6) Honoring the Lord with Your Wealth: Proverbs 3:9-10
7) The Suffering of Christ
8) The Crowd or the Cross
9) Remembering Jesus
10) Admirer or Follower: Which are You?
Sharing Hope and Thanks
On Thursday morning, Abby Rose Lee was involved in a car accident. She died with her family at her bedside. She was 19 years of age and is missed by family and friends. She claimed Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior and let people know of her faith. It is a great comfort to her family to know that she is in Jesus’ presence and waiting for that time when they can be together again.
I don’t know about you, but I found it very hard to be thankful this past Thursday. Not because I have little to be thankful for, I am greatly blessed in many ways. But the pain of the present tragedy choked out the memory of past blessings. It was like dark hands had grasped my neck and squeezed the joy right out. The only thing that could break that desperate grip was the Message of Hope God has promised for our future.
In the same way that memories tie us to the past, hope ties us to the future. And God gives us hope. He is called the God of all hope. Colossians says that the promises of Christ are hope for all those in whom He dwells. The same way the body needs oxygen to breathe, the soul and spirit need hope to thrive. Without hope there is despair. Without hope life becomes dark and dismal. Without hope there is no sense of purpose or meaning. But God gives hope for the future not just good memories of the past. I do not know what you are going through. Maybe you have come to church this morning and have just learned about what happened to Abby and you are sad and hurt for the Lee family. But many of you have also felt those hands around your throat or felt the stab of pain from the loss of someone or something important to you. These things you so desperately hate and you wonder how a loving God can allow these things to happen. But God wants to give you hope. It is God who breaks into our world, a world that is too often marked with tragedy, and offers hope to all who come to Him for grace. Romans 8:22 says that “the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.” This world is a place marked by sin and tragedy. Yes, by God’s grace many wonderful things also happen. There are many good memories that each of us have of time spent with loved ones or long walks in the park or along the beach admiring the beauty of the world we live in. Something in us tells us that is how it is supposed to be all the time. We were not made to die. We were not made to grieve the death of our loved ones. This world was not originally to be filled with death and tragedy. But it is. Sin has corrupted everything humans have touched. And God has molded our world to reflect that imperfection. An honest look at our physical and social surroundings reveals two things to us. First, it reveals a hint of the beauty and harmony that God wants for us. And second, it shows us that this world is not our permanent home. We are not to settle in here. The cries of our hearts long for a better place, a place where 19-year old girls do not die in automobile accidents or terrorists do not kill children to support their cause. Most people in America experience more good times than bad. This country is blessed in that way. But there are places in this world where people’s lives are short and filled with brutish tragedy. The Christian knows that this world is not our home. As Hebrews 11:16 says, we long for “a better, that is, a heavenly country.” But we do live here. And we do experience tragedies that fill our hearts with grief. Solomon teaches us in Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 that we are to be honest and recognize the pain that life can bring. We are not to run from it but we are to allow it to teach us what the truly important things really are. “Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting. For that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” Solomon is basically saying that it is wise to let the tragedies and temporance of life instruct us that this world is not all there is. All of our energies should not go into having good times and fun. Death will take each of us. It is foolish to deny that. And when that happens, what then?
God has given us Three Messages of Hope to strengthen us through difficult days and break the strangle hold of despair. The First is His Word. Have you felt or do you feel like you have just lost everything? That the world, your world is getting ready to crash in on you? That is the way Job felt. Do you feel hurt because of some things that others have done to you? You have done all the right things and still your life does not seem to be working out. “God, I am doing the right stuff. I am being good and look what is happening.” That is the way Daniel felt. Two weeks ago we were reminded that when it looks like the world is crashing in around you and God is nowhere to be found, maybe sleeping in the back of the boat, He is still in the boat with you. He is still in the boat and that makes all the difference because the boat will not go down when He is around. God gives you all the stories in the Old and New Testament to show you, to remind you of that. Your problems are not unique. They feel unique to you, but God has seen others through them and He will see you through, if you will let Him. When God sees you through a difficult time you will come out of it a better person. When we allow bitterness and rage to mold us we become less than we were intended to be. The second Message of Hope is the Cross. It blesses our heart to know that someone loves us. We feel valued and life seems worthwhile. And how do we know that someone loves us? Usually we know that by what they do for us. Words alone are not enough. Words followed by action are when we know. “For God so loved the world He gave His Son.” Jesus said, “I lay my life down for you.” Scarcely will a man die for a good man much less to die for someone like you or like me. But Jesus says, “I lay my life down for you.” When you see the cross, I want you to see those out stretched arms reaching out to you, enfolding you, to let you know that the God of all creation who has designed this universe is big enough and small enough to reach out to you and let you know that you are loved. You are loved. What more can He do for you than suffer and die a horrible death so that your sins can be forgiven? The cross is a reminder that you are loved so much that God the Father sent His Son to give you forgiveness, to reconcile you, to bring you into His family. He redeemed us because He loves us and wants us back in His family. God the Father receives all those who receive His Son! The Third Message of Hope is the Empty Tomb. The empty tomb shows us that the God of creation has power in this world and it does not all end in the grave, in a casket, in the tomb. But there is more. Scripture tells us that Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection. He was the first one to be raised. God wants us to know that there is going to be a second and a third and a fourth and a fifth and a sixth and a seventh, and so on. He gives us life. There will be a resurrection unto new life for all those who look to Christ for that life, for all who long for that life. There will be such a resurrection for Abby! We lost her life here but she is not lost because Jesus found her and holds her in His arms, safe and secure and waiting for a grand reunion with all who also love Jesus. That empty tomb gives you great hope, not just for a resurrection but great hope for the coming weeks and years to come. If He can raise someone from the dead and change death to life, He can change, transform, move, develop, grow your life to keep you from being stuck. Do you feel stuck in your life? You have battled the same old problem for years, for decades and you have tried hard and just do not seem to be able to overcome it. God wants to help and the power of the empty tomb says that He has the power to help. And so He says, “Let us start today and walk together through that.” He does not stand in the background and say, “Ok, go get ‘em. You go do it now.” But He says, “Walk through your day with Me and I will walk through the day with you.” It is why we talk about a personal relationship with God through Christ. Not just accepting Christ as personal Savior, stamp saved, and then walking away. But walking with Him on a daily basis. It is to be Christ-conscious in the things we do. It is to strive by His grace to be the husband, the wife, the student, the grandfather, grandmother, employee, employer that God wants us to be. He does not just give us a standard and say, “Measure up to this.” He says, “Here is where we can go together. Walk with Me and let us see what we can do.”
God does not leave you with good memories. He gives you hope for the future. He offers you hope for a future that goes beyond what we can accomplish ourselves. He says, “I am with you and I will never leave you.” That is why He initiated the communion fellowship. He said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Communion is not just a ritual. It symbolizes Jesus’ suffering and death for the forgiveness of sin. As one participates in communion, if one’s heart is right, that person is saying that Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection apply personally to him or herself and that he or she prays for God’s purifying grace to cover his or her life. Do not confuse the elements with the promise. The elements are only the clothes that go on the promise. Steve and Ophelia have a wonderful little baby. It looks so cute in those little clothes? But the clothes mean very little. It is the baby, the life that is there that matters. The bread and the cup symbolize the life that God has for you. As you partake of communion, realize that you are partaking of Christ’s life in you. He wants to imbue you with life, forgiveness, and newness. But He will never force Himself on you. You have to let Him in and you have to want Him to work in your heart.
Shaped by God
Does life seem to just wear on you? Do people, your friends, your family grate on you? Do you feel wore out? Do you find yourself frustrated at the end of most days? Do you find yourself looking up at the end of the day saying, “Lord, why?” and you do not hear an answer? Sometimes the little things can chip away at our lives and our sanity more than the big things. The big things we can look in the eyes and know our adversary. The little things can wear us down.
As I was thinking about how to build strong, godly Christians, a reoccurring thought kept coming to me. In order to build a strong, stable house you have to start off with strong bricks and gripping mortar. The larger the structure the more sturdy the foundation needs to be. Isaiah 61:3 tells us that God wants us to be mighty trees of righteousness. “To all who mourn in Israel, he will give beauty for ashes, joy instead of mourning, praise instead of despair. For the Lord has planted them like strong and graceful oaks for his own glory.” He wants us to be mighty oaks of righteousness. God does not crave for us to be world-class athletes or scientists. If we are, “fine.” But He does crave for us to be righteous, godly people. Why? Two reasons. The first reason centers in who God is. The second centers in what He wants us to do. We are to be righteous because He is righteous. First Peter 1:15-16: “But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God—who chose you to be his children—is holy. For he himself has said, ‘You must be holy because I am holy.’” Isaiah 61:4 speaks about the second reason. “They [the oaks of righteousness] will rebuild the ancient ruins, repairing cities long ago destroyed. They will revive them, though they have been empty for many generations.” God wants to use Christians to influence this world for Him and His righteousness. He wants us to be good because He is good and because it is good for us, in our best interest. We are better off when righteousness is present in our lives. Our society is better off when righteousness is prevalent.
As I studied Isaiah 61, I found out they did not use bricks and mortar to rebuild Jerusalem after the captivities. In fact, Isaiah 9:10 says that “the bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with dressed stone.” The temple, the walls of the temple, was built with stone that had no mortar. The bricks were smoothed so finely that they fit perfectly together. No mortar, just dressed-stone shaped by craftsmen to fit exactly. First Peter 2:5a likens Christians to these cut stones. “And now God is building you, as living stones, into his spiritual temple.” As living stones, you are being built into a living house. To put this in context, we need to look at the rest of the verse and the rest of the chapter to see how it all fits together. “So get rid of your feelings of hatred. Don’t just pretend to be good, be done with dishonesty and jealousy and talking about others behind their backs. Now you realize how kind, how gracious the Lord is, put away all evil and deception and envy and fraud, long to grow up in the fullness of your salvation. And cry for this as a baby cries for milk. Come to Christ who is the living foundation of rock upon which God builds. Though men have spurned him, he is very precious to God who has chosen him above all others. In fact, he is the cornerstone. You have become living building stones for God’s use in building his house. Like living stones you are being built into a spiritual house.” So what does this mean and what does this have to do with rocks and bricks. What does it mean to you? What is Peter saying, and more importantly, what is God trying to communicate?
Two things. First, together we form something important. We are each independently, individually important to God. But together we become part of something bigger than the sum of its parts, a synergy. Synergy means that when things are combined they create something better than just the sum of their parts. Each of the parts receive something from the other parts that makes each part more functional than it was before. Together we form something important. Peter describes it as a spiritual house, a place where God lives and moves. In Jesus’ day the temple was the center of Jerusalem. It was the center of spiritual, religious, and personal life. In fact, it was set on the highest part of Jerusalem and was built seven stories tall so anywhere in the city would see the presence of God in the temple. Before the temple there was the tabernacle. It was in the center of the camp. There were three tribes to the north, three tribes to the south, three tribes to the east, and three tribes to the west. God wants to be in the center of His spiritual house. And He wants this spiritual house to be the center of your life. He lives in each of us individually but also corporately and uses us to spiritually impact each other. That is why this spiritual house, individual churches and the church globally, is intended to be the center of your life. That is why when you drift from church you also drift away from God. A little bit at a time other things take your interest, your hearts, your resources, your time. It is hard to be spiritual without spiritual intake and it is hard to grow spiritually without spiritual output.
Secondly, God is the architect and contractor in building this spiritual house. He is doing the building. You are the product of His labor. He knows each stone and He puts it right where it belongs. He knows you and will put you right where you belong. Sometimes He puts us where we fit perfectly with those around us. Where we have everything we need because others are teaming with us, helping, multiplying our effectiveness. Sometimes God puts us right where we will fit perfectly. But other times He puts us in a place to shape us. We are not yet the oaks of righteousness Isaiah 61:3 talks about. There are things that need to be pared out of our lives or things that we need to add to our lives that promote growth. And so He puts us in a place that will effect change in us. You may be pretty good, but there are still things that need to be dealt with. Sometimes we fit perfectly, sometimes He puts us in a place that shapes us, and at other times He puts us in a place to shape others. First Peter 2:9 speaks about this situation: “But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are a kingdom of priests, God’s holy nation, his very own possession. This is so you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” We, as Christians, are all called to be priests and ministers--to represent God’s love, compassion, and righteousness to the world and to represent the world of people to God as we intercede on their behalf.
