Christianity is More than simply Doing Good Deeds

As Jesus was traveling along, He entered a village.

“…and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.’ But the Lord answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10)

As many have noted, Martha was probably doing admirable things, rushing about and making sure that the needs of her guest were taken care of. But in the midst of all of her well-doing, she had taken her eyes off of the only thing that really mattered: Jesus.

And it really is so easy to get distracted by so many different “important,” and “good” causes that we forget what matters most.

Maybe we are busy all day working hard to provide for our families, but are unmotivated to open our Bibles or spend quiet time in prayer.

Maybe we spend hours online researching political news-stories and assessing what is best for our country, but we hardly give a thought to what Jesus might be trying to teach us as individuals today.

Maybe we feel deeply for the physical needs of those around us without giving a single thought to their spiritual need for a Savior.

We must remember that doing good is not simply about what we do, but why and how we do it. Christianity minus the Christ is just another form of humanism. Put another way: good deeds are indeed good, but it is possible to do them while missing the very heart of Christianity.

As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13: “If I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”
Jesus Himself is an example to us in that He never allowed the good and necessary actions of everyday life to pull Him away from His Father. “Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” (Luke 5:16)

The church in ancient Ephesus was warned that their good deeds alone were not enough to save them:

“I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.”  (Revelation 2:2-4)

We must ask ourselves: Am I helping the poor? Am I serving my neighbors? Do I take care of my family and friends? Am I kind and considerate? Do I care about my country?

But we MUST also ask: Am I truly in love with Jesus?

Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?

In Mark 15, it is recorded that Jesus cried out from the cross “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This was the same thing that David cried in the 22nd psalm:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.”

The people around Jesus had no idea what He was talking about. They were ignorant of the Psalm and ignorant of Jesus’ true identity and the true depth and meaning of His suffering. “Behold, he is calling Elijah,” they concluded, “let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.”

At the moment of Jesus’ greatest loneliness, he was surrounded by clueless sinners who speculated about Elijah and wagged their heads as He gave Himself up on behalf of their eternal souls.

David continued in his psalm:
“I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!’”

And later,
“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;
my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.”

Then the Psalm takes an unexpected turn.

“You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.”

What happened in David’s heart that made him trust in God even when no one understood him and God Himself seemed far away? Did God speak to Him with an audible voice? Did God touch his heart in a reassuring way? Did David find somewhere deep in his heart the assurance that he could trust the LORD no matter what? Did David come back and write this part of the psalm after things got better?

I don’t know. But I pray that you and I can have a psalm like David’s.

I believe that Jesus was referencing all of Psalm 22 when He quoted that one line from the cross. At that moment, He may have felt only the first verse, but He testified to the truth of the whole. That is the hope that we cling to in our darkest and loneliest times.

 

“It Isn’t Fair.”

The English term “scapegoat” comes from the principle of “Azazel” which originates from the Bible in Leviticus chapter 16.

Azazel literally means “complete removal” in Hebrew, and the unlucky goat that was selected by “the lot for Azazel” had all of the iniquities and transgressions of the people of Israel placed on its head, that it might completely remove them from their midst. It appears that in this way the righteous indignation of God that would have fallen on the Israelites fell on the scapegoat instead. By means of the scapegoat Israel received pardon.

Of course, in contemporary times, the idea of making a scapegoat out of someone is frowned upon. Quite frankly, it is just not fair for one individual to pay the price for that for which an entire group is actually to blame.

We may not know whether God struck down the scapegoat, or simply allowed it to wander around in the wilderness to die on its own, but one thing is certain: that poor goat got the bad end of the deal, and the people of Israel got off easy.

The incredible truth of the gospel is that rather than an unlucky goat, Jesus Christ is now the propitiation for God’s people once for all.

2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The only sinless man to walk the face of the earth was made to be sin so that we could go free? It sounds like a good deal for us, but it certainly does not sound “fair.”

