Thursday, September 2, 2010

How God's Love Motivates Obedience: Part 2

How does knowing that we are loved by God actually motivate greater and more joyful obedience? It's an important question. And, I think, the dynamic is many times not well understood.

The most common answer that I have heard is that knowing that we are loved should make us want to please God more and, therefore, be more obedient. This answer is right, but it needs to go further. We need to ask, what kind of obedience is pleasing to God? One might think of Hebrews 11:6, "Without faith it is impossible to please God." So the obedience that is pleasing to God must be obedience that arises from faith. The next question follows: faith in what or in whom? In Galatians 2:20 Paul says, "The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me." John Piper states that for Paul "His whole life was nothing but a daily experience of working out what it meant to be loved by the Son of God—what it meant moment by moment to bank on being loved by Jesus."

There is our answer. That is obedience. It is moment by moment banking on being loved by Jesus. God's commands to us show us what it means to rest in His love and acceptance day by day.

Think about this. Why do I need to lie to someone? Usually I lie or deceive someone so that they will think well of me or, at least, better of me. But I am loved and accepted by Jesus. The only who matters already thinks well of me. I don’t need to fear the disapproval of someone else.

Why get anxious when the economy goes South—Jesus loves you. He is for and with you. If your earthly father who loves you provides for you, then how much more will your heavenly Father provide all that you need?

Why do I condemn and criticize others? At the bottom of my condemning spirit is, more often than not, a need to tear others down so that I will feel better about myself. Why do I need to do this if I know that Jesus loves me and accepts me?

Why do you need to continue to harbor bitterness and unforgiveness—Jesus loves you. He gave himself that you might know the sweetness of being forgiven. Why do you need to hold on to that bitterness? What does it give to you that Jesus does not?

And the list can go on and on. As I said in the last post, it is knowing that we are loved and accepted in Jesus that truly frees us for joyful and even radical obedience. Abide in Christ's love each day and see if obedience does not begin to flow more and more from your life.

Monday, August 30, 2010

How God's Love Motivates Obedience

You know the question: if God loves us, and He will continue to love us no matter what we do or don't do then why should I bother about obedience? Answer: Christian obedience flows from resting in the love of Jesus. At least this is what I believe the Apostle Paul taught.

In Paul's wonderful prayer for the Ephesian believers to know more of Christ's love (Eph. 3:14-19), he says that they are "rooted and grounded in love." I take this to mean that Christ's love for His people is the very foundation of their Christian life. Christ’s love is the base on which everything is built in the Christian life. Everything else follows from knowing we are loved by Jesus.

Let me give you one example from the OT. Do you remember in Exodus 20 when God gives the 10 Commandments to His people-- a call for His people to obey Him and live holy lives before Him? I want you to notice the foundation of God’s call to obey Him. It is Exodus 20:2 “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other God’s before me.”

That little introduction is vital, and we tend to miss it and move right into what we are to do. But in that introduction God is laying the foundation for us to obey Him. In essence He is saying, “Remember how I have shown you that I love you. Trust in me and trust in my love and you will begin to walk in obedience.”

A lot of us get this backwards. We think that if we are obedient and holy today then God will love us (or love us more). This is not what Paul says. He says that we should be obedient and holy because we are loved by Jesus. It is knowing that we are accepted and loved by our Savior that truly frees us to begin to really live for Him.

I will put forth some specific examples in my next post.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Movie Clips for Illustration in Worship

I've been reflecting on the use of clips from popular films in worship as part of the sermon. Some of you have probably seen them and seen them used effectively during worship. Perhaps a pastor is speaking about how love in Christ overcomes differences in race and socio-economic background, and they then play a powerful scene from The Blindside to illustrate their point. Is this a wise and Biblical practice?

God has certainly not forbidden the use of screens and/or movies in church. God has given us much freedom in the forms we may use in worship, so I don't see this as a simple "movies in church are forbidden" issue. However, I personally don't think that the use of popular movies in worship is wise. I'll give two reasons--one my own and one from John Piper.

First, for a great many Christians movies are a stumbling stone. It is very difficult to sit through 115 minutes of attractively presented worldliness without having your heart drawn toward the materialism, sensuality, amorality, cynicism and God-absent world view that are prevalent in most popular movies. By playing clips from those movies during our central act of corporate worship are we not implicitly encouraging already struggling folks to go back to those "broken cisterns" which are causing such destruction in so many lives?

Second, from John Piper: "I believe profoundly in the power and the till-Jesus-comes-validity of preaching. And by that I mean the spirit-anointed exposition of the Scripture through clear explanations and applications of what's there. There's something God-appointed about that.
I think the use of video and drama largely is a token of unbelief in the power of preaching. And I think that, to the degree that pastors begin to supplement their preaching with this entertaining spice to help people stay with them and be moved and get helped, it's going to backfire. It's going to backfire.