Sometimes you fit, but sometimes you do not fit because God wants to reshape you or maybe he wants to reshape that place through you. When we start off in life we are pretty rough and jagged. Think about a newborn child. Think about a two-year old. Got a good side, got a bad side. Which side comes out more often? Think about a teenager. Yeah, think. And God starts chipping at us. He starts hammering away so that we can become useful and shaped in a way that will be productive. That He can fit others around us. The common factor to all of this is that God is interested in our character. When the junk is gone out of our life, you know what is left? It is called the image of Christ.
Do you know that there is a ‘Jesus’ in you? Galatians 5:16-26 speak to this molding process. This is a lengthy passage but it is worth reading. “So I advise you to live according to your new life in the Holy Spirit. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The old sinful nature loves to do evil, which is just opposite from what the Holy Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are opposite from what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, and your choices are never free from this conflict. But when you are directed by the Holy Spirit, you are no longer subject to law. When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, your lives will produce these evil results: sexual immorality, impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, idolatry, participation in demonic activities, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, the feeling that everyone is wrong except those in your little group, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other kinds of sin. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Here there is no conflict with the law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. If we are living now by the Holy Spirit, let us follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or irritate one another, or be jealous of one another.” When irritations of life start rubbing against you, do you need more of that love, a sense of joy, a sense of peace. God wants to ‘grow’ you but you will not grow spiritually until you feel a need for it, until you really want it for your life.
God wants to do something in your life. He wants to chip away and make you into something special. He wants to grow you and me into people who exhibit love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness. When the irritations of others are rubbing against us we need patience. God wants to grow kindness and compassion in your life to benefit them. Gentleness and self-control are things God wants to grow into our life so that we will be fully functional in the body of Christ. That you can be a functional part of that spiritual house we have been talking about. This next week irritations are going to come into our lives. If we see them as opportunities to grow and share our faith we will be “fine.” But if we let them mold us negatively we will move further away from God and what He has planned for us.
Is there something you want to cut out of your life? It may be your temper, the selfishness you have with your time, your lack of compassion, whatever it is God wants to pare it away more than you do. The key is letting Him do it. For the whole spiritual process to work, we must invite Him into our lives to make the necessary changes. He is a gentle God concerned about our spiritual freedom. He will not violate it because He wants our reciprocation to be voluntary. Spiritual saints are not made by force. Spiritual saints are molded by the hands of God only if we respond positively to His invitation. God does pursue us before we chose Him, but if we do not respond we can kill the process. For true spiritual growth to take place we must ask Him to remake us to be like Jesus. We must want it to be a reality in our lives. We are a people in process. God is alive and well and will work in you if you let Him!
Living in the Father’s House
There was a man who had two sons. And the younger son said, “Father, I am tired of hanging out here. I want my part of the inheritance now.” And so the father gives it to him. The son goes to what is called a distant country and has a great time--by his standards. His experience is described as fun, frivolity and loose living until all the money was gone. He ends up taking a job as a hired hand on a farm feeding pigs. After living with the pigs for a while he realizes he would be better off as one of his father’s hired servants. He says to himself, “I will go back to my father. I will see if he will take me in as one of his hired servants, as an employee of his farm because my dad treats his employees better than I am getting treated here.” He goes back. The father sees his son coming down the road. He gets up and does something men of his age normally do not do, he ran. He ran down the road and in Luke 15:20 it says, “He threw his arms around him and embraced him and kissed him.”
The story goes on to describe the older brother’s reaction. “That is not fair. I have been here the whole time and I never got a party.” The older brother should have been happy that his brother was back. But he was not and for that the father rebuked him. And that was Jesus’ core message. Recognize, we are the younger son. We are the ones who are not doing everything right, who have not kept all the laws, who have not followed every statute. And actually, no one has! Jesus tells this story so that we will understand God’s heart. God longs for reconciliation. The self-righteous Pharisees were the older brother in Jesus’ story because they were unforgiving and had a heart that was far from God’s.
We can learn some things from this story. We must be careful that we do not end up thinking like the older brother. We start to get our lives in line and then we see somebody coming into our church or see somebody else who comes to Christ and they have all these things we hate, they do not dress modestly or conservatively, they do not look respectable, they do not behave properly, they do not talk like we do, they do not smell like we like them to smell. They just do not do things our way. We almost think that they do not deserve God’s grace. Or rather, we do think they do not deserve God’s grace! But the Father says, “Do not despise what I love. I have been waiting for my son, my daughter for 20, 40, 50 years to come back to me and, yes! they have some baggage, but they are back, so rejoice.” The message for us is to not be self-righteous to where we cannot love others, where we cannot be sensitive and kind to those who need it. But also, and I will say more importantly, for us to recognize that we are that younger brother because we have all wandered away and squandered some good thing God has given us. But then you turn around and start walking back toward the Father. He runs to you and says, “Welcome back. Please do not do that again because it is messing up your life, but welcome back. Come back into my household and live.” There are three key truths that we see in this story. First, we see that God is for you. This does not mean that God exists to take care of your wants and needs like some kind of cosmic genie. But it means that God is for you, not against you. God longs for your good, longs to have a relationship with you. He cares about you; He is for you. Secondly, God is for your best. He wants nothing but the best for you. He wants right relationships, right priorities, things that truly will fulfill your heart. He does not want you going through your life being cheated out of what He could do with your life. He is for your best. And thirdly, He is for your development. You are not at your best yet, so He is going to be working through things and bringing things into your life that will help you to develop.
Look at Luke 15. In verse 20 it says, “he ran and embraced him and kissed him.” He is for you. In verse 22 we see that He wants nothing but your best. The father said, “bring the best robe, bring the family ring, bring sandals, his feet are bruised and raw from walking barefoot across these fields and on these roads.” He wants the best for you. In verses 12 and 18 we see the son’s development. In verse 12 the son foolishly said “Father, give me the share.” In verse 18 he said, “I will get up and go to my father. Before I could not wait to get away, now I want to go back.” God is working for our development, on the choices we make, so that we, like the younger son, will long to live in the Father’s house. Read Proverbs chapter 3. Picture this father and his young son sitting on the front porch after a long day’s work. The sun is beginning to set and here are the words of the father to his son. Here is what this father and his God would be saying to his son, which is us, on the front stoop trying to get us to understand. “My son, do not forget my teaching but keep my commands in your heart for they will prolong your life and bring you prosperity or peace. Let love and faithfulness never leave you. Bind them around your neck and write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and have a good name in the sight of God and of men.” Can you hear the father wanting to pour this truth and emblazon it on his son’s heart and life? If the son listens it will change his life. It says in verse 5, a verse we have all looked at many times, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him,” recognize He has a hand in the things that are going on, “and he will make your paths straight.” He will direct your walk. He will tell you, show you, lead you in the way to go. Do not think you can be wise in your own eyes. Fear the Lord, respect what He says and shun evil. There are going to be things coming at your doorstep every day that are going to try to wheedle their way into your life. The fences are to keep the wolves out, not just to keep you in. Shun evil because it will destroy your life. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones. It will help you stand straight and tall. “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of your crops. Then your barns will be filled to overflowing and your vats will be filled to the brim with new wine.” Does this sound like this is going to help the father? Does this sound like it is of benefit to dad? Or is it for the son the father pleads? Do you sense the intense personality, the personal involvement of the father? Over 30 times in ten verses the direct pronoun “you” is used. You my son. It is for you. God is for you. Because He is for you He gives all these directives. Directives are things we do not like. They boss us, they say we have to do this or that, but when given by God they are for our benefit. It says in various places, “You do not forget my teaching.” “You keep my commands.” “Let love and faithfulness never leave you. Bind them around your neck.” “You write them on your heart.” “You trust in the Lord.” “You do not lean on your own understanding.” “You acknowledge God.” “You do not be wise in yourself and your own ways.” “You honor the Lord with your wealth.” “You bring the first fruits of your crops to God.” God’s gives personal, individual commands because there are personal and individual blessings that come with them. “Son, I love you so much and the greatest gift I can give you is to help you understand how life works.” He tells him about all the blessings that will come with faithfulness to God and His ways. It will prolong your days, bring you prosperity, peace, you will win favor and have a good name in the sight of men and of God. It will make your paths straight. It will contribute to a healthy body and strong bones. He is for you so He gives you directives. He is for you because He wants to bless you. But notice that all these blessings are tied to the directives in a conditional way. If you do this, then this will happen. “If you are real good, you will get this later.” Is that not exactly what he is saying here? “Do this, trust me, it is going to work out. And you are going to see as a direct result.” It all involves our choices and who we decide to model ourselves after, whose commands we listen to. Repeatedly it says things like “with your heart,” “with your mind,” “let your way be straight,” “give of the firstfruits of your crops.” It is designed to be a personal thing. He is for you. He is for your best and He is for your development. These blessings that God gives are tied directly to the blessings that He wants to pour out upon our lives. But some of the things He is talking about here are pretty hard. They involve a huge change in the way we do things and sometimes those are pretty tough to get over. But the change is necessary. Think, staying with the prodigal son theme, how did the father behave toward the younger son after the welcome home party was over? Do you think the father said, “You know, I am so glad to have you home. Do not worry about doing the chores. Big brother is going to take care of those for you. I do not care how you live anymore. I am just glad to have you here.” Did the father suspend the rules for the younger son? No! Everything stayed the same it was because what was right is still right. He still wanted the best thing for his son and the rules he established, the directives he had given, were still right. And the individual directives God has given in His word are still right for us today. What God says is morally right does not change over time. Also, the individual promises that God gives are still promises today. A promise is a promise. God still fulfills His promises for those who are faithful in looking to Him. He holds to His Word. His promises are still in force. Your choice is still your choice. And He will respond to your faithfulness and reverence with blessing.
God wants to be a financial priority in your life. It is designed that way. It was designed that way for Israel and for them to know that they need God to make it in this world. Do you believe God is real? Do you believe in a real God who really wants to meet your needs, who really wants to care about you, who really gets involved in your life? It is real easy to say, “Yes!” until you get your checkbook out and you have to say, “Yes!” with your finances? But we believe that God is real in a spiritual sense. “Sin, salvation, cross, heaven, I believe all that. I believe those are real. And I believe God is real. I feel guilty about stuff and He helps me feel forgiven. I get fearful and I pray and I feel better and sense that God is present with me. I get angry and frustrated and He helps me calm down so that I can do the right thing. I have seen Him have His hand in these areas of my life. And physically, well, yeah, I know people who have been healed. I have sensed His hand in my physical life as I follow good eating habits and avoid gluttony. But this financial thing is not the same.” Why not? It is something that is real and tangible. It is measurable. Isn’t it strange that money is such a sensitive issue? God knows how sensitive it is. That is why God says it very clearly in Malachi 3:10--“Test me in this [giving to support His working in this world] ... I will open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing, that there there shall not be room enough to receive it." He is essentially saying, "I am not just real in your emotional life, in your spiritual life, in your physical life. I am real in your financial life. I want to be in your household. I want to help you meet the expenses. I want to help you decide what you need and do not need.” God wants to break the stranglehold materialism can have over our spiritual and emotional lives. He wants us to place Him first in our lives and the things that bring us comfort and entertainment much farther down the list. Rest and relaxation are necessary for a healthy mind and body but much of what we think is necessary, isn’t!
There are a lot of things in our spiritual lives that are hard to measure. But there are two areas that are pretty easy to measure. 1) Your involvement with other Christians, your church attendance, your Bible reading, those kinds of things. 2) Your finances. Look at your checkbook and measure how committed you are to God’s concerns. Do you share God’s priority with your money? We are facing daily choices in our lives and those choices will take us down one road or another. Where are your choices leading you? This one choice concerning your finances can make all the difference in the direction your life takes. This is a hard issue, but it brings great reward. Committing a tithe to God can, in and of itself, order your life unlike most any other decision you can make! Probably a more damaging thing that could have happened to the son is that he invested the money his father gave him and became a wealthy businessman who forgot about God and his father. He did things on his own and lived a secular, world-centered life. He would be like that rich man Jesus talked about in Luke 16:22 who lived a self-indulgent lifestyle but then died and woke up in Hades, lost forever because he opposes God in his heart! The lifestyle of the rich man sounds like the American dream, doesn’t it? God does not want that to happen to us. One of the deepest penetrating avenues into your life is through your finances. Putting God first in your finances goes a long way toward putting God first in the rest of your life, as well!
