Lies About God 3: “We Must Choose Between A Life We Enjoy and A Life Serving God”

Many people think that the key to the Christian life is to deny yourself of all pleasure, and live a life of boredom.  For them, all pleasure is sin, and desires are to be denied.

But the truth is that desires are God-given and good; where we go wrong is in trying to fulfill them in ways outside of God’s plan.  The problem is not that we have desires, but how we try to satisfy them.

God Himself takes pleasure in His Son (Matthew 17:5; Isaiah 42:1; Colossians 1:19), in His creation, and in His people as we glorify Him.  He promises us “abundant life” (John 10:10), and that if we will find our delight in Him, He will give us the desires of our heart (Ps. 37:4).  Yet, in spite of these great promises, we still choose to seek joy and pleasure elsewhere.

This very simply is because of unbelief, and unbelief is the very root of sin.  Adam and Eve did not believe that they would really die if they ate the fruit, and so they did.  They thought that what they would gain by eating would bring them more pleasure and joy than if they did not eat.  They lived in a perfect world, in intimate fellowship with God, but chose something far below that, which resulted in separation from God and physical death.  And we do the same thing.

Not to say that there is no pleasure in sin – of course there is.  If there were not, it would be no problem.  But what sin brings cannot really even be rightly called “pleasure” when compared with what God offers to us.  Yet we often settle for it, and then wonder why we’re left with regret, guilt and emptiness.  A well-know quote from C.S. Lewis puts it well:

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong but too weak.  We are halfhearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

So the Christian life is not about denying ourselves pleasure, but choosing what will bring us the most pleasure – and that is always going to be obedience to God.  It’s really a “no-brainer”; it’s choosing the holiday at the sea over making mud pies.  And, in choosing to live life serving God faithfully, we are actually choosing the most satisfying life possible.

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Lies About God 2: “God is obligated to save people from other religions”

What about people who never hear the name of Jesus, and never read a Bible?  Is it fair for God to send them to hell when they never had a chance to accept Christ?

“The heavens declare the glory of God”, according to Psalm 19.  Nature itself is a testimony to God (Rom. 1:18-21), and because of that, those who ignore it and reject him are “without excuse” (v. 20).  Furthermore, the moral law of right and wrong is “written on their hearts” (Rom. 2:15), though no one lives up to it.  So we see that nature can not give us what we need.

One may say, “But what if someone sincerely seeks God, in their own way?”  This may sound good, but it neglects to deal with mankind’s problem.  The requirement to stand before God and escape judgment is not sincerity – it’s righteousness.  We can not achieve that through our own works, no matter how sincere we are.  There is only One who can give us that, and His name is Jesus.

“Is God fair?” is really a loaded question that depends on the standard of fairness, and He gets the privilege of deciding that.  He is not obligated to save anyone; however, He must be just in all He does.  Are we being arrogant to say that Jesus is the only way?  No, because it’s not our plan.  Considering these things makes clear just how urgent a task it is to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Most who are worried about those in other religions are not concerned enough about themselves.

Lies About God 1: “God is more tolerant of sin now than in the past”

Is God more tolerant of sin now than He used to be?  It may seem plausible, since in the Old Testament the penalties for sin were pretty severe, enforced quickly, and sometimes even deadly.  Some say the Old Testament shows a God of wrath, while the New Testament shows a God of love (just try convincing Ananias and Sapphira of that).  Or has man, as he has become more “enlightened” over the ages, merely progressed in his view of God, accounting for the shift from the primitive, angry deity of the Old Testament to the loving, fatherly figure in the New Testament?

The truth is, God has not changed; He is still holy, just and righteous, as well as merciful, patient and compassionate.  So, if God is the same yesterday, today and forever, what did change, when did it change, and why?

In Exodus 19 & 20, we read of when Moses and the children of Israel, newly freed from slavery in Egypt, came to Mt. Sinai.  The people, and even their animals were not to even set foot on the mountain, under penalty of death.  God descends on the mountain in a dark cloud with thunder, lightning, and an earthquake, and calls Moses to come up to meet with Him.  Terrified, the people back away and beg Moses for God to not speak directly to them, lest they die (Ex. 20:19).

In Hebrews 12:18-24, we read of another mountain, Mt. Zion, contrasted with Mt. Sinai:

18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

The contrast could not be more dramatic: from clouds and darkness, fear, judgment and death, to light, faith, forgiveness and life.  At Mt. Sinai the command was “Stand back!”.  Here, it is “Come near!”.  What accounts for this difference?

One simple word: Calvary.

