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Because you are…

Because you are loved                                         –             live a life of love

Because you were chosen                                   –             live at peace

Because you are justified                                    –             live gratefully

Because you are blessed                                      –             live joyfully

Because you are a child of God                          –             live in obedience

Because you are a citizen of heaven                  –             live with hope

Because you are holy                                            –             live with purity

Because you have the Holy Spirit                      –             live in His power

Because you are forgiven                                    –             be quick to forgive

Because you were reconciled                             –             live in unity

Because you were served                                    –             live a life of service

Because you have a mission                               –             live boldly for Christ

Because you received grace                                –             be active in sharing the gospel of grace

Because you are saved                                         –             live worthy of that salvation

Religion v. The Gospel

The good news of Jesus Christ is the message that all who believe in Him are saved entirely by grace and not at all by our own efforts. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

Yet many people today believe they are saved by living a “good enough” life. They think that if their good deeds outweigh their bad deeds God will surely accept them into heaven in the end. Some add to this “good enough” theology, religious efforts such as prayer, church attendance, giving to charity, etc. Whether it is just moral effort or good works combined with religious efforts, this is the path of self-reliant religion: I do good works in order to be saved.

In stark contrast to this works-based salvation, the Bible teaches that “None is righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10) and “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). You simply can’t be good enough to earn your way to heaven because the standard God uses for entrance into heaven is perfection not 51% goodness. “Therefore you must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48)

But the amazing good news of the gospel is that Jesus offers us HIS perfection if we simply come to Him humble enough to ask for it. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13)

“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:20,23-24

That word “justified” means declared righteous: not only forgiven for all of your sins but actually given full credit for the perfection of Jesus. So we do good works as followers of Jesus not in order to be saved but because we are saved.

Working in order to be saved is a relentlessly exhausting uphill climb and you will never know if you have climbed high enough or worked hard enough. Working for Jesus because you are saved is not easy all the time but in contrast to self-reliant religion it is like a downhill stroll because Jesus has done the hard work of paying for sin and earning perfect righteousness, and He walks with us, giving us the desire and the power to obey His commands.

“For it is God who works in you” giving you the desire and the ability to live “for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).  May the gospel fill us with gratitude and joy to obey Jesus with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength!

Downward Mobility

Philippians 2 challenges followers of Jesus to “count others more significant than yourselves,” (v. 3) by embracing the mindset of Jesus.

Though Jesus was (and is) of the same substance and nature as God, he did not cling to his status and rights but instead “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.” Jesus followed a downward path from heaven to earth, to Bethlehem, to an unresponsive people in Israel and finally to the cross. You can visualize the pathway of Jesus with the downward arrow of the incarnation representing his condescension to the limitations of a fully human body, the humble service of his life and ministry and the sacrificial suffering he endured that ultimately led to his crucifixion.

But at this point in the text the active agent changes and God the Father takes over from the the Son, restoring Jesus to his rightful position as the supreme ruler over all things before whom all people will one day bow. That is the path Jesus walked and it is the path all Christians are called to follow, for “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled but whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).

The alternative, and the consistent path taken by our culture today, is to follow the way of Lucifer. Though he was the most glorious of angels, he wanted even greater power and recognition. So he staged an uprising and tried to overthrow God. “You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high… I will make myself like the Most High.”

This is the path of self-exaltation that seeks to avoid service and suffering, that looks for a way around the cross. This is the path of self-indulgence so often glorified today as “following your heart.” But notice the warning in Matthew 23:12 and the outcome for the devil. “You are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit… you are cast out… like a dead body trampled underfoot” (Isaiah 14:13-14,15,19).

Which mindset will we choose? The mind of Christ who relinquished his rights and laid down his life or the mind of satan who demanded more than his rights and sought to overthrow God?

Let’s step back from our daily life to see ourselves clearly in the light of the glory of God. Next to other people you may look pretty impressive.