Investing in God’s Business
A few years ago, I found my new favorite place in all of Israel. It is in the Highlands of Israel, the very northern tip, close to the Lebanon border. It is below the shadow of Mt. Herman, the only place in Israel where it snows. It is a place called Caesarea Philippi. It is recorded that Jesus was there once. It is a very important place. When I was there I saw a cave and out of that cave came a spring. That spring winds around the left side and joins with another little stream and then it comes to this plateau below the cave where the water cascades down a waterfall. I found a cast-off bottle of drinking water and filled it with the water from that spring. I have done this with other waters and have been disappointed because after a few weeks it usually turns green, one of those unpleasant surprises you find in your suitcase when you arrive home. But after five years this water is still crystal clear and pure.
It is the headwaters, the beginning if you will, of the Jordan River. And from there the stream flows down and joins a couple other tributaries and becomes the Jordan River that flows into the Sea of Galilee where Jesus started His ministry, where He called His disciples, into that great pool of humanity where mankind lives and works and acts in normal, everyday ways. From there it flows down the Jordan Valley giving life to all living things. And then it goes by Jericho and from there you can see Jerusalem up the hill. And unless somehow that water is diverted, the next stop for this water is the Dead Sea, where nothing grows except salt crystals. No life. And that which started out pure, bringing health, bringing life to all who used it, ends up in the Dead Sea. It is a lot like life, is it not? You hold that innocent baby and it is so free of the world’s taint, so helpless. And then it flows into the web of humanity where there is some good and some corruption, but unless that life is somehow picked out, diverted, raptured if you will, out of that river of humanity, it will end up in a dead place, devoid of life for all eternity.
We stood on the top of that hill right below the cave where you see the steps. This is where Jesus talked to His disciples and asked the penetrating question of Peter, “Who do you say I am?” That started something even more important than the Jordan River. This is the very beginning of His church. Look at Matthew chapter 16:13-18. This is the key question that Jesus asked Peter and the key question that we have to answer if we are going to be His disciple. The Christian life is not just about being saved. That is the first step. But Christ calls us, invites us to be His disciple, to follow Him in our daily lives. It means you have His priorities in life.
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi He asked His disciples, “Who do they say the son of man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others say you are Elijah and still others say you are Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.” “But what about you, Peter, who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man. [You are not that smart Peter. I have been with you long enough to know that.] But this is revealed by my father in heaven. You have seen who I am by his work. And I tell you that you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” This is the foundation for who we are.
These few words are pregnant with meaning and so let us just walk through them and see what they say. “You are.” Every one of us has to make a personal response to Jesus Christ. It does not happen because you are born to a family that happens to go to a church you grow up in, or learning Bible verses, going to Awana, Bible School, Club Mid, mission trips. You have been involved in ministry. All those things do not establish a relationship with God. They say you are a church person and you are trying to do good things and hang out with church people. You can only have a relationship with God by having a personal response to Jesus Christ. Who do you say He is? Is he just a good teacher. Was he just a good man betrayed by someone close to him? Or was he just a martyr who died for what he believed in? If that is all he is, he makes no more difference than other respected figures in history. Do not put your faith in Jesus, a man.
Who does Peter say He is? “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” A personal response based upon who He is--the Christ. Christ is an Old Testament word that means “anointed,” which is what you would do for someone when you want to authorize him to do a work for the king. “You are anointed, you are the ‘sent one’ from God, the deliverer of all of humanity, to stand between God and mankind as the priest, offering the only sacrifice that can cover all our sin. You are the son of the living God. You are the Christ, the sent one from God.” Believing in Jesus Christ as only a teacher does not cut it. He has to be your Savior, the one who died for your sin. He is the unique one, the only beloved son, special, unique, the one and only.
By saying “the son of” means you share the same nature as your father. You come from the same essence. My son Scott comes from the same essence as me. He is not divine. He is of my nature. Your children are of your nature. Jesus was of His Father’s nature. Jesus is standing on the hill and you see a little alcove there next to the cave and that is where they had stone statues to dead gods and images to living Caesars. They were surrounded by idolatry. But Peter said “You are the son of the living God.” Not a dead god, but a living God. Not a living man, but a living God. He is a God that wants to have a relationship with you. He is not just alive in heaven, uninvolved in our lives. It would not make any difference if He was alive or not if He did not want to have a relationship with us. He would not be alive to us. It would be like having a father that runs away from home and is never there. He might as well be dead. But by saying He is the living God says that He wants to have a relationship with us. That is foundational.
And then Jesus responds to them. “Upon this rock I will build my church.” The rock is not Peter. The rock is the foundational truth contained in Peter’s profession. This church, the church of Christ, the church of God through all the ages is not built upon a man but built upon Christ. That is the truth upon which the church is built. That is what makes us different than any other organization. We are not just a gathering of men and women. We are not just a group of people who provide comfort and security and help and a nice place to hang out and do things together. We are the church of the living God. “Upon this rock,” the foundational truth of who He is and what He has done!
Turn to I Peter 2:4-5. Peter got the message. Peter understood this whole concept. First Peter 2:4 says, “As you come to him, the living stone, he, the living stone rejected by men and chosen by God and precious to him, you also like living stones are being built into a spiritual house.” “You,” individuals, are living stones connected together into His spiritual house. We are called to be a priesthood, to stand between God and mankind and tell them who God is, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to Him. “Sacrifice.” Sacrifice seems to connote something negative, that we are giving up something. But realize you can never give to God anything He does not multiply back for you that is not of great blessing to you. If you offer your life, as it says elsewhere in Scripture, as a living sacrifice, He turns your life into something more worthwhile. You do not drop your life as if it had little value. But you invest it in Him and His concerns.
We want to be connected with Him and so we want to invest in His business. But, unfortunately, that is not highly motivating for most of us. “How will it work out for me,” is what many want to know? “You know, if God wanted to kill me now that would be fine, but to make me poor for the next 50 years? I am not sure about that.” So, what is in it for you? Five things:
(1) to grow in your trust and faith in God, to put yourself in a risk situation and see that God is real in your life.
(2) it helps us grow free from greed. It puts a check on our desire for materialism. You develop self-discipline to invest in things that are worthwhile and close to God’s heart and thereby controlling your greed.
(3) if we give, it means that we are interested and become more interested and involved in His priorities. If we are giving, we start caring more about what is going on with the investment we are making. Do you see how you give for yourself because suddenly you become more involved in His priorities and that brings a blessing to you?
(4) it helps you train your family in having godly priorities. Your kids know right away, at a very young age they learn that money talks. And where your money goes is where your priorities are. “Daddy, daddy, can I have this? Can I have this?” “No, that is not my priority right now. It may be yours, but it is not mine. There are other things that we need as a family more.” They learn what your priorities are and what you care about most.
(5) You give because it will bring you greater financial security. Tithers are more secure than nontithers. Not because they give more, not because they have more, but because they are more involved with God. And as you set that priority in life, you know you have God’s promise that “I will be with you. Watch and see if I will not open the windows of heaven and pour out blessings upon your life. Watch and see if I will not sew up the holes in your purse where the money seems to drain out all the time.” You will become more secure because you have God involved.
Most marriages have financial stress. Financial stress is one of the major causes of divorce. Great battles, great frustrations. Would you not like to have God involved in that? Save your marriage. Invest in God’s priorities. Get God in there. And as you together see that God is going to help, that you are involved in something together as a husband and wife in trusting God, it will bring you closer together. Then you give because you love God. You give because it is good for you.
When Christ calls us to be His church, He invites us as His body to do the things that He would do if He were here personally. As His body, we are called to reflect Him in our lives and all that we are doing. And as His church, that is our focus. And as we give, we facilitate His ministry in and through our lives. As we give, we enable the ministries of reaching and touching and enabling lives to grow in the knowledge, in understanding, and in the practical wisdom of who Jesus Christ is in and through our lives. That is what the church is all about.
“Who do you say that I am?” Who is God to you? Who is Jesus to you? Is He the Christ, the sent one who came for you? Is He the Son of the Living God who is involved and invested in your life? That you can trust? I ask you to give unashamedly to God and His work because God asks you to give and because God promises He will provide for your needs. He will provide for you in ways you have never imagined. And you will be sending treasures ahead of you for your eternal benefit. You will not be shortchanged because you give to God. You will be investing in things that the moth and rust cannot ruin, in things that are important to God.
Being What God Invites You To Be
There are four possible ways to respond to God--as a son, as a steward, as a servant, or as a slave. As a slave, we do what God says because we “have to.” The key attitude is fear based on anticipation of punishment. “I better do this because I do not want to be punished.” The servant does things because he wants a reward. He looks forward to an exchange between two persons. “I ought to do this because God is going to give me something good if I do it.” A steward follows God because he trusts Him to do what He has promised. “I trust God and what He says so I am going to do what He says. I want to do it because it is going to work out best for me.” And finally, the son does things out of loving devotion. “I get to do what my Father wants me to do. I care about His business and concerns and I want to align my life with His.”
When a child is very young sometimes the only thing that keeps him from doing something bad is a little fear of punishment, a little pain, a little worry. And then when he gets a little older he can reason. You can hold up a popsicle and say, “Hey, if you are good, I will give you this.” He gets a little bit older and he learns to somewhat trust mom and dad. “I am going to do this and it is going to be the best thing to do because they told me to.” And then, if you are lucky and you have worked on building s strong relationship with him, he learns to obey because he wants to please your heart. He wants to make mom and dad proud. He wants to make them thankful. He wants to see the smile on their faces for what he has done. “Mommy, daddy, I love you, what would you like me to do?” Interestingly, God has used this same framework in giving us His directions for life. In Genesis 2, God uses commands to direct Adam and Eve. A “thou shalt do this or else,” approach. Genesis 2:16-17: “Do not eat of this tree or else you will surely die.” The Ten Commandments are stated as “thou shalts” and right after the “thou shalts” it says, “The mountain shook and smoke filled the air and the earth trembled and the people feared and said we do not want to hear from God. Moses, you tell us what he said.” And Moses says, “God is present with you here so you might fear Him and it might keep you from sinning.” I remember growing up as a little kid on a farm in Canada and behind the door hung a razor strap. I always knew what that razor strap was for because I learned the hard way a few times. It created the fear of disobedience in me. That was not abuse, it was effective training. That is the only thing that would work and my mom and dad knew it. They did not have to use it often, very seldom, but when other forms of discipline did not work, pain taught me to listen. They did not abuse me and never spanked me out of anger. A few swats were enough to get the point across. Controlled spanking is not about revenge, it is about discipline that keeps someone from doing something that will harm self or others.
Then a few chapters later in Genesis 12, God calls Abraham to a special way of life. “If you will leave your family, leave your land and go to a land that I will show you, I will bless you and I will make you a blessing for all nations.” The promise! God gives that same promise in Deuteronomy to all of Israel. “If you will walk according to my ways, you will prosper and you will live in the land I will give you.” A promise of reward. Then it goes on a little bit further, “I will do these things because God says so because following God’s ways is a good strategy for life.” All of Proverbs talks about this type of reasoning. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and he will make your paths straight.” The things He says to do are right and good and will help your life. People learned to do what God says because they came to believe that He knows more about life and the world and things to come. They learned to admit that He has more foresight and knowledge and a better plan for living than anyone else in this world.