Realizing this has the power to transform the way we look at the world. Now, instead of demanding that everyone who sins receive the punishment that they deserve so that life can be fair, we can extend to others the undeserved grace that God has extended to us.

It may also be a comfort to us in times of injustice to look at the example Jesus set. Jesus Himself knows how it feels to suffer unjustly what is rightfully deserved by others. In fact, as 1 Peter 2:19 says, “this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.”

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The Paradox of Personal Fulfillment

What did Jesus mean when He told his followers “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it” (Luke 9:24)?

There is a sense in which our lives cannot be fully ours until we give them away; a sense in which the world and all of its treasures cannot be rightly enjoyed by us until we place Christ, and no one and nothing else, on the throne in our hearts.

For the one who will indeed place Christ in the highest place, suddenly: “all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23). What a peaceful place to be.

Why is that? Why can we not successfully take some aspect of this life, perhaps luxury cars, human sexuality, travel, or sports, and find within it the fulfillment of our deepest needs? Why must we give everything up before we can rightly enjoy any of it?

A.W. Tozer gives us a hint in his work, The Pursuit of God:
“Our woes began when God was forced out of His central shrine and ‘things’ were allowed to enter. Within the human heart ‘things’ have taken over. Men have now by nature no peace within their hearts, for God is crowned there no longer, but there in the moral dusk stubborn and aggressive usurpers fight among themselves for first place on the throne.”

James says it clearly in the scriptures: “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?” (James 4:1)

All gods but the Living God prove inadequate, and when they do, we find ourselves in trouble.

Perhaps we place the burden of our fulfillment on a spouse or a friend, and when they fail us we find ourselves angry at them for not coming through for us.

Perhaps we place that burden on our career, and we sink into self-pity when we lose our job.

Perhaps we place the burden on the excitement of sexual encounters or mood altering substances, and we find ourselves enslaved but never truly filled.

The bottom line is that no created thing can be properly enjoyed or appreciated when it is being overburdened with expectations that only God can fulfill. And when it breaks, we hurt.

Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?” (Romans 6:16)

There is no life as beautiful and fulfilling as the one that lays everything at Christ’s feet. With Him at the center of our universe, all of the little planets that we call “people,” “places,” and “things” fall into place in their orbits around Him.

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

When the heart belongs to anyone or anything less than God, it is continually disappointed, hurt, angered, and enslaved. When it belongs to Christ, and only then, “all things belong to you.

Upside Down House

What Would Jesus Tolerate?

One portrayal of Jesus popular today is that of the socially progressive, tolerant teacher who encourages everyone to follow their own heart, do what makes them happy, and spread love and cheer to everyone.

Studying the Jesus of the book of Revelation might yield surprising results for those who conceive of Jesus only in such a manner. The church here in Mankato has devoted a few weeks to studying the first 2 chapters of that book, and here are some noteworthy observations:

Jesus appears as a brilliantly shining, terrifying being, who among other things, has a sharp two-edged sword coming out of His mouth (1:16). John tells us, “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man (1:17).”

Jesus commends the church in Ephesus, saying “you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false (2:2).”

Similarly, Jesus reproves the church in Thyatira, saying “I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess (2:20).”

It is remarkable in our culture that so much prizes tolerance to see a Jesus who commends people who “cannot tolerate evil men” and reproves those who “tolerate the woman Jezebel.”

In addition, Jesus tells the church in Ephesus: “repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent (2:5).”

Similarly, He says to the church in Pergamum, “repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth (2:16).”

And as to those in Thyatira who are following Jezebel: “Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds (2:22).”

Notice the language: “unless you repent,” “repent; or else,” “unless they repent.” This is not the kind of language that tends to make us feel comfortable.  Jesus is warning of negative outcomes contingent upon repentance from wicked actions.

It is important, however, to note what Jesus says to the church in Laodicea: “those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent (3:19).”

Jesus reproves and disciplines without apology, but this does not at all mean that He has ceased to love.

