice for law breakers.

-He condemned those very sins which the law revealed in us by nailing them to a cross.

Sin is Condemned

The Christian is not condemned any longer. He cannot be, for Christ, though innocent, was condemned, accused as guilty and nailed to a cross. Instead of crushing lawbreakers the Father sent His Son to be judged in our stead and bear the wrath that was owing us. The law required perfection. The wage due to sinners was death. And Jesus satisfied both.

No more condemnation

No more guilt.

No more bearing the weight of our own sin.

The unbearable burden has been lifted off.  Christ’s perfect life has been given and the Father is fully pleased. Jesus stood in our place to set us free from the law which bound us. We are free to live by the rule of the Spirit, and not by the flesh any longer.

Walk in The Spirit

“it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, and the life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God” 

We now walk according to the Spirit, and not according to the flesh. And though it is a daily struggle and a long journey of learning what this fully means to crucify our flesh, the reality is the same. Every born again Christian walks according to the Spirit. It’s a blood-bought reality. You cannot one day have the Spirit indwelling you and the next day not. You cannot one day stand guiltless because of the final work of the cross and the next day be guilty again, as if Christ’s work wasn’t sufficient to fully save you. We all battle with remaining sin and fleshly impulses, but if your faith is in Jesus who justifies and forgives, then the ruling power within you is the Spirit. He will help you as Jesus promised He would.

God did what the law, because of human weakness, could never do. It’s a finished work that brings eternal freedom. The Spirit is indwelling you through faith. He is your strength, your help and your everlasting peace, for it is the Spirit who points you back daily to the work that God did in sending His Son to be and do what we, nor the law, nor any other man could ever have done alone. In Christ, sin no longer condemns you. Your sin has been condemned.

 

 

Things That Matter Rarely Happen Fast

“so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”  Ephesians 3:17-19

We need faith that is rooted deep, not just rich with emotion and experiences. We need faith that trusts in the eternal more than the immediate.

Our world sees the experiential and the here and now as more real than the unseen and eternal. If you feel it, see it, taste it, or can be stirred up by it, right now, then it’s real.

People are hurting and broken, longing for meaning and purpose, laboring for happiness and joy in life, and being told time and time again that they’ll know they have found what they’re looking for if it feels good and brings immediate and visible change.

When we measure life this way we’re left empty. The things that matter most in life rarely happen fast. It takes time to find the right spouse. It takes time to learn and advance on a career path. It takes time to become a better parent, grow in maturity, get out of debt, or heal from sickness, pain and fear.

Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. Compared to the tree that it produces, it’s among the smallest of seeds. Being a Christian in this Kingdom will mean that what is being produced in us by Jesus, though it be small and comparatively insignificant right now, will one day have influence that spreads like the branches of a large tree. Seeds are planted and may not sprout for days. Yet with time and patience, fruit comes.

Faith in the Son of God is not about fast changes. It’s about truth hidden in our hearts that is doing something now, and will one day spring forth as great trees producing more fruit than we can imagine.

Through faith the hardest part is already done. We are saved, forgiven and set free from the bondage of sin. Through faith God does the work of transferring us from darkness to being citizens of Christ’s eternal Kingdom. Through faith in Jesus we are given the guarantee of better things to come. They’re not all immediate things, but we have a more substantial promise that when this life is over everything will be made right again. A day is coming when all whose faith was in the perfect Son will be given new bodies to replace these old and worn out ones. The corruptible will put on incorruptible. Death will be swallowed up. Righteousness will reign.

It’s easy to get discouraged when the changes we desire don’t happen when we want them to. But hold fast to Jesus. Make Him your supreme desire. Trust Him today with all of its worries and all of tomorrow’s unknowns. Don’t bank on feelings and emotions. They will come and go like chaff in the wind. Don’t bank on what the world calls successful or worthy. These are all futile pursuits.  Seek, rather, to be rooted in Jesus Christ. Plant yourself daily in His eternal and unchanging Word that gives real life to the soul. Grow in the knowledge of His grace that rescued and redeemed you, and is sanctifying you little by little every day. In His timing He will bring about in you the changes, the victories, the healing and successes that He desires.

 

 

 

 

 

Pass The Plate or Box In The Back

I don’t care if it’s Joel Osteen’s mega church or the 20 member church in the country, without money the lights in the church don’t stay on and the bills don’t get paid. Far more importantly, without some sort of funding coming in there is absolutely no way a local church can sustain ministry to its members or the community.

So how does that money get collected? That’s the point of this article.

I’ll share the two primary ways it’s done at the average Sunday gathering and then tell you where we’ve landed at New City Church.  Of course, there are more than just two methods used in our technological age, but these two are the ones best visibly observed, and for that reason, are worth addressing.

Pass The Plate

At some point during the service, (usually incorporated during the singing time) some folks go to the front of the church, grab a fancy looking plate, or sometimes a basket or bowl from a table and in organized fashion pass that plate up and down the rows of people. When the plate passes in front of a person they have the option of placing an offering  in the basket, or not. After this process is completed some trusted individuals would bring the collection to an agreed upon location to process the funds. What happens after that I’m not privy to, other than in the church I pastor. But typically there’s no fishy business going on.