The primary focus in the New Testament is on sonship and daughtership. The Old Testament also contains language that calls Israel to an intimate relationship with their spiritual and national Father but few got the message. In Matthew 5 when Jesus taught the Beatitudes He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.” Jesus did not just want us to follow the Father because we feared Him or valued His opinion but He wanted us to be like Him, as an earthly son wants to be like his loving dad. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your father for he himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.” Jesus is basically saying, “Do these things so that you will take on the characteristics, the personality, and do the things your heavenly Father does.” This is the final image that is given for us in Revelation 21, the next-to-the last chapter in the Bible. “A new heaven and a new earth came down…,” and God says, “I will be their God and they [all those who inherit this] will be called my sons.” Faithful and trusting sons and daughters are the final and ultimate goal God has planned for whoever will come to Him. He looks for sons and daughters not slaves or subjects willing to do his bidding because they have no other choice! God has the heart of a good daddy but He needs sons and daughters for it to show! Do you see the progression in all this? Do you see how we go from “having to” to “Well, it should be a smart thing to do, it is going to be worthwhile,” to “Oh, this is smart and I am going to trust God,” to “I want to do it just because I am my Father’s son. I want to do it out of relationship with Him.” I want you to consider why you do the things you do for God. When God tells you to do something, why do you do it? Out of fear of punishment? Because God is going to give you a treat? You think He is going to give you a bonus if it is going to work out well? Do you do it just because you have seen in the past that it always pays off to do what God instructs? Or, do you do it because “Hey, He is my Dad and whatever He wants me to do I want to do it because I know He is going to do it with me; I love Him; I trust Him?” I want to lead you through an example that most Christians struggle with. I would say many Christians struggle with this issue more than any other issue. It is the issue of tithing. Turn to Malachi chapter 3. I want you to consider the question, “Why is giving to God so hard?” If you were to sit down with God and He was to give you a stack of ten dimes and He said, “Will you give me one back so I can help some other people?” Most of us would probably say, “Well, sure, Lord,” quite easily. If God were to give you ten dollar bills and say, “Would you give me one back just so I can help some other people,” most of us would have the same response. If God were to sit down with you and give you ten one thousand dollar bills, would you give Him one back? You would say, “Sure, Lord.” But if I asked you to reach in your wallets and pull out just one one-hundred dollar bill out of the ten you had and give it to me for some ministry in this church, how would you feel? I want you to consider, why does that hundred dollars feel different? Your first response may be, “Well, because I earned that. I worked hard for it. I traded my labor and my life for that paycheck and for that money that is in my bank account or in my wallet.” I want you to consider this: “Who do you belong to? Who gave you the ability? Who led you into that job? Who gives you the skills? Who even put you in this country where you have the opportunities to do what you do? Who sustains those skills?” You could have a brain aneurysm today, or any number of things could happen to you, and never work again. All too easily! But more important than that, do you belong to God or is God just a small addition to your life, just in case everything else goes wrong? Malachi 3:10: “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse.” We do not like hearing that. “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse that there may be food in my house. Test me in this says the Lord Almighty and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing on you that you will not even have any room left. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops and the vines in your fields will not cast or lose their fruit, it will not spoil says the Lord Almighty. Then all the nations will call you blessed and you will have a delightful land, says the Lord Almighty.” Three times it says, “I want you to remember who is talking to you now. The one who has the power to do all these things I am asking you and reminding you of, the Lord Almighty, the creator of the universe, the one who formed you in your mother’s womb.” When you read these verses, how do you feel? How do you respond? As a slave? As a servant? As a steward? As a son? If you look at the first line it sounds like He is talking to us like slaves. He is giving us a command. “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse.” “Bring ten percent of your paycheck every week, every month into the storehouse. Give it back to Me.” That sounds like a command. It is! Or, do you look down a little bit further and you read, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing you will not be able to contain it.” Do you see a promise in these words? “Oh, goody, I am going to give to God because He is going to give much more back to me.” Where is your focus? What do you see? They are both real. They are both there and notice one comes after the other. But then it goes on: “I will prevent pests from destroying your crops and cause your fruit not to be cast down, not to be spoiled. I will give you a good harvest.” Do you respond to this verse by saying, “I am going to do what God says because He has the power to do those things. He can bless my business. My business can go south in two weeks. If I obey Him, He will protect my business.” Do you hear it as a strategy for effective living? Or finally, do you hear it as an invitation? “Test Me in this. I am telling you something to do because I am going to be with you doing it. I am going to make it work out. Test me in this so we can walk through life together. So you will see, it is not you alone in your business. It is not you alone in your home. It is not you alone in this community but it is you and Me, together, working through your life providing all your needs, taking care of you, protecting you. You are not alone. I am involved with you.” Is this passage a command, a promise, a strategy, or an invitation? It is all there, but notice the progression. Which one strikes a cord with you? “I hear the command.” “I hear the promise.” “I hear the strategy.” “I hear the connection with God.” I think rarely do we read this passage and see an invitation to sonship or daughtership. Rarely do we read this passage and see God’s pleading with us to involve Him in our lives. “I want to be part of your life. We are in this together and I want you to know and see my hand in your family’s life and finances.” For those of us who hear a command, it usually leads to another question--“Well, do I have to? God, what are you going to do to me if I do not? What is going to be the problem? Am I going to get cursed?” To those who read it this way, God does talk about blessing and cursing. In Haggai God says, “You work and work but you are putting your money in a purse with holes in it.” You ever feel like that? You make a good salary, a good wage, but the brakes went out and that was $600 for a new brake job and then the kids’ teeth, and this and that. Your purse, your wallet, your bank account, everything has holes in it. It just keeps running out as fast as you pour it in. It keeps running out. God says, “Trust me. I can fill some of those holes. I want to be invested in your family and in your family finances.” Is tithing a spiritual law? “Pastor, I thought we were under grace, not under law.” We are under grace. That does not mean we are called to live in sin. It does not mean we are called to live in rebellion to God. We are under grace but we are still called by the timeless directives of God not to kill, not to murder, not to steal, not to lie, not to commit adultery. These things were wrong long before Moses gave the law to Israel and they will be wrong long after we leave this earth. Those rules apply in heaven. Otherwise, it would not be heaven. We are under grace, not under law but that does not mean the law does not have a message for us. In fact, in the New Testament, Jesus even takes the law a step further and says, “Do not just kill, but do not hate somebody. Do not lie in court, but do not tell anyone anywhere at anytime a falsehood. Let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no.” Let it be very clear. Do not just do not cheat on your wife or husband but do not have any sexual immortality in your life in any way, shape or form whether you are married or not.” Jesus takes the tithing issue further. “All that you have and all that you are belongs to your Father. For you are bought with a price. You are not your own. You belong to your Father.” The tithe is not just a Mosaic law issue. It is a timeless directive of God. The commands of God are not given to enhance His ego. Every command of God is given for your blessing. When God asks you to give, it is God commanding you to give, it is not me. When God asks you to give, it is not to impoverish you but it is so He can bless you, so you will recognize it is a blessing that is coming from Him. Do you have to? Oh, it depends on what you want to be. If you have to, if you feel you have to and you do, you are acting as a servant. But God wants you to act like a son who wants to. Jesus commanded tithing, but you do not lose your salvation if you do not tithe. You do not buy your salvation by giving to God, that comes by faith in Jesus Christ. Salvation occurs not by works and so that is not the issue. The issue is--who do you want to be? “Do I have to do this?” That question is a bad question because it misses the important issue at stake. For us it is not a question of whether the law applies to Christians but the question is, does the promise of God still apply? Is the promise of God still relevant to our lives today? Or, is this prescription for Israel alone? I believe it is a prescription for all humankind. God often used Israel as an example of what He wanted from all, from every people and nation on earth? It is a prescription that was given before the law was ever written. Six hundred years before Moses was born this was given as a pattern. Abraham practiced it. Jacob practiced it. Jesus commanded it by saying, “Give and it will be given to you in good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over and poured into your lap.” You can see it all through Scripture. The next way to view tithing is as a strategy for successful living. Should we tithe simply out of obedience or expectation of reward or because God declares that it will improve your life. First Timothy 6:18 makes it clear to me, as your pastor, that I am commanded to instruct you to be rich in good deeds and generously share with others what God has shared with you. “In this way you will lay up a firm foundation for the coming age and you will grab a hold of the life that will last and will fulfill.” That is not talking about heaven. That is talking about here and now. That you will grab a hold of life that is truly life and a life that will fulfill all your hopes and dreams! A few years ago, I heard an interview with Dennis Rodman. He had retired from basketball and was being interviewed and he was asked, “Dennis, you have had an amazing life. You have done everything you wanted to do. You have had fame, you have fortune, you have all the women you could ever want. What more, what else do you want?” And Rodman said, “I just want it all.” And the interviewer looked at him and said, “Dennis, what more is there?” And after a surprising moment of silence, Dennis just said, “Fulfillment.” Are you surprised? I am not because I have seen the empty look in his eyes, the boredom in his face and in his voice when he talks about all the things he has done? The world has nothing left to offer Dennis Rodman. But God does. That is what is missing. Dennis needs something important to do with his life that will last forever! So do you! Will you trust Him to supply it in your life? God has a plan for a better life and part of that is a godly strategy for handling your money that puts it in its proper perspective. Why is tithing a wise strategy for a better life? It helps to keep things in their proper perspective. Money is uncertain. Money is unreliable. Proverbs says, “Do not wear yourself out to get rich. Have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches and they are gone. They fly away like an eagle into the skies.” Money has a way of evaporating, of disappearing. Tithing helps you keep first things first, to know where your resources lie, where your hope is, where your strength is and where your future is. Also, it helps you keep last things last. Giving breaks the grip of materialism that mesmerizes our culture. Tithing changes your spending habits. It puts a governor on your ever-expanding spending. Your spending will always rise above the level of your income. That is the way it is. Some of us remember twenty years ago thinking, “Wow, $50,000 a year. That is a millionaire’s salary.” Well, where did it go? Somehow you get a ten percent increase and by the end of the year you are in as bad shape as you were when you started. Your spending will rise to the level of your income, and beyond, unless you do something about it. Beyond responding to the tithing issue out of a sense of law, or promise, or wise planning for successful living, is the best response of all. God called Israel to tithe and in that call He told them what it was going to be used for. It would be used to care for others less fortunate in their community, in their nation. God wanted to give to those who needed it. Slaves and foreigners who would come to Israel needed to be taken care of. Widows and orphans needed for someone to care about them. He gave them the tithe to express love for their neighbor as He has expressed love for them. Giving is to be a reflection of your Father’s gracious gifts to you. Giving develops a generous heart. It demonstrates that your priorities are in line with your Father’s priorities. You care about the things He cares about. Giving makes you an investor in His plan. And giving indicates that money is not your master but a tool that God has given you to work out the Master’s plan. For many, giving a tithe is not an issue of “why,” but “I do not think I can presently afford it. A tithe? That is ten percent of my check. With my spending and bills the way they are, I cannot afford it.” Is it not nice how God made it so simple and proportionate? He did not say give $100, or $1000, or $10,000 a year. He said ten percent for everyone. Whether you are rich or not, God wants to be involved in your life. Giving to His work and causes does that. He wants you to have a substantial investment in His work and in His life and the things He cares about. Still the question is there. I do not think I can! I have heard a lot of reasons, or excuses and I used to think a lot of them were legitimate. Two things were impressed to me. Number one, remember when Jesus was in the temple with the disciples and He saw this lady giving two coins, two small copper coins? Do you recognize that Jesus was not the least bit concerned that she was giving the last two cents she had to work with? He knew the Father was going to take care of her. He did not say, “Judas, go give her fifty bucks.” He knew the Father was going to take care of her. Secondly, I want you to recognize and hear the rest of the story from Malachi. Do you know whom God was speaking to when He commanded them and said in verses eight and nine, “Folks, you are robbing me.” Four times in two verses, in verse eight and verse nine He says, “You are robbing me. How are we robbing you, you ask? You are robbing me of your tithes and offerings. That is how you rob me.” That is a pretty strong word. But we think of the Jews, we think of the Pharisees, we think of those people that Jesus walked with and we think, “Well, yeah, they were kind of arrogant and proud anyway.” You do not know the story. The people addressed in Malachi just come back from 70 years of slavery in Babylon (Iraq). They did not come back with fortunes and wealth and they were not hoarding it. They had next to nothing. They came back to a land that had been devastated. The temple lay in ruins. They had no homes to live in. They were trying to build businesses. They were trying to clothe their kids, they were trying to raise crops for their families and there was a drought that year. They had next to nothing. And God says, “You guys are robbing me.” What kind of God is that? “God, you are expecting too much of these people.” But you have to catch what God is saying. He does not want their money. He wants to be involved in their life and in their land. He wants to be involved in the rebuilding process. Look at the rest of what He says. “Give me the tithes so I can pour out windows of blessing upon you. So that your nation will prosper, so that your crops will grow. So that all the rest of the world will see and say, “Wow, what a blessed land!” God said they were robbing Him because they were not letting Him be a part of their lives. “I do not want you to rebuild the temple. I do not want you to rebuild the walls of this city. I do not want you to build this great big house. I want to build a house, I want to build a city, I want to build a temple with you. I want to do this together. Oh, you can do it on your own, I guess in thirty, forty, sixty years. But I want to be part of it and I want to be part of your life.” That is what God says to you!