The lesson is this: warnings and reprovals are not necessarily “unloving,” indeed they are often the very evidence of unconditional love.

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Self-Examination

In our recent sermon on dealing with sin we looked at Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 7 to examine ourselves first before making judgments about the actions of others. “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”

This is not the only Bible passage that talks about self-examination.

  • In 2 Corinthians 13:5, Christians are told, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.”
  • 1 Corinthians 11:28 applies this idea specifically to observing the Lord’s Supper: a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”
  • In Lamentations 3:40, Israel was exhorted, Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!”

He may not have stated it directly, but Jesus encouraged His listeners to examine themselves when He said:  “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

Jesus was emphasizing that the way we look at the world colors all of our experiences. The wise man will stop to consider not only what he sees, but also the eye with which he sees it and the mind with which he interprets it.

There is so much that needs to be done in the world. Billions of people need to know about Christ, including many of our friends and family. But before we can take the next step, we must make sure that we are right with God in our own personal lives.

May it never be said of us what Jesus said of the religious leaders in His life, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” The Pharisees had big plans for traveling the world and making disciples, but they had failed to disciple themselves.

As Ravi Zacharias says of the contemporary man, “Like Alexander the Great, he has conquered the world around him, but has not yet conquered himself.”

Self-examination is not seeking to justify ourselves by comparing our actions to those of other people. Rather than being satisfied with being “better than so-and-so,” we must step back and evaluate ourselves objectively.

Each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. (Galatians 6:4)

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Is Your Heart Full or Empty?

I remember reading a confusing and somewhat terrifying Bible passage as a young person and having no idea what it meant.  In Matthew 12:43-45 these words of Jesus are recorded:

“Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.”

Luckily I had some good teachers who helped me gain some insights from Jesus’ frightening tale.

Notice specifically that when this unclean spirit returns, it finds the house unoccupied, and this influences the spirit’s decision to invite friends and take up residence. The implication is this: when seeking to eliminate impure thoughts or habits, it is not sufficient to focus merely on what we must not do. It is not sufficient to be mindful simply of what we do not want our lives to be like. We must fill our lives with the positive qualities and practices that we would want to replace the negative ones.

This concept is evident in the teaching of the well-know preacher John Piper on the topic of “The Supremacy of Christ.” I do not condone everything that he teaches or every doctrinal stance that he takes, but his insights are nonetheless valuable:

“Inside and outside the church, Western culture is drowning in a sea of triviality, pettiness, banality, silliness. Television is trivial, radio is trivial, conversation is trivial, education is trivial, Christian books are trivial, worship styles are increasingly trivial. It is inevitable that the human heart, which is made to be staggered with the supremacy of Christ, but instead is drowning in a sea of banal entertainment, will reach for the best natural buzz that it can get… Therefore, the deepest remedy and cure for our pitiful addictions is not any mental strategies… it is to be intellectually and emotionally staggered by the infinite everlasting unchanging supremacy of Christ in all things.

There are so many things in life that will not satisfy us. But there is one thing that will: our God. When we begin to see even a glimpse of our God for who He is, our souls are filled with Him so that they have no unoccupied rooms left for “unclean spirits.”

Empty room, vacant house.

An Outline of the Book of Romans

Colosseum in Rome
The following is an overview of Romans based on our weekly Sunday Morning Bible Study at Mankato Church of Christ from June-July, 2015.