But next to Jesus, we are all microscopic specks of dust. 1.3 million earths can fit into the sun. Jesus created the sun in the same moment he made all of the stars in the heavens, simply saying, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens” (Gen. 1:14-18). If we can see ourselves for the finite, fleeting and fallen creatures we are… If we can appreciate the all-surpassing glories of Jesus and all he has done for us… then we can begin to obey Philippians 2:3, “In humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

Whose path will you follow today?

This is Why

People from every tongue and tribe and nation singing with one voice, “How great is our God!” This is why we are alive. This is why Jesus has not yet returned. This is why Oakwood exists as a church. This is why Jesus sent us out to make disciples of all nations. So that more and more people will see the greatness of the Lord Jesus Christ and joyfully sing His praises.

This is the work God is doing all over the world. Through faithful missionaries and evangelists, He is bringing the Gospel to places it has never been heard and moving in the hearts of people to trade their worship of false gods for the worship of the one true God of heaven. This is the work God is doing right here at our church: helping each one of us trade our worship of false gods for the worship of Christ alone.

God’s desire is our delight. He wants all of His children to sing with joy in our hearts and in our voices. He wants us filled up and overflowing with a passion for His glory that is contagious to everyone around us. He wants to be the focal point of our happiness and the fountain of our joy. He is literally at war with all competitors for the glory that belongs to Him alone. And He wants our passion for His supremacy to express itself in a zeal for His glory among all peoples so that more and more will join in the everlasting chorus of angels and saints around the throne of God!

This is why.

Glorious Unfolding

Check out this powerful song from Steven Curtis Chapman. I used this to conclude the sermon on Sunday for how powerfully it speaks to our confidence as believers even in the face of terrible suffering.

“I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus… What has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel… I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.”

Philippians 1:6,12,19

Let these words wash over you:

“There is going to be a glorious unfolding. Just you wait and see and you will be amazed. You’ve just got to believe the story is so far from over. So hold on to every promise God has made to us. And watch this glorious unfolding.”

For even more inspiration, watch this music video that illustrates the song with the story of a woman who recently lost her father – but Dad had a plan to remind his daughter to SEE.

Steven and Mary Beth Chapman endured the unimaginable in 2008 when their four year old daughter, Maria, died in a tragic accident in their own driveway at home. The song Glorious Unfolding was the title song for Steven’s 2012 tour and expressed the confidence in the Chapman family that they will see Maria again in heaven and their conviction that death for the believer is “just the beginning of the beginning.” Listen to Steven share how their family processed and is processing this painful loss here. He said, “It’s a completely unfixable, broken-beyond-repair situation until heaven. In heaven, and only in heaven, will this make sense.”

The suffering and tragedies of this life only make sense in the context of eternity. But knowing that God’s plan for us is so much bigger than the 70-80 year mist of this life, we can press on and encourage one another to hold on to the promises of God and watch for the glorious unfolding. We’ll see glimmers of redemption in this life but our great and final hope is the ultimate redemption we will experience for all of eternity. As C.S. Lewis concluded the Chronicles of Narnia: “Now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

Rejoice in the Lord

A sermon series in Philippians

“Finally, brothers, rejoice in the Lord.” Philippians 3:1

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” Philippians 4:4

Paul commands in the last two chapters of Philippians what he models in the first two chapters: joy fixed securely in Christ. He even goes so far as to say that everything else in this world is rubbish compared to “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (3:8).

This fall my prayer is that we will orient our hearts, minds and lives around this idea as our North Star: choose Jesus & choose joy.

  • If you’re feeling lost and alone, lift up your eyes to look on the face of Christ.
  • If you’re discouraged or depressed, think about Jesus and all He has done for you.
  • If you’re fearful and worried, turn your attention to the Lord of heaven and earth who loves you and gave Himself up for you.
  • If you’re busy and distracted, pause for a moment to remember the One who gave you life and breath and everything else.
  • If you’re struggling or in pain, consider the suffering of Jesus and contemplate His victory over sin and death.