Honor the Lord With Your Wealth: Proverbs 3:9-10
Our attitude towards financial giving is important and reflects our love, commitment, and priorities. That is why Proverbs declares: “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops.” Verse 10 continues: “…then your barns will be filled to overflowing and your vats will brim over with new wine.” I want you to look at that command and recognize it was not given as an option to the Israelites. God related to the Israelites as servants, as stewards. He commanded them. As a whole, Israel had rejected more intimate calls by God. Let me ask you, just because we live under grace, why would we do any less for our Father than a slave or a servant would? It may not be a mandate. We will still be our Father’s son. I have two simple answers for you. The first simple answer is selfishness. “I want what I want when I want it. It is mine. I want to use my finances for all the things I want without interference from God.” The second simple answer is fear. “I am not sure I will have enough at the end. I am not sure if there is going to be enough when the bottom of the line comes.” Both of these areas need to be addressed. For us to have the mind of Christ we must be conformed to the image of Christ. And Christ is best known in His self-sacrifice and supreme trust in the Father. We are called as His children to reflect Christ, to reflect His self-sacrifice and His trust. We are to live with those characteristics becoming more prominent in our lives. What does the word “honor” mean? “Honor” in this verse means “to recognize,” “to glorify,” “to make known who He is and thank Him for what He has done.” Glorifying God is a hard concept. Glorifying God is establishing His reputation, telling others who He is and what He has done so that they might acknowledge Him as Lord over their life, as well. Think of a soldier who has been awarded many signs of his (or her) bravery. He has a big cluster of ribbons and maybe some medals on his uniform. They show his sacrifice, his courage, his strength. If you are in a crisis, maybe on an airplane and it is hijacked who are you going to look to for help? Who are you going to look to for guidance? I am going to look to that guy who has been recognized, who knows how to handle himself under pressure, who has proven himself faithful and trustworthy. That is who God is. When you honor God, you are pinning another ribbon on His chest saying, “He has earned this from me. He is worthy of my trust. He is worthy of my faith. He is worthy of my obedience. I want to be on His team. I want to follow Him.” That is what it means to honor God. That is what it means to glorify God. The ribbons are not for Him. The ribbons are for everybody else so that they can see that He is trustworthy and worthy of following. Our praise for God is not to make God feel good like He is some insecure divine being--“Come on guys, pump me up.” Our praise does two things. 1) It focuses our attention on Him and purifies our heart from distracting and evil influences that threaten to draw us away from Him. 2) It shows others who He is and encourages them to also enter into a trust relationship with Him. That is what praise is for. That is what glorifying God is all about. The songs we sing show others that He is valued by us. It is not merely to make pretty sounds. It is not merely to get our emotions going. It is to say, “He is trustworthy and faithful.” Next, look at the word “Lord.” I was surprised when I saw it. There are a lot of words that are translated in the English “Lord” or “God.” In this Proverbs verse it is the word “Yahweh.” This is translated as “Jehovah.” It is not “Elohim” which means the “designer” the “creator.” It is not “El Shaddai” the “mighty warrior.” It is not “Jehovah jireh” the “great provider.” It is “Jehovah” which is the named God used to describe Himself to Moses. Moses asked, “Who shall I say sends me?” And God said, “I Am.” It means “the ever present one, the one who is always there.” He is always there standing with you, behind you, ready to help, ready to guard, ready to guide if you will just turn and listen to Him. That is the one we are to honor. Not Jehovah jireh, the one who is going to give you something if you give Him something. Not El Shaddai, the one who is going to bop you on the head if you do not give it to Him. Not Elohim, the one who has designed the whole system who says, “Trust Me. It will work out.” But the one who just stands there patiently, quietly waiting for your recognition. Does what you do with what God gives you recognize Him? “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of your crops.” Wealth in this verse does not refer to what we know as “wealthy.” “Wealth” here means a person’s material substance. It is a Hebrew word that means “what gets you through.” Whatever God gives you to get you through is what we are to honor Him with. Wherever it comes from whether it is your paycheck, whether it is social security, whether it is your allowance, God says, “Will you honor Me with what I give you to get you through?” You might ask, “How can I honor Him?” That is what the next part of the verse addresses. Look down at the word “crops.” “Crops” simply means everything that comes from your labors. Everything that comes out of your efforts. “Crops” means your ingathering. Literally, it means that which you bring in. The word we would use now, the word that fits it for all of us that we do not like to use is “income” because all of a sudden we just pinpointed something. “With the firstfruits of all your income honor God.” What is your income? Not sure? Ask Uncle Sam, he knows. You pay income tax. What does he tax? That is what your crop is. There is an old movie with Jimmy Stewart in it called “Shenandoah.” It is about a young farming family living in Kansas. They are seated at the table and he tells the kids to bow their heads to give thanks because mom has taught them they have to do that. And here is his prayer. “Lord, we plowed the field and we planted the field and we harvested the crop. We cooked it; we put it on the table. It wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for all our hard work, but we thank you for it anyway. Amen.” What would you say to Jimmy? Could you tell him anything different? Is there anything you could point out to him? Don’t most people view their income this way? “God did not give me this. This is what I earned.” Could you point out to Jimmy that, “yes,” you had to go to the barn and get the horse and harness the horse and you had to walk behind the plow. And you had to cast the seed and you had to rake it under. But then you had to wait. You had to wait for the created seed and the created earth and the created water to grow something useful. Because without God's provision, all you would have is dirty, lifeless chunks of matter. It is just going to sit there. Nothing is going to happen. Go to Mars or Jupiter or Mercury and try and plant that seed. Nothing will happen! Bury a stone and nothing will grow. Being thankful to God for His provision recognizes His part in our success.
The farming illustration is pretty easy to understand but our world is more complex. Most of us are not farmers. We have become more specialized. We have focused on one part of the process. Some of us might put on horseshoes or work in a tire store. If you put shoes on horses or you sell the iron for the shoes or you find the iron ore to make the horseshoes or you dig the ore for the refinery or you bake the bread to load on the truck to deliver to the store to sell to the wife who feeds the miner who works in the mine to dig the ore for the refinery to get the steel to make the horseshoes for the horses to pull the plow so you can plant the field. Do you see how you fit in the process? If God is not involved, all nature stops and the whole system breaks down! People have thought this way for generations. In Deuteronomy Moses wrote, “You may say to yourself, my power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth.” Is that not a natural statement we want to make? “Look what I have done!” “Look what I have. My strength and my hands have produced this wealth.” Verse 18 of Deuteronomy chapter 8 says, “But remember the Lord your God for He is the one who gives you the ability.” Without God's provision you would have no ability. Your “crop” may be wheat, it may be horseshoes, it may be iron, it may be ore, it may be bread, but if you fail to recognize that God is involved, you miss the whole point. We can overlook the system, but He is still at the core. Recognize and honor Him! It says, “With the firstfruits of all your crops.” That next word “all” is important because it means “whatever way in which you have found yourself blessed. Whatever you have been given.” It is ironic the way we think. Many times we think like Jimmy Stewart. “Well, I earned all this. And so I should not have to give any to God. If God were to give it to me, I would have given it back.” God stands quietly waiting and encouraging, “Do you want to give back to me? Do you recognize what I have done and do you want to give back to me?” God recognizes it is in your hand to give or withhold. Do you want to include God in your life? Get involved by investing in His work and concerns. I remember one of my favorite times when my kids were young. I gave them a special gift. I loved seeing the excitement on their faces. I loved seeing the excitement on their faces because I love making my children happy. But it would break my heart if they would use what I gave them to beat up their brother or to think they are better than somebody else or to extort something from a friend. When they used it in wrong ways, it broke my heart. When it elevated their pride rather than their thankfulness. It is the same way with God. God loves to give us good things. Homes, cars, jobs, but when we use them to think that we are better than somebody else, use them in ways that divide rather than unite, separate rather than bless, God’s heart is grieved. These things are yours. That means you get the choice. He is standing right behind saying, “What do you choose? Do you choose to put me in my rightful place and recognize that I have given you these things and that I want to share these blessings with others?” Or do you say, “It is mine.” Picture in your mind a dad buying his son or daughter some popcorn at the movies. The dad reaches over to take just a little, just to get a taste, and the child says, “No, mine!” Do we act that way? Do we feel that way? Finally, the last word. “Firstfruits.” “Firstfruits” implies priority and sacrifice. “First” means the best, the most important, that which you have longed for, the tastiest. The term firstfruits comes from a festival that God established back in Exodus--the Festival of Firstfruits. After the barley harvest they would have this great big party, there is no other way to describe it. And literally what they said, “God, you are so good, you are so great. Before we take any of this barley for ourselves we want, first of all, to give it back to you. And Lord, we are not going to give you our second best. We are not going to give you that which the birds have picked and those with shallow heads. We want to give you nothing but our best. None of the leftovers. None of the dregs. We want you to know that you are number one in our lives.” God desires the firstfruits in our lives because He wants to be number one. He wants that relationship with you. That is why He gave His firstfruits. His only Son, the most precious thing that He had. The most special thing that He had. He gave His firstfruits for us and His Son gave His firstfruits, His life, the only thing He had that He could give for us. That is why we are called in the New Testament the firstfruits of all of creation. We are the product of the Father giving His Son. Giving firstfruits is a message of trust, of commitment. It is an effective way to worship, not buy salvation but putting God first in your life. Giving our leftovers indicates that God is an afterthought. “Oh, I almost forgot, ‘Lord’, here is something for you.” Your gift to God should not be an afterthought. It should be intentional and regular. As often as you receive income, you are to return the firstfruits to Him. Firstfruits means that it is the first check you write after you get your paycheck. Giving firstfruits says “thank you.” Giving the firstfruit requires planning. Giving a 10% tithe means you commit to living off 90% of what you make rather than 100%. This may mean you need to scale down your lifestyle a bit in order to invest in the things God is concerned with. If one is aware of the 10% commitment from the beginning living off the remaining 90% is easier. But to live off the 100% and then learn of the call for a 10% commitment by God, trying to live off 90% becomes harder. All the spending and bills are based on 100%. If one finds him or herself in this situation changes in lifestyle are necessary in order to give God what He deserves. You have to ask yourself, “What will you eliminate in order to put God first place in your life. What will you eliminate so that you can give to God what is due Him, what He deserves, what you want to give Him because of what He has done for you.” A more penetrating question is, “What are you not willing to give up in order to put God in His rightful place? What are you going to hold onto and say, No! I do not want to give that up in order to give God something more. This is more important to me. Having this, doing this, is more important to me than what God wants to do.” Firstfruits requires faith to give off the top and live off the rest. But it is a faith I have never found fails. God always honors genuine faith. It is His promise. I have often said, “I would rather live on 90 percent with God than 100 percent on my own.” God has a way of making it go farther and do more than you ever can on your own. Firstfruits giving declares that God is more important than anything else in your life. It is all too easy to put God in second place, or worse. It is all too easy for us to eat the apple and leave Him the core. “Here Lord. Here is what is leftover. I do not mind. You can have all you want of my leftovers.”
The Suffering of Christ
As believers we often talk about the death of Jesus Christ and what it accomplished for us. But rarely have I ever heard anyone talk about what His suffering accomplished. Was there a purpose for it? Why did He have to go through the beatings, the whippings, and mocking that preceded the cross? The suffering aspect is also referred to as “The Passion.” The term “passion” comes from the Latin word that means “to suffer.” The Passion of Christ is about the suffering of Jesus, specifically those twelve hours before His crucifixion and death. We know that we are redeemed by accepting the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ on our behalf, but what does His sufferings do for us? Why was it necessary for Jesus Christ to suffer so much? Isaiah 53 describes the suffering death of the Messiah as if an eyewitness were describing it for us. Amazingly, it was written 700 years before the time of Jesus Christ on earth. We will focus on verse 5, but begin with verse 1 to set the context: “Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He [Jesus] grew up before Him [the Father] like a tender shoot and like a root out of dry ground. And he [Jesus] had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces. He was despised and we esteemed Him not. Surely He took up our infirmities and He carried our sorrows. Yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him and afflicted.”