Box in The Back

With this system there’s generally not a specified time to give, as with the plate method, but instead, people are made aware of the location of the box and then invited, on their own time, to place their offering in the box. I’ve seen anything from fancy ornate wooden boxes to industrial and large metal boxes to smaller suggestion boxes re-purposed for collecting funds.  It’s usually situated in a common area of the Church or at an entrance point so as to make it convenient for members or guests to walk by with their gift and place it in. After the service, a team collects the funds for processing. And again, what each church does after this point is not something I can accurately tell, having not been there.

Giving is Biblical

In both of these scenarios there is nothing innately wrong or sinful. A local church is free to choose one method over the other, and even add several options to give electronically or through church apps or text-to-give. But no matter the case it’s important to see that this part of a local church’s operations is one that can and should bring glory to God.

Financial giving is Biblical. It’s been a regular part of worship for God’s people since the days of the tabernacle in the Old Testament. God’s people would willingly give of their own resources out of hearts of worship and thanksgiving so that that needs could be met, both within the gathering spaces and in the lives of families and communities in need. God instructs leaders to administer those funds in such a way that is upright and would advance His cause in the world

Why We Put a Box in the Back

Imagine being a non-believer or new visitor in our post-Christian culture and money a plate passes in front of you. You know what’s supposed to happen, but you’re just not comfortable. What if you have no money? Where does the money even go? (that’s for another blog) If you don’t put anything, is someone going to think poorly of you?

Even if that’s not at all the attitude of the church or its leaders, the fact that it’s going on in the visitors head is a reality to them and is battle enough.

We put a box in the back of the room on a resource table with several good and free books for the taking. It’s a small metal box with a simple paper sign on the front that says, GIVING. Our wording was intentional too, knowing that tithe or offering is perhaps a little more intimidating. Our pre-service Pro Presenter presentation includes instructions on how to give at New City Church and occasionally I’ll mention something from the pulpit.

Truth be told, 90% of the funds that come in to the church come through our online platform or text-to-give, from members who share our vision and mission and want to be a part of it. But as we grow, and as more visitors come, we believe this is what God would have us do.

I’d love to hear your thoughts or comments on what you and your leadership do, and why you’ve come to that decision. Maybe you can share a story of your experience as a new or non-believer going to a church that does either of these methods.

Our way is not THE right way. It’s just one way and those are our reasons. Praise God for the liberty to make these choices.

May we do it to His honor and glory!

 

 

Two Luther’s Fight for Freedom

Michael King was his given name in 1929. After a trip to Germany in 1934, his father changed it to Martin Luther in honor of the great German reformer of the 1500’s. King was only 5 years old at the time. Did he have a clue that his life would be greatly used for the cause of freedom and that he, like the German monk, would be a reformer of his own time?

The life of the Rev. King, Jr. was marked by victory and defeat – joy and sorrow, but the cause he lived and died for was worthy of it all. His theme was freedom and equality under God. His famous speech at The March On Washington cried out for unity and brotherhood among all races of our earth, recognizing that all men are created in the image and likeness of a loving God. Were there mistakes and misguided turns along the way for Rev. King?  There absolutely was, as there is with all of us, but here’s the lesson we learn from his life: stand up. Stand up for the causes that are born out of God’s heart. Stand up for what you know is true and good and right on this earth, even if it means harm and difficulty may come.

The German reformer, Martin Luther, (the inspiration for King’s name)  was made famous by the publication of his “95 Thesis”, a letter written to the Roman Catholic Church protesting the practice of selling indulgences. These indulgences were in direct correspondence to Catholic doctrine stating that faith alone cannot save man, and that justification is based upon the accompanying works of charity.  Johann Tetzel famously said, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” This was the slavery of Luther’s day, the slavery he fought to end; men, women and children in bondage to their sin and given no hope of finding a way out. The ones who were supposed to be their spiritual leaders were actually their taskmasters. Every-day-folks were kept in the dark under the lie that only the priests had the right to interpret Scripture.  Salvation through faith in Jesus was marred by the greed of the Roman Church, but in the midst of this injustice stood a young monk who simply read and believed the Word of God, and desired that all men be given the right to do the same.

Romans 3:21-24 “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,”

Like Martin Luther, God’s plan for Dr. King would change the world as he knew it. He led a charge against evil by standing up for truth. His nonviolent approach, the stance of winning an opponent to friendship, rather than to humiliate or defeat him, took much heat,  but there he stood turning the other cheek; motivated by His love for the Gospel. King said, “Before I was a civil rights leader, I was a preacher of the Gospel. This was my first calling and it still remains my greatest commitment.”  We have this to thank for his tenacious attitude for freedom. He knew the unconditional love of His Savior.

Before his death he said, “I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” The very next day he took a sniper’s bullet while standing on his hotel balcony. His death did not end the fight for civil rights, but instead thrust it forward.  Though Dr. King did not make it to the “Promised Land” he foresaw for the black community, we see the fruit of his love and labor today in America and in much of the world.

Luther and Luther are heroes and worthy to be compared side by side.  They believed in a great God whose strength is larger than all evil, who empowers His people to stand for injustice without fear. Both of their hearts were motivated by truth and love for God as supreme Creator, and man as His pinnacle creation. We are indebted to their efforts, enjoying the freedoms we know today because of them.  The work is not done. We need more Luther’s in our day, both in the Church and in the public arena. We do not fight under the false pretense that this world is our forever home, but we fight in accordance to the Spirit that is within us and the love that has been placed in our hearts. We need reformers who are willing to uncompromisingly devote themselves to the Word of God and apply it in the real world. There will always be opposition to our freedom as humans under God and as new creations in Christ,  but the battle is in the hands of the Almighty God.

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