It's going to communicate that preaching is weak, preaching doesn't save, preaching doesn't hold, but entertainment does. And we'll just go further and further. So we don't do video clips during the sermon. We don't do skits.

Of course, it would probably help if we all could preach like Piper.

Bottom line: Are the gains from playing movie clips--strong emotional impact and cultural relevancy--worth the potential losses? My fear is that many in the name of pragmatism are not even asking the question.

Monday, August 23, 2010

What is Love?

What is love? We speak of it all the time in church--God's love for us; our love for God and one another. But what is it? Jonathan Edwards gives, what I believe, to be a great and biblical definition of the word love, but it's not what you might expect from a rather prolix and exacting theologian. This definition comes from his sermon series Charity and Its Fruits:

Love is an affection of the heart whereby one is dear to another.

A simple and wonderful definition of love. Therefore when we say that God loves you, it means that you are dear to the heart of God;
you are precious to Him; God delights in you.

What is the Scriptural foundation for this definition? Edwards does not say. I wonder, though, if it comes from Paul's words to the church at Thessalonika when he writes, "So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (I Thess. 2:8).

This is part of the amazing news of the Gospel. Because of what Jesus has done those who look to Him in faith are dear to the heart of Jesus and to our Heavenly Father. You are loved!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Resisting Temptation

"No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it" (1Co 10:13).

Many have struggled with wondering whether this verse is true--myself included. Temptation comes: watch this TV show which I know I shouldn't; get angry and not love someone who has hurt me; be impatient with my spouse or children, etc. Then we cry out to God, "Lord, help me! You have promised that You will not let me be tempted beyond my ability. Show me the way of escape!" Nothing seems to happen, and we fall back into the muck of sin.

What has happened? Is God's Word true? What is wrong with me? These may be some of the questions that we begin to ask. Let me highlight two thoughts from this verse that may help those who have found themselves in this agonizing plight.

1) "With the temptation he will also provide the way of escape."-- This says to me that the temptation and the way of escape come together. Temptation does not strike and then some time later God provides a way of escape. Right with the temptation there is a way out. It is there.

Why can't I see it? There does not seem to be a way of escape, or at least I don't have the ability to use it. This leads to the second point . . .

2) The way of escape is often to call out to another brother or sister for help and prayer-- Remember Paul says that whatever temptation has seized you is "common to man." So often Satan wants us to think that our sin is unique and especially shameful. We don't want others to know about it. A personal and private sin needs to be handled personally and privately. This is a lie. To believe it closes off a primary way that God has provided for us to resist temptation. The way out is to trust Christ in the body of Christ.

So there we are crying out, "God, help me! Save me! Give me the ability to resist!" And God says, "I have given you the way. I have given you brothers and sisters who love you and care for you, but you will not pick up the phone and avail yourself of the obvious way of escape that I have provided. You'd rather sin than humble yourself in asking for help from my flesh and blood body on the earth."

We respond, "Could you perhaps provide another way?"

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Life Worthy of the Gospel

Someone once said, "Live your life in such a way that when you die you will be missed." Paul Belardino is greatly missed. I know that God's work for Paul here was finished . . . but there is a void left when a beloved saint goes home. A real friend, a real Christian brother, one who faithfully loves and prays for you is a rare and precious thing in this fallen world. Some of you reading this know what I mean.

The following are some of my comments from the funeral of our brother, Paul Belardino:

I first met Paul four years ago when my family and I moved to this area to pastor SHPC in Destin. Paul was a member of Safe Harbor and had served faithfully as a ruling elder since 2002. Paul was a good friend and not just to myself, He was a Father in the faith.

The last time I spoke with Paul 3 Sundays ago I asked him what Scripture had been speaking to his heart during this time. He told me Isaiah 40. I want to share some of this Scripture with you this morning.

Isaiah 40:28-31 (

I wish I could read it with Paul’s same booming voice. As I read this Scripture it reminds of two things about Paul:

Paul was a man of prayer. If you asked me to say one thing about Paul it would be this, he was a man of prayer. Paul stood so tall for Jesus because he spent so much time on his knees. He knew what it meant to be tired and weary and he sought strength for Himself and others from the living God in prayer. Many of you here have probably enjoyed prayer with Paul at some time. Paul led our prayer in worship each Sunday. I loved to hear him pray because his prayers seemed to usher me into the presence of a holy and loving God. Paul prayed . . . and He prayed to a Big God

And that is the second thing I want to say--Paul had a huge vision of the greatness of God like Isaiah. “Have you not kno

wn? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God. The creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary and His wisdom—no can fathom.” God made everything. He is everlasting without end. He is all-powerful. His wisdom is infinite and He is and exhaustable fountain of love and goodness to the needy. Paul had a God-given, God-centered, God intoxicated, God-entranced vision of all things. To Paul God didn’t just touch each area of life—God was central to every area of life. He loved and enjoyed God so much because He saw the glory and grandeur of God so clearly—especially in His Word. And now He sees Him face to face.