I want you to catch what Isaiah is saying here in verse 4 before we move to verse 5. Unredeemed mankind looks upon Jesus as a victim of the Jews, or a victim of the Romans, or a victim of God’s plan. But Jesus was not a victim! Jesus said it clearly in John chapter 10:17-18, “I lay down my life, no one takes it from me but I lay it down of my own accord.” Jesus knew what was going to happen. He knew the sufferings that awaited Him but He went forward, anyway!
In Matthew chapter 20, Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem and describes what He knew about His immediate future: “The son of man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the teachers of the law and they will condemn him to death. And they will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. But on the third day he will be raised to life.” Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen because He came for that purpose. Jesus was not a victim. I see Him as a steel-eyed courageous warrior with his face, as it says in Isaiah 50:7, “set like flint.” He went to Jerusalem stone-faced, strong, commited, knowing full well what He was going to endure. He ran the gauntlet of suffering and never sought to escape.
The Messiah’s willingness to suffer is also prophesied in Isaiah 50:6 “I give my back to those who beat me and my cheeks to those who pull out my beard. I do not hide from shame, for they mock me and spit in my face.” Jesus willingly submitted Himself to suffering and death. He could have stopped anytime He wanted. He chose the difficult path because of what would be achieved. The Father also restrained His powerful hand as he watched the spectacle from heaven. Isaiah 50:2-3 seems to apply: “Was I too weak to save you? Is that why the house is silent and empty when I come home? Is it because I have no power to rescue? No, that is not the reason! For I can speak to the sea and make it dry! I can turn rivers into deserts covered with dying fish. I am the one who sends darkness out across the skies, bringing it to a state of mourning.” Both the Father and the Son had the power to stop the suffering but chose not to.
Now on to our focal verse which leads to four important purposes for the suffering of Christ. Isaiah 53:5 begins, “He was pierced for our transgressions.” When was Jesus pierced? Many would say when they put the nails in His hands, or wrists, but the primary reference is to the spear that the soldier plunged into His side. Why did the soldier pierce His abdomen with that spear? To kill him? No, He was already dead. The soldier pierced his side to verify there was no life left in Him. He pierced Jesus’ side to prove that He was dead. The suffering of Jesus displays the Certainty of His Death. In three days the resurrection would challenge human belief. Was He really dead? Those who were there knew there was no way he could be alive. There was no question about His death from all who were there and observed His suffering. They never doubted his death. His return to life was what was unbelievable! All the events that led to the cross were witnessed by hundreds of opponents. The death of Jesus was a public spectacle – a process that took nine hours – only half of which was on the cross. Jesus appeared in three different public courts: Caiaphas’, Herod’s, and three times in Pilate’s. His execution was in public view under public scrutiny. His is the most documented, witnessed, death in all history. Everyone could witness the process of his death over the hours. Exposure and asphyxiation were just the final step of the death process. There was nothing secret or clandestine, covert, hidden, about his death. He was literally beaten to death by the hands of men so that you might choose to believe that He is the Christ.
This chapter begins by calling us to believe the message about the Messiah: “Who has believed our message?” John 20:31 also declares that our belief is important to God, “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” That is what this book is all about – the certainty of his death and the power of his resurrection that you might believe in Him. Know that he died and that He died for you - for your transgressions. The suffering ordeal of Jesus displays the certainty of his death, so that you might choose to believe that Jesus is the Christ. What are you choosing to believe?
Isaiah 53:5 continues, “He was crushed for our iniquities.” Secondly, The suffering ordeal of Jesus displays the Depth of His Love. He was so willing to redeem human sinners, and all of creation, that He Himself bore the burden of sin. The intensity of His pain was endured by the strength of His love. He could have been executed by stoning or by hanging or could have been stabbed in a crowd or when he was at a table talking with people. It could have been something clean and quick, but instead God designed it that you would see the depth of His love. He chose to endure brutal scourging so that we would know how much He loves us. Until you understand Jesus was not simply a man who died, but the sovereign Son of God who offered His life for us, you cannot completely appreciate the spectacle of Calvary. The same being that provoked the angels to hide their faces and cover their feet out of respect in Isaiah 6 is the same being who descended to earth to put on swaddling clothes, a crown of thorns, and nails through His hands. The descent of the Son from heaven’s majesty to earth’s depravity displays the boundless depth of His love.
And His love calls us to commit to follow him and his example. Just before beginning The Passion, he commands his followers “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). The suffering ordeal of Jesus displays the depth of his love and calls us to love as He has loved us. Who has caused you too much pain to love? What are you facing that is too hard? It pales in light of what Christ has done for you.
In contrast, this verse also displays the depth of man’s hatred. The fury of human sin struck at Jesus and literally beat Him to death. The only thing that kept Him alive was His divine strength and the plan of God. In the end it was Jesus who gave up His spirit (Luke 23:46) to the Father. But it was human wickedness that shredded His body in order to mock and kill Him. The words of a seventeenth century pastor, Thomas Traherne, paints such a picture of what happened at Calvary that we can begin to grasp the significance and depth of His love. "Is this He that was transfigured upon Mount Tabor? Pale, withered, extended, tortured, soiled with blood, and sweat, and dust, dried, parched! O sad, O dismal spectacle! All His joints are dissolved, all His blood is shed, to the last drop, all His moisture is consumed! What is here but a heap of desolations, a deformed carcass, a disfigured countenance! A mass of miseries and silence, footsteps of innumerable sufferings! Can this be a joy? Can this be an entertainment? Can this delight us? O Jesus, the more vile I here behold Thee, the more I admire Thee. Into what low abysses didst Thou descend, in what depths of misery dost Thou now lie! Oh what confusions, what stripes and wounds, what desolations and deformities didst Thou suffer for our sakes! In all the depths of thy humiliation I here adore thee! I prize and desire always to see those stripes and those deformities. It is sweeter to be with Thee in thy sufferings, than with princes on their Thrones, and more do I rejoice with Thee in Thy misery, than in all their solemnities. I tremble also to see thy condescensions, the great effects and expressions of Thy love! Thou wast slain for me: and shall I leave Thy body in the field, O Lord? Shall I go away and be merry, while the Love of my soul, and my only Lover is dead upon the cross. Groans, here, in the sight and apprehension of thy love are beyond all melody, and the solemn sorrows of a loving Soul, a faithful friend, a tender Spouse, a deep and compassionate true Lover, beyond all the entertainments in the world. Thine O Jesus will I ever be while I have any being” (Centuries, pp. 45-46). Traherne is describing God Almighty, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, getting dirty and bloody to redeem all of creation back to Himself! What kind of monarch is this? What kind of monarch gives himself for the life of his subjects? God’s love is beyond our ability to fully grasp. When we see Him as He truly is then we will know and we will love Him all the more! His suffering demonstrates the boundlessness of His love so that we might commit to follow Him and follow His example. We are to live a life of love just as Jesus did!
Isaiah 53:5 proceeds to the third stanza: “The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him.” The suffering of Jesus displays the seriousness of our sin. Sin is significant and it is serious. His suffering displays the slashing pain of sin upon God’s heart. Every time we rebel or reject His advice, it cuts like a lash into the heart of God. Look at 1 Peter 2:11: “Dear friends, I urge you as aliens and as strangers in this world to abstain from sinful desires which war against your soul.” In Isaiah53:10 He is called “our guilt offering” that we might know our sin is significant and mandates a sacrifice before God. His suffering should inspire us to strive to obey His commands. What sin are you discounting before God? Do not trivialize any sin. John says in 1 John 1:9, “If you confess your sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” He died for our sin and suffered great pain and humiliation so that we can chase after godliness. Chasing godliness is biblical, but ultimately He died for our sin and suffered pain and humiliation so we can chase (seek and walk with) after Him!
Isaiah 53:5 concludes: “And by His wounds we are healed!” Finally, the suffering of Jesus displays the intricacy of God’s plan. From the very beginning, God planned for your redemption. Do you remember Adam and Eve in the garden? Remember what happened and what did God say to Satan? “You will bruise his heel, but he will crush your head.” God did not have to go back to the drawing board, He did not have to pull back into the recesses of heaven and say, “Oh boy, we have got a problem! We will switch to Plan B. We have got to try this again.” From the very beginning, God had a plan. Without taking a breath, He knew what needed to happen. Revelation 13:8 says that the Lamb was slain before the foundations of this world were laid. Before there was anything, the Lamb of God was slain in God’s eyes. In order to create at all, the Lamb had to be slain! As God prepared the world to see, understand, and receive the sacrifice of the Lamb, He started making prefigures of that sacrifice from the very beginning. In Genesis 3:21 it says the Lord made garments of skin for Adam and his wife. Garments of skin point to the very first sacrifice of one for another, as the life of the animal was used to cover the nakedness of the sinners. The intricacy of God’s plan is woven all through Scripture. Hundreds of prophecies made hundreds, even thousands, of years before they were fulfilled in Jesus Christ point to Calvary as the central event of all history. The details in our study of Isaiah boldly proclaim: “This is not an accident, but a perfectly orchestrated symphony for the redemption of man." It is at Calvary and its surrounding events where the entire Old Testament takes on meaning. A book by John Piper, The Passion of the Christ: Fifty Reasons He Came to Die, documents that Scripture is loaded with references to Calvary and all that was accomplished there. I recommend this book to you as a valuable addition to your library. It will help you understand the vastness of Jesus’ accomplishments. God has a plan. The world is not beyond his reach. And neither are you. The intricacy of God’s plan should lead you to trust His ability to work in your life. What possible situation in your life is beyond God’s ability to handle? What can He do in your life now? Anything He wants and as much as you will let Him! His suffering should ignite the kind of faith in us that follows Him even when we do not understand. That will follow Him into the darkness where we need to rely on Him to lead us. To trust His leadership in our daily lives that we can live a life worthy of being called Christians!
Why is the suffering of Jesus so important? It displays the certainty of His death so that you choose to believe that Jesus is the Christ. It demonstrates the depth of His love so that you commit to love others as He so loved you. His suffering shows the seriousness of our sin so that you choose to chase after godliness and strive to obey his directives. And the intricacy of God’s plan should inspire you to trust His leadership. “We pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way " (Colossians 1:10).
The Crowd or the Cross
The Crowd Says: The Cross says:
Follow us Follow Me Rely on yourself Rely on Me Earn your worth I am your worth Bear your burdens Nail them to Me Be happy Be holy If it feels good do it For loves sake endure it Honor yourself Humble yourself Do Done
The crowd had a plan for Jesus, but it was not God’s plan. They cried out, “Lord, heal our nation!” but Jesus had come to heal their nature. They said, “Fix our eyes,” but Jesus came to give them a new perspective beyond what they could see. They said, “Make us happy!” but He said, “I have come to make you holy.” It was not the first time Jesus was tempted by another call. In the wilderness Satan went to Jesus and said, “It is not fair that the son of man should come to earth and be hungry. You have the power to turn these stones into bread. It is not fair you should suffer. There is no reason for it.” He took Jesus and showed Him all the nations of the earth and said, “You are the son of God. You deserve to have all these nations worship you. It is only fitting.” He took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and said, “Throw yourself down and let the world see that the angels will hold you up and not allow you to even bruise your foot, that you will not suffer anything.” Satan offered another plan, another way to change the world. But Jesus had other goals beyond just world domination, beyond a physical kingdom. He answered, “I have come to follow the will of my Father.” A few days before His triumphal entry, Jesus stood with His disciples in Caesarea Philippi and asked them, “Who do people say I am and who do you say I am?” And Peter made the confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus responded, “Well said. This has been revealed to you by the Father.” He then bluntly told them, “The son of man must be rejected by the elders and by the priests and will be killed.” Peter echoing the thoughts of the disciples said, “No way. We will not let that happen.” Peter had another plan, but it was not God’s plan. Jesus rebuked Peter, “Get behind me, Satan.” Peter was echoing what Satan said to Jesus in the wilderness. Satan’s message was for Jesus to exert Himself to establish His kingdom, to command respect and obedience. God has gone through a lot of trouble to not do things that way. He has always wanted willing obedience from a people who are grateful for His marvelous gifts and graciousness. His plan, from beginning to end, has included a love relationship with His creatures, freely given from one to the other. Satan’s plan did not include love relationships as central to the plan. God’s plan does. Jesus came to fulfill the Father’s plan! “I will put my rights behind me. I will wait on His timing. I will follow His path.” After rebuking Peter, He then called the crowd to Him. “You all have come out to follow me. I have something to tell you. If you want to follow after me, here is what it is going to take. I invite you to deny yourself, to take up your cross and to follow after me.” Now there is an attractive invitation. Jesus is brutally honest. His message was not, “I have come to make your life easier,” but “I have come to make your life greater.” It will be busier. It will be more abundant. It will be more fulfilling, but it is not going to be easy. The world has a plan, but it differs from God’s plan. The call of the world goes against the grain of what God says. The crowd teaches us that success is measured by how much you have, how much you hold onto, how convenient and easy you have made your life. Anything that differs from that, anything that becomes difficult or bothers us, we should avoid, we should get rid of, we should pare it out of our life. Sadly, many churches also adopt this same attitude. They advertise themselves as places where they offer fringe benefits. And so people go shopping for a church that offers the most. That is the way the world has conditioned us to think. We want a Super Target where we can get everything the way we want it. One-stop church shopping. We have been taught that everybody ought to cater to us, to meet our needs, to fulfill our wants and our desires. But that is not the picture that Jesus paints of Christians and the Christian life. Even in the church you are to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him. He said, “If you want to be my disciples, this is what you must do. You must deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me.” What did He mean? What does it mean to pick up my cross? What does it mean to deny myself? What does it mean to follow Him in this day and age? It is often misunderstood. Taking up your cross really has nothing to do with the kind of jewelry you wear, whether you wear a lapel pin or a necklace or earrings or some kind of bumper sticker or something else. Bearing your cross does not mean putting up with your boss at work. Your spouse is not your cross to bear. Your child going through rebellion is not your cross to bear. Coming down with a terminal illness is not your cross to bear. Many times people who are going through hard things say, “Well, I guess that is just the cross I have to bear.” That is not what Jesus has in mind. Cross bearing, first of all, is always voluntary. You have to choose to do it. Secondly, it is an act of love that you choose to do out of love, out of personal sacrifice and care for something bigger or better than yourself. And thirdly, it is always hard. You cannot do everything you want to do. You do not get to do everything you feel you deserve to do. You do not get to keep all that you have earned. If you want to be Jesus’ disciple, you belong to Him. And His goals are different than yours. Like we saw in His rebuke of Satan, God has goals and plans beyond our own. No matter how happy or good you may think you have it, Jesus says, “Follow me, instead, if you want to establish a life of significance.”