Introduction.
Paul addresses himself to the Romans and expresses a desire to come see them. (1:1-17)

 No one is justified by works.
The world is a dark place, spiraling downward into sin. (1:18-32)
Even “good, moral people” fall short. (2:1-29)
Being a Jew does have some advantages, but NO ONE has the ability to justify himself to God based on his own merits. (3:1-20)

We are justified by grace through faith in Jesus.
Salvation is made available to us through Jesus Christ. (3:21-5:21)
It is a gracious salvation, it is not deserved. (3:21-5:21)
We access it by faith. (3:21-5:21)
Faith is a trust in God despite discouraging circumstances, and is completed and evidenced by obedience. (4:18-25, James 2:14-26)

We are not only justified, but also sanctified.
This salvation is not merely forgiveness, so that we may continue in sin that grace may abound. It is also comprised of a transformation, as we die to sin and are set free from our slavery to it. (6:1-23)

How and why the Old Law has been done away with.
How can Jews simply lay aside the Old Covenant law code? Because they died to it when they died with Christ, that the law of the Spirit might replace it. (7:1-6)
Are we saying that the law is bad? Not at all, but that sin has used it to ruin us. We are in desperate need of Jesus Christ, not merely the law, to solve this problem. (7:7-25)

Sanctification by the power of the Spirit.
It must remain amply clear that living according to the flesh still leads to death, even under this new covenant. (8:1-13)
Walking not according to the flesh but in righteousness is achieved by following, setting the mind on, and being indwelled by God’s Spirit. It is a matter not merely or rule keeping, but of inward change. (8:1-8:27)

What a glorious plan God has made, that He should justify us to Himself, that Christ Himself would not condemn, that having given us His Son, God would also give us all that we need. (8:26-39)

God is not breaking any promises to Israel.
God always knew that not all Hebrews would be saved, and that the Gentiles would come in, and has spoken accordingly through the prophets. (9:1-33)
The invitation is certainly open to all Jews, since Christ is the fulfillment of Judaism. (10:1-11:6)
Gentiles ought not to be arrogant about this, for though God may use them to make the Jews jealous, He can just as easily remove them from the plan if they display unbelief. (Romans 11:7-36)

Therefore, give your life to God.
In light of this doctrine, your service and your sacrifice to God is to give your life to Him. (12:1-2)

Your relationships with fellow Christians should be mutually edifying. (12:3-13)
You should treat your enemies with kindness rather than revenge. (12:14-21)
You should be in subjection to your government. (13:1-7)
All of your relationships are to be governed by the law: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. (13:8-14)

Do not judge your fellow Christians over matters of personal opinion. (14:1-12)
Avoid causing a brother to stumble by your actions, even if those actions are not inherently sinful. (14:13-23) 

Closing thoughts and reminders
Accept and edify each other. (15:1-12)
Paul’s expression of personal joy at the success of the congregation and the salvation of the gentiles (15:13-21) and reaffirmation that Paul wants to visit. (15:22-33)
Warning about those who cause divisions. (16:17-20)

Greetings to many diverse Christian brethren. (16:1-16, 21-24) 

All glory to God through Jesus Christ. (16:25-27)

Living Life to the Fullest

Henry David Thoreau, the American philosopher born 1817, spent two years living simply by himself in the woods. In a well know passage from his work, Walden, he explains why he decided to do this:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Thoreau voices a concern that many of us sometimes face: the feeling that we are not living life to the fullest. There seem to be many forces working against us in our desire for fulfilling lives.

Daily routines make life seem mundane.
Modern jobs are often so specialized that they involve repeated tedious tasks.
Countless responsibilities such as taxes, utility bills, and insurance policies drain our hard earned income.
Physical ailments may provide unrelenting discomfort.
Modern individualism eats away at a sense of community.
Mindless entertainment is constantly available in limitless quantity to absorb our free time.
But Jesus Christ says: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

He frees us from the fear of death. (Hebrews 2:15)
He frees us from guilt and shame. (Hebrews 9:13)
He gives us a Spirit which lives in us and encourages us. (Romans 8:14-17)

He invites us on a journey too rich and full to be described in a small bulletin article. It is a journey full of words like justification, sanctification, faith, hope, love, peace, fellowship, etc. It can be so easy for these words to become meaningless to us over time, but may we hear Jesus loud and clear as he invites us to live life to the fullest. That is a work that He is starting in us now, which will be completed when He comes again (Romans 8:18-25).

Life to the Fullest