The cross, where the penalty for sin and God’s wrath were fully satisfied, makes possible this dramatic shift.  However, it is only for those who are “enrolled in heaven”, who have accepted Jesus’ sacrificial death as payment for their sin, and repented to follow Him.  For others, Hebrews 12 concludes:

25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made – in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

Do not mistake God’s patience for tolerance; our God IS a consuming fire.  All sin must be punished, for He is not only love, but He is “Holy, holy, holy”, and righteous, and just.  There is no sin, over the course of all the ages, that will be forgotten or left unpunished.  Those who reject Christ will pay that penalty themselves, eternally in hell.  Those who accept Christ will never face the wrath of God, because it has already been poured out on His Son, on the cross.

“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

What Takes Student Ministry to “the Next Level”?

Tonight was the first meeting with the adults helping lead in our Student Ministry.  After 26 years in Student Ministry, serving both as a part-time volunteer myself as well as the full-time “point man”, and after doing many things that worked and many that didn’t, I can’t even imagine doing Student Ministry without a team of adults that love God and love teens.  I’m sure it can be done, but having adult leaders who “get it”, and understand what it is to invest in the lives of students, can exponentially multiply the effectiveness of any Student Ministry.

In every church I’ve served in, I’ve been so blessed to have just such a team of adults.  And now, it’s exciting to see God putting it all together again here at the beginning of our time here at Sharon, and I’m eagerly anticipating what He’s going to do through them, for His glory.

I’m Encouraging Intolerance On This

In Proverbs 6:16-19, there is a list of 7 things that God hates, and 3 of them deal directly with speech:

16 There are six things that the Lord hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
18 a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
19 a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers.

There are some things that simply must not be tolerated, both in the life of the believer and in the church body.  Sins willfully committed against each other with words are on that list.  We are setting a new standard of intolerance for this kind of behavior in our group.  The goal is to make our Student Ministry a place where verbal abuse of each other is not welcomed, and where people who are prone to this cannot find anyone to listen to them or participate in it.

Most everyone would say they’ve been a victim of gossip, but hardly anyone ever thinks that they are a gossip.  Nobody likes drama, yet some are always in the middle of it.  This affects everyone in the group at one time or another, and will only be overcome by fighting it together.  It’s not someone else’s responsibility – “It Stops With Me”.

1. If this is not a problem for you, you can help fight it; in fact, nothing will change much if you do not.  The best tactic, when someone starts to involve you in their sin of gossip, is to just walk away.  Even if you don’t repeat it again, by listening you are part of the problem.

2. If you do have trouble controlling your tongue, you need to repent, get right with God and those you’ve hurt, and stop.  If you’re really brave, ask your close friends to call you out if they hear you starting to do it again.

3. If you like spreading gossip and lies about others, and have no desire or plan to stop, then you need to understand that your behavior is no longer welcome.  We will do anything we can to help you overcome this wicked sin, but you will no longer have a place where you can practice it without consequences.  Our goal is to create a spirit of unity and peace that will make you unable to continue spreading your poison as a part of our group.

If someone walked in and started slashing people with a knife, we would do whatever is necessary to stop them.  We can no longer simply sit by and allow people to do the same thing with their words.

“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

The Danger of Drifting

I preached tonight on the Danger of Drifting, taking Hebrews 2:1-3  as my text and using the example of Lot.  Once we are saved, we can never again be lost.  Our standing with God is eternally secure, because it depends solely on the righteousness of Christ imputed to us.  However, our fellowship with God can diminish, and if it does, it is because we have drifted from walking close to Him.

Drifting is slow; it happens one small compromise at a time.  Drifting is also easy; you don’t have to work to drift.  In fact, the easiest way to drift is to just do nothing.  Don’t pursue Christ, don’t follow hard after Him – just do nothing.

Drifting is also costly, as Lot discovered.  At one time, he was blessed so abundantly that he had to separate from his uncle, Abram, because the land could not support both of them.  He went from this to barely escaping the wrath of God on Sodom with just himself, his wife and two daughters – and lost his wife to his lack of influence and her disobedience.

We drift because we have chosen to pursue other things for our joy and contentment, and move away from the One Who is Himself pure joy.  These other things we tend to run after may be good, positive things; the problem is, they can never be the best thing, which is Christ. To look to anyone or anything other than Him is foolish, hopeless, and always carries the promise of disappointment, and if we refuse to repent, can even bring destruction.

How do we keep from drifting?  Know God’s Word, and live in obedience to it.  An anchored ship does not drift; in the same way, we must anchor our lives to God’s Word, living by it’s principles and precepts.  It is the only way to keep from drifting.