Denying yourself does not always include pain. Denying yourself illicit drugs means your body and your spirit will be better. There are many things Christ calls us to deny that will be of great benefit to us. We are called to say “no” to these things so that we can say “yes” to God. To deny yourself means that you say “no” to yourself so you can say “yes” to God. And it makes sense to do that because you and I both know that many times we do not want what is best. I am instinctively selfish and self-centered. You and I are instinctively self-centered and selfish. We have to say “no” to ourselves because we are prone to sin. Many times by our feelings, which are too often tied to our sinful desires, we are led in incorrect and wrong directions. We are tempted by wrong things because they promise us gratification and fulfillment. We want shortcuts. We want something that may be good for us but we want to get it too quickly or by illicit means. I came across a phrase this week that troubles me. It troubles me because it is too real. It is called “sin management.” Many times we end up being in the “sin management” business. Just keeping it under control. How would you feel if I told you that five years ago we got a report from Allied Pest Control that we have a termite problem in our church. They have been eating away the right side of our church but we have been managing it. As of last year, it has not yet spread to the left side. Would you feel good about sitting under our roof, even on the left side? Ridiculous, is it not? You are doing the same type of thing in your life when you are managing your sin. Like termites, sin spreads and infects. Just sweeping up and keeping it in one little area does not work. Like termites you have to eradicate the problem. The Bible does not promise eradication of all possible sin from our lives. After all, 1 John tells us to confess our sins and that those who deny that they ever sin are either deceived or lying. But particular sins can be eradicated, removed, so that they do not negatively affect our lives. Get it out, do not play with it! Take the necessary step and continue to kill and treat. He invites us to take up our cross. The good news is that “your cross” is not Jesus’ cross. God gave Christ a mission to come and die for our sin on a cross. You do not do that for other people. You cannot do that for yourself. God has given you another mission, to live in His light, walk according to His ways, be a blessing to your family and others around and live a fruitful, productive life. God’s call for you is to prioritize His plans and His desires in your life. That is an invitation you get to make. It is not imposed upon you. Billy Graham said, “Salvation is free. But discipleship costs everything.” Are you not glad that your salvation does not depend upon your discipleship? That your salvation is not based upon how good you live, how good you do? It is the gift of God by faith and by His grace. It is given because you could not earn it anyway and He wants you enough that He paid the price for it. But He says, “If you want a life worth living, follow me.” He says, “If you try and save your life, you will lose it. If you keep your concerns up on the top rung, you will lose your life. But if you lose your life for my sake, then your life will take on real purpose, meaning, and strength. You will live in the world with the power of God guiding and strengthening you. Take up your cross and then follow me.” Taking up your cross is an invitation. We get the image of taking up your cross as taking up this big burden and lugging it along. Jesus says, “I will be with you carrying it. I will guide you. I will give you the strength to do it. It is going to take effort, but it is not all on your own.” Here is a good description of a cross-bearer. You may recognize it. “A cross-bearer is patient and a cross-bearer is kind. A cross-bearer does not envy and he does not boast. A cross-bearer is not arrogant or rude. A cross-bearer is not out for his own. He is not self-seeking. He is not easily angered and does not keep track of wrongs so he can get even another time. A cross-bearer does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. A cross-bearer always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” All those things are choices that a cross-bearer makes. Cross-bearing is not an accident that happens to us or something unavoidable that we must face. Cross-bearing is an act of love that we freely, deliberately choose. It is a task we undertake, a price we pay out of love. The word “follow” comes from the root word in Greek “to travel a road.” And it means to “road together,” to go on a road trip together. It is the same exact word that Jesus used for His disciples when He calls them from fishing on the Sea of Galilee. “Come and take a road trip with me. Come and journey through life with me.” To follow Him means you let Him take the lead and oftentimes that means you have to make a u-turn. If you are going to let Him take the lead, when you find yourself facing a different direction, you are the one who is going to have to turn around. That is the old Bible word “repent.” It is to turn around and face a new direction. He sets the course and the only way to get you going where He wants you is to follow after Him. Consider how you are walking. Who are you listening to? Have you bought into the crowd calling out what you need to be chasing after, what it says will satisfy your heart and soul, of what is worthwhile in this life? Or are you willing to believe God who says if you deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow Him, you are going to have a life worth living. Are you walking as a pagan who says, “There is probably a God up there but I do not really care what He [or she] has to say about sin and spiritual death. As long as he [or she] minds his business and keeps the earth spinning, I will just mind my business and get along fine. I am more concerned with the here-and-now than ‘life everlasting’.” You are missing out on the whole design of the universe, of the point of your existence. If you are a pagan, or living like a pagan, you are worshipping the creature more than the Creator! Or are you a believer who is essentially living as a pagan in a pagan culture? Has the crowd influenced you too much? To walk with Him you may need to turn around and realize you have been managing sin. Maybe there are some areas in which you need to deny yourself. Christ gave up His rights on the cross and we are to have the same kind of attitude. We are to sacrifice our will to God’s will because it is the only thing that will fulfill us. He is come to add to our life not to take away from it. Break out of sin management and move into sin eradication in your life. You know the most common command in the Bible? More than any other exhortation in all of Scripture, more than “do not sin” or “love one another,” is the exhortation “do not be afraid.” Do you want others to know where you stand? Jesus very pointedly says, “If you are ashamed of me, I will be ashamed of you on the day you come into glory with the angels.” Do not be ashamed. But choose to follow through and walk in what He has given you. Say “no” to yourself in order to say “yes” to God. Prioritize God’s mission for your life. Set it above all else and head down God’s road rather than your own.
We can read the Guinness Book of World Records. We can watch some of these reality television shows and be amazed at some of the things we see. But in my book there is nothing more amazing than the God of creation making Himself available to His creation. That is what I think is amazing. I encourage you when you see God doing something, when you see God open a window of opportunity to share the good news. Share the praise that God is real and alive and working because people are wondering, “I know God does things for other people, but will He ever do things for me?” We are going to talk about something that is probably as far away from amazing as you usually get in church. Something that most consider routine and maybe even boring. Certainly not amazing. Certainly not attention grabbing. But I want to bring a new perspective on this issue. I want to bring a new perspective on communion that will hopefully change the way you think about communion. It is a very special time that we have together. And to think about getting a little piece of bread and a little cup really does not sound too exciting. What is amazing about that? I am going to say right now there is nothing amazing in that because that is not what the purpose is, not what the focus is. I want you to see three things about communion that make communion amazing. First Corinthians 11:23: “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you. The Lord Jesus on the night he was betrayed, he took bread and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. In the same way after supper he took the cup saying, this cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this in remembrance of me. For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats the bread and drinks the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak or sick and a number of you have fallen asleep. But, if we judge ourselves we would not come under judgment.” Communion is a serious activity. It is a practice that God gave us through the Lord Jesus Christ as a continual reminder of who He is, who we are, and what He has done for us; and that we can be refreshed in its practice. If you do not find communion amazing, it is because you are not seeing Jesus for who He is. Are you amazed at who Jesus is? Communion celebrates who Jesus is. He said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Oftentimes in communion we are thinking about His atoning death on a cross. The pain and ridicule He endured. But Jesus does not simply say, “Remember my death. Remember my sacrifice. Remember my body and remember my blood.” He said, “Remember me.” Remember Who is dying on this cross. Remember Who is bleeding from His hands and from His side and from the crown of thorns poked in His head. Remember Who it is. This is not a prophet. This is not a teacher. This is not a doctor or a rabbi. This is the almighty Creator, the designer of the universe, the sustainer of the galaxy who has emptied Himself and become a simple, ordinary man and walked this earth and then subjected Himself to the cross, to death. That is pretty amazing to me! People die every day. Jesus was not the only one ever crucified. That day there were two others crucified with Him. Millions of people have died horrendous, painful, unfair, unjust deaths. But the Creator of the universe, of the galaxy, the one who designed this whole system, emptied Himself, as it says in Philippians, and took on the form of a mere man and became obedient to the Father to the point of death. That is amazing. It is amazing that He would be the lover of our soul with that kind of passion. That He would empty His soul for us! Jesus, remember, was also amazing when He lived as a man. His teachings amazed people. “Who is this man that can teach us this way, He teaches with authority.” He cut through all the junk, through all the theology and went to the heart of the issue--your relationship with Him. He gives us a true understanding of holiness, of purity, or rightness. He made the complicated simple. He was called one day and asked by the Pharisees, “Why do you not pay the temple tax?” And Jesus said, “Ok, I will pay the temple tax. Peter, go over there and you will find a fish and in that fish you will find what you need. Take it out and give it for the temple tax.” Go, huh? There were some circumstances at work through this incident that Jesus chose to do this in a special way. And He knew His Father is able to work through difficult circumstances. They were amazed. They were amazed at His ability to look to the Father and call for healing that the deaf could hear, the blind could see. They were amazed that God, through Christ, had the power of resurrection. Everyone wants the ability to conquer death. And Jesus shows us that He has that power. It is not that we live, work, die then vanish forever. There is so much more. Peter thought he was doing well when he said to Jesus, “How many times shall I forgive someone? Once, twice? I will turn the other cheek, Lord. You said that I should do that.” But them the Lord says, “No, you never run out of cheeks. Seventy times seven.” You lose count is what He means. Be forgiving that you might be forgiven and not carry around bitterness and resentment. His teaching is amazing. They were amazed at the people He cared for. “Do not stop the children from coming to Me because they are what it is all about. Unless you become as simple in your faith and trust in the Father as these children, you will not inherit the kingdom of God.” You are to come not with your laurels, not with your achievements, not with your pride, not with all your wealth, but you come as a little child with nothing saying, “Abba, Father, will you help me? Will you love me?” Who is He? He is not simply a prophet, a teacher who died on a cross, but He is the mighty creator and sustainer of the universe who stepped into our world and put Himself on the cross for us! Secondly, when you partake of communion, be amazed at who you are. He uses the word in this passage “unworthy” and that describes you and me. David prayed: “Search me, O Lord, and show any wicked way in me.” I pray: “Lord, I do not want to be calloused and hardened to something I am doing that is against your desire for my life.” We are unworthy. We are sinful. We need regeneration. We need continual forgiveness. Matthew knew that. Jesus and the others were walking along and saw Matthew in the booth taking the tolls, collecting the taxes and He said, “Matthew, will you come and follow me?” And Matthew left his purse, his chart book, his accounting materials, his calculator and followed Jesus. He took Jesus and His disciples to his home where he prepared a meal for them. And in the middle of the meal they hear a rapping at the door. It was the ‘holiness’ police. It was the Pharisees who rebuked Jesus, “Jesus, why are you eating with sinners and tax collectors?” And Jesus replied, “Because they are the ones that need help. They are the ones that want help. They are the ones that I have come for. They are in need of a hospital, of repair. I have come for them.” Jesus called Matthew who was unworthy, who the Pharisees would have nothing to do with. He was the outcast. And the outcast said, “Someone wants me. Someone receives me. This man who seems to have the answers wants me to come with Him.” And when he was accused by the Pharisees, Jesus defended him. Every time the accuser stands before the Father and says, “Well, did you see what Dave, what Tom, what Bob, what Mary, what Pat did today?” Jesus said, “That is why I came. That is why I called them. That is why they are mine. I have paid the penalty for them. I want them.” Are you amazed at who you are? If you have been a Christian for a while, you probably have a lot of your ‘ducks in a row’ and you are doing reasonably well, but recognize how easily attitudes, little behaviors, little things you think nobody sees slip into your life. His grace still extends to you. That is what communion is about--who He is, who we are, and then what He has done to bring us together. First Corinthians 11 goes on to say, “For as oft as you do this, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” “Proclaim” means to announce, to declare, to recommit. As often as you take communion, you are recommitting your life to Him. You are saying, “Lord, you are awesome and I am not but you have paid the price for me.” That is remembering His death. When it talks about taking it in an unworthy manner, it is not simply having sin in your life. You need to take care of that, but whether you have taken care of it or not, whether you have confessed that or not, Christ has died for it. But you are to confess it so you have no barriers in relationship with Him. But here in Corinthians it is talking about taking it in an unworthy manner is not talking about your personal sin, it is talking about making the sacrifice of Christ into nothing and going against everything that Jesus was teaching when He celebrated that Passover with His disciples. Do you remember what was happening that night when He was celebrating the last supper with His disciples? What were the disciples doing? Jesus was getting stuff ready and they were talking among themselves. They wanted to know who was the best, who was Jesus’ favorite, who was going to get to sit next to Jesus at the meal. They are vying for position and that was the way many of those feasts and celebrations were. Where you sat at the table was an indication of your social status. And Jesus cannot stand it. Remember what He does? He gets up and walks over and takes off His robe and wraps a towel around His waist and starts washing their feet saying, “Stop vying for position. Stop looking to be the best. Stop trying to be better than somebody else, trying to top them, trying to up them, thinking that you are better than somebody else. Serve them, love them. Love one another as I have loved you.”