Every day – really every moment – we all have to choose what we will focus on. If we want a deep and unshakeable joy, we must choose to focus on Jesus. He alone can save a sinner. He alone can help a believer grow to maturity. Jesus alone can strengthen the weary, give peace to the worried, freedom to the addict, hope to the suffering and purpose to the drifting.

The one who helped me understand the connection between God’s glory and my joy was John Piper. Watch the first two minutes of this video from his online ministry, wwwdesiringgod.org.

“My desire for happiness and God’s desire for glory are not at odds. They are one… God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” (John Piper)

Be satisfied in God. Rest in His sovereign plan. Revel in His infinite goodness. Rely on His all sufficient grace. Rejoice in the Lord.

How Disasters can be Opportunities

U.S. Coast Guard Photo.

Anything that reminds us how big God is and how small we are is an opportunity to grow. The massive size and power of Hurricane Irma staggered our minds and gripped our hearts, if only for a few days. One image has stuck with me of the 600 mile diameter of Irma projected over the Gulf of Mexico and very nearly filling it up! And the many pictures of demolished houses demonstrate the unstoppable power of a Category 5 Hurricane. But Irma is a speck of dust in the whirlwind that is the power of God.

May we hear in the thundering of Harvey and Irma the loving voice of the Almighty Creator who spoke these words to Job:

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding… Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain and a way for the thunderbolt…? Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, that a flood of waters may cover you? Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are’?” Job 38:4,8,11,25,34-35

Not only does this hurricane give us opportunities to point past the power of nature to the One who created nature but it gives followers of Jesus the chance to put into action the love we talk and sing about every Sunday.

Oh Lord, move in the hearts of your people to make the most of this opportunity! Energize us with an urgency to not only help with peoples’ physical needs but to help them see their spiritual need for the grace of Jesus Christ. Go before us, Holy Spirit, to give people the gift of conviction of sin and a strong sense of the perfect holiness and all surpassing power of the One True God of heaven and earth.

Confident through any Storm

“But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.’” Isaiah 43:1-2

The people of God have weathered some nasty storms throughout the centuries – just read the Old Testament and a little church history. Two of the biggest challenges Israel faced are mentioned in this passage. “The waters” refers to the Red Sea when the Israelites found themselves between Pharaoh’s chariot driving army and an impassable body of water. They were trapped and their doom at the hands of the most powerful military on earth looked certain, except for one critical detail. God was with them.

With the Egyptian army arrayed before them, God spoke to His people through Moses saying, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent” (Ex. 14:13-14). Then God placed Himself between His people and His enemies – moving the pillar of cloud that had been leading the people and placing it behind them, separating them from the Egyptians (Ex. 14:19-20).

Similarly, when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon demanded that all people under his rule bow down to his image, three bold Israelites refused. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stood together and said, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18).

We have the same confidence of those three rebels and of Moses. God has promised to be with us, to fight for us and to deliver us. How He chooses to save us is completely up to Him, as both stories demonstrate. No one could have guessed the way God would have worked in either case. But God’s purpose in these stories and every situation is to make it clear to everyone that He is in charge and that He is unlike any other god.

So with Irma bearing down on Florida and the East Coast, let’s hold on to this confidence from God’s Word. When we pass through the waters, God will be with us. When we walk through fire we will not be burned. God will deliver us, whether by life or by death and whatever occurs He will be glorified.

Oh Lord, be merciful to all in the path of Irma. Spare the lives of people to give them more time to repent and turn to the Lord Jesus in faith. Use the power of this storm to remind all of us how small and weak we are and how great and mighty you are. Mobilize your people to be agents of grace and ambassadors of hope. Humble all of us and exalt Jesus. We pray this in His name – the One who holds all things together by His powerful word. Amen.

 

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