Many of you know that Paul’s view of God’s glory was strongly influenced by the great American preacher Jonathan Edwards. Several years ago Paul memorized much of Edwards famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and had the opportunity to repreach this great and sobering sermon. I was mentioning this to my wife Susan the other day and she said, “Paul is probably talking with Edwards right now.” And he is. Talking with Edwards and worshipping with Edwards. Having their breath taken away by the glory of God!

I want to share a quote from Edwards that I am sure Paul knew on the joy of heaven that Paul is enjoying right now:

"The enjoyment of [God] is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows; but God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams. But God is the ocean."

Paul is with His heavenly Father and He is with his Savior Jesus Christ. I think Paul would not be happy with me if I did not end by pointing each of us to Jesus. Paul was who he was, a man of love and prayer, a man with huge vision of God because Jesus rescued him. Paul was one of those sinners who needed to be saved from the anger of God by the Son of God. Paul loved Jesus and He is now with Him. To end one more word from another giant of the faith whom Paul loved--Charles Spurgeon.

“There will be little else we shall want of heaven besides Jesus Christ. He will be our bread, our food, our beauty, and our glorious dress. The atmosphere of heaven will be Christ; everything in heaven will be Christ-like: yes, Christ is the heaven of His people.”

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Segregated Worship--a Gospel Issue?

I continue my Quixotic quest against dividing a church into a contemporary and traditional worship service. I just can't help but believe this is a GOSPEL issue and not just one of preference. This time I turn to David Wells and his book Above All Earthly Powers:

"The church is not only to declare the gospel, but to model its truth, and if it does not model the truth it will undermine what it declares as truth. . . . The gospel declares that there is no natural merit, no human standing, which advances a person toward God and his salvation, or makes one person more acceptable to God than another. All of the ways in life in which people seek importance and seek preeminence over one another are irrelevant to their standing before God. This is true of ethnicity, wealth, class, power, privileged birth, connections, profession, generation and religion. If this is the truth upon which the gospel rests, then it is the truth which the Church is obliged to model. So it is that Paul declares that there 'is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus' (Gal. 3:28). And by extension, should we not also say that because we are all one in Jesus Christ, there is neither Builder nor Boomer, neither Xer nor child of the Millennium, city dweller or suburbanite, Westerner or Third Worlder? Exploiting generational distinctions in the pursuit of success, which is what is at the heart of the seeker church movement, should be as offensive as exploiting racial differences for personal advantage . . . .

The gospel calls for the Church to exhibit in itself the fact that what typically divides people has been overcome in Christ; marketing frequently leads the Church to capitalize on what divides people in order to exploit the niches of class and generation.

What is at stake here, as Paul argued, is nothing less than the gospel. What is at stake is also nothing less than the work of the Trinity. To the Ephesians, Paul argued that there "is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of us all who is above all and through all and in all' (Eph. 4:4-6).

Paul's argument is compelling for its simplicity. There is only one body because there is only one Spirit; there is only one faith because there is only one Lord; there is only one family because there is only one Father. The unity of the people of God is as secure as the unity of the trinity. The Church's responsibility, therefore, is not to create unity, as the ecumenical movement proposed, but to preserve the unity that God himself has already created in Christ..." (pg. 294-295).

TV Church or Real Church?

Came across this article at Desiring God. All I can say is a big "Amen." We need the living fellowship that comes from being a part of the body of Christ.

Is Watching a Very Good Sermon the Same as Church?

When you read that question, your reaction may well be, “Are you kidding? What a ridiculous thought!” Perhaps the earliest (even before the days of personal computers) and most caustic response I recall hearing about people who rationalize doing “TV church” was an in-your-face, “See if your TV gives you a hug when you’re sick, lonely, or need advice.”

More recently, Johnathon Bowers, our South Site Coordinator, commented on this topic at a staff meeting, remarking about an article’s description of the age we live in.

For the first time in church history, our generation is able to watch and hear quality Christian preaching and music seven days a week, morning, noon, and night. And indulging in this wealth breeds in some a “consumer mentality,” such that they can simply change channels or turn off completely whatever they don’t like. In this, many people fall into a similar pattern with their actual church participation, i.e., to routinely “surf the Web of congregations” instead of hanging in there with all the other imperfect people in their church.

They, therefore, ignore the plain biblical instruction for their good—that God ordains struggles, conflicts, and outright orneriness within a church body so that he will get the glory of saved sinners like them growing in their faith, practicing his “one another” commands, and showing a clueless, alienating world his alternative community of reconciliation and grace. --David Livingston,