The Corinthians were having the same problem. They were having a big feast before they had the communion celebration. And at that big feast the rich were bringing their basket dinners full of all kinds of good stuff, while others barely had enough to eat. The rich ate in the best environment while the poor were relegated to second-class status. And Paul told them, “What you are doing is ridiculous. This is appalling. It is an insult and goes against everything that Jesus was trying to teach.” An unworthy manner means you are not recognizing what Jesus was meaning and what He was doing. That is why we all get the same little piece of bread. That is why we do not get much. Verses 33 and 34 say, “If you are hungry, eat at home. You are partaking of the Lord’s body and his covenant.” It is not a matter of how much you get or where you sit. It is about remembering Jesus!
Do you recognize how easy it is for us to get sidetracked in these things? We must recognize that we have a human nature that wants. We need to control it, let Christ redeem it. When we celebrate communion, we have just a little bit because it is a symbol. It is not the real thing. It is simply the symbol of the important thing. And the symbol is not the important thing. The symbol just represents something that is far more important. That little piece of bread and that little cup of grape juice are reminders of Jesus--who He is and what He has done. Symbols are supposed to be small things. A lot of us have symbols in our homes or on our clothes. Symbols are important because they remind us of a bigger, more important thing. It may remind you of where you went to school, what your favorite team is. It may remind you of your favorite car or sneakers. The symbol is just a reminder of the real thing. It ties you into what is important. If you did not go to a particular school its symbol does not mean much to you. The symbol stands in for the school for which you have affection. How do you feel about Jesus and what He did for you? Are you invested in Christ’s body? Do you have affection for Him? If so, then partaking of the bread and cup mean “I belong to Him.” We all wear buttons that say what school we went to. We have labels on the outside of our clothes telling what clothes we like. We broadcast what kind of cars we drive. But are you invested the same way with the same kind of passion and interest in Jesus Christ, the master of creation who wants to fellowship and walk with you? It is amazing to me that He wants to do that. It is amazing who He is and what He has done. And that is what communion is all about. Before you receive the elements say simply, “Lord Jesus, I confess you again as my Lord and Savior. Forgive me because I am unworthy. And thank you for being who you are and what you have done.” If He tells you to make something right, then you go and make that thing right. Repent, change, turn your ways toward Him. Commit to make a difference as your Lord has done!
Admirer or Follower: Which are You?
When Jesus came into Jerusalem, the people were excited and were cheering and yelling for Him. And you have to remember a big part of why. It is because He came from Bethany where he was staying and the people of Bethany knew who He was. He made a big impact in that city a few months before with the raising of Lazarus from the dead. That made headlines all across the area, so when He comes through Bethany and heads to Jerusalem the people are with Him and cheering Him on. While the crowd is screaming and yelling, Jesus sees the hearts and weeps. While this group of people are cheering, others are going to be calling for His death in a few days. Knowing this, He said, “O Jerusalem, if you only knew.” Jerusalem stands there in all its grandeur but within one generation not one stone would be left on top of another as the Romans level the city. It is all going to collapse and come to nothing. If they only knew the King of kings was coming, the one who could redeem their hearts, they could have not only saved themselves but their city, as well. Cheering for Jesus is not enough; it does not make you a follower. There is something more important you need to do in your heart and life concerning Jesus. And that is not simply being an admirer of Jesus but being a follower of Jesus. That day as He entered the city He had a lot of admirers but few followers. He is the one who raised Lazarus and healed the sick. “Jesus is going to change our nation,” they hoped. “Jesus is going to make a difference. Jesus is going to fix things. Jesus is going to make it easy.” It is kind of like when the President comes into town you say, “Hurrah, we have a new President. Way to go.” And then two years later the President comes to town and you go, “Yeah, when is he going to leave?” Approval ratings go down. You have all your hopes of what is going to happen but what can really be done does not quite measure up and so you get cynical, angry, and frustrated. You see it all around us, now. Because when we are a fan rather than a follower, it makes no real difference in our lives. Identifying with a winner makes us feel better and that is what an admirer does. That is what a fan does. Jesus in all His talks and all His teaching never asked anyone to be His admirer. Never even used the word. He is not looking for admirers. He is looking for something different. He is looking for disciples. And the difference between a follower and an admirer is significant. Followers are also admirers, but admirers are not necessarily followers. Followers make a heart and life investment. They make a life change based upon the individual they admire. They do everything in their power, everything in their life to let their life reflect the life of the one they are following. To be a disciple of Jesus means taking His values, His priorities, His perspective of life and make it his or her own. That is what Jesus calls us to. That is what a disciple is. That is what a follower of Jesus is. That is what He invites you and me to be. He invites us to take His life principles, to take His teaching, to take His priorities and perspective on this world and let them transform the way we look at things, our mindset, and our heart attitude toward others. As we reflect on who Jesus is and what He has done and the price He paid for us, think about this--“Are you just an admirer of Jesus or are you a genuine follower of Him?” Has Jesus changed your life? Really changed it? Or if someone talked to you, would your views and attitudes be the same as someone who is not following Jesus? Jesus does not invite us to sit in the grandstands and cheer on the disciples, the “spiritual people.” He invites us to get out of the grandstands and get on the playing field with Him because that is where the real action is, that is where the real fulfillment is found. And He has a perfect place for you. When Jesus says, “I have come to give you life and give it to you in abundance,” He means on life’s playing field. In the grandstands, you do not have life in abundance. You are watching people having a life. If you cannot walk without a walker, God has a position for you to play. If you cannot carry a tune musically, God has a position for you to play. God has a place for you. He died on the cross and gave His life for you to bring you into His family. You can say, “You know, I am really not worthy. I have a lot of bad habits in my life and I am not really a very good example.” And Jesus says, “Yeah, I know. So let’s see what we can do about that, too. Because, see, I died for that brokenness in you. I died for that brokenness in you and we are going to take care of that and then we are going to start taking care of those around you and their brokenness. If I am not able to make a difference in your life, why should your friend invite me into his/her life? What example does he/she have?” Being a living testimony is when he/she sees that you are for real and that God is making a real difference in your life. That is being salt and light in this world. Focus on what Christ has done for you to allow you to get out on the field--the price that He paid. You feel like you cannot do it but God says, “I think you can play on my team. I know you can and together we can do it.” It is not simply the physical beating and crucifixion Jesus endured for you. It is taking upon Himself sin and shame and separation from the Father that wounded Him the most. “By His wounds we have been healed.” “He was pierced for our iniquities.” We are not celebrating a martyr. We are not celebrating someone who just endured pain and physical stress. We are celebrating the Son of God who took upon Himself our sin and the shame and the pain of that. We have a hard time really understanding that, but as a parent, I can remember when my two sons would start going at it with each other and hurt each other. Sometimes physical, but many times it was the things they would say. And the hurt that it causes to see one child against another. That is what our Father feels. That is what Jesus was crucified for as we hurt each other in this family. A husband and a wife that are at each other’s throats so much of the time or so separated from each other in coldness that they do not even know each other anymore. That breaks the Father’s heart and that is part of the sin that Jesus took upon Himself. Not simply the punishment for that, but the life that that creates. “He was wounded for our transgressions.” “He was crushed for our iniquities.” “By His wounds we are healed.” When Jesus went with the disciples that night, He gave them a physical example of His constant presence with us and of His healing of our brokenness. He took a piece of bread, broke it and said, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” With the breaking of bread I want you to know that He was broken for our brokenness. That is you and me, folks. Broken! Now I have seen and felt that more in the last year than any other time in my life. People I thought who had it all together, showed that their lives had brokenness in them. It is not good; it is not right before God. It is not right before people. I stand as a pastor before you saying, “I am broken too and I need God’s healing touch on my life.” In your own life, where is the brokenness? Where is the part in your life that God desperately needs to heal because it has been tying you up for years? It may be in your thought life, it may be in your actions. It might be the way you look at women, your career or your children. Women, maybe it is the way you look at other women as rivals or the way you look at stuff or physical appearances. There is all kinds of room for brokenness in our lives. I bring you good news, however. Jesus wants to heal that brokenness in your life. He does not want you to live with it until you die. He wants to bring His healing strength and spirit into your life to bring not only forgiveness for it, but also strength to get over it so truly you can follow Him. He has a place for you and you have no need for excuses. Jesus came to bring us life and bring it in abundance and that means bringing change to your life. In like manner He took the cup. In contrast to the dry, tasteless broken life, He offers the sweetness and refreshment of the cup. He calls it the cup of the covenant. A covenant is an agreement. It is a promise. And His promise is to bring you forgiveness, to bring you new life. He does not simply give you a list of things to do and exhorts you to try harder but will actually give you the capability to fulfill what He has called you to do. He will guide and help and strengthen you through the things you are going to face in life. The cup represents Jesus’ shed blood for our forgiveness so that we can have new life. It is a promise of sweetness. Scripture says He was wounded for our transgressions, which speaks of the bread, and crushed for our iniquities, which is a brilliant picture of the crushing of the grape to yield the sweetness locked within. It has to be squeezed to give up its life. And as it pours out, it brings sweetness, health, and refreshment to all who drink. Oswald Chambers talks about the life we give up for Him is to actually let go of that dry barrenness we have within ourselves. We must first let go if we want that sweetness God in Christ can bring to our lives. To walk with Christ we have to give the Holy Spirit room to move and to act in our lives. If He has put His finger on some areas, is it not time to start trying things God’s way? God came to send His Son to bring life to your soul and the strength to live life His way. It is His promise and you can trust Him.